Madre de Dios River,
flying into Puerto Maldonado.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
Fresh jaguar tracks
As spectacular as the Andean region
of Peru is, there is much more to the country. Over sixty percent
of Peru is tropical jungle. After thoroughly exploring the shops
and art stalls in Cuzco, we boarded yet another plane and took
off for a completely different experience -- the Amazon basin.
This part of our trip was organized by Rainforest Expeditions,
a small company that has enlisted the local people as their business
partners. In exchange for an agreement not to hunt the wildlife
or cut down the forest, the local inhabitants receive 60% of
the profits from the lodge.
Taking bananas to market
along the Tambopata River.
After arriving at the city of Puerto
Maldonado, along the Tambopata River, we boarded a shallow boat
and headed up river for the first of the lodges we would visit,
Posada Amazonas. The river was wide and brown, slowly meandering
along the flat terrain. Our guide pointed out numerous species
of birds and explained the nature of the 11 small communities
in that area. She told us that the largest one had a secondary
school, a small hospital, a few small stores and, best of all,
a soccer field.
Needless to say, the weather on the
river differed considerably from that in the Andean highlands.
It reminded us of the Atlanta summer we had left behind. And
in spite of this being the "dry season" in Peru, it
rained every day and most nights while we were in the jungle.
When it wasn't raining, it was dripping, constantly. The trails
were wet and muddy, but the lodge had racks of rubber boots for
every visitor, and we soon learned to plop and squish our way
along the trails.
Capybara, the world's
largst rodent -- up to 40 kg., Tambopata Research Center.
The next morning, after a pre-dawn excursion
to an oxbow lake, we boarded our boat and headed for the Tambopata
Research Station, another 5 hours up river. This remote lodge
is in the Tambopata National Reserve, where tourism is not usually
allowed. The lodge is actually a research station for the study
and propagation of macaws, and the only facility in the area
that is allowed to house a few tourists.
It was worth the extra 5 hours to get
there. Unlike the rain forest of Costa Rica, this was a jungle
that matched the picture in my imagination. In this flood plain
forest, the trails were literally hacked out through the thick
foliage and reclaimed weekly from the encroaching plants. We
climbed several canopy towers to view the forest from different
heights. We hiked past monkeys and exotic birds, with macaws
screeching overhead. One afternoon, we came across fresh jaguar
tracks and nearly caught up with the elusive animal as he took
off through the undergrowth. (I had mixed feelings about missing
Fresh jaguar tracks,
Tambopata Research Center.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
Night falls quickly in the jungle. It
was dark by 6:00 pm. With no electricity, and only a few flickering
candles to light the rooms, I discovered it is a good idea to
set out clothes for the next day while it was still daylight.
It's hard enough trying to find something in a suitcase that
has already been through almost 2 weeks of packing and repacking,
but in the dark? We each carried flashlights so we could find
the bathrooms, which were down the hall. I say "hall",
but the rooms were actually open-air partitions under a common
high thatched roof, separated from each other only by thin bamboo
walls about 7 feet high. The single beds were each covered with
mosquito netting, and there was a lock box to keep any snacks
away from curious creatures.
At night, we gathered in the open air
dining room at 7:00 pm for our communal meal. The food was simple,
but very tasty, with fresh fruit, several different kinds of
potatoes, and meat and rice dishes. A small bar made cerveza
and pisco sours available as well.
was rescued as a chick, Tambopata Research Center.
Photo: Stephen Mills.
The routine was to rise before dawn,
go out for wildlife viewing, and return for breakfast around
7:30. One of the big attractions in the area is the clay lick,
where macaws frequently gather at dawn. But they are finicky
and won't land if the sky is overcast or there are raptors in
the area, and we waited in vain for them on a small island about
600 feet from the lick. Back at the lodge, however, our breakfast
was enlivened by a half dozen of the colorful birds who had grown
accustomed to the presence of the researchers and had no fear
of humans. They hopped around on the tables, clearing the left-overs,
and happily landed on our shoulders if we held bananas in our
hands. In fact, we quickly learned that if you don't want one
to land on you, don't try to eat a banana.
One of our last treks in the jungle
region was one of the most interesting. We visited a shaman,
who runs a small hospital in the jungle using remedies from medicinal
plants he grows. He explained the various properties and uses
of the plants, from the "Viagra of the Jungle" (known
locally as the "wake-up plant") to the Cat's Claw,
which one of the major pharmaceutical companies has patented
for boosting the immune system. One of the remedies was to soak
the bark of a plant in pisco for 8 days and then drink two cups
a day. I wonder which substance was the efficacious one. The
Ajosacha plant, which smells like garlic, is used to repel mosquitos
-- and anyone else within range. The "Peruvian LSD",
or Ayahuasca, is a strong hallucinogenic. The Shaman takes it
so that he can diagnose his patients' problems while he is in
a trance. It is not used for parties.
Steve relaxing on the
ride down the river.
Photo: Marcia Brandes.
When it was time to leave, our return
down river was a much quicker trip. Overnighting once again at
Posada Amazonas, we traveled by boat, then by truck, and finally
by plane to arrive in Lima, where we still had time for a four-hour
city tour before being driven to the airport for our flight home.
Standing in the airport in Lima, it was easy to guess who had
been to the rainforest -- we were all the ones with dried mud
all over our luggage. Three month's later, it's still there.
Many of you have asked to see pictures
of our trip. The travel agent we used for this trip, Inka's Empire
Tours, has posted a number of our photographs on their web site.
If you would like to see pictures of an exhausted Steve and Marcia
at the Sun Gate, check out http://www.inkas.com/tours/testimonials/brandes_mills/brandes_mills_photo_album.html. For general information about travel in Peru,
their web site, www.inkas.com, has photographic, historical, and practical
Marcia Brandes. All rights reserved.