Central Aust '09
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Our trip to the Jungle was provided by a company called Rainforest Expeditions. They have a number of jungle lodges along the Tambopata River, our 5-day / 4-night trip included 2 nights at Refugio Amazonas (built 2005?) and 2 nights at Tambopata Research Centre (TRC - built 1996?). TRC is within the Tambopata Reservation, a 1.3 million hectare protected zone.
Tambopata Jungle - Day One
We got up at 06:45, showered and packed our bags up. We had breakfast at Ninos Hotel cafe, and then waited for Armando, our taxi driver, to collect us. He came at 8:15 and took us to the airport which took about 20 minutes.
The previous day, we had done an online check-in for our Cusco - Puerto Maldonaldo flight, and printed the boarding passes. So in theory all we had to do was check our baggage and we could board. But when the lady at the desk told us we were good to go, I took a peek at our bags and noticed that that the destination tag said LIMA, not Puerto Maldonado. I asked her to check it, she apologised, and then we hung around for about 10 minutes while she fixed our tickets.
Following the check-in we went through security and got in trouble as there were scissors in our on-board luggage. We had forgotten about the scissors being inside our medical kit, so we had to throw them in the bin. We waited at gate 4 ready for boarding the plane. Nothing really to report except for the 4 "too cool for school" guys that wore their trousers half way down their butt so everyone could see their underwear. Shortly afterwards we got on the plane for the hour's flight to Puerto Maldonado (not Lima!).
After landing at Puerto Malonado we walked inside the airport to get our luggage. The only thing we could think about was how hot and humid it was. I'd say it was about 30C and ourr guide told us later on that it's often over 80% humidity. We grabbed our bags, found our guide, and boarded the bus which was really a light truck with thatch-roof house on the back and seats inside.
After less than 10 minutes we were at the offices of our tour company. We had the chance to sort our bags out, as we were going to leave our big bags at their office and only take our day packs. We did this, sat down and were given a snack basket which contained a banana, some nuts and a bottle of juice.
After a little bit, the rest of our group had arrived on the later flight from Cusco. We boarded the bus again, and began a very slow 45-minute journey along dirt roads to the community of Infierno where we found the port (well, really a bunch of boats tied up on the river bank). There was a toilet there, and a small shop which sold drinks, food, torches, etc.
We travelled upstream on a boat with other tourists, and just after leaving Infierno we were served with lunch - fried rice with a huge leaf as a plate, and tied up with string so it looked like a burrito. During the first hour of the trip we saw some animals on the river bank - I can't remember what they are called but our guide said they are the largest rodent in the world. At one of the riverside lodges the members of a different group got off, and we changed to a faster boat.
We had another hour and a bit to go, after which time we arrived at our lodge - Refugio Amazonas. To get to the lodge we had to walk about 10 minutes from the riverbank, through the forest. We came across a clearing and the lodge was towering above us - made of wood with a thatch roof, it was very impressive and absolutely huge!
We checked into our rooms and settled in a bit, the headed to the bar for a drink before dinner. The lodge didn't have mains electricity, only a generator which was active for 1 hour in the morning and 4 hours in the evening. Our first (pleasant) surprise was that the beer and coca-cola were actually cold!
After 20 minutes of chatting with other tourists we were called for dinner. We had soup, and then pasta with mushrooms and a white sauce. Dessert was some type of chocolate pudding that tasted quite nice.
We retired to our room at about 20:30, and were in bed by 21:00. The beds had mosquito nets and the room was totally open to the jungle. The air and the sounds of the jungle made for a good sleep.
Tambopata Jungle - Day Two
This morning we got up at 5am, and shortly afterwards headed out for a walk in the forest around the lodge. Oscar showed us some of the different trees and plants in the forest and we soon arrived at an observation tower which is about 30m in height.
We climbed the tower and had a nice lookout of the surrounding area, we were higher than most of the forest trees. We stayed up there about half an hour and Oscar showed us a number of birds with his telescope. The insects up there were a little annoying - we were being hounded by mosquitos, sandflies and small wasps.
After the tower we headed back to the lodge where breakfast was waiting. We ate fruit salad, bread rolls and pancackes with jam (there was a giant flying insect feasting on the panckes!). I had a cup of coffee and Briony had a coca tea (from a tea bag though!). After breakfast we packed our gear ready for the boat trip up river. Just before we left, we spied a squirrel-like animal running around the lodge looking for food. Briony managed to grab a few photos before it ran away.
The boat trip up river to Tambopata Research Center was around five hours in total. There wasn't a heap to see as one section of river bank is just the same as the next section, so we read our books quietly. If there were any animals, Oscar pointed them out so we could all see. We had a snack bag which contained an orange banana, an orange, an energy bar and a chocolate. Along the way we stopped at a checkpoint where we had to complete a log book, and at 12pm tortilla was served for lunch, wrapped in a leaf like yesterday's rice. I reckon it tasted just like an omelet, a fact that Briony denies (only because she doesn't like omelet).
We arrived at the lodge around 13:30. We settled in and Briony had a shower while I had coffee with the others in our group. At 15:00 we met out front, donned the Gum Boots (Wellingtons) and headed out for a walk which took us until about 17:30. During the walk we ventured along some trails in the forest where Oscar pointed out various trees and plants, plus the sounds of some wildlife. After a short while we arrived at the river bank, and changed direction to see some other areas. We passed some huge palm trees where a community of monkeys were swinging around, we also saw a few Macaws around the place.
After the palms area was the swamp area, and it was at this time that we were thankful for our huge Wellingtons as several times we found ourselves sinking our feet 20cm or so into really soft mud. This swamp area took about 15 minutes to cross as it was so muddy, and there were two creek crossings which were a bit of fun balancing on logs and jumping across muddy banks. as we got closer to the lodge, Oscar showed us a couple of spiders on trees, one of them - the Wandering Spider - apparently 18 times more poisonous than the Black Widow Spider.
Back at the lodge it was lovely to take off our clothes which were drenched with sweat. I grabbed a shower (cold but not freezing), and shortly afterwards Briony did the same.
At 19:30 dinner was served. The dining room was almost full, as in addition to our small group there was a group of about 16 students staying at TRC. We had Cream of Mushroom Soup, plus rice with Sweet & Sour Soya (tasted just like Sweet & Sour Pork from the local Chinese takeaway). We had chocolate pudding for dessert, finished our drinks, and headed to bed around 21:00.
Tambopata Jungle - Day Three
This morning we were woken at 4:30 by the sound of the staff lighting the kerosene lamps in our rooms. At 05:00 we met in the lobby and headed to the dock. Only 10 minutes later and we were on a small island in the middle of the river, with the exposed riverbank (which looked like a small cliff) directly in front. Here we sat for the next 2 hours hoping to see the Macaws' Clay Lick.
At first there were no animals at all. Then we started to see a few birds, butterflies and of course the obligatory mosquitos, bees and other bugs. We did see some Macaws flying around, and compared to the other birds the Macaws are huge and really colourful. We saw a small group come down to eat the clay, but probably only a group of 10 or so - Oscar told us that the number of birds that come down to eat the clay depends on the weather and also the birds' analysis of safety (did they spot us, perhaps?).
We finished our bird-watching about 8am, which was great as I think everyone was getting sore from sitting for two hours! We grabbed the boat back to TRC, and our breakfast was some light brown liquid like porridge but thinner, plus hot bread rolls and some scrambled egg. There was also fruit salad and of course tea/coffee/juice. Sam gave some food to the resident macaw, which was probably a bad idea as she found out the following day.
At 09:30 we met Oscar in the lobby for another walk. We headed out on a 5Km loop through the forest, which took two and a half hours all up. Oscar pointed out some more trees and plants, plus we saw a Woodpecker, some Peccaries (wild pigs), a camouflaged Frog and of course a bunch of spiders and insects. We also saw several examples of a tree with unique roots that are called the "Erotic Roots" but Sam (one of the girls in our group) called it the Willy Tree. Of course, the girls could not resist some photos!
After the walk we went to the hammocks. Briony had an Inka Cola and I had a Cusquena beer, and we just relaxed until lunch at 13:00. Lunch was rice with Soya Meat and Beans, with some Pineapple for dessert.
After lunch another walk was scheduled, however the lure of the hammocks was just too great, so Briony, Sam and I just hung around at the lodge, laying in the hammocks. Eventually Briony and Sam went for a snooze in their rooms, and I fell asleep in the hammock after finishing my book (Traces, by Stephen Baxter).
At 19:30 we had dinner - vegetable soup plus potato and a mushroom stew dish. We had apple pie for dessert. After dinner one of of the resident researchers brought her laptop to the table and gave us a half hour talk all about the macaws themselves, the clay lick and also TRC's Macaw Project. The tlk was quite interesting, and really just gave us more details about some things that we'd read on TRC's website.
After the talk we went for a night hike for about an hour. Oscar was very good at spotting wild life - we saw a few different types of grasshopper, a huge Wandering Spider, a snake and a family of Tarantulas. Oscar got some good photos with Sam's camera, I hope she'll email a few to us!
After the night hike, we went to bed.
Tambopata Jungle - Day Four
This morning there was another excursion to the clay lick, but Briony and I stayed in bed as we'd already seen a few Macaws at the clay lick yesterday and we figured this morning would probbly be the same - so the thought of a sleep in until 07:15 was fr more attractive than getting up at 04:30! In hindsight we did make the best choice, as the rest of the group told us that it was very misty an they didn't see any birds at the clay lick.
Breakfast was served at 07:30 - we had fruit salad, hot chocolate, bread rolls and pancakes. We were also joined, like yesterday, by the local Macaws but this time there were four hanging round and they were very hungry! Sam had left the table for a second to get her camera, and sure enough a Macaw spied her food, swooped down and stole her pancake! Next another Macaw came down and landed in the middle of the table, chasing a German lady's fruit salad. After grabbing some photos, Sam got up again to get another pancake however she had left a full plate on the table, so down came another Macaw and stole her bread roll!
The Macaws at breakfast were awesome - they are so huge and beautiful, however they have no manners at all!
After breakfast we layed in the hammocks for an hour, and then grabbed the boat for the four-hour trip to the Refugio Amazonas lodge (the same one where we stayed on the first night). Along the way we stopped at a small gold-miining boat to give the operator a ride 15 minutes downstream where he got off. Oscar told is that from here he would walk 3 hours throught the forest until he got to the main road after which point he could get a bus home.
Once at Refugio Amazonas we had an hour's free time, and then at 14:30 we met Oscar for some more activities. First stop was literally across the river to a privately-owned, organic farm. Oscar took us for a tour around the farm and showed us the different fruits and we had the opportunity to taste many of them, including a couple that we'd never heard of but tasted really good!
After the farm we went back across the river and for a half-hour walk to the Oxbow Lake where we grabbed a small canoe and paddled round the water for 20 minutes - we saw some fish in the water, plus also a group of tiny bats attached to a dead tree. We landed the boat on the other sideof the lake and took a walk into the forest for about 10 minutes. There we saw one of the biggest trees in the world, and Oscar told us something about some vines that can attack and kill this tree. In fact there were some strong vines hanging from the treetop so of course we had to climb it!
After the big trees we walked back to the boat, crossed the lake, walked back 20 minutes in the dark to the boat port. We were picked up and on the way back Oscar got the spotlight out and we looked for animals on the riverbank We saw one of those giant rodents and several caimans, in fact Oscar managed to snatch a baby Caiman out of the water so we could see it up close. Some of the people from other groups just had to take photos of the caiman, up close and with the flash. I thought that was a little rude as the caiman would have been really frightened.
We had dinner back at the lodge, grabbed some group photos and thanked Oscar for being a good guide. We went to bed around 9, ready to get up at 05:45 the next morning fo the 90 minute boat plus 60 minute bus journey to Puerto Maldonado so we could get our flight back to Cusco.
Tambopata Jungle - Day Five
There's nothing really to report for day five. We got up early, had breakfast and got on the boat for the 2-hour trip downstream to Infierno and then the 1-hour bus trip to Puerto Maldonado.
When we got to Infierno there was a lady selling Brazil nuts, a large tub for S/. 5 and it had half chocolate-covered nuts and half icing-sugar covered nuts. I got two tubs, we finished one of them during the bus ride back to Puerto Maldonado. They were mighty tasty, but Briony ate too many and didn't feel well afterwards.
Once at the airport we had to ring ahead to Home Sweet Home, our lodging in Cusco for that night, so they could collect us from the airport. There was lots of noise and the girl on the phone spoke very softly, and after 3 or 4 minutes of getting nowhere I just told her it's easier if we take a taxi, and see you when we get to Cusco!
A short time later we were on the half-full flight from Puerto Maldonado back to Cusco. After 5 days in the more than 80% humidity our clothes were smelly and we were looking forward to being back in Cusco where you can leave the hotel without breaking a sweat!
We arrived in Cusco airport, and we had a half-day free plus a night in Cusco before our trip to Puno the next morning. We grabbed a taxi from the airport to San Blas, the area of Cusco up the hill behind the cathedral. There are a few roads that go up that way but they stop half way up the hill and from there the only transport is on foot up and down steep alleys and staircases.
The taxi dropped us at Plazolita San Blas and from there it was a 10-minute walk to Home Sweet Home Cusco Mirador. Of course we'd been in Peru for 4 weeks now and this means that we now have an extra bag full of souvenirs and stuff. After a few steep staircases and a few breaks to rest the tired arms we arrived at Home Sweet Home Cusco Mirador. It was nice yet simple accomodation, aimed at low-budget backpackers. We settled in and unpacked some gear and headed straight for the shower which Briony found was cold, until I told her that she was using the cold tap!
After showering we went into Cusco to get another sleeping bag ready for our Bolivia adventures. It turned out that the shop didn't have one, even though we had pre-ordered one before we went to the jungle. They asked us to come back at 19:00 so we had some time to kill. We went to an Internet cafe for a bit, and got some more backup DVDs taken care of. We found that Moni Cafe was closed (it was a Sunday) so we went to a restaurant around the corner for dinner - we shared a vegetarian pizza which was okay, but there was something not quite right about it!
After dinner was back to the sleeping bag shop and they had found us a goose down sleeping bag which cost only a little more. We grabbed that and walked back up the hill to our hostel and went to bed. The beds were comfortable, but Briony reckons the room was cold. There was also some guy (maybe he works there) sitting on the lounge outside our room, watching TV until late at night. That was a touch annoying but didn't really stop us having a good sleep.
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