Friday, June 26, 2015

Peru Part 3: The Amazon Rainforest

Peru Part 1: Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Peru Part 2: Aguas Caliente and the Cloud Forest
Peru Part 3: The Amazon Rainforest 
Peru Part 4: Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Peru Reading List 

While hiking the Inca Trail was the main focus of our Peru trip, Trace and I decided to peg on an extension to the Amazon while we were "in the area." Why not? What are the chances we'll ever be in South America again, right?  As a rather nervous traveler, Trace always [tried] to get me out of my comfort zone with "YOLO, Jen, YOLO!" This stands for "You Only Live Once" and is apparently something young people say to each other nowadays. So we had been throwing that phrase back and forth all winter, trying to be brave, hip and cool, when I noticed a section of one of my Peru books mentioned the Amazon Rainforest as a "must-see" when visiting the country. Well... YOLO... I mentioned it and Trace said "Hell yeah, let's go after we finish the Inca Trail!"

And that was that.

I did regret ever bringing that up, several times in fact, during our trip!!

Hiking the muddy rainforest trail from Lake Sandoval (it had dried out a bit...)

Trace and I chose our eco-lodge carefully. We wanted be be with a reputable (obviously) and knowledgeable company when going into the Amazon.  It's a dangerous place. Both of us read extensively before our trip and were aware of the risks. This isn't the Adirondacks of northern New York. Not only is everything creepy and crawly and unfamiliar, but even the trees have mechanisms to cause infection and trauma if you touch them unknowingly. The lodges only have electricity (via generator) two or three hours a day. The lodges all don't have walls and screens. No one seems to carry guns in case, you know, you get charged by a huge anaconda. And if you get sick or break a leg, you are REALLY far away from civilization. Good luck getting out in a timely manner.

It was crazy.

After a lot of thought, we chose a 5-day, 4-night trip with Chuncho Lodge, which is based out of the jungle city of Puerto Maldonado (we flew there from Cusco, about 45 minutes airport-to-airport). From there, we spent a few days far up the remote Tambopata River and then transferred to Lake Sandoval via Madre de Dios. If you ever decide to visit the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, email Jorge at Chuncho! They were fabulous!

The Tambopata riverbank, at Chuncho Lodge.

On one of our many hikes with guide Jesus.
Early afternoon hammock time! It would get so so so so so so hot and humid after 10 a.m.. You have NO idea. I though New York in the summertime was bad, but the Amazon brings it to a whole 'nother level of uncomfortable.

Visiting clay licks ("colpas") off the Tambopata River, where parrots and macaws congregate. These guys were in the trees above the colpa.

Oropendala and Amazon Parrots above the colpa near the Tambopata. A storm was coming and the wind was up, so they were nervous to come down and feed. That's okay... we got some great pictures anyway!

Canoe trips on Lake Sandoval- great photo opportunities!
A Black Caiman stalking a fishing boat at dusk.... the fishermen didn't care, but us gringas were a little nervous about it! We saw Black Caiman at Lake Sandoval and Spectacled Caiman along the Tambopata River. It was cool seeing two species and comparing them together.
Giant Otters at Lake Sandoval one morning- worth the 5 a.m. wake-up call! They are HUGE, and can get up to 6 feet long. Bigger than my foxhound, Joey! Very rare. They were so playful and affectionate with each other, but I guess can be very aggressive and are nicknames "River Wolves" by the native Peruvians. Trace and I were overjoyed to see them, as was our fabulous guide Jesus.
Our eco-lodges along the Tambopata AND at Lake Sandoval had an abundance of fruit trees, so we got to see several species of monkeys up close and personal... Howlers, Squirrel Monkeys (like this guy), Spider, Cappuchin and Titi monkeys.
A Howler Monkey family at Lake Sandoval. They sounded like freight trains when they hooted! Crazy.

Bats. Everywhere. If you have bataphobia, do NOT come to the Amazon. They roosted on tree trunks during the day and flew through the lodges at night (not all lodges have walls. At night you wrap yourself in nets, so the bugs don't crawl up in with you and bats don't drop in your lap!!). Notice the foggy picture, yeah. The humidity finally got into my inner-camera lens and really killed it for a couple hours.

A Striated Heron on Lake Sandoval. We saw several herons- Tiger, Striated, Capped and Cocoi (which look almost identical to our Great Blue Herons in the U.S.).

An Opossum Mouse we encountered on one of our night hikes along the Tambopata River. Night hikes were especially frightening after we heard some stories about "Chewa Chucky", a half boy/half goat monster that lives in rainforest southeast Peru and abducted people. Thanks for that, Jesus.

Welcome to my Nightmare: Walking to the bathroom for your before-bed potty and spotting a spider bigger than your face, dragging itself along by gargantuan front legs towards you. Apparently it is harmless and is called a "Harlequin Beetle." Our guide Jesus  thought it was funny to pick it up and try to bring it "up close" for us to see. NOOOOOOOOOOO...  No. No. No. No.
Amazon Racerunner lizard and other bugs I was able to sketch during our trip to the Amazon.
Our trip with Chuncho Lodge was exquisite and terrifying. It was amazing to see two different parts of the Amazon, both the Upper Tambopata River and Lake Sandoval. Many eco-lodges are located along the Madre de Dios river right out of Puerto Maldonado and I'm glad we didn't stay at one of those, because the Madre de Dios is very wide and busy with boat traffic (and not as pretty as Tambopata). We took it once along our trek to Lake Sandoval and didn't see any wildlife at all, besides a few shorebirds. Tambopata, meanwhile, was very remote and beautiful. We saw the parrot colpas and a few other animals but my favorite part was Lake Sandoval, where every outing was full of wildlife.

4 a.m. boat ride up the Tambopata River- if you visit the Amazon, headlamps are a must!

Some interesting tidbits from our trip:

1. The heat and humidity of the Amazon is unreal. UNREAL. I am a winter girl and anything over 70 degrees makes me uncomfortable. And the sun. I can't stand it. I like cloudy, gray skies. The Amazon weather was like... Imagine the hottest, wettest, steamiest wool blanket wrapped tightly around you, then being duct-taped into a garbage bag and put in a furnace to burn to death. Okay maybe not that bad but it was BAD. Ever Trace, from Florida, was wiped. I don't know how people live in that kind of climate... it was brutal.

2. Because it's SO hot and humid, nothing ever dries. So you are constantly dripping with sweat and your clothes are constantly drenched. YOU WILL NEVER DRY. Which probably led to #7...

3. Because it was SO hot and humid (did I mention that?) our hikes/boat trips/explorations ceased by 10 a.m. and didn't resume till 5 p.m.  There was lots of time for me to sketch, wander around the lodge (I didn't go very far because I was scared of being attacked by something), read, and nap.

5. Eco-lodges only have electricity for a few hours per evening (via generator), so there are no fans. No lights after dark. I'm not sure how food is kept refrigerated, maybe I don't want to know. Amazon secret.

6. There are so many fruit trees in Peru! Fruit we've never heard of. Especially in the Amazon. We got to try so many juices- YUM.

7. The CDC recommends a Yellow Fever shot for visiting this part of the Amazon rainforest. I got one and, under the guise of "better safe than sorry", took Malaria pills too. That didn't help me from developing some strange spots on Day 2 in Tambopata that, by the end of our time in the jungle, had spread into welts across my abdomen, down my sides and legs, up my back, down both arms and up my neck. It disappeared once I got back to "normal" 45 degree temps in New York. Jungle rot?? I dunno.

The Amazon was quite the experience. After our 5 days, we headed back to Puerto Maldonado (our jungle adventure jumping-off point) to recover and ponder our memories of bugs, birds, bats, and Chewa Chucky. Would I visit the Amazon again? Maybe. If there is a cold season (ha). If you love the heat, humidity and adventure though... you can't find a better place!

Next entry... Cusco and the Sacred Valley!



  1. You make us sound like a pair of old farts. Those young whippersnappers and their slang!

    "YOLO, Jen, YOLO!" This stands for "You Only Live Once" and is apparently something young people say to each other nowadays.