Into the Jungle: Our Stop in Puerto Maldonado
Days 334-338 (June 27 – July 1, 2017):
In the morning, Smo, Adam, and I said good-bye to Katie and Justin. They were heading back home and we were continuing on, determined to see some of Peru’s other sites. We decided to start by exploring Cusco. We made our way into the city center taking in the sites and grabbing a bite to eat. We briefly watched a teacher’s union march before heading back up the hill. We then returned to the hostel where we were pressured by the overzealous staff into day drinking some more beers. With a bit of a buzz now, we packed up our belongings and headed out with one of our fellow hostel-mates, Taisha, to the bus station. When we were standing in line for the bus, we noticed Smo and Taisha had the same seat assignment. We thought it was weird then and we figured out why when we got to the front of the line: Adam had booked the bus for the next day. Whoops! So, now having nowhere to stay and it being 10:00 at night, I got on Hilton’s website and used the last of my points to book us a night at the Hilton Cusco. To be honest it was a somewhat happy mistake. While I would have easily accepted another night slept on a bus, it was a welcome respite to spend the night in a clean, luxurious hotel room with a hot shower, squishy bed, TV, and lots of privacy. We were unconscious within minutes.
Since we now had an extra day in Cusco, we decided to actually see it properly with a free walking tour. We packed up our things, left them at the hotel and checked-out before going. In town, we met our tour guide at one of the squares around 10:30 a.m., ready to explore. Our guide was super informative and helpful. He took us to the Plaza de Armas, Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumption, San Blas, Company of Jesus Church, Central Market, the Santa Clara Arch, and some ancient ruins in the city center. I especially enjoyed the central market and found a favorite new fruit in the chirimoya, or custard apple. We stopped for ice cream and enjoyed people watching a bit more in the town before heading back to the hotel. We Relaxed in the lobby for a while before getting a cab back to the bus station. This time, we were there on the correct day. We boarded the bus and prepared for another long overnight journey into the Amazon Rainforest.
We arrived in Puerto Maldonado bright and early and grabbed a tuk-tuk type cart to our jungle lodge. We were staying in a private on-suite room that had terrific views of the river. We did not waste a second of our time here, especially considering we lost a day due to Adam’s bus error. As I sorted out a flight issue for Adam and I to get to Mexico, Smo and Adam wandered around town pricing out different tour options to see the rainforest. They booked the tours, starting that evening, and we met up at a local restaurant across the street. Being early in the day and having a bottle of liquor in our bags we could not take on our flight back to Lima, we decided to spend the afternoon hanging around the pool and having some cocktails. As the day waned, we all took a long nap before meeting our guide for our first tour: nighttime Caiman viewing. We boarded a small, narrow boat along with one other guest (who honestly did not seem that enthused to be there and spent the whole time huddled up in her sweatshirt not talking to us) and headed out into the Madre de Dios River. We kept quiet and it was not long before we came across our first caiman. Our guide was an expert at spotting them along the dark riverbanks. We saw several varieties including the black caiman, dwarf caiman, and spectacled caiman. He even was able to snatch a small one out of the water so we could get an up-close view of it before setting it back into the murky water. One of the great highlights of the night, however, was not a caiman at all, but the spotting of a family of capybara, the largest species of rodent in the world. We spotted two babies and an adult swimming up to a riverbank we approached while searching for caimen. Our guide informed us that sightings of them by tourists are very rare because they are nocturnal, extremely shy, and usually dwell deeper in the more unpopulated areas of the forest. We spent several minutes watching them from the boat once they got up on shore. After a night full of sightings, we returned back to the hotel, happy and ready to get a quick nights sleep.
The next day, we awoke early to start our full day tour. Our first stop was another lodge further down the river. We deboarded our small boat and took a little bit of time to wander around the grounds before we began our brief nature hike into the jungle. We reached a giant wooden tower with stairs leading to a platform in the canopy and began climbing. From the top, you could see all through the jungle canopy. The view was incredible. We then took turns walking on these giant rope bridges that led to other platforms in different parts of the jungle. While we didn’t see any large animals, we did see birds and a TON of butterflies. After we got to the last bridge platform, we got into our harnesses for some ziplining. We flew through the trees and completed several obstacles on our way back to the main platform. After our time in the trees, we walked back to the lodge to have lunch. We then relaxed a bit in the hammocks on the porches before our next activity: river kayaking. Smo and Adam climbed into a boat and paddled confidently out into the river. I did not go with them because my shoulder prevented me from using a paddle very well. I had fun watching some of the other ladies in our boats try and traverse the waters, sometimes going nowhere before eventually quitting and coming back to the main boat. Our guide noticed I could not paddle and insisted I still get the experience. So, I boarded a kayak with him and he paddled both of us down the river. We were headed for Monkey Island. We pulled up on shore, Adam and Smo a bit tired now (I was ready to go!) and rejoined our group. We wandered through the dense vegetation on the island, hoping to see monkeys. Our guide brought some fresh bananas and mango with us to try and entice them out. We ended up stumbling upon a large family of Brown Capuchin Monkeys in the trees. A few were very interested in us and, of course, the fruit and came down to get a closer view. Most of them however, remained up in the trees, bouncing from branch to branch. We stayed on the island for a while, just observing them going about their business and playing with one another. It was a pretty awesome sight. We then headed back to the boats and journeyed back to Puerto Maldanado. It had been a spectacular day in the jungle. Famished from our activities, we headed into town to a pizza place called El Hornito where we literally stuffed ourselves with one of the largest pizzas I had ever seen. Both Smo and I managed to eat four slices and Adam, like a champ, took in about eight. We finally threw in the towel and left the restaurant. On the way home, we tried to find a dog who might be interested in our leftovers, but the on ly one we found had no interest in pizza. Oh well.
Our last day in the jungle, we were once again up early. This time, we were on a boat and headed up river before the sun had even risen. We were bound for the clay licks to see some of the jungles famous birds. There is a strip of exposed clay up the river, where several different species of bird come to get their nutrients. They usually come in large groups, just after sunrise. So, we waited and watched the sky over the river turn pink with the growing light. Then, they started coming. Big swarms of green parrots, macaws, and parakeets fought their way to the clay lick, dangling from the walls as they feasted and collecting in the surrounding trees to wait their turn. Our guide told us that they typically come once every couple week’s in order to replenish their nutrients. I was amazed at how many birds we saw there. And they were so loud! Every now and again, something would startle one of them causing a mass exodus from the clay wall and they would fly in a huge swarm around the nearby area before returning to the wall. It was quite a way to end our time in the rainforest. After the birds began to dissipate and return to the jungle, we took our boat back to town and collected our bags. We were headed for the airport and our final stop in Peru: Lima.