Into the Jungle

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September 1st 2019
Published: September 1st 2019
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I am sitting in a hammock next to the open fourth wall of our magnificent bedroom in an eco-lodge called Refugio Amazonas, two hours' boat ride into the Amazon forest from Puerto Maldonado in the east of Peru. I can hear the sounds of a dozen different birds, insects and monkeys, smell the sweet, damp soil and see a range of deep greens, red leaves and orange flowers. I am also breathing much more easily as we are almost at sea level and the cold I had when we were at Lake Titicaca (very bad timing) has passed. I feel very relaxed.

To recap the past couple of days, we took a bus back from Puno to Cusco, which was a direct seven-hour journey, in fact a little longer due to a mechanical problem which required us to change buses when we were nearly there. It was not as interesting as the trip down because we didn't have all the stops but there was still some beautiful scenery and fantastic glimpses of village life. We snoozed a bit too and it went quickly. When we arrived back in Cusco, we farewelled our lovely guide Claudio, who has been fabulous. There was some kind of fiesta going on, probably for Santa Rosa, whom I have learned is the patron saint of Peru. We watched some fantastic dancing in the Plaza des Armas.

Yesterday we flew to Puerto Maldonado, took a very bumpy bus ride to the river dock and a lovely two-hour boat ride to our lodge. It was getting dark as we arrived and we saw the sunset on the river, which was beautiful. We were pleasantly surprised at Refugio Amazonas, which is luxurious, sensitively-designed and environmentally-friendly. I was thinking it would be Kibbutz Lotan style, which would have been fine, but it feels more like the Raj crossed with Greenpeace. Some of our group are freaking out about snakes, spiders, humidity etc. but we are loving it. I really don't know what they expected from the jungle! We have a beautiful room, all made with natural materials, three bamboo walls and a fourth wall which is just a gap with a beam across it (so we don't fall out). It gives us all the natural sensations of being in the jungle while still sleeping in a comfortable bed with an en suite bathroom. Perfection! Last night there was a massive electrical storm and we lay in our bed under the mosquito net just relishing the show. It reminded me of when Raphael was tiny, and Auntie Essie rang during a storm to check if he was scared. "No," I said. "I've just opened the curtains so he can get a better look." Apparently, it was the first rain they have had in a month and it was steady and torrential until mid-morning when the sun came out and everything was shiny and sweet-smelling.

I've just taken a break from blogging to watch a beautiful black and white butterfly with large orange spots on the tips of its wings flit around the area outside our room. We are seeing lots of wildlife. From the boat we saw capybara, the world's largest rodent, which actually looks like a small hippo and around the lodge we have seen huge green crickets, brown frogs and amazingly athletic capuchin monkeys. The lodge offers a great variety of guided walks and excursions. This morning we went for an easy walk along the Brazil nut trail. We saw the very tall Brazil nut trees and the pods, which look like coconuts and hold between15 and 40 nuts. There were various insects, butterflies and birds. When our guide saw or heard a bird, he located it on an app then played its song, so it would come towards us (it worked some of the time). We also saw Howler Monkeys, which are a bright ginger colour and very appropriately-named: they sound like a huge wind rushing through trees. I was stung by a bee and the guide applied traditional medicine from the sap of leaf which has stained it bright red but taken away the sting! He also tricked us into tasting cinchona bark, the source of quinine, which is very bitter and is used in tonic water. Danny certainly prefers his with gin.

This afternoon we did the Canopy Walk which involved climbing a 37-metre tower built to allow viewing above the forest canopy where the most colourful birds live. With the help of our guide and some binoculars we spotted parrots and parakeets, macaws, kites, an oropendola and others. No toucans unfortunately. It was fun and the view over the canopy was magnificent. Our guide also pointed out some interesting plants including one nicknamed "Tourist Tree" because it changes its bark almost as often as tourists change their clothes - which is very frequently in this humidity!

After dark we went on a night walk, spotting tree frogs and various sinister-looking bugs. The most interesting were the leaf-cutter ants who organise parties to bring leaf pieces as compost for the food they farm. One acts as quality controller and checks the leaves are not diseased before admitting then to the colony.


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