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Published: July 22nd 2006
The next stop is Cusco which is the capital of the old Inca empire. We love our first impressions of it as we drive through the Plaza des Armas (main square). We are somewhat in a rush as England are playing Sweden and we are trying to catch the final fifteen minutes. It’s a bit of a pain, therefore, that our minibus is too large to travel up the narrow road to our hotel, so we have to huff, puff and sweat our way up what seems at least a mile. The altitude of Cusco is 3,600m meaning that the air is quite thin, so it’s a good place to acclimatize before the Inca Trail. On the way up we hear shouts and cheers, and find out when we get to the hotel that some of the goals had taken place during the past ten minutes. We arrive at the hotel just in time to see Sweden equalize.
The hotel (called Corihuasi) is absolutely stunning, with a Tuscan feel, especially because of the views over the terracotta tiled rooftops of Cusco. Our room (number 18) is actually a triple, which means that we have two rooms, plus the bathroom both
of which have shuttered windows with views over the rooftops to the many churches in the distance.
We are the only two in our group who are going to the Amazon. To reach it, we take a fifty minute morning flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonada. The flight is very exiting with the clear views over the Andes, and then the Amazon basin and the Amazon river itself winding through the incredibly dense jungle.
We hadn´t been briefed about the jungle beforehand, and the one conversation we did have was with someone who had said that the weather would be as cold as it was in Cusco (very cold). When we get off the plane, we nearly faint from the tropical heat. This is very strange after traveling such a relatively short distance. We are met at the airport by Juan Carlos, our local guide. He is very enthusiastic, but initially quite difficult to understand. We soon establish that we are heading to the tour company´s office to collect someone and then onto the market for any provisions such as torches and sunscreen. We add flip flops to the list and are grateful that we have both brought
the trousers with zip off legs.
The drive to the boat is through thick jungle and reminds me of Bali for some reason. Once in a while in a clearing we see a football pitch, a reminder about how passionate the South Americans are about football. After about forty five minutes we get to the river where we get on the narrow river boat that will take us to our lodge. On the way we enjoy a delicious lunch of rice with spring onion and soya, which is wrapped in a huge leaf that doubles as a plate.
The river water is a kind of sandy colour and completely un-transparent. Juan Carlos has binoculars and excitedly points out the birds and wildlife we pass along the river banks. The driver of the boat also navigates to one bank or the other to give us a better view. The most exiting thing for us was a caiman, initially hardly visible, but then we saw it as we pulled up quite close, just looking at us appraisingly before sliding soundlessly into the water.
Ater about an hour we pull up to one side of the river where there are
steps disappearing into the jungle. We follow a very narrow path for about five minutes to a clearing where we see the lodge.
It’s a very impressive wooden lodge with a high sloping roof made of some form of leaf. It is very well camouflaged. There are inviting hammocks slung from the lounge /reception area and a shelf of books within reach. The noise of the jungle is deafening in a nice way. It sounds very tropical with monkey calls, and bird song: a bit like some of the relaxation tapes you can get.
Our room is huge and contains two double beds and a single. Above one bed is a mosquito net. The sides of the room are open to the jungle with just linen curtains hanging down.
A wooden walkway connects the sleeping lodge with the bar and dining room lodge where we are introduced to Pepe, a ´pet´ red howler monkey. He is very affectionate. We are uncomfortable with the fact that he is tied up with a rope, and are informed that this is just while there are guests present as he goes into the rooms and takes things out of their bags.
Apparently he is let loose when the guests leave and he chooses to stay around. He has a lovely personality, and we decide that if he does have to be tethered at all, it should be with something more humane than a rope and we decide that we will try to get and send a soft harness once we get home.
We are the only guests at the lodge which is really nice as it feels like a private retreat. We enjoy a relax in the hammocks, and once it is dark we set off for a night walk. Brendan and I share a torch and Juan Carlos has one too. The jungle noises are still very much evident and we are acutely aware of just how alive the jungle is. There is a huge element of trust towards Juan Carlos as with no light pollution and the huge trees (up to 200ft) blocking the stars, it really is pitch black. Juan Carlos stops frequently to identify both birds from their calls and interesting plants and trees. Many of the fauna is used medicinally by the local people. At one point Juan Carlos stops, puts his finger to his
lips and points the torch down to the base of the tree we are next to, where we clearly make out a tarantula spider sitting confidently at the top of a little hole. Amazingly we are not freaked by its proximity. I think that this is because it didn’t make us jump and because Juan Carlos is so calm about everything. We ask jokingly whether there are likely to be any tarantulas in or around the lodge and are somewhat horrified when Juan Carlos tells us ¨only the one in the dining room¨. After about an hour we return to the lodge and are almost immediately served with a delicious three course dinner. Upon glancing up we do indeed see a big black form way up above us in the roof. It is the tarantula that Juan Carlos had referred to earlier, but again, surprisingly, we take it quite calmly. Soon afterwards, the early start, the walking, the food and the excitement take its toll and we head off for an early night.
The next morning we receive a wake up call at 5am to go to a bird hide down the river where macaws gather at dawn to
eat sand from a sandbank. This apparently clears out their digestive tracts. Soon after we set off light rain starts and after about twenty minutes Juan Carlos tells us that the birds will not visit in the rain. We will have another opportunity the following morning, he tells us.
In the afternoon (after further relaxing in the hammocks) we go on another jungle trail and see the iron tree, fire ants and a huge spider web containing squillions of baby spiders. We are introduced to a fruit with seeds that when sucked taste like chocolate (Brendan is not convinced) and we see avocado, papaya and lemon trees. After about an hour we get to a clearing where the local farmer of the fruit trees lives. I am somewhat horrified to see that he is cooking an entire animal that looks like a cross between a pig and a dog, but is in fact some kind of large rodent! On the way back we learn of some of the plant and tree barks´ properties. One in particular is a powerful hallucinogen used with great care by Shamans in some kind of ritual.
In the evening two more guests arrive
and they join us as we set off for a lake that is inhabited by piranhas. It is a wildlife reserve and very peaceful. We are to fish for the piranhas using beef as bait! Needless to say once caught they are then returned to the water. The fish, being fast learners manage on the whole to eat the beef from the lines without becoming caught. Two of them are caught and we quickly admire them and their incredible teeth before putting them back in the lake.
The lake is so peaceful, there is absolutely no sound except that made by us, and the natural animal sounds of the jungle. After a few hours the suns sets and we return by torchlight to the river and then the lodge to enjoy another delicious meal. After dinner we again leave the lodge, this time to look for caiman by lamp light on the banks of the river. They are detectable by the ´red eye´ reflecting from the lights. We see one or two, but they slip into the water before we can get too close. Just after one such occurrence, Juan Carlos startles the life out of us by leaping
from the boat into the shallow water. Moments later he reappears holding a baby caiman in his hands. He tells us about it, its age, habitat, eating habits, etc and we each hold it before replacing it in the water where its´ Mum was waiting close by.
The following morning we again rise very early and this time are rewarded at the hide by species of birds including six species of parrot. Its amazing to watch them without being visible to them. Juan Carlos has a colour book on Peruvian birds and points out the ones that we can see from the hide. Having got to know us a bit by this stage, he periodically acts as if the largest and most scary of insects or wildlife is just behind us and about to pounce and dissolves into fits of laughter as we react.
We have breakfast when we return, and then sadly it is time to pack and leave the jungle and get the boat back to Puerto Maldonada for our flight back to Cusco. We have had an amazing time and will definitely return if we are lucky enough to get the opportunity again.
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