Amazon: Rumble in the Jungle

Published: March 19th 2014
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Less than 40 minutes after leaving the Tarmac in Cusco we had touched down in the Amazonian city of Puerto Maldonado and had gone from 16 degrees, low humidity and 3,400m altitude, to 33 degrees, 95% humidity and being able to breath nice and easily again. After being greeted at the airport by our guide for the next four days, we were whisked away to the Wasai hotel located in Puerto Maldonado. Here, we prepared our bags, grabbed our wellies and jumped aboard an open back 4x4 for the journey to our remote lodge in the jungle. We were heading to the Tambopata National Reserve; one of the Amazons best kept areas where we would be staying at a riverside lodge, sleeping in wooden bungalows and taking trips out on the river and into the forest to see the wildlife and amazing jungle flora and fauna.

First things first, we had to tackle the one hour by road, one hour off road and 3km hike before we finally reached our final destination. As usual, things didn't quite go to plan; the 4x4 broke down along the main road. Nevertheless, as the driver fixed the problem, the opportunity was taken to eat our packed lunch that had been packed for us. Expecting the usual cheese and ham sandwiches, we were pretty amazed to discover our lunch was actually a hot, delightful, chicken and rice dish served wrapped in a banana leaf. The only minor hiccup was that they had forgotten the cutlery...unfazed, we dived straight in head first, literally!

With the 4x4 back up and running, it wasn't long until we had negotiated the treacherous off road section of the journey and were ready to don our wellies and get trekking into the jungle for the first time. The further we walked, the denser it became and the more cut of from civilisation we became. It wasn't long until we had our first 'moment'...walking through the first of many large puddles we came across a water spider. With its small body and large legs, it was able to walk, or as we discovered, quickly run on the water. As we are always told in life 'they are always more scared of you, than you are of them', we were fully expecting the spider to quickly scurry off once we approached. It didn't! In fact, it did quite the opposite, it ran up the leg of our guide. Freaked out at the prospect of this happening to us, we were very hesitant when it came to being our turn to walk past it. With assurances from our guide that it wouldn't do it again, we walked past and thankfully, although the spider took a dash towards Rich's leg, it decided not to run up it. Phew! It was at this moment that it suddenly dawned on us that we had now arrived in the jungle and that the next few days would certainly have a few twists and turn, not to mentions things crawling out the woodwork...literally!!!

Still in one piece and not too freaked out, we arrived at our lodge a couple of hours before sunset. Once we had been shown around and taken to our rooms, we took a stroll down to the river and did a bit more exploring of our own. There was no hanging around though, half an hour or so after sun set and we were back down to the waters edge and boarding a river boat off searching for caiman along the Tambopata river. Totally pitch black, we were using torches to shine along the waters edge and on the banks to search for the red reflective glow of the caimans eyes. After a short while we managed to spot a juvenile caiman, which must have been little over a foot long. Small, but delighted nonetheless, we carried on our search. Just as the boat was heading back to the lodge, it took a sudden dart towards the bank before approaching slowly, and there we saw a much larger caiman (about 4ft long). Being very timid animals, it wasn't long before it dashed down the bank and gracefully slid into the dark water. Fully satisfied with our search, we headed back to the lodge for a quick wash before our first three course meal of the trip.

Dinner done, we received our briefing for the next day before we said goodnight to our guide and headed off to our bungalow for some already much needed sleep. However, it wasn't long before we were once again reminded that we were in the jungle when we received a warm welcome back to our bungalow by a large spider in the bathroom. Water bottle in hand Gem volunteered to 'deal' with it. With Rich uttering to Gem as she made her way over to the little eight legged fella slowly "make sure you don't miss", next thing you know she'd missed and off he scurried under the basin. Damn! It was now Rich's turn to step up and become spider hunter...a slow tip toe over and with one big shaky swing of the bottle, the job was done. Spider free, we quickly brushed our teeth, ignored the many huge ants crawling over the bed frame, rolled the mosquito net down and jumped into bed.

3:30am and the alarm was going off like a scream from satan. Pitch black with no electricity, we cautiously pulled back our sheets and slowly lifted up the mosquito net whilst at the same time kept our eyes peeled for any little friends that might be watching us. With the coast clear (from what we could see anyway), we quickly got dressed, brushed our teeth, put on our wellies and set off in the pouring rain on our way down to the boat. We were off to one of the national parks main attractions, the Macaw clay lick. The clay lick is in an area along the banks of the river, below the high canopies, where thousands of Macaws live. Each morning between sunrise and about 10am, huge numbers of Macaws and Parrots swoop down in a chaotic frenzy and lick the nutrient rich clay in order to neutralise the acids in their stomachs and gain the nutrients they need to flourish. En route to the boat, we were met half way by our guide who told us we would have to wait for a while to see if the rain would pass before setting off...the rain didn't pass, and we were given our marching orders back to our bungalow. Although disappointed, it was pretty nice to get back into bed for a few more hours.

At a much more worldly 7:30am, we were awoken for our breakfast and for a short briefing on the days revised itinerary. We would now be taking a short boat ride across the river, trekking through the jungle for an hour to a small local clay lick, coming back, having lunch, going kayaking and swimming in the river, zip lining in the canopy, going on a night walk, having dinner and then finally going to bed.

9am, wellies on and we were off down the jetty to catch the boat across the river to where we would begin our walk. With just us two, one Swiss girl and two guides, our small group set off through the jungle, with eyes once again peeled for anything and everything. Before ten minutes had passed, we had our first glimpse of monkeys high up in the canopy, swinging between trees and occasionally stopping to have a good stare at us. We saw a few other friendly animals such as tucans and macaws and a couple of not so friendly little fellas. Walking along the overgrown trail leading the way, was our guide, then the Swiss girl followed by us two. Suddenly the Swiss girl stopped and pointed at a thin branch dangling down in the middle of the path. Curious to see what she was looking at, we all took a closer look and at exactly face height were three one inch long bullet ants. With a bite apparently as painful as being hit by a bullet from a gun (hence the name), they are one of the most feared non-lethal insects by the locals. Carefully dodging the branch, we carried on our way until we reached the small clay lick. We sat twitching away behind a bird hide with binoculars in hand...we never though we'd be bird watching at our ages! After spotting numerous species and colours of macaws, we made our way back through the jungle and caught the boat back to the lodge to get ready for our next activity of the day; kayaking.

No sooner had we got back, it was soon time to hop back aboard the boat and head upstream with kayaks in tow. After our last river experience (river boarding in Mendoza), Gem was feeling a little bit nervous about getting back on the water. With only minor rapids to contend with and a little persuasion, she was soon off paddling back down stream. Doing our best to battle the river currents and always keeping an eye out for wildlife, we gently paddled our way down the river back towards the lodge. 45 minutes or so later, and we were back at the jetty by the lodge. Hot and sweaty from the paddling, we were assured that the river was safe enough to swim...despite the current and it being home to numerous species of caiman (including 5m black caiman) and anaconda's! Nevertheless, we dived in and enjoyed the refreshing water and mucked around with the nutrient rich fine clay soil. Splashing about done, it was time to head back to our bungalow for a quick shower and sit down for some lunch.

Once our yummy three course lunch had settled, we were soon back up and getting ready to hike into the jungle where we would be harnessing up and swinging through the trees in true Tarzan and Jane style. Similar to 'Go Ape' back home, albeit lacking ALOT of the health and safety and zipping through primary rain forest instead of Trent Park woods, we swang, stepped and zipped through the jungle...a couple of times. Still laughing away and with aching arms, we made our way back to the lodge for some rest and relaxation time before our final activity of the day, the activity we had been nervously waiting for...the night walk.

The rest and relaxation didn't happen...Rich was coaxed into a game of football with the staff. However, 10 minutes after kicking off he was completely saturated in sweat, dripping like a leaky tap and looking like he was about to explode...on grounds of health and safety, he retired himself from the game and sat on the sidelines with the girls for the rest of the game.

Night walk time...with senses once again automatically turned up to the max and in complete darkness except for our torches, the two of us and our guide headed off into the jungle, slowly, carefully placing each and every foot step. Knowing that most animals in the jungle are nocturnal, we were hoping to find some real jungle treats. Less than 10 minutes into our walk and suddenly our guide stopped abruptly and with huge excitement pulled us both towards him and pointed into the dense undergrowth. By the time Rich had managed to get a look all that he saw was a rustle of a bush whilst Gemma caught a small glimpse. Disappointed in missing out we carried on immediately, however within another 10 steps there it was again; with its jaguar like patterns, lying down in the undergrowth was an Ocelot. Approximately a 1/4 the size of a jaguar, but 4 times the size of a domestic cat, they are very rare to see and we were buzzing. Once again, before we knew it, it was off again, this time for good.

Walking through the jungle with its 50m+ enormous trees, 95% humidity and continual sounds, at times it almost didn't feel real. It felt more like we were walking through a Florida amusement park, but it was real and was out of this world amazing. Despite sightings of huge toads, lizards, crickets, frogs, nocturnal birds and more spiders you could shake a giant stick at, neither of us were fearful at all. We were simply too amazed and astounded by the incredible experience to feel any fear. In order to get the greatest feeling of the jungle at night, we stopped, turned off all the torches and stood there for a couple of minutes in silence, in order to hear and feel the jungle at its most active. With stars so bright, all of the sky we could see through the top of the canopy was full of white. An hour or so after setting off, we arrived back to the lodge, gave each other a quick once over to make sure we hadn't brought any little friends back with us and got ready for dinner. Sitting round dinner, we chatted with the other couple and Swiss girl who did a separate walk and reflected on what had been one of, if not the highlight of the trip so far.

Feeling as though we had almost conquered our insect fear, it wasn't long before we came crashing back to earth with a mighty creepy crawly bump! On our way back to our bungalow we spotted four huge tarantulas perched on the trunks of the trees located next to the path. Although incredible, they felt a little close to home already. Back in our bungalow, the usual routine began...we creeped in, checked the bedroom, then the bathroom. Bedroom clear (excluding the ants), however in the bathroom was another huge spider! Here we go again...a couple of minutes later with his trusty converse in hand, Rich fulfilled his spider hunter duties and cleared the bathroom. Bungalow now clear (or so we thought), we started to get ready for bed. Just as Rich was getting undressed, there was a loud shriek from the bathroom. Gem came out, toothbrush in hand claiming there was a bird or something in the bathroom. With huge ceilings and only two walls without a ceiling separating the bathroom from the bedroom, we had something pretty large flying around the room. It didn't take long to discover that the flying animal wasn't a bird and was in fact a 6 inch cockroach! Shit, this was going to take more than a converse to solve this problem. After a lot of deliberation, Gem offered to step up, take a water bottle and attempt to squish our invertebrate friend. Waiting for it to scurry onto a flat surface, it eventually did and with bottle in hand Gem was creeping towards it shaking like a shitting dog. Once close enough she slammed the large bottle on it and with only a little bit of its body poking out each end, we thought the job must be done. With the bottle still on top of it, Gem went back to finish of the job for sure. Just as she lifted the bottle to give it another whack....whoosh, it was off again. Shit! Back to square one. It was at this point that we held our heads in shame and accepted defeat...we went and got our guide to get rid of it. Broom in hand, he came along like our knight in shining bug armour and coaxed it out. Before we even had the chance to find anything else we hoped into bed and closed our eyes!

3:30am and another call from satan, it was attempt number two at going to the clay lick. With continual flashes of lightning in the not so far distance, we feared we might be back in bed sooner than we thought. But no, it was go, go, go and we were soon on board and belting it along the river in the pitch black. With the driver siting at the back of the boat steering, how they have any idea where the hell they are going is a total mystery; they are extremely talented. With lightning bolts lighting up the river and surrounding canopies every so often, it added even more to the already incredible atmosphere. An hour and a half later and after watching the sun rise over the jungle, we reached our destination. With backpacks and a stool in hand, we walked for about 10 minutes across the thick muddy clay banks of the river over to a spot with a view of the huge clay lick. Now we waited...and waited, drank tea, ate fruit, ate biscuits, drank more tea, fidgeted and waited. With thousands of the stunning Macaws and Parrots, gliding around in their pairs or threes or more if a family, it was already an impressive sight. With occasional 'fly backs', when all of the birds in the surrounding canopies leave their perch and fly a huge loop around and back to their perch, this can often mean they are preparing to feed. Unfortunately, after waiting for three hours, the 'daily' phenomenon, didn't happen today. Disappointed, however still having had another great experience, we made our way back across the wet, heavy clay back to the boat for the long journey home. Laying back with the wind whistling at us, it gave us a brief respite from the intense humidity.

Once back at the lodge, shattered and hungry, we had our proper brekkie and went straight to bed for a couple of hours. Feeling refreshed, we got up, had lunch and relaxed for a couple of hours around the lodge before we prepared for our final walk of the trip. Of we headed again, this time instead of being animal based, it was more about the flora and fauna and how they are useful for medicinal purposes. With a plant for pretty much every condition, it is pretty amazing. Whether we would opt for some of them over conventional medicine I'm not so sure. Nevertheless it is still pretty astounding.

It was 4pm on the last day in the jungle and the moment Rich had been waiting! Rod in hand, we headed up stream in the boat looking for a suitable spot. With the river being so high recently there was so much debris underwater, that we had to relocate a few times to try and avoid getting snagged on under water branches etc. Typically, the locals all caught first; two small catfish, but we weren't about to give up. However, having spent most of the time snagged on the bottom of the river, we never really gave ourselves much of a chance. As fun as it was fishing in the Amazon, we never caught anything more than a couple of twig fish! However, our guide did catch an interesting fish just before we packed up. Often thought of as a myth, there is a baby fish that if you urinate in the river, can swim up the urine and into your body, and he caught an adult one! Described by our guide as blood sucking vermin fish, they all spoke with disgust about this fish (and these guys love nature). Difficult to deal with, they eventually unhooked and through it back. The other two fish weren't so lucky, and ended up grilled and on our plates!

Back for dinner and soon off to bed, all we had left was another nights sleep, breakfast and before we knew it, we were marching back through the jungle along the same route we came in, to meet the 4x4 to take us back to town. An hour late due to the horrendous off road conditions, our ride finally arrived and off we went back through the many huge puddles and along the bumpy road all the way back to Puerto Maldonardo.

After three incredible, jaw dropping nights deep in the Amazon jungle, we were back to relative civilisation. We stayed in Puerto Maldonardo on the mighty Madre de Dios river, for one more night before catching a flight back to Cusco the following morning.

Before setting off for the jungle we were hoping to have a good experience...we had one of the most memorable experiences of our life's, which will never be forgotten.

It was now time to head back to the mountains and get trekking stop the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu!

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21st March 2014

Gemma and Rich just cant believe what l have been readingl dont know how you coped with the jungle the spiders my god youbare both so brave you must have been so scared at times mind you you will never experience anything like it again. But l will be glad when you are back in England. Lots of love and kisses Nan and Grandadxxxxxxx

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