Puerto Maldonado, what a first day!

Published: July 13th 2009
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The Health Office official was also thinking better safe than sorry, as he handed us face masks and demanded our tour operator information. He then disappeared into the back and made a flurry of phonecalls.

When he emerged we had found our luggage and were wearing the facemasks, willing to do whatever he instructed. All we wanted to do was get to see a doctor. When we met our tour guide he didn't even flinch at the news that we would most probably be detouring the whole bus via the doctors surgery. Right oh, just hop on the bus there.

Hopping onto the bus that held several people who would have seen us on the plane minus the facemask, who now saw us plus them, had the same effect as walking onto the bus with a large gaping wound that was spurting blood everywhere. People just moved away from us. Actually in hindsight, people would probably be more inclined to help with stopping the blood! We felt like lepers but couldn't really blame them!

We got to a central HQ for the tour operator and were whisked off into another bus. This brought us to the governmental health laboratory where we had to complete a Swine Flu alert form and state where we had been over the last while. They then took Philippe away into a side room and took three swabs. Two from the back of his nose and one from your throat. I then got the same treatment and can testify to it not being a nice experience! There is one immediate result available after 10minutes. It was the longest 10minutes of our trip to date.

Philippe's result came in first. All clear. The relief was patently clear on his face and I could tell he was instantly feeling tonnes better because he whipped out the camera! A few minutes later I got the all clear too. We were instructed to call the lab 3 days later for the lung results, but they were pretty confident that we are fine, and just have a dose of the common cold. Philippe was relieved, and I guess I was too, but I couldn't help feeling a little silly for getting caught up in the wave of panic. Better safe than sorry, I kept repeating to myself. It was the only rule we had imposed on our trip, and will continue to do so in the future.

After catching a rikshaw back to tour HQ, we were invited to do a tour of the markets in Puerto Maldonado. They recommended that we purchase some snacks for our treks during the week. The rest of our bus group were also in the market, apparently awaiting the arrival of another group who were on a delayed flight in. We hadn't held them up after all.

Eventually we all boarded a large canoe-like motor boat and settled in for the two hour trip down stream. Every so often a guide would point out a bird or a goldmine or a local family hut through the trees. It was but a hint of what was to come. A short while later we pulled up at the pier of the EcoAmazonia Lodge.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. It was like nothing we had ever experienced before. We were welcomed with a pineapple drink and informed that the lodge only has electricity during set hours-namely stupidly early in the morning and for a few hours around dinner time, and that we shouldn't bring food to our rooms or we could wake up with a Jaguar in our bed. Lights out at 10pm for all. It already started feeling like a military camp, and as we were ushered through for lunch we were informed that our first excursion left in 25minutes. We hadn't even found our room yet!

Our room turned out to be a spacious ensuite cabin on stilts. Not quite the jungle experience we were expecting, but in our current state of health we were grateful not to be in a mud hut! We gobbled dinner, hurried to unpack the insect repellant and the camera and were back at reception at the appointed time. We didn't want to miss seeing Monkey Island.

We gently chugged across the river to another island and after a small trek inland we were in a forest area getting things thrown at us by little capouchin monkeys. The guide told us there are four types of monkeys in the area, and of the four these little blighters were the most dangerous. They would happily swipe our camera or sunglasses, so we had to pin everything down or put it out of sight. Jaime, our guide, then set about chopping up bananas (with his machete!)
Spider MonkeySpider MonkeySpider Monkey

Does whatever a spider monkey does....
on a makeshift table. It was so sweet to watch as each of the little monkeys swung by the table and fought over the spoils. Some were so clever that we could throw pieces of banana at them and they would catch them. An unfortunate American girl was on the receiving end of a gift back from them as a little green poo landed squarely on her shoulder!

As we turned to move on we were greeted with a Spider Monkey who lowered himself in front of us. It was an extremely docile and friendly creature with massive black eyes. He happily took pieces of banana from our hands. This animal turned out to be Philippe's favourite of the whole 5 days. Mostly because he couldn't stop humming the 'spider pig' theme tune from the Simpsons!

After spending a little more time on the island we were deposited back at the pier and told that dinner was at 7pm. You got the distinct impression that you shouldn't be late. While we waited in the room for the electricity to come on, we figured out that the shower only ever runs cold water. This would help our cold greatly
On the boat at nightOn the boat at nightOn the boat at night

Looking for white Caymans
I thought!

We lazed around the cabin and turned up promptly for dinner at 7. It was a marvellous buffet spread with starters, mains and dessert. 15minutes into the lovely meal we were informed that there would be Caiman night tour in 20minutes. This place likes to run on time! Although we were shattered and in poor physical health we didnt want to miss the chance to see Aligators. So we duly turned up and bailed into the canoe.

It was beautifully peaceful out on the river. They cut the motor and we drifted with the current with only the light of the full moon to guide us. The chirps and growls of animals around us weren't frightening and served only to arouse our curiousity. The lodge seemed very secure at night. After an educational speech on Caimans (there are 3 types: Black-massive, Brown-tiny, and White-average size), a big torch light was shon on the river bank and we spotted some eyes staring back at us. There weren't many, but the experience was more about enjoying the sounds of nature than anything else. It was a peaceful end to a manic day.

As we headed straight to bed we were amazed at the extreme experiences we had been through in just 24hours.

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