We take a flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, the gateway to the southern Amazon rainforest. Excited and apprehensive. A warm welcome, greeted by an open-sided colourful bus. It’s 30 degrees and very humid.
A boat transporting us to the EcoAmazonia Lodge creates ripples in the chocolate brown river; Madre de Dios. Lunch of chicken and rice and watermelon then we check into our rustic bungalow, named Pihar. A wooden hut on stilts in lush tropical gardens with mesh nets screening us off from insects/animals.
Back at the communal area, a sign declares: ‘Welcome to Paraíso’.
It really is paradise… there’s a bar.
After dinner we head out in the darkness and bundle onto a boat. Our guide turns off his torch to show us millions of twinkling stars above. The Milky Way, the Southern Cross, an S scorpion shape and Jupiter shines brightly. He asks everyone to be quiet for five minutes, and as we stare up at the stars in silence, it feels quite emotional. Suddenly, we see a shooting star.
A 5ft long caiman slithers down into the water. Eyes peek out above the water. The throb of the boat engine slows to a guttural beat and adds to the suspense as he scours the river edges with a high-beam torch, looking for reptilian eyes reflecting in the light. It echoes the throb of my beating heart. As we approach The Lodge again, we see a baby caiman by the edge of the steps and carefully clamber off the boat.
Jungle is massive
Up at 5am, we smother ourselves in suntan lotion and a layer of Deet. I’ve come armed with cans of Jungle Formula. Breakfast and we leave at 6am, carrying water and a snack bar and wearing my trusty Teva sandals.
We see a ‘telephone tree’ which our guide Walter strikes to make a loud noise reverberating for miles around. I guess you could use it to call for help, as there is no network or Wi-Fi. Then we come to a gigantic tree that’s three hundred years old. The biggest tree I’ve ever seen. We are tiny next to it. It’s at least 30ft across. Pleased I'm tiny in the photo as it's hot and humid!
After walking 5km, we arrive at a viewing platform, about 200 steps up a very steep wooden staircase within scaffolding. The view is of lots of palm trees in a swamp area. There are trees as far as the eye can see – like a vast ocean of broccoli florets.
We leisurely float past a turtle in the river which has a bright red butterfly on its head, drawing attention to it. It’s wonderful – like something out of a cartoon, the turtle very slowly waving its foot to try to get the butterfly off. Apparently, it’s the salt that attracts them.
Clambering into a small rocking boat and merrily down the stream we go.
I’m having a Snow White in a Disney film moment as a white butterfly lands on my hand probing for pollen. I feel like a flower.
Then the guide tells us they like the sweat. Oh.
Back at the ranch for a snooze after our non-sponsored 7k walk. I can hear crashing around in the trees, and wake from my slumber, excitedly seeing monkeys swinging past the window. At 4pm we head to ‘Monkey Island’ by boat. A spider monkey is sitting on the path waiting. The tamarind monkeys are acrobatic and a little aggressive swinging in the trees. Walter chops up bananas for their buffet meal as they squeak, whistle and chatter. It’s every monkey for himself. The mother with a clinging baby is ignored or chased away. Another hides further up the tree.
Bed by 8.30pm for some reading under the ‘strobe lights’ as the fan makes the light flicker. There is a mad painting of an ecstatic-looking man banging a drum – happy hour. Perhaps he tried the Ayahuasca.
iPhone at 19.56. Flights Climbed: 14 floors, Steps 18,508, Walking Distance: 11km. Battery: 38%.
Up at 6am. I’m feeling pretty rested despite waking up to the sound of snoring, not from my roommate, but from the man in the next cabin. Breakfast is pancakes and fresh fruit in the large communal dining room.
We walk to the ‘Lost Lake’ and Walter finds a beetle in the path. I jump back when he puts it near me. He’s just showing us the noise it makes when it’s afraid, a smaller version of the noise that I make when I’m afraid! By the time the fourth person in line listens to it scream, it’s gone still and looks dead. Luckily, we haven’t scared it to death, it’s just playing dead as a defence mechanism. I think I may have tried this tactic.
We hop in a boat, hear horn-blowing Orinoco geese, and see a large caiman hiding under a log, tarantula, wild turkey, leaf frog, and leaf-cutting ants. We see an iron tree, a very spiky palm tree. Lots of butterflies, a giant blue butterfly that looks like it’s on a piece of elastic flitting through the forest. Mushrooms of different varieties are everywhere. On finding a vine we are encouraged to do a Tarzan swing – which is fun (if a little chafing on the inner thighs).
On the route back, he spots a slow-moving sloth up high in a tree. They are only awake a few hours a day, so we lucked out. Oh, to be a sloth!
Today we’ve already walked 5k by 11am on our return to The Lodge.
Hearing a low rumble of thunder in the distance, the heavens open and it pours with rain. Well, it is the rainforest! We take a beer to drink on the hammocks and see a beautiful rainbow. Without rain there would be no rainbows
Dinner, accompanied by two Pina Coladas. The sign above the bar says:
‘It's 5 o’clock somewhere, always happy hour’ and we play table football.
After dinner, back in the boat looking at the stars in the dark and silence. Searching with torchlight, there is a 1m long caiman on the riverbank level with our boat, just inches from my head.
In our room, we discover that the tree frog we noticed last night is still there. I feel sorry for him and I don’t really want to sleep with him literally climbing the walls beside me. A man arrives with a broom, and to our despair, sweeps poor Kermit out the door. It’s not easy being green! The next day we find out that when scared these frogs puff up and produce a milky poison. This is why he didn’t pick it up gently, kiss it and place it carefully outside the front door but got it out quickly. Now I don’t feel so bad about seeing the frog dangling upside down in cobwebs from the broom.
We take a boat, engine drumming on the Madre de Dios River, and are given fishing rods with meat on the hooks. I’m quite pleased and a little scared when I’m the first one to catch a fish. Mother of God! It’s writhing around and surprisingly strong on the end of the line. Walter takes it off the hook and throws it back in after a photo of me with gritted teeth. Proud and terrified.
We head to a stream where we sit watching the birds: hawks, parrots, and butterflies are abundant. A local bathes and washes his clothes in the stream as we sail slowly past. Luckily, we’ve forgotten our swimwear, so don’t have to go in the murky river. The boys swim and cover themselves in mud while we sit in the shade.
Back at The Lodge, we’re boiling and pass out asleep in the room before lunch. A refreshing dip in the cold swimming pool and relax on the loungers. We’re delighted to see a red Macaw parrot fly towards The Lodge and land on the roof. Fantastic! Walter shows us around the botanical gardens, looking at all the medicinal plants, cashew nuts, ayahuasca, sugar cane.
As we leave The Lodge on a riverboat with fellow tourists, a guide points out a large caiman laying on the bank. It’s about 3m long, which is probably why it’s not hiding… It doesn’t need to be afraid.
We get on board the open-sided bus to the office using their Wi-Fi for messaging and emails, as we’ve had no network for four days.
Catch a flight to Cusco, then onto Lima. Walking out the airport, straight into the hotel opposite for the last lunch of our epic holiday together. Pasta, wine, recharge phones, Wi-Fi, reflexology in their express spa. Much preferable to hanging out at the airport.
12hours, 3 films, 1 red wine and a few hours of sleep later, I land back at Gatwick Airport. Full of amazing Amazon memories.
Written by Crystal McClory
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