Peru '22: Awesome Amazon Jungle
Puerto Maldonado is one of the main cities in the Peruvian jungle and gateway for tourists visiting the Amazon Basin. A city by local standards, most of the streets are bumpy dirt tracks lined with wonderful shacks and homesteads nestled in tropical foliage, happy street vendors jostling for business, kids waving enthusiastically at passing tourists and a beautifully natural feel.
We were staying at Ñape Lodge, owned and run by the Native Community of Infierno to promote eco-tourism, conservation research and benefit locals with employment opportunities. Following a brief stop at their office to pack a small bag for the next couple of days, we were soon bumping our way deep into the rainforest to our awaiting boat. Speeding down the mighty Tambopata River, we feasted on a delicious lunch of vegetable rice packed in natures own food wrap, a big banana leaf, whilst eagerly keeping our eyes peeled for brightly coloured macaws soaring overhead, hogs roaming the banks and caiman basking in the sun. Arriving to Ñape Lodge we were greeted by a big hairy tarantula guarding the path and troupes of marching ants big enough to carry a small child. Beautiful hummingbirds buzzed about their business and it was not long before the lodge’s mischievous ‘pet’ tapir, Chamuco, came to check us out. Orphaned at a very young age, the lodge adopted Chamuco, leaving out water and encouraging him to forage for fallen fruit. We were amused to see that he had recently learnt how to turn on the outside tap with his big snout, but not yet mastered turning it off again – how cute, we all thought… The following morning however, getting up for our 4am start to discover there was no water as Chamuco had been back during the night and drained the main water tank, there were a few choice words! (Fortunately Ñape Lodge had a secondary tank!)
Based around a lovely communal dining/lounge area set in lush foliage, the accommodation at Ñape Lodge is in small wooden huts and whilst basic, very comfortable with mosquito nets around the beds, flushing toilets and cold showers (in the heat of the jungle, a cold shower is very welcome!). Completely open on one side with a lovely balcony and hammock, it was magical to lay in bed at night listening to the sound of the jungle coming alive and even the overnight monsoon rain.
Over the course of our stay we did a number of jungle walks, both at day and night. Led by our fabulous guide Ederson, we followed tracks deep through the jungle with some amazing sights; monkeys swinging through the canopy, numerous species of spider including a Brazilian Wandering Spider which is apparently more deadly than a black widow, bats and some very cool insects of all shapes and sizes. We were encouraged to try some edible plants and even fresh termites straight from the tree – you have to try everything at least once, right? The jungle exploration at night was particularly exciting. Turning off our torches to absorb the sounds and let our imagination run away with every squeak and rustle, I had the feeling there were eyes watching us and even got sucked into tales of the Jungle Spirit who wanders the rainforest looking for explorers to lure deeper into the vegetation and never be seen again!
We were treated to a morning serenely floating around a beautiful oxbow lake, watching playful giant otters, spying some amazing birds, having a go at piranha fishing and all the while being closely followed by a caiman on the hunt for the odd piranha going spare. We witnessed pandemonium’s of parrots and macaws feeding on minerals in the clay river banks at dawn and climbed a tower high above the jungle canopy as the sun set. We spent an afternoon with the local shaman learning about the medicinal properties of jungle plants, trying some of his natural potions (making us a little giddy) and were taught about local traditions, including the famous Peruvian ayahuasca ceremonies.
Whilst it is hard to pick ‘the best bit’ about my time in the jungle, one of the highlights had to be our night caiman hunt. Speeding down the river, spotlights were shone along the banks to pick up the eerie glowing eyes of the caiman, who once detected, would slip into the water with barely a ripple. We spent a few minutes sitting silently in the river, no lights, no engine and no talking, simply the sound of the jungle and occasional rumbles and flashes as a lightning storm brewed far away, high in the Andes. We all agreed afterwards, if only we could have bottled those few minutes as one of the most relaxing and calming moments ever.
The food was outstanding. Meals were freshly prepared and served buffet style, dining together with the other guests and guides. Spending time in the jungle brings many questions for inquisitive minds and eating with Ederson gave opportunity to discuss our activities further, learning so much from his endless rainforest knowledge.
Since having visited the jungle I have repeatedly been asked three questions… YES it was hot, YES there were plenty of biting beasts and NO we sadly did not see Paddington or Aunt Lucy! Regarding the heat, most activities were undertaken in the cooler early mornings and late afternoon/evening, with the rainforest canopy providing shade, the boat having a good canopy, plus a wide brimmed hat is highly recommended. The cold showers are welcomed and I would also recommend taking a few changes of top as you do get very sweaty! I am generally the first to be bitten but ensuring I was fully covered at all times (long trousers tucked into boots, long sleeves and regularly dousing myself in strong anti-bite) I got away completely bite free. Take a pair of flip flops for walking around the lodge as boots are removed at the door and a head torch is invaluable, not only for the night walks but also for outside the 2-3 hours of power each evening, it is eyes shut dark – even showering and dressing pre-dawn. As for the other question, Paddington obviously now lives in London and we didn’t go to the Home For Retired Bears whilst in Lima!
The staff at Ñape Lodge were so welcoming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic to showcase their beautiful world. A completely different and unique experience.