Peru: The Amazon Rainforest
Stepping off of the plane in Puerto Maldonado at 11AM had me rethinking the comfortable pants and long sleeve that I chose to wear. The sun beat down on our bodies with full intensity and not a single whisper of wind was to be found. We walked off of the tarmac to find our guide. We spotted him immediately among the handful of people in the waiting area. Nothing makes you feel more like a tourist than a person waiting for you at the airport waving a bright white sign with your names scrawled on.
Our guide drove us to the office to repack our bags into a smaller duffel and then we drove the 45 minutes down to the dock. We were warned to slather on sunscreen and mosquito spray (in that exact order), handed out our lunches, and loaded us into the boat. It was a quiet week with few visitors so we were able to spread out over long wooden boat. Looking inside our lunch bags we were pleasantly surprised to find traditional lunches wrapped in banana leaf. The boat motored up the calm river at a pretty decent speed and 2 hours later we arrived at the lodge.
Our accommodations were basic but very well kept with a traditional flare. I was surprised to see that the rooms and common area were not completely enclosed, but instead protected with a thin mesh all along the top half of the buildings. This provided the rooms with a cooling crosswind in an area that only saw a few hours of electricity a day. Which really, we were in the jungle, we were just happy to have a room and some food.
I was however, not surprised with the cold showers.- and were they ever cold. Thankfully, the weather sat around 30 degrees most of the time so the cool showers were often welcomed. (I actually am a baby and thought they were freezing cold but Kyle and Gaia didn't mind them.)
We had few expectations of seeing animals. We recognize that animal sightings are entirely up to mother nature and that no matter how good your guide is they can't make an animal appear out of thin air. Something that we hadn't taken into account was that it was mating season and the end of rainy season which affected the amount of animal interactions. Fortunately, we were still able to see a good variety of animals. Some animals that we saw were: a jaguar, cayman, monkeys, capybaras, agouti, frogs, macaws, parrots, tucan, turtles, tarantulas, chicken spider, banana spider, chameleon, bat, gecko, and various other bugs.
One of my favourite interactions was when our guide drew out a chicken spider out of a burrow using the end of a stick. Those things are HUGE- easily the size of a hand with their legs spread out. The look on Gaia's face was priceless. Later that night we had the opportunity to see a whole family of them. Gaia claimed that the babies were "cute", but she also made us do a bug scan before bedtime.
Our time in the jungle mainly consisted of boat rides, leisurely strolls, and afternoon siestas in the cleverly placed hammocks by the riverbank. Early mornings meant early nights. There were some diehards at the bar on the last night, but for the most part people called it early.
On the second day we woke at 530AM to go for a 10 km nature walk to a lake. Ten kilometers doesn't seem like much unless it's 33 degrees with 80% humidity and you're 6 years old. Heck, I even struggled at times. A serious bonus to the temperature was that at that heat, the mosquitoes mostly stayed away.
The following day was a 4:30AM start in order to take a boat upriver to Colpa Chuncho to see macaws. The night prior the guide had informed us that if it was raining too hard in the morning it would not be safe or enjoyable to do the 2-3 hour boat ride to the clay lick. I went to sleep to the sound of rain drumming on our roof, but awoke to the sound of birds singing and crickets chirping. It's the best sound to wake up any day, but that morning it was extraordinary.
We had dressed Gaia in her hiking clothes the night before and only needed to pick her up and place her onto the boat so she wouldn't have to endure the 3:30 wake up. Since she was sleeping in Kyle's arms, I took the opportunity to nap myself. Am I ever so thankful that I had. The boat ride to the lodge had been on calm smooth water, but we were traveling much further upriver and this leg of the journey was slightly more perilous. The gentle (ish) rock of the boat lulled me to sleep but I often felt myself jolted awake and the occasional splash of water on my face. I finally sat up as the sun was just starting to rise and was shocked to see that the boat was carefully slicing through numerous rapids. I realized that the feeling of being jolted awake had been the driver's quick thinking as he weaved around dangerous logs and whatever other obstacles lay just below the surface. I have to add that our skilled boat operator did a large portion of this navigation in the dark.
We were one of the lucky groups. Within minutes of arriving at the clay lick the beautiful red of the macaws flashed before us. We were told that a tour a few days before us had waited out there for 6 hours and didn't get to see a single one. I was grateful because the macaws and a sloth were my bucket list items for this trip (we never did see a sloth in the wild.)
Amazon Must Pack List:
30% DEET mosquito repellant
Breathable long sleeves and long pants
Camera with good zoom
Flip Flops/Crocs to relax in after your excursions
"Hammock clothes" (something comfortable for the afternoon)
Kids sized footwear- most lodges provide rubber boots in an array of sizes, but they didn't have any in Gaia's size. My husband was shocked to find boots in his size as he is a mens size 13 but they had no larger.
The humidity was so intense that even the pages of our books were starting to warp as if we'd dropped them into water. I had only brought a couple of pairs of pants and long sleeves for each of us, but I wish I had brought more as it would have been near impossible to dry laundry. Getting real honest here, I actually just circulated 2 gross sweaty muddy pants over the 4 days I was there.
If heading to the amazon, don't forget your sense of adventure, be prepared to tolerate some intense heat (and bug bites), and lastly, get ready to eat a lot of rice and potatoes (Peruvian staples). The meals at our lodge were really quite tasty, especially the desserts. The closest grocery store was a good hour and a half away so bring what snacks you can't live without. Now that you've got that get ready to relax in some hammocks, sip on some cool drinks, experience a new environment, see some amazing animals, and meet some cool people.
We stayed at Cayman Lodge and loved it. They offered a reasonable discount for children, have a great variety of tours and our experience was very positive. Each group gets their own private bilingual guide which is a lovely luxury (especially when you have children). Another good option if it fits your budget is the Tambopata Research Center. Timing and funds didn't allow us to stay there, but we have heard many positive reviews.
Note* There are multiple entrance points to the Peruvian portion of the Amazon Rainforest. We chose Puerto Maldonado because of its abundance of clay licks and its close proximity to our intended route. In Northern Peru there are several different species of animals that don't live in Southern Peru, and vice versa. Head North if you want to see the famous pink river dolphins, but really just find the itinerary that works best for you. :)