Sunday, July 22, 2012

Welcome To The Jungle, The Amazon Jungle

Puerto Maldonato- The Jungle

Getting to Puerto Maldonado was mostly uneventful except for the parts in Lima where airport security was laughable, all announcements for our terminal were made from one desk, and there was no organization for getting onto our plane.  I take that back- we were shoved into a bus and taken to our plane.  We did get an awesome snack on our way to our stop over in Cuzco- cinnamon roll and a dinner roll stuffed with meat and cheese- take that USA, in Peru they feed their passangers!

The Cusco stopover was supposed to take just long enough for the deplane-ers to deplane and the new passengers to get settled but instead all of that happened and then we ALL deplaned and the reason was "for your safety we need to deplane. Cusco passengers on the left and Lima passengers on the right" we all stood in line for about 30 minutes and then got back on the plane only to find out that "for our safety" we would be sitting on the plane for at least another hour.  All in all the ordeal took over 2.5 hours.  Luckily, whatever they did for us got us to Puerto Maldonado "safely".

not so patiently waiting for luggage

bus ride to the receiving lodge

We were greeted by a member of the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica staff and taken to their lodge while they processed our passports.  We got to walk through their little butterfly house and had some tasty refreshments.

receiving lodge

butterflies eating plantains- these butterflies have blue wings when they are open!

butterfly house

From there, we took a bus through the town to the port where we boarded a fiberglass flat bottomed covered boat and embarked on the Amazon river for about a 45 minute ride to our lodge.

the golden gate bridge!  j/k

the port where we headed out to our hotel

get a feel for Puerto Maldonado

life jackets on for safety!

ray of sunshine, our driver was.

Inkaterra Lodge is amazing!  They have about 35 rooms and have a carbon footprint of zero!  It kind of felt like going to camp.  There's a main dining space, an information/guide center and everyone has a cabana outfitted with hammocks, lounging chairs, and a mosquito net covered bed.  There are no glass windows, only screens which brings me to the downside of limited privacy, you could hear your neighbors coughing.

first meal at the lodge

the beginning of Russell's love affair with lomo saltado
fish soup

chocolate yumminess

much needed mosquito netting!

lots of space for relaxing

the view from our porch


water bottles to keep the hotel netting carbon footprint of zero!

bucket-o-sand to put out fires- just in case!

educational lodge to meet for and learn about excursions

Our first excursion was the Amazon a night.  We took boats out with a guide, helmsman, and spotligher and we were off to see what we could see on the riverbanks.  Unfortunately most of the boat trip wasn't fruitful.  We'd see a white cayman here and there just barely sticking out of the water.  Just as we were losing interest and getting hungry for dinner, we hit the jackpot!  The way you see the cayman's in the dark is to look for their eyes glowing when the spotlight passes over them.  Suddenly it looked like glitter on the riverbank.  We had found a whole litter ( I am positive you do not call a group of baby caymans a litter but you get it, right?).  The crazy thing is, there can be up to 40 babies in one litter.  The best part of the whole thing was that we found them just down the bank from our cabanas- like if you walked 50 feet from your cabana door, there they would be!

Disgusting!  This is a snake we could've seen out and about...good thing the only place I saw them were in these jars!

the night tour

if you look very closely slightly to the right of center, you'll see a slightly bent line...that's a baby white cayman. 

We headed to dinner and then to our first sleep in the Amazon jungle!

Day 2- we had a little wake up knock at 5am.  I was already awake because I dreamed frequently throughout the night that there were critters in our bed.  Poor Russell was worn out from me waking him up to get the imaginary creatures out of the bed.  Needless to say we both had trouble getting up and moving! Today we were headed to Lago Sandoval.  We loaded back on the boats and searched for wildlife on the banks during the trip.  I was SUPER excited when we spotted a family of capybaras.  I had been dying to see them!  We also saw some cute little yellow faced monkeys jumping through the trees.  Once we reached the reserve, we had about a 3km hike through the jungle with lots of mud, bugs and some beautiful birdsongs.  We even got to see some red bellied macaws!  Once we reached the lake, we boarded paddle boats and headed out to see what we could see.  There were 2 other groups on the lake the same time that we were and I was worried they'd scare away all the good stuff before we got to it, but everyone spread out and we saw some great stuff!  More bugs, kingfishers, herrons, oven birds, ugly chicken bird things, giant black caymans (our guide, Glhemm said they were possibly 3m long), and a family of howler monkeys!  Once we parked our boat we were back on the trail for the long walk back.

a new meaning to bright and early

another beauty 

my favorite picture of the day

another excited helmsman

our guide Glhemm
Angie and Jackie from England- they had just finished a 4 day Inca Trail hike...they are 67 and 75!

This is a family of capybaras (spelling is wrong probably).  They're the biggest rodent!

They weren't kidding when they said "watch for the thorns"

Glhemm explaining the changes the river experiences 

Watch out for that mosquito!

we're off to Lake Sandoval

Big Tree!

still walking!

These leaf cutter ants are CRAZY!

muddy boots!

loading up for our lake tour

push Glhemm!

Glhemm giving us an educational lesson

beautiful view

and another

and another

way up in the top of the tree( think left of center top 3rd of the page) is a howler monkey and her baby...much cooler through the binoculars!
leaf cutter ants!  There's a video of them earlier in this post

These guys carry wood for 3 kilometers sludging through the mud to build new bridges and docks. 

a TINY praying mantis 

It's HOT

After lunch we were back out again for the canopy tour.  We saw the research center where the Inkaterra guides and researchers from around the world come to conduct research on the jungle and canopy.  How cool is it that a tourist lodge keeps a focus on reasearch?!

We would be climbing a 100 ft tower and then making our way across 6 suspension bridges.  Yes, you read right, the girl who had a break down on the Eiffel Tower was headed to walk across the jungle canopy.  Glhemm gave us a great overview of how the canopy system works, the birds we could see etc.  and we were off to walk across some very narrow hanging bridges.  Guess what- I did it and I didn't freeze, I didn't freak out and I walked across all by myself!
off to the canopy tour

you want me to climb that?!

Here I go!

...and up

view from the top

we made it!

Glhemm is actually a bird expert!  He studied them and college and is working on his masters!

For those of you who know my fear of heights- this was a big deal for me!

Russell wasn't scared a bit!

If you want to feel in on the action, watch this video

back down safe and sound!

On our hike back to the lodge we saw huge lemons, learned more about the fascinating jungle ecosystem, saw a strangling fig tree and learned how beetles burrow into coconut seeds and lay their eggs.

Strangler fig- it strangles its host tree until there's nothing left!

I had a little taste of this coconut like thing- sometimes when you crack them open there are larvae inside.  Lucky for me, no larvae in this one!

This tree can move inches in the span of a year depending on where it can get the best sunlight

After a little break we were off for our final excursion of the day: the jungle at night.  Russell and I were both a little uneasy about this since he doesn't love spiders and I HATE snakes, both of which could have  been seen on the walk.  We saw a tarantula, hoards of army ants, some crazy looking spiders, and one little yellow frog.  Overall it was a let down aside from the fear we experienced from walking through the dark jungle.  We were crossing our fingers for owls and sloths (and the rest of the group for snakes). Oh well ,the jungle IS elusive.

resident tarantula- she lives in a tree by the lodge

these ants were insane, there were literally millions of them!

and another creepy crawly

and another....

In this video you can see just how dark it really was in our night walk!

and another!  Did I mention that Russell HATES spiders?

The next morning we awoke at 5:30am.  That's right, we got to sleep in!  We were off on our most exciting adventure yet- Piranha fishing!

(Russell writing)
This was something I was extremely excited about.  Although we had fun the previous day (particularly, in my opinion, doing the Canopy Walk through the trees), I felt that overall the day was somewhat underwhelming in terms of the wildlife we saw beyond the unsettling swarms of mosquitos!   The piranha fishing excursion, which cost a wee bit extra, was about 2 hours up river at Lago Valencia.   We were joined by our guide, Ghlemm, and a lovely couple we'd made friends with the day before, Mike and Bethany from San Diego.

When we weren't sleeping on the boat ride on our way to the lake, we were taking in the absolutely gorgeous views.  About halfway, the boat turned off the main river and onto a little tributary towards Lago Valencia.  It was here that things started to get a bit exciting.  We saw TONS of birds as well as an absolutely remarkable sighting of an anteater walking around in a tree.  Very very cool.

Once through the tributary we entered onto the main lake and started our attempts at fishing for the catch of the day: piranha.  Although neither Katie nor I are particularly adept fishermen, piranhas fortunately, if nothing else, have no trouble being tempted by a bit of red meat on a hook.  The problem is that they tend to be pretty good at nibbling your bait up without you ever even knowing it.  Much of the day was spent "feeding" the piranhas rather than catching them!

After enough attempts though, you're bound to catch something!  Katie, as it turned out, caught one of the three biggest fish of the day, while I--although I caught a lot--ended up mostly with little piranhas that might pass for a fish stick at best in terms of size.

taking off bright and early!

My first, and largest catch!

look at the eyes on that thing!

big one!

The better to gobble you up, my dear!

One of Russell's many catches!

It's Big Mouth Billy Bass after dentures!

taking a break for outstanding empanadas!

baiting the hook

another good one!

We finished up our fishing with--somewhat frighteningly--a quick dip in the lake just a hundred or so yards away.  We both were actively crossing our fingers that our splashing around wouldn't attract the remaining family members of the now-captive piranha we caught, perhaps seeking revenge!  Fortunately, the swimming was mostly uneventful except for a quick "feat of strength" challenge where Katie and I raced each other around the boat.  We evidently are both pretty slow swimmers.

we decided we should go in together so if the piranhas attacked we'd go down together! 

he survived! 

and now for the racing feat of strength. Russell wins, I presumably get a mouth full of water.  

Following the fishing, we set ashore at a little area owned by the lodge and enjoyed an absolutely fantastic meal prepared by one of the chefs who had accompanied us.  The table was filled with different meats, h'ors doevres, etc., as well as a great many beverages including beer, wine, and champagne.  Oh yeah, and a whole lot of piranha that we had just caught!  It's actually pretty darn delicious, although I was partial (as I've been the entire trip) to the lomo saltado that was on the table.  Beef in Peru is just phenomenal.  One of the best parts- it started raining during lunch so the sounds were beautiful!

lunch table
fried up and ready!


beautiful view

and another

and another

hanging with Glhemm!

cheers to a wonderful day

and another good one

and another

little hand wash after a "pit stop"

look at that!

Once back at the lodge, the rest of our day was mostly spent relaxing since we were absolutely exhausted!  A brief sloth and macaw sighting as well as a yummy dinner capped things off.  Tomorrow our trip sets off for Cusco!  So long mosquitos!!

These little guys ran around all over the lodge grounds! 

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