Peru Vacation – Amazon Day 2

Today I’ll continue with our second day in the Amazon Rainforest. Check out the first journal entry here.

Day 3: Thursday, May 26

We thought the last couple of wake-up calls were early – today, we got up at 4 a.m. for a 4:30 breakfast and 5 a.m. departure. We hiked down to the river, took a quick boat ride to another spot in the rainforest, hiked about 45 minutes to the Tres Chimbadas Oxbow Lake for the sunrise on a man-made catamaran.

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A couple of very strong locals from Infierno took turns paddling the boat for us. The first thing we saw was a black caiman (alligator) in the water. Our boat was able to glide up just a few feet away from it!

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We also saw a ton of birds – horned screamers, macaws, hoatzins, kingfisher, yellow and white herons, wren, red-caped cardinals, and much more.

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Although the lake is known for giant river otters, we were among the 40% that didn’t get to see them. At the turnaround point we fished for piranhas. Though they have very sharp teeth, they aren’t nearly as vicious as Hollywood makes them out to be. They are similar to sharks – they may bite you if you smell like blood – but otherwise humans are not prey to them. Several people caught yellow and white piranhas, which they threw back after taking a look.

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On our way back, it started to warm up as the sun climbed higher in the sky, so we didn’t see nearly as much wildlife.

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Garlic tree

Close to our lodge, we took the boat to the clay licks along the bank, where macaws come to lick and eat clay for the salt. We saw a few from a distance before heading back to the lodge for a quick snack of light sandwiches. It felt like lunchtime, but it was only 9:30! We took a 15-20 minute hike to the clay licks, where we hid out in a bird blind. We saw one macaw eating clay, and we got a better look and close-up cellphone shots with Robin’s telescope. He was great at holding phones up to the telescope to create a “zoom” photo.

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We also got lucky with a group of spider(?) monkeys that ran by us along the path!

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Our group got back to the lodge around 11, where we rested until lunchtime. Right before lunch we saw a group of pocket monkeys jumping in the trees and along the trellises at the lodge. Although I didn’t have my DSLR with me, we were able to get really close to video.

We had stuffed peppers, veggies, and potato cakes for lunch – delicious! We rested again (during the hottest part of the day) back at the room. It was nice to just lie in the hammock and listen to the amazing sounds. I decided I’d rather be blind than deaf in the Amazon. The birds, insects, howler monkeys, and other animals never stop talking and singing. Around 2 p.m., with an invitation from Robin, we ventured down to the back side of the lodge to witness a local game of soccer. They play hard, sweat a lot, and have FUN! A couple of guys in our group tried to play with them too. I imagine they were sore the next day!

At 3 we headed out for an ethnobotanical tour at Centro Ñape, which turned out to be a shaman showing us the plants he grows and uses for medicine. We were greeted by his friendly pet (wild) pig, who stunk to high heaven but was as friendly as a dog. We learned about quite a few different plants that helped treat symptoms of various diseases. We even chewed one leaf that made our tongues go numb and tried shots of 3 different concoctions known for healing. At first I was skeptical, but I do think there’s some truth to the medicinal purposes of plants. They even had several cabins for people to stay in and get treatment. Some locals visit the shaman, but people from all over the world also stay there.

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Back at the lodge, we had rice, coca (from coca leaves) chicken, veggies, and carrot soup for dinner. Although spotty at times, we actually had wi-fi there, so we could post photos and catch up with people back home.

After that was our night walk. We took the path down to the dock, and along the way we saw a lot of insects including a scorpion spider, wolf spider, and bullet ants, which we were told give a painful sting.

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At the dock we had a beautiful view of the night sky and had the opportunity to see constellations we don’t get to see in the northern hemisphere. Although the night walk was neat, we were a little disappointed with how little we saw. By the end of the long, tiring day, we were ready for hot showers and covered beds.

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Strange bug outside our room

We had to shoo away more bugs in our room than the previous night, but once I made it to sleep, I slept a little more soundly.

Peru Vacation

My husband and I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Peru for vacation at the end of May and beginning of June. I’ve finally had a chance to write out my trip journal and edit at 700+ photos. (And those are just the ones I kept!) Don’t worry, I won’t share all of those with you. But I did have such positive feedback sharing journals from previous mission trips that I decided to share this trip with you, too. It’s long, so I’ll be sharing one day at a time. Here are days 1 and 2…

Day 1: Tuesday, May 24

Last night we said our sad good-bye’s to Lil’ Miss K. Even though she knew we were leaving, I don’t think she had a concept of the length of time. We slept horribly and got up early for a 7:10 flight out of KCI, but unfortunately we had an hour flight delay. Our layover in Charlotte was only about an hour and a half, but we made up enough time on the flight to run to our next gate. We were the lucky few that barely made it – a lot of others on our flight had connections taking off about the time we landed. We flew from Charlotte to Miami, where we got Cuban sandwiches for lunch, then we departed for Lima, Peru. The flight was about 5.5 hours long. Our flight included about three rounds of snacks and drinks (including alcohol) and a big dinner. I saved back several items that I snacked on throughout the trip. We landed around 8:30 p.m., went through customs, said a “hallelujah” that our luggage arrived with us, and attempted to check in for our morning flight. After butchering some Spanish and not understanding a Peruvian airport security officer’s English, we finally figured out that the STAR Peru gate did not open until 3 a.m. We’d booked an extremely convenient, expensive hotel room at the Wyndham, which was attached to that airport. We got to enjoy very Western amenities and our first of several delicious Pisco sours at the hotel bar before heading to bed.

Day 2: Wednesday, May 25

We woke up at 5 a.m. to head across the street to the airport and check in for our flight. There was a long line, so we ran back to the hotel and ate from a big continental breakfast very quickly before heading to our gate. The rush was pointless – our flight was delayed about an hour. Then our flight was combined with another flight, so we no longer had a direct flight to Puerto Maldonado. We were a bit confused about what was going on with the language barrier – the English translations over the intercom were choppy and hard to understand. We quickly learned that delayed flights with STAR Peru were the norm. After all that, we got to sit on the plane for a couple of hours in Cusco waiting for our connection. Our total time, for what was supposed to be about an hour flight, was five hours. We finally arrived in Puerto Maldonado around 1.

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The airport had one runway, one baggage claim, and two waiting areas/gates. Luckily, despite the delay, there was someone from Rainforest Expeditions waiting with our names on a sign. What a relief! Not being able to communicate stressed me out, so having reliable guides was a lifesaver. We had to wait on the shuttle for one other flight to land, then Rainforest Expeditions took us and probably 10-12 other people to their office (right around the corner) so we could drop off luggage, check wi-fi, put on bug spray, and buy some water. From there, we had about a 45-minute bus ride (where we were given a snack of a mini banana and a few sugar-coated brazil nuts), then a 45-minute boat ride along the Tambopata River to the Posada Amazonas eco lodge, primarily run by locals from Infierno. The boat was relaxing and cool, and we got our first meal – a delicious rice/egg/vegetable mixture wrapped in a large leaf.

Our boat docked along the bank, we took a steep flight of wooden steps into the rainforest, and after just a few minutes of hiking, we saw a pack of monkeys! Although there are a lot of monkeys in the rainforest, you don’t just happen upon them like you may imagine, so it was pretty exciting to see them right off.

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After a 10-minute hike to the lodge, we had a quick briefing and were given just 10 minutes to drop off our stuff in our rooms and start a hike to the canopy tower before dark. The room was so nice! Two queen beds with mosquito nets, open air to the forest, and a simple, yet nice bathroom.

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There were 9 of us in a group with our super-knowledgeable and easy-to-understand guide – Robin. We saw such diverse vegetation on the 20-minute walk to the canopy tower!

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We climbed the 120 steps to the top of the tower, feeling it sway from all the people, then made the final ascent up a ladder for a fantastic view of the top of the dense rainforest. We didn’t see much wildlife, but we did catch a beautiful sunset.

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After climbing down, it quickly got dark, so Robin took us to see a tarantula living beneath a tree near the path. Despite my arachnophobia and its massive size, I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I thought I’d be, perhaps because we were in its habitat vs. the other way around, or perhaps because it obviously wanted to crawl back into its den to hide. Approaching the lodge we saw another giant spider – a Brazilian wandering spider – which Robin said was very poisonous. Only when we looked it up later did we realize it was the deadliest spider on Earth. Robin had actually grabbed our phones and taken a close-up photo only a couple inches away from it!

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We had a late dinner after the hike. All the food at the lodge was delicious! Tonight we had chicken pesto spaghetti and quinoa soup. I slept pretty poorly that night, not being used to all the animal sounds that never seemed to die down.