After the worst 10-hour trip in a small, hot, and smelly bus; we arrived at Puerto Maldonado at 4:30 in the morning. Not really knowing what to expect, we stepped out into the comfort of the hot temperature, where we were greeted by Charlie. I guess I’ve just come accustomed to not hearing English spoken, so it was a nice surprise when Charlie spoke to us in perfect English. After some brief introductions, we all piled into yet another small, hot, but less smelly bus and drove about 15 minutes to Charlie’s house. His home, also a hostel, was beautiful! There were hammocks in the front yard where we relaxed for a while, while he and his wife prepared breakfast for us.
The sun still hadn’t risen, but I was already excited to watch the sunset in this tropical location. Soon we were off to catch our boat to our bungalows! We drove through town as Charlie pointed and explained to us the culture and lifestyle here. Soon, we arrived at the plaza, where in view was a big bridge, the road that led all the way to Brazil. It would take 2.5 hours by vehicle to cross the border into the country I still hope to visit one day. Once on our boat, we traveled down the river Madre de Dios, for about half-an-hour until we arrived at our destination.
With the helping hand of Charlie, we each stepped off the swaying boat into the mud, and up the wooden stairs to the mainland. We were all introduced to our bungalows, where we would be spending the night. Excited we each picked roommates and unpacked. At that point I felt like I was bathing in mosquito repellent, but we all smelled of DEET; we were in this fight together. The views from our front porch was that of our hammock, the endless river, and the mesmerizing Amazon rainforest. It was so surreal!
Soon we were all called to participate in our first activity-tree climbing. I was excited, but only to watch all the others. Due to my slight fear of heights and lack of upper-body strength I did not climb all the way to the top, but I still tried and it was still a very fun experience. I don’t think I have ever done anything like that before, many of my group members had done rock climbing before so they did very well with this activity. Still, it was a lot of fun!
After sweating off all of our sunscreen and bug spray, we reconvened at the lake for kayaking! The sun was so strong, but there was a slight breeze as we worked our way down the river and that made all the difference. It was a really good workout, no surprise there. After about an hour of kayaking and enjoying the river encompassed by vast lands of deep green, we returned to land.
Next we embarked on a walk through the forest. There was hardly a path, only that of which our guide, Rafa created, and we made sure to follow closely. Our walk was so much fun, we were surrounded by forestation and I refrained thinking about all the insects watching us. We stopped abruptly when we spotted a snake in the brushes nearby. I was both amazed at the size and scared at the realization that I was in the forest a few feet away from a giant black snack. I felt a little safe behind Rafa, who grew up in this forest and knew everything there was to know about surviving here, so it was fine. As we walked through, we made many stops to learn about the different uses of trees and plants as foods and medicines. The deeper we walked into the forest, the closer we became to Rafa’s home, where his family had a farm. My favorite part trying the different fruits, they are so much tastier fresh off the trees! We had some delicious oranges and guaba, some even tried termites and larvae.
After our walk we retreated back to the river where we met Charlie with our boat. There we traveled downriver watching the sunset. I had always thought the prettiest sunsets were back home in Arizona, in Monument Valley. Well, my home now has some competition. There really is nothing like watching the sky turn from blue to pink on the Amazonian river is. The water reflected the pink sky perfectly and for a few minutes it was hard to believe this was real. This was a different kind of nature. More green, more exotic, more surreal. But there I was, embracing it all with nine amazing friends.
Once the sun was down, we began our search for nocturnal animals along the river. It was a bit nerve-wrecking cruising in the dark in waters unfamiliar to me, but still I was up for the adventure. With our spot light we searched for red eyes. After getting stuck twice and watching nervously as Charlie and Rafa jumped into the water, we decided we had seen enough for the night and made our way home, where dinner was waiting for us. For dinner we had my favorite, plantains, rice, and catfish fresh from the river! Also, some fresh fruit juice. It was delicious!
After the long day, we all retreated to our cozy bungalows. What a night that was! My friends and I battled all night with cucarachas (cockroaches). In total we had seven in our room, and after that it was very hard to fall asleep. Now, in retrospect the chaos of that night is a hilarious story. Some of my favorite memories are in that rainforest. Once I was safe in my clean sheets and mosquito net, I slept great! For me, the sounds of the forest were very soothing. I awoke by the sun shining through my window and caught some of the sunrise–breathtaking! We ate breakfast together, and packed up for our second adventure into the Tambopata reserve!
We did about a four-mile hike through the rainforest where we tried not to slip in the mud, some of us succeeded. We stopped to observe a long line of ants hard at work, and I immediately thought of Bug’s Life. Then we saw some monkeys in the trees, an entire family preparing to take a nap. In the distance we could hear the dinosaur-like sounds of the howler monkies. It was incredible! Soon we reached our canoes, and continued our adventure to the Sandoval Lake. It was amazing! We saw so many different types of birds, turtles, butterflies, etc. It was hard work paddling through the lake, but I swear it was like a scene form Jurassic park!
We stopped at a small home, now hostel along the lake where we had our lunch. For lunch we had Juane, which is rice, meat, olives, hard-boiled egg, and spices, all wrapped with bijao (macaw-flower) leaves. It was so delicious; by far my favorite dish I have had in Peru. After lunch I took a much needed nap in the heaven-sent hammocks. I was tired, and was then looking forward to the long bus ride home, where I’d be able to sleep! Soon, we began our retreat back to the entrance of the reserve and made our way back down Madre de Dios.
Once back at the main plaza of Puerto Maldonado we all went to the market where we bought some fresh fruit for the long trip back to Cuzco. I also bought some castañas, or Brazilian nuts. I did not regret anything I purchased at the market! Soon we were dropped off at the bus station. We all bid farewell to Charlie and his colleagues, who had been the best of hosts! I will surely be recommending his business to anyone who is interested in traveling to the Amazon! They are so family orientated and welcoming you will feel right at home. More importantly, in such a foreign place, you will feel safe! After a few hours of waiting, our bus had arrived and we all boarded and quickly fell asleep only to wake up 10 hours later back in the cold of Cuzco. This undoubtedly has been my favorite trip in Peru, followed by Tequile of course.
Peru is such a beautiful country full of beautiful and welcoming people. As my time winds down, only 9 days left now, I only hope I can one day return to visit the friends I have made and experience the beauty of the land all over again.