This was the view out my front screened window.

I looked through this window dozens of times and not twice was it the same view. The relationship between the clouds and the river, framed in the window, created a moving picture that was like a never repeating kaleidoscope, one's change reflected in the other. It inhabits your dreams.
Arriving at the airport in Puerto Maldonado, the Inkaterra folks met me right on schedule. Would you mind terribly, they asked, a group from Portugal will be joining you. Well, I though, not what I expected but what's a gal to do.

So here they are, six twenty-five year olds from Portugal who had just finished three nights camping out, hiking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu. Also there was one more guy, a bit older, from Switzerland. This was going to be different!
Here's the bus parked in front of the Inkaterra office.
Inside the Inkaterra office. You enter this room from the grungy dusty garage door above but once here you look out onto a lovely courtyard. It seemed entirely possible that all along this road, behind rusted and bent garage doors were lovely clean open spaces.

There were many formalities involved before we could go including the company taking our return air tickets - something about this area being a reserve and the government requiring to know who goes in and when they come out.
The Kids on The Bus.
The port of Puerto Maldonado. We rode one of these boats down that river, the Madre de Dios, straight to our camp, called Reserva Amazonica. I had no idea what to expect and thinking back, I couldn't have imagined what it would be like.

The area in general is called Zona Reservado Tambopata, 'the capital of mega-biodiversity'. The park borders Bolivia and is a bit south of Brazil. There is another National Park, west of here, called Manu that is more highly recommended for pure jungle but it is also seven times harder to get to and fourteen times more expensive to visit.
The entrance to Reserva Amazonica.

On that first day I began the experience that was, as far as my body was concerned, the equivilent of spending three days in an Indian sweat-lodge built directly over a mosquito swamp.

That being said, I had a fabulous time.
During the last rainy season an entire row of cabins dropped off the cliff. Gone.

The eco-literature often focused on how the jungle is a single organism, alive, and how we must respect the give and take of nature.

The image brought to mind a lava lamp, how the blobs are always breaking up and reforming, no one shape better than another, just different. But if you drain out the water or turn off the light the thing just doesn't work any more.
The view out my bathroom window shows another cabin. There were 38 places like this one. (Hmm, was this count before or after they lost that row in the last rain?)
This is the sink...
and this is the shower. The toilet is between the sink and the shower.
So there is the bathroom and the bedroom. This is the bedroom. There were two beds like this and a bench to balance your stuff on.

Laying inside this netting there could be a moment when it seems a guy opens the door to the sweat-lodge for a few seconds and you get a breath of fresh air.

Here's how. You put yourself under the cold water shower (there's no hot water and You Don't Care) and stand there until your blood cools. The gunk and chunks of goo created from your sweat, dirt, bug spray and dead bugs and sunscreen slowly puddles around your feet. Then quick like a bunny, forget the towel, you get inside the netting and here you lie down, clothes free, bug spray free, sun screen free and you just Be... Ahhhh.

I slept like a stone every night.
The veranda. Here's the thing about hammocks. It is not cool to lie in a hammock. Your own slimy body is folded up over itself and it is Not cool!

(ps I got this very useful bit off the internet: He lays a blanket on the grass and lies down; She laid a blanket on the grass and lay down; They have laid a blanket on the grass and have lain down.)
My roof and my bird tree.

I put this picture here so I could talk about the bird wars. All those jungle sounds cds or tv shows or movies you've ever heard, no matter how high you jack the volume, are just not loud enough.

Imagine a hundred shrieking parrots and a hundred angry roosters and then add a hundred howling monkeys operating a monkey Cirque du Soleil In Your House and you can get some idea of what it sounds like at dawn in the jungle.

Man! Did you hear THAT!! we said every morning.
We're up and out by 7am. It's coolest in the early morning.

The trip to Lake Sandoval means we motor over to a place down river, then walk for an hour or two, then the guide rows through the lake, we walk back and return via the motor launch.

Regarding these boats, it feels like there might be a rule as these are the sole method of transit up and down the river. They're called Peke Peke.
Walking. Here's a spotty part where the jungle opens up into a bog.
Note the guides hand on the far right. This was one honkin' spider web.

I didn't get as much entertaining or useful information from this guide as I expected. Inkaterra sold each one of these outings as English speaking tours (I knew there was a chance other people would join at some point) but the six from Portugal, cute as they were, were of course more comfortable speaking Portuguese. The guide spoke Portuguese just fine and much of the time, after a few minutes of not understanding even the topic, I had to stop listening. And when he was doing his 'English tour' his delivery was rote and uninvolved - not so good I thought. But to his credit, he could spot a three inch green bird in a green tree from a mile away.

This was a lesson in managing expectations and delivering what you've sold. This should be the worst of my problems. Early on I told myself I'd look up details on this stuff when I got home, but you know how that goes.

So I don't know what's what with this spider web but it's pretty cool.
Picking up the row boat. I knew we would be spending a lot of time in the open sun so, much to the confusion of my groupmates, I had brought an umbrella. As it turned out this was indeed a Good idea!
Heading out into the lake. Here it looks dark and murky but a few paddles later we are overwhelmed by the blaze of the overhead sun and some relief of mugginess since we are moving through open water.
Those are BATS on the tree in the foreground.
Me and the guy from Switzerland and one of the guys from Portugal went swimming right here. I just rolled out of the boat and ahhhh it was cool and so very very welcome. Getting back in over the side was another matter. Good thing those boys were young and strong!
After the swim, in the shade of my umbrella, with the breeze of the boat's movement, silent but for the symphony of bird calls - ahhhh.
Coming back through the groves - it was like this. Where does the reflection end...
The guide doing his 'I am just a simple jungle boy' routine. This was his most frequent personna.
He's in a jar. There was a Lot of agitation among the boys as they queried often about snakes. I could tell by the pointing and hand movements and words like python and poison. Where are they, will they get us, will we die, was the basic scenario. Not here, no and no, was the answer.

But in fact there were poisonous snakes, it's just the odds of even seeing one was beyond remote. I happily agreed to accept that snakes were not a threat to Reserva Amazonica tourists.

I wasn't going to worry about the piranhas either. Or the caiman, crocodile cousins that populate the banks of the Madre de Dios.
There was wildlife Everywhere but catching a pic was Hard. I put this here just because it's in focus...
We took a night time nature walk lit by flashlights. This guy is as big as a dinner plate. We also walked past a grazing tapir - this Huge, big as a full grown pig, rat-like creature. Whoow.
There were very specific rules the point being that we were obliged to leave the animals wild. Leave them alone.

Of course it couldn't really happen that way. They let this guy into the lodge and who could resist? He was flirting for food. Eventually the guide took him out because monkey poop in the dining room...

Angela found the info at the LA Zoo web site:

'Slender and diurnal, these tree-dwelling primates were named in honor of 19th-century Austrian emperor Franz Joseph, who sported a magnificent mustache. First identified by zoologist E.A. Goeldi, for whom the Goeldi monkey is named, the emperor tamarin hails from the tropical forests of Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. ..In the wild, they feed on fruits, flowers, locusts, beetles, and butterflies.'
The paths between all the buildings were made with these tree rounds so you'd have a chance to get around during the rainy (read muddy) season. The camp is busy all year so they have to make accommodation for all the possibilities.
The mosquito farm positioned strategically just under the railing leading into the dining room.
The common dining room-meeting hall-social center-cocktail lounge is in the distance. I should say the food was truly remarkable. Every single bite was entirely delicious.

I've mentioned before how the proposition of Inkaterra is eco-sustainable-tourism, tread lightly on the land, preserve for future generations, support local residents, etc. etc. and they advertise to follow these principles with the food.

All the meals are made from locally grown ingredients. There are no choices. The meals are served family style meaning, basically, mom cooks and you eat it. But since it was all so incredibly good I didn't hear a single complaint.

A typical dinner: chicken and rice steamed in banana leaf, a coleslaw made of raw beets, a hot dish of corn and onions and sauteed bananas. Fresh ingredients carefully prepared. I was happy every time it was time to eat - maybe partly from all the walking and climbing and sweating, but mostly I think because it was Good.
My cabin was just to the left of this scene. Dang amazing.
We took the boat again (ahhhh, no mosquitos in the middle of the river, ahhhh, the breeze) to Monkey Island. An island, as the name implies, with monkeys (duh) settled here by Inkaterra in an effort to reestabish some of the colonies that were lost to development.

Note the mud flats, then the shorter grass before you hit the trees. During the rainy season the river rises such that even the trees are half submerged.
Slogging through the jungle.
Monkeys! Here in a break in the canopy. That's a baby on her mama's back.

What I knew to be a fact but hadn't taken into account. In the jungle, under the thick canopy of trees, it is dark. Too dark for available light pix unless you settle in with the right equipment. To settle in means to battle the mosquitos and believe me, unless you are a Jungle Boy yourself, They Will Prevail.
In the late afternoon we head out to visit a native Amazon farm. Recognize the view?
A strange after-sunset flash shot with sky...

We visited an example of Fujimori's most well-known project. He recruited highlanders, from areas where there was a lot of political unrest, offering land, training and materials to takers, to build a sustainable farm in the jungle.

This place seemed very much a model establishment and since Inkaterra contributes funds to their upkeep, I'm not sure we saw the real deal but it was very interesting, because they made it that way. There were examples of a huge number of fruits, herbs, corn and rice crops and on and on, and we were free to look around the cooking and living areas too.

Too bad it was dark...

Then, on leaving, in the middle of the river, the boat broke down. There were a number of repair efforts by our crew and by the farm family involving ropes and hammers, but no joy.

We did manage several caiman sightings as we drifted along waiting for the rescue canoes that had been summoned by flashlight. No one was the least concerned, all just part of jungle life, dinner was waiting, no problem.
Next morning I'm heading back. The rest of the gang has another day and they're off for more treking. Bye! Adios!! Chao!
Along the river.
There were two other tourists and several staff members in the boat as we motored to Puerto Maldonado that morning, dropping off folks along the way.

This sight generated great enthusiasm and they even slowed the boat so everyone could admire these rare birds.
Again the port at Puerto Maldonado and why I need to rethink my luggage needs. I've got just too much overhead in my current wheel-ies. Even the guys who helped me would give a grunt and wonder if I was carrying firearms, or maybe it was an anvil.
At the Puerto Maldonado airport. Deluge. For 24 minutes the sky opened and rain fell in bucketloads. Then it stopped and 24 minutes later you wouldn't even know it had rained.
Back to Cusco (site of the Sacred Valley again), then on to Lima for a direct flight to LA. Home, to absorb All This - Patagonia, the Chilean Fjords, Cusco and Machu Picchu, and the Amazon Rain Forest. I will spare you a list of superlatives.
HomeCentral and South America • Peru • '04 Nov: Amazon Jungle

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