What’s at the top of your bucket list? If you are among the people who voted for the New 7 Wonders of the World, there is a 1 in 7 chance you would say Machu Picchu. It was certainly near the top of mine, and enough of a motivating factor for me to plan a week long trip to Peru. Approximately a year ago, I rallied up my friend Kristen, and we decided to make this trip happen. We spent several months researching different tour options and taking into consideration cost, time, and the places we could visit. We narrowed down our “must see” list to included Machu Picchu and the Amazon. We were still up on the air about whether or not we should hike the Inca trail or take the train. Based on our time constraints, we decided to opt out of the Inca trail.
Since we arrived so late the night before, Kristen and I missed the pre-departure group meeting and walking tour of Lima with our Tucan guide, David. The next morning we were up by 6 and we were quickly informed that morning of having to transfer all of the things we needed for the next 3 days in the jungle to our “day packs” because we were putting our main bags in storage. I was never told that a “day pack” needed to be big enough for multiple days and I had packed the smallest day pack imaginable, so you can imagine my surprise! Fortunately, I also had a carry on tote from the plane that was slightly larger. After catching a flight from Lima to Puerto Maldonado (via Cusco), our group of about 18 people was herded onto a lodge bus and taken to the office to repack and store our main bags. After 10 minutes, we were transported again via bus to the dock to jump on the motorized canoe. The canoe ride lasted 1.5 hours down the river, and the weather was beautiful even though the water was a dirty brown color! We passed several lodges along the river before getting to ours. The lodge was impressive for being out in the middle of nowhere. There was a nice dining hall, a bar, pool, hammock lounge, and many individual bungalows for the visitors. The only 2 cons were the lack of hot water and the fact that we only had electricity for about 4 hours a day. A cold shower is not very fun, especially when you try to take one in the dark. Since we arrived around 2:30 to the lodge, we had a late lunch of chicken and rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Chicken and rice is a staple in Peru, and I’d say we ate it (or something very similar) at least 10 more times during our trip. By the time I got home, I was craving a salad! After lunch, we had time to relax and enjoy the pool. It was freezing (or as described by the staff, refreshing!) and I did not last very long in there before going back to my bungalow.
That evening, we had a delicious buffet dinner before regrouping for our night canoe excursion on the river to search for caiman. We swiftly moved along with our guide carrying a giant flashlight. We were lucky enough to spot multiple caiman by the glow of their eyes. They are much smaller than the average crocodile, but I still wouldn’t want to cuddle with one. Even more amusing than the caiman were the stars! Maybe I should have known this, but the constellations in the southern hemisphere are different than those in the northern hemisphere. The Southern Cross was shining brilliantly in the sky! Before bed, we hit the bar for a traditional pisco sour and some socializing with the group.
Our second day in the Amazon was very busy because we had to squeeze in a trip to Monkey Island that was intended for the day before. After an early morning breakfast buffet, our group split into two for our journey into the jungle. The group I was in started off with a long hike through the wilderness. Our local guide, David (not the Tucan guide also named David), led us along a path from the lodge. As we walked into the first clearing, I decided it was a good time to try out my Off fan. I switched it on, only to be dismayed by the louder than expected noise that was now coming from it rotating around. David immediately stopped talking and looked directly at me, saying “What is that noise?” Uhh… I tried to explain to him that it was the fan that was clipped to my belt loops, but I’m not sure he ever really understood what it was meant for. After a good laugh from the group, I noticed more people walking beside me trying to mooch off of my insect repelling technology. It may have been loud, but it definitely worked. I did not get any mosquito bites while in the jungle! It may have also been because I started dousing myself in 100% deet mosquito spray. That is not something I would recommend for everyday use, but I figured two days can’t be that bad.
Along our walk, we came across monkeys, fire ants, a termite nest, and many other creepy crawlies. At one point, David noticed a tarantula hole and decided it would be a good idea to try and coax it out by poking it with a stick. Sure enough, the tarantula crawled out of the hole for a quick photo op! Further along our walk, our path was intercepted by a family of peccaries, or wild pigs. There were really aggressive and we had to stay back. Earlier in our walk, David told us that if we got attacked by a peccary we would have to climb a tree to get away. You can bet I was scooping out trees while we waited for them to pass. By the time our walk was coming to an end, we were all very hot and sweaty, but the last stop of the walking part of our morning was to the lagoon to search for anacondas. You may be wondering what type of incredibly safe boat we took to protect us from these large snakes. The answer is… a rickety old canoe that almost tipped over several times! As David paddled us around the lagoon, vultures soared overhead. Taking that as a good sign, we continued for about 15 minutes, but could not find any animals.
The second part of our morning tour was to paddle a canoe down a small river. After walking for hours and literally dripping with sweat (Kristen’s hair never dried that day), we all piled into a canoe and attempted to row with 30+ lb. wooden oars. I can honestly say I was not a very effective contributor to the team that day. My oar was so heavy, but after switching with Kristen, I found hers was even heavier, so I made her switch back. Good thing she is such a good friend! We saw a few other birds, including a fly catcher, but nothing really crazy. I did manage to pluck some aguaje fruit from an overhanging tree. They are supposed to be very healthy and delicious, but it takes two days to soak them in water so they are soft enough to peel and eat.
During our morning hike, David continuously cracked open various nuts in search of the elusive “white worm” also known as a Sago worm. As we made our way back to the lodge, we finally found some. As he was handing them out for us to hold and inspect, the popped one into his mouth and spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince us of the wonderful health properties of this worm. We all looked at each other trying to decide how much we believed him and who would be the first to eat the live worm. The first victim was a guy from Germany. He ate it right away and said it tasted like coconut. After him a few other people gave it a shot, including me. Yes, I ate a live worm and it wiggled in my mouth. Just kidding, it did not wiggle, but it tasted like goo, not like a coconut. It wasn’t crunchy either. Was it delicious? No, but it wasn’t horrible either. I probably wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of them though.
We made our way back to the lodge for lunch, and then had a quick turnaround to Monkey Island. The island is owned by the lodge as a place to put monkeys they rescue, including capuchins, spider monkeys, and tamarinds. We only saw capuchins during our visit because they are bullies and gang up on the other monkeys when they try to come out for bananas. I think I was least impressed by monkey island because I’ve been to other countries where they have “monkey parks” and excursions like this. We only stayed there for an hour before jumping in a canoe to go fishing for piranhas.
Off the main river was an inlet where piranhas like to hang out. Mind you, we are still in a little canoe that could easily tip over if someone were to stand up too quickly. We did not even have life jackets on at this point. When we reach our destination, David hands everyone a stick with a piece of rope tied to it and some kind of meat fastened to the end. Most of our sticks had make shift sinkers made from some nails, a washer, and various other rusted tools. After about 10 minutes, someone catches a piranha! We all oooh and ahh because it is actually a pretty little fish. It gets thrown back in and we continue to fish. Shortly after, the next person catches one! She flings her fish into the boat where it falls off the hook and starts flapping around. Mind you, this fish has very sharp teeth and could easily bite someone’s ankle, so we all kind of back away and huddle on one side of the boat. As David tries to reach over to grab the fish, it bites a hole through his pointer finger and he starts bleeding profusely. Our other guide catches it by the tail with pliers and throws it out. Since David is now bleeding all over the place, he thinks it’s a good idea to wash off his finger in the piranha infested water. They decide it is time to go, so our boat driver starts to pull away. As he is pushing us away from the shore, he gets bit by a piranha too! Now we have two guides with blood spurting from their fingers. Oddly (or not so much) enough, none of the guides have first aid kits on the boat. Lucky for them, we all have extensive kids in our bags and are equipped with a doctor in our group tour.
At some point that afternoon we return to our bungalow and Kristen announces that she has to pee. She rushes into the bathroom and comes right back out screaming! Much to her surprise, there is a frog hopping around in our shower. In any normal situation, one of us would probably grab the frog and haul it outside, but we are in the jungle! There are poisonous frogs in the jungle! Neither of us wants to seem like a sissy, so we decide not to go find someone to help. Kristen grabs a plastic zip lock bag and tries to convince the frog to jump in the bag. By some miracle, he jumps right in and she is able to take him outside to freedom. How the little guy made it into our completely screened in lodge is still a mystery.
Tina enjoy Tucan Travel’s Amazon & Incas Adventure Tour.