As I mentioned to you in my previous post, I came across a killer deal for airline tickets that was just too good to pass up.
So I bought two trips. The first was to hike to Machu Picchu with my roommate David, and the second ‘to be determined’ by myself & two friends you may remember from my adventure in Iceland – Jason and Ryan.
And while Machu Picchu was an incredible display to witness, the concentration of tourists during that trip really affected my mindset. I wasn’t able to completely feel removed from my ‘day to day’ life during that trip. So on this adventure, we opted for something completely different.
Something REMOTE – out of the usual path of common travelers…something unique.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Amazon rainforest, and I’d received some conflicting advice from friends on “where to go” in order to experience it. When it came down to it, there were two main options to decide between:
1. Iquitos, Peru – a more well-known town in northern Peru and safe bet when it comes to seeing the Amazon. Several people had recommended going here. We’d have the opportunity to see pink dolphins, and there was more culture in the area for us to be able to learn about.
2. Research lodge in the Tambopata National Reserve, Peru - one of my ex-girlfriends lived in Peru for a couple years and recommended visiting this place. It’s a far way out from civilization & the trek to get there would take almost 3 times as long as Iquitos to get there…and with only one personal testimonial to rely on (see above)…there was a chance it could be lame. (Just kidding C – kind of…)
After talking it over, we decided to take the road less traveled and visit the research center. And I’m SO glad we did.
*I should note – Ryan was adamant about seeing Machu Picchu, so he decided to take the first leg of the trip solo and take his own separate journey. So for this adventure in the Amazon, it would be just myself & Jason (pictured below inside of a bird blind)
Let’s start the adventure, shall we?
When we arrived in Puerto Maldonado, we met with our guide from the research center to take a caravan down to the river, where a boat would be waiting for us. From there, we traveled up the river about an hour and a half until we reached the entrance to the research lodge.
I thought the hike to Machu Picchu was hot…this part of Peru was hot AND humid! Probably the most intense heat I’ve ever experienced…it really never quit – night or day.
The trip up the river was pretty serene. It became quite a lot of repetitive scenery, but it gave us the impression of how deep into the rainforest we really were.
Our lunch wrapped up in a palm leaf. (Inside were rice and potatoes.) Gotta hand it to them for the presentation.
These were the cabins at the lodge set up for visitors. There were really just a few other people there that were visiting at the time – and at one point they left so it was just myself and Jason! Never really stayed at a place where we were the only guests – was pretty cool to experience! Felt like our time there was tailored towards what we wanted to do.
This was the dining area – here you see 3 research students from London. While the majority of the staff only spoke Spanish (I’m near fluent), it was nice for Jason to be able to communicate with someone while we were there and carry on conversation.
The lodge was run by a large family of indigenous Peruvians, and many of them hadn’t even ventured outside of Puerto Maldonado (which is a very small town itself.) It was really insightful to hear their perspective on life, work, and culture.
Here’s a shot of a guide’s wife preparing a meal. She’s expecting a baby in just a few months – was pretty cool to think about how they’ll be adding a new member to their growing family. In a way, I’d compare their lifestyle to farm/ranch living in the states.
After getting settled into our cabin, we were eager to get out into the jungle and do a little exploring.
I really like how Jason’s shirt contrasts with the jungle in this next shot – really shows just how thick the trees really were.
At the end of our little hike, we made our way back down to the river front to catch sunset.
At night, a group of about 5 of us went out searching for white caiman alligators along the river bed. Would be fun to try to wrastle ‘em.
We got back to our lodge – everything from about 8 PM-on was lit strictly by candle-light. Not to preserve energy…but because the lodge only had 1 solar panel that created enough juice for about 2 hours of electricity per day! (You’ll see the panel later in this post)
Our beds were equipped with Mosquito nets for good reason. Like the heat – the bug bites never ceased. Here we are getting our “noosing” on. (Back story – on our adventure in Baja, we came across an abandoned building with a single rope hanging from the ceiling. It was creepy as hell but we decided to have some fun with it and start our own new photo trend. It’s like planking or tebowing, except 100 times better. Yeah, I know…we’re messed up in the head.)
The next morning we had an early start. Thank God for Nescafe, right? (It’s funny – I’ve talked to other travelers about this too…regardless of how well known a country is for its coffee – the international blend is always NESCAFE!)
Here’s a shot Jason grabbed showing how early we were up to hike.
The light coming through the trees in the morning was seriously incredible. I couldn’t stop taking pics.
We reached our destination after about 2 hours of hiking. While we waited for our guide, Jorge, to prepare the boats – we tossed some saltines down in the water below and watched piranhas fight over the each bite.
Nothing special in particular about this photo, just liked how the water ran into the forest habitat. The amount of species living in such a small area was incredible. The rainforest is extremely diverse.
In fact, the Tambopata reserve has been regarded as the most biodiverse area in the world when it comes to butterflies and birds.
Butterflies were everywhere.
Here’s a shot of a giant otter clearly displaying his neck markings. When it comes to otters, the neck actually serves like the human fingerprint – it identifies an individual from the rest in it’s pack. We were lucky enough to see an entire family feasting on some fish that morning. Animals in the wild are extremely shy and it’s a slim chance you’ll see this kind of action on a random day. We were pretty stoked.
On the way back, we came across a huge tree with super strong vines. Of course we swung from them. Felt like George of the Jungle. (In the photo on the right, I’m wearing a scarf I found on the flight into Peru. Jason and Ryan both made fun of me because I take these kind of things as good luck…I’m oddly superstitious.)
This bird pictured below was an asshole, and hardly anyone liked him at the reserve. His name is “Wowee,” and he really only gives attention to those who have crackers or beer to offer.
Yeah…you read that right…crackers or beer.
Seems friendly, right?
But what happens when you’re down to your last cracker?
He CHASES you and SNAPS at you with his beak! (The bird is also known to creep in through holes in the ceiling late at night and scare the living sh*t out of the researchers. At the end of the trip we trapped him inside one of the cabins with a wet towel…everyone cheered and felt like an abusive husband was evicted from the family home)
Later in the day we made another hike out to the canopy tower to catch sunset. The tower felt pretty unstable and at times I wondered if it would be my last moments alive. But hey, I’m here writing to you about the experience – so it looks like it worked out after all!
Not sure how many stairs we climbed up, but there came a point where there was an iron gate we had to maneuver around. This obstacle stopped the other members of our group, but Jason and I kept on going.
Snapped this shot of Jason near the top of the tower.
(Want to know the secret to get ANYONE to crack up laughing like this for your photo? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line “Why is Jason laughing?” and I’ll fill you in on this great trick.)
Here’s that ‘individual’ solar panel I was telling you about earlier. They really weren’t kidding when they told us they had just one!
Seeing the sun set over the rainforest was a pretty amazing sight. Photos don’t do it justice, and I really hope that you get the opportunity to see for yourself someday.
Here’s my best attempt to relay the visuals…the trees seemed to go on forever.
Got dark REAL QUICK on the way back. Luckily we had our trusty flashlights.
One thing that was a little annoying was all the tarantulas that would always jump out at us while we were hiking. It seemed like every few feet either a snake would drop down from the trees and try to wrap around your neck or a spider would crawl down your shirt. It was nearly impossible to get them out without getting bitten.
PS – just kidding about that last one :)
When we got back to the lodge, the sky was crystal clear. Here’s a shot of our cabin lit up with my flashlight during a long exposure.
The next morning we headed out to see if we could catch a glimpse of a local clay lick of macaws (a huge flock of wild parrots) through the window of a blind. Here’s one of the student researchers from London on watch in the pic below.
Again, that morning light hitting the trees – this kind of sight is where the term “sun kissed” comes from.
Birds finally decided to make an appearance.
After the morning hike, we headed out again to explore some less-traveled paths. We took a couple machetes and carved our way through the thick foliage as we went. I had so much fun hacking away that I got a little blister on my hand from the wooden handle. (Shot on GoPro)
After 2 hikes, we still had energy left for a good game of volleyball. Sports is one of my favorite activities – you don’t need to speak the language in order to be able to convey trash talk. What? Did you think I was gonna say how it brings cultures together or something? Okay, well yeah I guess that too.
Planning on having this one framed and put up in my office.
The last night…participated in an ayahuasca ceremony. Changed my life.
If you want to hear about my experience, I’d be happy to talk about it with you through email.
In the morning we hopped on the boat back to Puerto Maldonado – here’s our trusty driver looking stoic.
Hopped on the plane with some suspicious weather on the horizon…stay tuned to hear about how this 1 hr flight almost ended our entire trip across South America.
Check back in on Thursday to hear about my journey down to Patagonia!