The Amazon

Cusco Travel Blog

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Motorised canoe down the ? river

The Amazon Jungle and Cusco are completely different places, however, this blog site doesn't recognise Puerto Maldonaldo or Amazon as a valid location so Cusco will have to do.

So, this was to be the first destination of our 15-day GAP tour. We caught a plane from Lima airport to Puerto Maldonaldo, via Cusco. To get to Sandoval Lake Lodge, where we would be staying for two nights, we had to catch a minibus to the port, then a motorized boat down the wide brown river (not sure which river it was), then walk for half and hour on a rutted, dried-mud road through humid but pleasant jungle, then take a long, low canoe through murky canals and finally across the lake itself, to the lodge.

Phil and I and a big tree.
My personal favourite part of this whole trip was the canoe. It was the kind of canoe that swayed alarmingly if anyone happened to put their weight too far to either side. The canoe was so low, you could trail your hand in the water. However, tales of caymen and anacondas were enough to keep everyone's hands inside the boat.

Sandoval Lake Lodge is a lovely place, a big wooden lodge with high thatched ceilings, flushing toilets and mosquito nets over the beds and electricty only during certain hours of the day. We had a quick rest before going on a night tour, which involved shining torches around us, desperately trying to spot something cool like a snake. We were introduced to the resident tarantula, who lives on a tree just outside the lodge. He was just as big and hairy as you'd expect but not too threatening.

On a tiny narrow canoe in an Amazonian canal.
We saw a whole lot of spiders, cockroaches, insects and cicada huts (which are terracotta-coloured phallic shaped cylinders sticking out of the ground), but not much else.

The food at Sandoval was fantastic, considering their lack of electricity and remoteness. To satisfy some of you foodies out there, some of the things we had were: asparagus soup, catfish, rice pudding, beef steak, chicken in passionfruit sauce, semolina pudding and a variety of great fresh juices - passionfruit, white tomato, quinoa, starfruit, papaya etc. And all nicely presented.

So, back to the Amazon. I don't know what people think of when they think 'Amazon', and I wasn't sure what to expect myself. A few of us had been warned by our travel doctors to take malaria tablets as it's supposed to be a malaria-prone area, although our guides told us they hadn't heard of a malaria case in over 10 years.

Picture perfect Sandoval Lake
And to be honest, I've had far more mosquito bites in other countries, even back home during summer. I only got about 1 or 2 bites, but felt obligated to take the malaria pills, just in case (anyway they cost an arm and a leg and would just go to waste otherwise).

At 5.30am the next morning, we hauled ourselves out of bed and got onto a big wooden catamaran and went for a cruise on the lake. This was a highlight of our Amazon adventure, I think, as our two guides pointed out some wonderful birds (hoatsin, macaws, parrots, terns, sparrows, toucans and a pretty-coloured water bird a bit like a kiwi). We also saw a caymen at a distance (for those of you who don't know, caymen are small alligator-like creatures. Actually, they're not small, they can grow up to 6m or something ridiculous, but we only saw baby ones.

Butterflies mating on turtles mating... isn't life sweet?
They're also a lot less aggressive than Aussie-type crocodiles, which was a relief to many). The best part of this dawn lake tour was the river otter. There is one family of river otters who live at Sandoval Lake, in fact, a documentary was made about one of the otters who decided to leave the lake in search of his own place. I've never seen an otter before, and these are in fact giant river otters: they have bodies kind of like seals, but slimmer, and seal-like faces but rounder and less endearing. We didn't get too close to them as we would have scared them away. But it was a fun 30 minutes from when we first spotted them, playing and poking their heads out of the water before doing a little tumble and disappearing for awhile. We watched a baby otter feeding on a log (thank god for binoculars).
About as close as you'll get to a giant river otter.
Apparently, the week before, the guides saw a caymen try to kill a baby otter, but he was outnumbered by the other family members who ganged up on the caymen and killed him. The giant river otters are, in fact, on top of the food chain in this particular area.

After breakfast, we split up into smaller groups and went for a wander around the jungle, following trails and learning about different types of trees and plants. I don't think of myself as much of a tree/plant person but I found it fascinating. In this particular part of the Amazon, there are trees that: are sacred to the native jungle people, who use the fruit (cotton-like on the outside with oil in the middle); whose sap is used to close wounds and can cure ovarian cancer; whose bark, mixed with other herbs, can cause hallucinations where you can see your past, present and future or can 'see' where lost things or people are; that can walk - by planting new roots into the ground while its older roots die - these trees can move up to 50cm a year; can shed their skin to protect themselves from vines and other stranglers, and whose roots, if taken in a tea during menstruation, can be used as a contraceptive.

A caymen keeping an eye out.

That afternoon, we got back onto the catamaran and went around the lake again. We spotted a few caymen lurking just below the surface, but the highlight was the monkeys (I can't remember which type they were, except that they weren't capuchin monkeys). Every dusk, the monkeys traipse through the trees to their sleeping trees (palm trees). They make so much noise and there are so many of them, they reminded me of lemmings. They would leap from tree to tree, often great distances and quite comically, making a huge ruckus - very amusing. We also saw some tiny little bats, shaped like webbed stars, clinging to a tree.

That was the end of our Amazon adventure, as we headed to Cusco the following day. It was quite an experience and I think it left everyone wanting more.

These tiny creatures are bats!
I certainly regret not having done a 5-day high jungle tour near Huancayo when I had the chance, or not making the time to go to Rurrenabaque (Bolivia) for the standard jungle tour there, that involves pirahna fishing and anaconda hunting. It also didn't feel like we were in the deep jungle - the weather was humid but there weren't as many mosquitoes as we'd expected and everything was a little too well established. But I'm not complaining. It's not every day you get to see giant river otters!

 

Raches says:
The pictures here are courtesy of Phil and his 24x zoom camera - mine are soon to come but won't be nearly as detailed!
Posted on: Aug 07, 2006
X_Drive says:
What a great blog. Good stuff. But please get some pictures. :)
Posted on: Aug 05, 2006
travelman727 says:
Thanks for the review! I'm traveling to the Amazon (manaus, Brazil) in November and your article is pumping me up!
Posted on: Aug 05, 2006
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Motorised canoe down the ? river
Motorised canoe down the ? river
Phil and I and a big tree.
Phil and I and a big tree.
On a tiny narrow canoe in an Amazo…
On a tiny narrow canoe in an Amaz…
Picture perfect Sandoval Lake
Picture perfect Sandoval Lake
Butterflies mating on turtles mati…
Butterflies mating on turtles mat…
About as close as youll get to a …
About as close as you'll get to a…
A caymen keeping an eye out.
A caymen keeping an eye out.
These tiny creatures are bats!
These tiny creatures are bats!
Dusk falls
Dusk falls
One of our catamaran rowers
One of our catamaran rowers
Sunset over Sandoval Lake
Sunset over Sandoval Lake
Cusco
photo by: Vlindeke