Killer ants and leaves that foam
Manu Travel Blog› entry 6 of 7 › view all entries
One jungle tour van with the window taped on. One broken-down coach bus. One flat tire. One stuck river boat. Ten hours on winding jungle roads that embrace the mountain on one side and dropped off into nothing on the other. It was not easy to get into or out of the Manu Jungle Reserve. But it was a trip well worth it. It was beautiful. And somehow relaxing and adventurous at the same time.
We spent four days winding our way into and out of the cultural zone of the Manu Reserve, one of the largest reserves on earth, which contains a more diverse population of animal and plant species than any other reserve. There are over 1000 species of birds alone in this reserve. It is also inhabited by four native groups but they are in a zone that we didn´t have access to on our tour.
We were joined on our tour by only four other people, Americans. A young newlywed couple and a mother and daughter from Colorado, who made me miss my own daughter terribly. It is the first time since we have been on a tour that we have met other Americans. They were nice and laid back and I was super happy to be in such a small group. Our guide, Ronald, was awesome and incredibly knowledgeable.
We spent most of the first day winding our way into the reserve on mountain roads that were so narrow, if we met another vehicle on the way, one of us had to back up for a while until we came to a place where both vehicles could pass.
We stopped along the way and got out and walked and our guide pointed out different species of birds and plants.
The second day we did manage to spot the Cock of the Rock after an early morning wake up and trek down to the lookout. Then we headed further down the mountain out of the cloud forest into the hot and humid rainforest and into a town called Pillcopata Town where we hopped into a waiting raft. We rafted for an hour over Class II and III rapids on the Pillcopata River.
In the evening, our guide took us on a walk through the rainforest in search of more birds and plants and possibly some animals. We didn´t see any mammals. I am attributing that to the fact that I am still battling that infernal cold and was coughing and probably scaring all of the mammals away. I was hoping to see some monkeys or tapirs or possibly an ocelot. Even though, admittedly, I wouldn´t know an ocelot if it walked up and invited me to play pinochle. The night hike was cool anyway. Chris thought she heard something large breathing and stalking her. I was just trying not to get bitten by the killer ants the size of grasshoppers. Okay, they don´t really kill, but they inflict great pain and long lasting fever.
On the third day we woke up early and headed to a part of the river where parrots flocked to a big clay wall early every morning. They eat the clay which is rich in mineral and nutrients and helps them digest seeds they eat in the jungle. It was cool to see so many parrots and macaws in one place.
After breakfast, we hiked up to a high spot and did a canopy tour, which meant we hooked into harnesses and took zip lines from platform to platform through the rain forest. One of the girls in our group was afraid of heights so she bailed but her husband joined the rest of us.
That night we also visited a lake where our guide paddled us around on a very rudimentary raft made of logs so we could see yet more birds. It was actually pretty fun on that tiny raft. When Chris and I were kids, we used to climb into a laundry basket together. She would sit in front and I would sit in back. She would wear a banana leaf pith helmet she had won at school and read a “map” that was printed in the front of our big Peter Pan picture book and I would sit in back and steer. We would “navigate” down the Amazon River for hours on end. That tiny river raft brought back memories of our youthful jungle expeditions. Funny how life circles back around sometimes.
That evening, a great big tour group who had spent 7 days deeper in the jungle and who were on their way out, joined us.
We made it out of the river and then we all boarded a bus and ambled along until we once again reached Pillcopata Town.
In Pillcopata town, ramshackle wood-board houses lined wide dusty lanes where kids played in a garbage can with plastic bags wrapped around their hands. Several half-lame dogs limped by, ribs visible beneath shaggy, dusty pelts. We all view the world through ethnocentric spectacles, even when we try to immerse ourselves and understand other cultures; we are still approaching the world with all our own life experiences under our belt. And so I am standing there, looking at this little jungle town through my American white girl lenses and I see “Third World” and “poverty” and “sadness.
But that is so incredibly presumptuous of me. I have no idea what they are thinking or feeling. Perhaps they think they are wealthy, that life is bountiful and good. After all they are close to the land, they are making a living, they are subsistence farmers and tour guides and shop owners and restaurant managers.
What must we look like to them? Hoards of white people clamoring off of coach buses and jungle safari vans painted with exotic animals and expedition company logos, waving Nikons and Canons, speaking unintelligible languages--English, German, French, Israeli.
It took fifteen hours to get back yesterday. A long and draining trip but the view from the bus window was spectacular. I was so incredibly happy that Chris and I got to visit the jungle together.
Back in Cusco, I can see the end of my trip already four days away. It is coming fast. We are taking it easy but will do some site seeing in Cusco and then head back to Lima before home.