Killer ants and leaves that foam

Manu Travel Blog

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A group of local women gather in a square in a town called Paucartambo on our way to the jungle.

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.

In Paucartambo on the way to the jungle.
We had only four days so we visited only a small section that included both cloud forest and rain forest and two lodge stays.

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.

Me at the entrance to the Manu Jungle Reserve.
This was particularly frightening experience since one side of the road always dropped off into nothingness and the prospect of falling off the mountain did not make me happy. When we were hiking the Inca Trail there were plenty of sections of the hike that were like this, but I wasn´t as worried, knowing I held my fate in my own hands as I put one foot in front of the other. Here, I had turned my life over to some unknown Peruvian man with who knows how much experience on these roads. Chris acknowledged my fears but told me, “I just keep telling myself that the driver doesn´t want to die either.” So I just settled in and had to have faith that we didn´t somehow get saddled with some sort of kamikaze suicidal bus driver.

We stopped along the way and got out and walked and our guide pointed out different species of birds and plants.

Inside the reserve.
If I was into bird watching, this would have been my dream. There were tons of exotic birds everywhere. I was just happy to be hiking and not riding in that van. We also stopped at a lookout to try to spot the Cock of the Rock, a black and red bird that frequents the area early in the morning and at dusk. This is the Peruvian national bird. We did see one eventually but he was high up in the trees and the light was fading so we decided to check it out in the morning.

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.

Lunch along the side of the road.
It was my heaven. Then we took a river boat to our second lodge where we were to stay for two nights.

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.

These flowers are called shoes in Spanish.
We did see more birds and some really cool plants, including a plant whose leaves were producing some sort of foam.

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.

Our guide on a path in the jungle.
It was a blast but it went way too fast. On the hike back, we saw some monkeys sleeping in the treetops.

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.

Chris at a platform waiting for the Cock of the Rock, the Peruvian national bird.
On the morning of the fourth day we all headed out together. We had to get our river rafts back upstream. This turned out to be an adventure which involved all of us getting out at a shallow spot and watching the guides push and pull the boat over rocks and rapids. We were split into three boats. The tourists in the other boats were actually helping the guides push and pull and I felt a little like a worthless lump standing there watching our guides struggle so I passed my stuff to Chris and said, “Hold this.” And she said, “What the hell are you doing?” And I said, “I´m gonna help” and she quickly said, “Oh no you are not. You will get hurt or pulled under. Forget it.” So I stood there watching, feeling slightly stupid, until they managed to get the boat unstuck.

We made it out of the river and then we all boarded a bus and ambled along until we once again reached Pillcopata Town.

Hiking along the road in the cloud forest.
Here we got out while the guides went to buy fuel in big buckets, which they would siphon into the gas tank with lengths of rubber hose. While we waited for them to come back with the fuel, we all milled around the streets of this tiny jungle 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.

Chris in the cloud forest.
” I wonder if these women who peddle puffed rice and inflatable volleyballs watch their children play with the longing and hope for a better life for their young like all parents everywhere do. I look on for a moment feeling sorry, feeling sad. Watching as one of the kids playing near me runs by and I notice he is wearing a t-shirt from some family reunion in Durham, N.C., clearly plucked from a charity drive box. He seems happy but I feel sad that he lives in a breezy wooden shack.

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.

Walking in the rainforest to the lodge.
They aren´t busy plowing down forests and erecting glass and steel castles and concrete sidewalks, paved byways. Perhaps they are truly content and look at my world as sad. But this view is naïve too. How can I possibly know anything about these people? Perhaps the truth of their lives lies somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios or maybe the truth lies 100 miles away from both of them. I can´t pretend to know anything because my ethnocentric specs are permanently attached.

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.

Our room at the first lodge, complete with mosquito nets.
We must all look the same to them with our North Face backpacks and our Patagonia sportswear, our Tevas and Keens and designer sunglasses. A herd of white cattle that with a little bit of prodding will readily open up fat Peruvian Sole-stuffed pockets in exchange for empanadas, seed necklaces, Inca Kola, woven string bracelets. And we must look like this to everyone on the Gringo Trail, not just the people in this woodshack jungle town, but also in Chivay in the Colca Valley to the kids in traditional dress who offer themselves up for photos in exchange for tips, or to the women at Km 85 on the Inca Trail who gather around us with baskets of coca leaves and rubber tips for walking sticks and sun hats. We are, after all, an industry. A great white tourist industry. And as much as I like to posture and pose and reject that proverbial image of the Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt-wearing, zinc on the nose and black socks to the knees image of a tourist (“No, I am a Traveler!”) I am still part of that industry.
Our first lodge, San Pedro, in the cloud forest.
I am a tourist just the same. It doesn´t bother me at all. But these are the things I was thinking about as our bus wound its way out of the jungle reserve.

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.

The Cock of the Rock.
Between now and then I am sure I will open my big fat pockets and break down and buy some more handicrafts. I am after all most definitely a tourist.

mfmoorede says:
I have enjoyed reading both you and your sister's blogs. What a great adventure!
Posted on: Jul 07, 2008
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A group of local women gather in a…
A group of local women gather in …
In Paucartambo on the way to the j…
In Paucartambo on the way to the …
Me at the entrance to the Manu Jun…
Me at the entrance to the Manu Ju…
Inside the reserve.
Inside the reserve.
Lunch along the side of the road.
Lunch along the side of the road.
These flowers are called shoes in …
These flowers are called shoes in…
Our guide on a path in the jungle.
Our guide on a path in the jungle.
Chris at a platform waiting for th…
Chris at a platform waiting for t…
Hiking along the road in the cloud…
Hiking along the road in the clou…
Chris in the cloud forest.
Chris in the cloud forest.
Walking in the rainforest to the l…
Walking in the rainforest to the …
Our room at the first lodge, compl…
Our room at the first lodge, comp…
Our first lodge, San Pedro, in the…
Our first lodge, San Pedro, in th…
The Cock of the Rock.
The Cock of the Rock.
Cock of the Rock.
Cock of the Rock.
Some strange plant in the jungle. …
Some strange plant in the jungle.…
Our porch at the lodge.
Our porch at the lodge.
A jungle town where we stopped at …
A jungle town where we stopped at…
Inside the bakery.
Inside the bakery.
Taking bread out of the oven fresh.
Taking bread out of the oven fresh.
Chris samples the fresh bread.
Chris samples the fresh bread.
The courtyard of the bakery.
The courtyard of the bakery.
A local political slogan on the si…
A local political slogan on the s…
The entrance to the bakery.
The entrance to the bakery.
Our guide taking us to a Coca Plat…
Our guide taking us to a Coca Pla…
Coca plants.
Coca plants.
Our guide explaining Coca producti…
Our guide explaining Coca product…
Pineapple plants at the coca farm.
Pineapple plants at the coca farm.
The coca farm.
The coca farm.
The coca farm. A house.
The coca farm. A house.
Me rafting on the Pilcopata River.
Me rafting on the Pilcopata River.
Chris rafting on the Pilcopata Riv…
Chris rafting on the Pilcopata Ri…
Rafting
Rafting
Our rafting guide and Chris.
Our rafting guide and Chris.
I decided to take a dip.
I decided to take a dip.
Living the dream
Living the dream
On of the river boats.
On of the river boats.
We bought a giant beer for our rid…
We bought a giant beer for our ri…
View from my perch on our river bo…
View from my perch on our river b…
Me chilling with a giant beer on o…
Me chilling with a giant beer on …
Me and Chris on the river.
Me and Chris on the river.
Our second lodge, Erika. In the ra…
Our second lodge, Erika. In the r…
On the path up to our lodge.
On the path up to our lodge.
Chris checking out local flora thr…
Chris checking out local flora th…
After a long day, Chris lounges at…
After a long day, Chris lounges a…
Nap time.
Nap time.
Our evening trek into the rainfore…
Our evening trek into the rainfor…
Chris hiking into the rainforest o…
Chris hiking into the rainforest …
Scouting for birds in the rainfore…
Scouting for birds in the rainfor…
A tree whose roots start growing m…
A tree whose roots start growing …
Chris in front of the tree.
Chris in front of the tree.
Pretty. I have no idea what this i…
Pretty. I have no idea what this …
More flowers.
More flowers.
Chris doing her best Tarzan impres…
Chris doing her best Tarzan impre…
An enormous beetle at the lodge.
An enormous beetle at the lodge.
Our guide knocking a cocoa fruit f…
Our guide knocking a cocoa fruit …
Chris is not such a big fan of the…
Chris is not such a big fan of th…
Leaf cutter ants crossing on a pat…
Leaf cutter ants crossing on a pa…
Climbing up to the canopy tour.
Climbing up to the canopy tour.
Our canopy guide demonstrating the…
Our canopy guide demonstrating th…
The zip line
The zip line
Zip line.
Zip line.
Chris coming in to a platform on t…
Chris coming in to a platform on …
Chris
Chris
Chris coming in for a landing.
Chris coming in for a landing.
Pondering the next platform.
Pondering the next platform.
Getting hooked in.
Getting hooked in.
Getting ready for take off.
Getting ready for take off.
Heading down the zip line.
Heading down the zip line.
Me on the zip line.
Me on the zip line.
Underneath the last platform, wait…
Underneath the last platform, wai…
Chris rappeling down from the last…
Chris rappeling down from the las…
Hiking back to the lodge.
Hiking back to the lodge.
Rainforest
Rainforest
Hiking back.
Hiking back.
Monkeys peer down at us from their…
Monkeys peer down at us from thei…
On the shore of the river bank, Ch…
On the shore of the river bank, C…
Chris burying our beer in the wate…
Chris burying our beer in the wat…
Nap time again.
Nap time again.
This is called a mariquita. It has…
This is called a mariquita. It ha…
Our guide with a mighty fine river…
Our guide with a mighty fine rive…
Chris and I on our jungle raft, ju…
Chris and I on our jungle raft, j…
Aboard the raft with our gum boots.
Aboard the raft with our gum boots.
View from the raft
View from the raft
Birds
Birds
Another bird
Another bird
All the passengers aboard the raft.
All the passengers aboard the raft.
Sunset over the river.
Sunset over the river.
Waiting for a boat ride back.
Waiting for a boat ride back.
Trying to get the boat upriver ove…
Trying to get the boat upriver ov…
Our guides pushing our boat.
Our guides pushing our boat.
Pushing over shallows.
Pushing over shallows.
Pillcopata town.
Pillcopata town.
Manu
photo by: bretaye