At the entrance to the national park. Notice we are not attired for the jungle just yet.
Back when cable t.v. didnâ€™t exist in our house, our favorite past time was sitting in our laundry basket pretending it was a raft on the Amazon. I sat in front wearing a Hawaiian hat I won guessing the number of pumpkin seeds in the jar at school, while holding our Peter Pan book open to the first page that had a map of Never Never Land (even then I was the navigator). Jen sat behind me and pretended to steer the boat. We were on safari in the jungle.
Fast forward over 20 years and there we were, Jen and I on a makeshift raft of wood with water leaking between the logs, while we floated around a lake in the Amazon Basin, bird watching in the jungle.
It would be the highlight for me of our time in the jungle.
Locals in Paucartambo.
We set out before the sun rose for what would be eight hours of journey, starting in Cusco, making our way down to the cloud forest in the Manu National Park. This time on the trip we had four other Americans, a couple from Washington and a mother and daughter from Colorado. We stopped along the way in a Colonial town called Paucartambo to pick up bread, and also made stops along the route to grab pictures of flowers, birds and waterfalls, then onto San Pedro to stop for the first night in a jungle lodge. The next morning we got up at an obscene hour to watch the Cock of the Rock, PeruÂ´s National bird, from a nearby landing.
They are beautiful red birds (at least the males are), and we were lucky enough to see three or four. Then we set out again, heading into the rainforest and lower elevations, which mean heat and humidity. We stopped in Pilcopata where we geared up for a rafting adventure to our next stop. I long ago swore off rafting after my near death experience on the Zambezi, but this was a milder version and only an hour long. It was actually quite peaceful. After an hour, we hit a small town to grab our motorboat to our next lodge along the river in the jungle. By then it was about 11:30 a.m. and I spied up a cerveza sign at a nearby shop, so I told Jen I was going to grab us a couple for the journey onward. I asked the shop lady for dos cervezas and she pulled out a liter bottle, so I yelled to Jen they were huge, but she said to get two.
I figured we had two days at the lodge, so I walked out with one open and the other in the bag, and the mother in the group looked at me puzzled and said, Â¨Did you just buy a giant beer?Â¨ Yes, yes, I did.
A statue in the park - I like the shop in the back.
We sipped on that during the next 30 minutes downstream to our lodge. The place was right on the riverbank, with lots of comfy couches and swinging chairs for relaxation. We had lunch and then a siesta before our jungle walk. We set out about 4:30 clad in rubber rain boats to ease our time through the jungle mud, water and muck. I love the jungle. Many times IÂ´ve been to zoos in my hometown that have a sort of greenhouse for tropical plants, with birds flying about and moist air.
But here I was, actually in the jungle, where many plants and animals IÂ´d never seen before call home. There were also many sounds IÂ´d never heard before. The most interesting thing I saw that walk was what I didnÂ´t see. I was in the back of the pack, walking along slowly, and I stopped and heard what sounded like heavy breathing coming from the bush. At first I thought, IÂ´ll wait and see what comes out as everyone by then had gone ahead. However, I started to hear something rustling, and it didnÂ´t sound small, so I abandoned this effort and fled, catching up to Jen, panting with excitement. Something was out there! She shrugged me off as hallucinatory, and we kept on our walk until darkness. Jen remarked how sheÂ´d never seen such darkness outside of our spelunking adventure some years back.
There was only electricity from 6 to 9 p.m. each night at the lodge, and after that, pure dark and this feeling you were being watched. All sorts of sounds emitted from the surrounding jungle. Luckily our early wake-up each morning helped me slumber peacefully.
I love the colors that just jump out among the green of the jungle.
Speaking of, the next morning we got up at about 5:30 to head out by boat to check out the parrots along the riverbank at clay licks. Every two days they must eat clay in order to ingest minerals and salt to supplement their diet of seeds and fruits. We sat along with a group of researchers as various parrot species fluttered about in groups along the opposite side of the riverbank, finally grouping along the clay wall for roughly 20 minutes.
We headed back for breakfast and then suited up for our next activity â€“ a canopy tour.
I wasnÂ´t sure what to expect for this one. IÂ´d done some high wire tree stuff in a workshop, but that was a different beast. We hiked up for about 45 minutes until we reached a platform in a tree. We strapped on gear around our legs that included a pulley and some caribiners and climbed up to the platform. The one gal in our group struggled her way into the leg straps, remarking over and over that she was Â¨gordo.Â¨ I finally could take no more and corrected her by saying Â¨gordaÂ¨ and one of our guides said, you should say Â¨Estoy gorda.Â¨ None of this Spanish lesson helped get her to commit to this activity. We all eagerly got strapped to the zip line (mom even went first) and swung over the jungle to the next platform, leaving her quivering in fear behind. Her husband was not terribly concerned.
The Cock of the Rock
It was actually really fun. We only had four lines and five platforms, but it gave you a good view of the jungle and a little adrenaline rush before lunch. On the walk back to the lodge, we caught sight of a family of monkeys sleeping high above us in the trees. They noticed us watching them and the little one peered down at us from the safety of his motherÂ´s arms.
A little elusive but you can see his brilliant red.
After lunch and a siesta (and figuring out how to sink giant beer number 2 in the river to cool it for later), we jumped in the boat again to head upstream to walk to a nearby lake for bird watching. We had to walk through some swampy areas over fallen trees and logs, careful not to get stuck in mud, and then we reached what was more like a pond, called House of the Old Man, or something like that translated from Quechua.
I saw a raft made out of logs and asked right away if we could take that, and our guide promised us we would. He spotted some birds for us and then was off, returning shortly with a different raft for us to embark on. Jen and I jumped in front, and we slowly glided along the water, spying all sorts of birds (I donÂ´t remember names) busily getting ready for a nightÂ´s sleep as the sun set. It was so amazing, and I absolutely enjoyed the feeling of being out on the water, surrounded by jungle. Sadly it was a quick trip and soon enough we were back at our lodge for the night.
Walking to our first lodge.
We only had time for and could afford a four day/three night jungle trip, but I wish we had done more. I so loved being in the jungle. I admittedly had enough of organized tours, but to just find a lodge out there somewhere to spend a week walking through the jungle, with plenty of time to chill and read, wouldÂ´ve been perfect.
But it was not to be. Instead, our time quickly came to an end and we were back in the motorboat making our way upstream, which proved to be an adventure in itself. It is the dry season so the water is at its lowest, which means some very shallow parts. Our guide remarked that we may have to get out and help push the boat, but we were certain this was some sort of joke. It was not. At one point we had to cross over some rocky shallows. Two boats in front picked spots to give it a try, quickly getting stuck and requiring everyone to disembark and help a hand. Our boat was just Jen and I and the mother and daughter as the couple left the night before, but we had lots of staff in our boat who insisted we needed to do nothing to help. They all stripped down to their undies and jumped in and gave it a push as the motorman gave it his best, all to no avail.
Jen checking out some plant at the lodge.
We finally jumped out onto an island in the middle of the river while the guys all got out to push. Jen was eager to help, insisting she was going on to help push, and I, ever the older sister in actions only, forbid her. The guys finally gave up and let the boat float backwards, and then gave it another go in a different spot. After 30 minutes stuck on this island, they finally came over to us and helped us tip toe over rocks underwater to our boat. Off we went, making our way to the small town on the banks where we were to catch our bus out of the jungle surrounds. Fifteen hours, a flat tire and many bathroom stops after we left our lodge, we finally hit Cusco at about midnight, greeting sleepy Sergio at Hostal Rojas, our home base while here in town.
Our first lodge.
I canÂ´t believe it.
My final adventure is done. Well, I have four days before I fly home, and IÂ´m trying to enjoy every last second, but it is hard with the impending leave date closing in on me. I feel like I could carry on, maybe hit up Bolivia next, and keep making my way around South American indefinitely. IÂ´m in denial, however. Aside from the lack of funds, I am admittedly tired. I feel bad because every home stay, every waterfall, every flower is new and exciting to my sister, yet I find myself numb to it all at times. ItÂ´s time to go home. Not only that, but everything is wearing down and running out. My iPod works on a whim, my rechargeable batteries IÂ´ve had since Prague will no longer charge, my swim suit top broke while rafting two days ago, my backpack is screaming for a repair, all my toiletries have run dry and my camera, well, it just needs a break.
A bread shop we stopped at in a town along the way.
So I hate to admit it, but I am finally to the point of running on fumesâ€¦those fumes of glory I predicted IÂ´d come home on.
Retrieving fresh bread we would try later.
But hey, four daysâ€¦I have four days! I will enjoy them. I will tap out one more entry before I leave in case something of note happens in those wonderful four days. But first, a final 20 hour bus journey to my last destination, Lima.