The jungle in Amazonia is a world unto itself. Even if the tourist agencies try to sell you on the anacondas, jaguars, and colorful macaws, the animals know how to hide or at least move far away from the tourist paths. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any in Puerto Maldonado. Instead, the amazon jungle gave us something else.
It’s dark. We’re walking through the forest, our way lit by an iPhone flashlight. By dawn, we’re supposed to arrive at a fog-covered lake, the home of giant otters as well as caimans and piranhas. We glide across the lake in a small, silent boat while experiencing the breathtaking sunrise. In 600 years, this lake will no longer exist – the jungle will have engulfed it. Later, we tried our hand at piranha fishing. The little beasts are smart and chomp the bits of meat right off the fishing rods without swallowing the hook. In fairness, we have to say that the rods were homemade and not pro gear. We were fishing like the natives. Still, one or the other of us managed to pull a fish out of the water. After a hasty photo session, we would let them go again. The natives eat piranhas deep-fried – because of all the bones, they’re not that suitable for other dishes.
The Lodge in the Middle of the Jungle
We booked a beautiful lodge for our four-day stay in Puerto Maldonado. The price includes both room and board as well as guided excursions. Even the airport shuttle service is included. Early morning arrivals taking the boat to the lodge from Puerto Maldonado can wait in the boat trip organizer’s reception area. There’s wi-fi, beer, and empanadas (best with chicken). The chairs are comfortable, and once in a while, they come complete with a monkey. The boat trip takes place at noon, with no option for flexibility. Once at the lodge, we settled into our room, which was very open since there were no closable windows. One wall was open with a direct view out onto the jungle. That also means that any old animal can stop by for a visit, which they also do when they smell something delicious. It’s really a good idea to lock anything edible in the safe. I had some chocolate stowed in my backpack, and a possum had no trouble finding and nibbling on it. Other than that, there were no raids that I could see, even when I diligently checked to see if an anaconda had hidden itself under the bed. From the “window,” we could watch several monkeys and were also awoken by their howling, which reminded us of Costa Rica.
Since the lodge is right in the middle of the jungle, everything worth seeing was easily accessible. On one occasion, we went to the 30-meter-tall (100-foot) observation tower and watched the sunset. The tower looms high over the treetops, giving us an amazing view of the rainforest. Another time, the path led to the 400-year-old Ceiba tree, which according to legend is home to the spirits of the rainforest. It never actually rained, since July is a dry month. During the rainy season, though, it rains a lot. The lake and river levels rise very high, and you can no longer manage the paths without rubber boots.
Where wild animals live
The river is naturally the main thoroughfare of the region. Most transportation takes place on the waterway. Over six-and-a-half-foot tall native Indians who wear nothing but a leather loincloth still live further up the river. They’re in the habit of greeting visitors or invaders with an arrow. Up to now, no one has managed to gain access to them. We also regularly used the river. As a motorized canoe quickly conveyed us to our destination, the wind brought forth the sweet scent of flowers from the forest, mixed with smoke from the campfires. The river changed color with the setting sun, and in that moment, it was hard to feel more alive.
Animals are hard to find in this dense, tangled forest. Our guide had only seen a jaguar a few times in his lifetime, and only on the river. But he knew of a hole where a tarantula lived. The guides also have the astounding ability to spot birds in the branches in the dark. Without a guide, you’re lucky if you just spot a couple of monkeys in the desolate lianas. What you can definitely see, though, are the plants. We first visited a shaman’s garden, where ayahuasca and other healing plants were growing. Our guides told us of cases where the remedies helped to overcome serious illnesses. It’s just that you have to take the medicaton over a period of months – it’s a long process. But they also heal sicknesses of the soul, such as grief and lovesickness.
After that, we went to visit a plantation where they grew every possible type of fruit: papayas, star fruit, and bananas. Locally, they’re dirt cheap – 100 avocados cost only $10. If you visit the plantation in November, you can gather them from the ground and prepare guacamole right there. Fresh from the tree, so to speak!
Our tips for a trip to the jungle:
- Take care to be informed on the lodge location and offers. We decided to skip Sandoval Lake and the nighttime caiman search, since our lodge was too far away.
- Those wanting to experience and photograph wildlife will need to spend a longer time there. About ten days is the rule. For birdwatchers and snake lovers, there are special tours and appropriately trained guides.
- It’s definitely worth considering the possibility of booking two separate lodges for your stay. That way, you can take advantage of a wider range of activities.
- Be sure to bring mosquito spray as well as bite ointment and clothing to ward them off! The mosquitoes attack fast, and their bites will itch for a long time afterwards.