From high above, we watched as the arid Andes turned rapidly to a thick carpet of green with wrinkles of chocolaty rivers. Climbing down the plane’s steps onto the tarmac in Puerto Maldonado, the humid heat hit us like a wet glove. After the crisp and cool atmosphere in Cusco and The Sacred Valley, Puerto Maldonado’s thick air was like soup in our chests.
Before arriving in Peru I had contacted Rainforest Expeditions, the incredible company which has three lodges along the Tambopato River, and was offered 5 days/4 nights lodging at two of their remote locations.
Spotting “Savannah Grace” on a hand held sign at the airport, we were escorted to one of many well-kept mini buses waiting to take tourists to various lodges. It dawned on me how weak a traveller I’d become as I shamelessly relished in the bus’ air conditioning and welcomed the cool, refreshing face towel and snack the guides handed out. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the teenager I was, thrust into a travel world on an extreme budget.
We were driven 15 minutes to the companies very comfortable head quarters where guests were asked to rearrange their bags and leave their heavy suitcases in storage, only take essentials for their few days’ stay.
When Kees and I had gone to Suriname a few years back, we brought huge suitcases and had to repack them for the dozen passenger plane we were taking into the extreme jungle. I was grateful they were cautious about the weight then when we’d landed on nothing more than an almost invisible, tiny dirt runway, smack dab in the centre of the jungle.
This time around we would reach the jungle lodge by travelling up the river in a motorized canoe. Having packed super light for our six week trip, we were able to take our hybrid backpacks with us and could sit back and enjoy the welcome drinks while everyone else pulled out, stuffed and reorganized their bags on the floor. It was here that each group was assigned a private guide and we met Jair, the best jungle guide in all of Peru.
Taking the same comfortable bus an hour down a red earthen, muddy road, which was more suitable for four wheel drive, we were dropped at the edge of the Tambopata River.
We would be traveling upstream and staying in the first two lodges, Posada (45 mins) and Refugio (3hrs). Rainforest Expeditions claim to fame is that they have the last and furthest of the three lodges, the Tambopata Research Centre which is a 7 hour canoe ride upstream. TBC is best known for its incredible macaw clay lick, a hotspot for National Geographic to film the incredible Amazonian birds. Kees and I are both nature/wildlife lovers, so we knew we were about to have the time of our lives.
The speed, wind and temperature were perfection as we cruised upstream more than three hours to reach the Refugio lodge. We were treated like royalty at every step. Lunch was served on the boat, rice, egg and cheese wrapped in a large leaf.
The guides impressed us with their skill to spot camouflaged wildlife in the trees, water and muddy river banks. We saw three caimans sleeping on the banks, toucans in trees, macaws flying overhead, a rodent type animal which is similar to a raccoon, turtles basking on a log in the sun and a group of capybara, the largest rodent in the world.
The canoe driver showed his expertise by getting us right up close to the animals who seemed completely unfazed by our presence. Sometimes we had to wonder if they’d been planted there just for us.
Having been in transit since 6 am that morning, going from hotel, to airport, flying an hour and a half, taking an hour bus and three hours on the river, the sun was sinking fast over the jungle. By the time we pulled up to the bank at the bottom of a tall staircase the sun had dipped below the surface, ready to smile and poke its face up on the other side of the world.
Hopping out of the canoe we climbed up the steep river bank which apparently rises almost the entire height of the stairs in the rainy season. It was a sweaty 15 minute walk along a narrow, bricked path through the pitch black. It’s not a strenuous walk but that wet glove smacking me around and the sounds of nature crushing my skull, I definitely felt I was on an adventure. The Indiana Jones inside me came alive with all those loud whistles, creaking and chirping of nature, the walls of the jungle shooting straight up from the moist earth on either side of me. The little light of our flashlights shined just enough to expose the feet of the person ahead and the meandering stepping stones.
From the blinding darkness a faint flicker of orange glowed through the foliage and revealed our refuge in the jungle. We’d made it!
I felt like I was part of Survivor, the newest members arriving as we walked up to the towering treehouse, dimly lit and overpoweringly inviting. We were more than ready to start this adventure.
If you don’t mind spoilers, this is the video Kees Book made for our entire jungle trip. It’s just under 4 minutes long and gives a great taste of what a Peruvian jungle tour will include. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel, Sticky Visuals!
Categories: Savannah Grace