SAFARI NJEMA

words of an over-opinionated travel addict

Category: South America

Long Weekend in The Amazon

Thursday night, I got on an overnight bus at 9pm. The bus was heading to Puerto Maldonado, which is about 8-9 hours from Cusco, near to the border with Bolivia. I had a little down time this week, and thought a nice warm long weekend would be good for me! I went alone, I knew no one, and had absolutely nothing booked or planned. I barely even read a guide before I left – I’m trying to be less neurotic than usual. I arrived tired, cranky, and sweaty at 6am the next day, and in broken Spanish managed to ask a moto-taxi driver to take me to the main plaza, in hopes of finding a tour leaving that morning. Only 2 agencies  were open at that hour, and one of those was a fancy lodge way out of my budget. But, by some stroke of luck, I met another foreign, female, solo traveler with the same problem as me. Only she is fluent in Spanish, and she saved me the whole weekend.

Most people visiting the Amazon from Peru go through the north, in Iquitos, but that isn’t possible for me while I’m here. I was hesitant at first to visit because of this, worried I would be missing out on some of the experience, but that proved not to be true at all. Puerto sees a lot of tourists, but less so than many other weekend trip options from Cusco and is often overlooked. I’m so glad that I made it a priority and made time to visit. I would have stayed a day or two longer if I could, but 3 full days was a good amount of time to get a taste of the jungle.


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I booked the whole weekend with an agency called called Tambopata Hostel, and I was really glad we did. That same morning, 2 hours later, we headed out on a day trip to Sandoval Lake with a group. Just my luck that everyone in the group was from Europe, so they were all fluent in Spanish. Every once in a while, our guide would remember and yell out, “Carolina, tu entiendas?” (do you understand?)… no! And he would repeat whatever it was he said in English. My Spanish is improving, but not enough to follow along a whole tour like that. During the day we enjoyed a short hike, boat ride, an amazing picnic lunch, and were able to see some wildlife and enjoy the beautiful views. While we were in the boat, we even saw a group of wild otters eating and playing in the lake! We  returned late in the afternoon and spent that night in the hostel in Puerto, and the next morning were up bright and early to head deeper into the Jungle, for a one night stay in their lodge bordering the Tambopata Reserve. thumb_IMG_7720_1024The drive out there was beautiful, and might be the highlight of my trip. I love long drives through rural communities because it gives you a sense of what life is like there, and lets you see things that you wouldn’t normally. It reminded me so much of Tanzania at one point, I had to remind myself of what country I was in.  I couldn’t believe that after nearly 2 months in cold Cusco, I was still in the same country. After about 2 hours in the car, we boarded a boat, and sped off down the river to our lodge. The lodge was incredible,and I was wildly impressed considering how little we spent on the tour. The lodge had many rooms, all with private bathrooms and showers, we amazing views, and each room was bordered with hammocks – where I spent bit of time reading and doing some much deserved relaxing. There was also a resident thumb_IMG_8076_1024Parrot, who is wild, but one day showed up at the lodge and made herself at home. She was really cute at first, but then she ate my entire tube of toothpaste right off our sink.

 

Our guide, Jonny, was excellent. He took us on walks through the trails behind the lodge where we were able to see 5 different species of monkeys, lots of birds and insects, and enjoy a swim in the river. We also went on a night boat ride, where he jumped out of the boat and caught a wild Caiman with his bare hands and insisted we hold it and get a better look. We had a few beers in the evening and chatted, I practiced a bit of Spanish, and went to bed that night with the sound of the jungle all around me. Around 2am, it rained, and I woke up and listened for a while, the whole thing was calming and beautiful. Our last morning, we were up at 4:30am and off to the reserve to the McCaw Clay Lick, where hundreds of different McCaws and Parrots swarm the cliffside to feast on minerals. It was an incredible site, and we spent the morning there eating breakfast and watching all the different birds and enjoying the sounds of the jungle.

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After we left the lodge, we headed back to Puerto and enjoyed the view, the weather, and a few drinks before getting back on an overnight bus. It was an exhausting weekend, and I am covered in mosquito bites, but it was an awesome weekend trip. Although the bites are the worst I’ve ever had, and I’m now on all kinds of creams and medications. I imagine this is what the chicken pox must feel like!

Last week, we had a group of 25 graduate students from the states come to do a day of volunteering. It was the most work I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I ran around all week like a crazy person preparing. But I shouldn’t have worried, the visit went well and a great time was had by all (especially the kids!). It’s insane to me that in 2 days it will be September, and that my departure date is creeping up on me. I have a few more trips from Cusco happening this month, a handful of volunteers are coming, and I have a bit of planning to do for Craig’s visit in about a month (!!!). I finally sucked it up and bought my flight home, November 22 departing from Buenos Aires, Argentina. My friend Alex is coming to South America in October, and he’s going to meet me in Cusco so we can backpack for a few weeks before I head home for Thanksgiving. I’m not ready for it to end, but I have a lot to look forward to and a lot to be grateful for.

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the life

 

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Crash Course Cusco

 I’ve found that most of the long-term travelers I’ve met throughout the years are typically people who are running – either from something, or towards something. Most of the time, I don’t know which one I am. My previous blog posts give a snapshot of how my last two trips went for me, but there was a lot I didn’t share as well. Looking back on it, it’s pretty clear that I was running from something: the person I had been before I discovered traveling. Yet for some reason, last November, I woke up one morning in the Philippines with this overwhelming need to be on Long Island. I was on a plane that same afternoon.

Last year, I got fired from a job, ended my first serious relationship, and found myself once again broke and alone with my cat in my childhood bedroom of my parents home. I instantly regretting my spur of the moment decision to return home, and my first instinct was to leave the country again. I immediately began emailing out resumes to anyone and everyone who would read them, in all parts of the world. Despite this, as the offers came in, I found myself turning them down. Apparently, on top of everything, I was becoming a crazy person too. But then, I received a text message in my study abroad group chat that read something along the lines of: “anyone wanna go to Peru?”

Four of us committed to a 10 day trip, but if you know me at all, then you know I always have to go above and beyond. So when I was offered a temporary position Coordinating Volunteers for a non-profit based in Cusco, I accepted. Leaving finally felt right again. So here I am, still in Peru, hours after my friends have returned home, feeling both excited and terrified for the months ahead. The past 10 days with them provided me with a crash-course in my new home, and I am SO grateful that they were here to explore it with me (even if I did think I was going die on my way to Machu Pichu)!!

The main reason for this trip was my friend’s bucket list item of trekking to Machu Pichu. I agreed to this months ago, somehow not realizing what I was signing myself up for. Most people do the Inca Trail, but we decied to the Salkantay Trek, which is in National Geographic’s Top 25 best treks in the world. This trail is a remote footpath pretty close to the Inca Trail – it even overlaps in one place. One day, there are massive snowcapped mountains towering over you, and the next, you are inside a tropical rainforest. It gets it’s name from Mt. Salkantay, which translates to “Savage Mountain” in quechua. Despite the fluffiness of this post, this trek was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and probably will ever do, in my life.

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Day 1: Pick up at 4:30am from out hostel. We were driven 2 hours to a village for breakfast and last minute shopping (I bought a walking stick for $1.50), and then we were off on foot. the first 2 1/2 hours of trekking were straight uphill, and I was not fully acclimated to the altitude yet, and I contemplated turning around while I still could. But up I went, trying to keep up with my friends and failing miserably. Our guide, Veronica, was outstanding and supportive. This kept me motivated for the next 5 hours of hiking on flat but uneven ground to our first campsite. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon, and were presented with an option hike up a mountain behind the camp to visit a lake. I nearly laughed at the thought of this, and then realized that the next day would be the hardest. One of my friends stayed behind, but I grabbed my hiking stick and said to the other two, “there’s a 50% chance I’m turning around half way up”.  It took me longer than everyone else, but when I reached the top, my friends were there waiting for me, because they knew all along I wasn’t going to give up.

The first night reached almost 0 degrees, and I wore every item of clothing I had to sleep, including my gloves and my hat. When we were woken the next morning at 5am with tea delivered right to our tents, I still hadn’t decided if I was going to join one of my friends on a horseback ride up the mountain instead of hiking, or suck it up and deal. Veronica, our guide, had heard my struggle and said that if I hadn’t decided, I should probably take the horse.

Day 2: Despite this, I chose to hike, though I regretted it almost instantly. For 4+ hours, we went practically vertically up the mountain. Snow was on the ground around me, I could barely breathe due to the altitude, and after every 10 steps I had to stop to make an attempt at catching my breath. I imagine that this must be what suffocating feels like. My friend had to loan me her inhaler on more than one occasion. I found myself farther and farther behind the group, but Veronica surprised me by falling back and encouraging me up the trail. When we reached our highest point, just over 15,000 feet, I had never felt better about myself. Veronica pulled me aside and said, “lady, I wasn’t so sure about you, but you showed me today that you’re a strong woman, and we have to stick together!” I obviously got her phone number and all but begged her to be my friend in Cusco when this was all over.

Though we had reached our highest point, and the toughest part of the trek was behind me, the day wasn’t even half over. We had 6 more hours of straight downhill through a rainforest to go before reaching our next campsite.

Day 3:  The easiest day! We had a free morning to decide what excursion to do, and we chose to relax in the hot springs before a 4 hour hike along the train tracks leading to the town of Aguas Calientes (hot water), where we would spend a night in the hostel before finally reaching Machu Pichu!  Carrying 20 pounds worth of stuff on my back during that long walk in the forest along the tracks, it began to downpour. To say that we were soaking wet and cranky upon our arrival would be an understatement.

Day 4: At 4:15am, we began the hike up to Machu Pichu. Had I been warned that it was straight up stairs for 2 hours, I probably would have opted for the bus, as my knees were NOT happy with me. But it all became worth it when we reached our final goal – words cannot describe how incredible it was.

We spent the remainder of our time together exploring Cusco and making memories. I’m really sad to have seen my friends leave, but I’m excited for the rest of my journey. This time, it’s starting to feel more like I’m running towards something

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Salkantay Trek
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Machupichu!
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Selfies in the rain

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