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.
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. The 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 Parrot, 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.
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.