Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Amazon: It's better than National Geographic

Welcome to the Amazon!
(edited by Denise)
We just got back from 5 days in the Peruvian Amazon and returned to Cusco with many fun memories.
The trip included a plane from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado (far east side of Peru), a 3 hr boat ride (with a breakdown in the middle) from Puerto Maldonado to the first lodge, Refugio Amazonas, with an overnight stay there. The next day we took the boat again (which was 3.5 hrs late) for a 4hr ride to the second lodge, deeper into the Amazon at the Tambopota Research Center (aka TRC). We stayed 2 days at the TRC then had another night at the first lodge.

First off, we were impressed by the lodges that were very nice and quite fancy. What took some getting used to was the fact that the rooms were completely open to the outside and it was very common to run into bugs and critters on your way to the bathroom or to find them sneaking into your toiletry bag.
In the middle of nature
We quickly learned how to adapt.  We hung our clothes, didn't leave stuff open and I, for one, always shook my clothes when picking them up, just in case. In this regard, the shower and bed with its mosquito net proved to be peaceful bug free places. So even if I was worried at first that this was going to be a nightmare, it ended up being easy to adapt once you figured it out.
Rolling in style while at the lodge

We had numerous activities included in our tour. Most of them revolved around hikes in the forest. Many happened during the day but we also went out at night a few times. Once by boat to look for caimans (we found a tiny one) and once by foot to look for frogs. We ended up finding a lot more than frogs as we also ran into many kinds of fancy bugs, and even more kinds of spiders...

Cute tiny frog

Hellooo tarantula

This one is 18x more venomous than a black widow
During the day hikes we learned a lot about the different trees, animals, and the role each play in the balance of the forest and how the locals use the resources of the Amazon forest. Our guide was truly great as he was not only fun but you could tell he continues to be completely passionate about the forest despite doing tours like ours every week. He was always on the lookout for strange birds, animals, trees or plants.

Some of the highlights were the impromptu tribe of squirrel monkeys, and cappuchino monkeys that passed by the lodge. We followed them for a while and got to see many of these small cute yellowish monkeys jump from tree to tree, hang out, look for food, and resume their traveling. It was very fun as many of them passed just above us.

I also really liked running into leaf cutter ants and their impressive colony.

Bats, turtles, butterflies, plants and many, many mushrooms also made the trip quite fun.
Bats hidden in plain sight, here moving a little

Super huge butterfly

On a cliff above the canopy


Double giant grasshopper, oh my god!

Purple beetle

You can really find anything in this forest

Trapped!  This is a huge fig tree, over 1000 years old.  It grows around another tree strangles it and eventually kills it and takes over. 
We got pretty lucky because even though we had a good share of rain it only prevented us from seeing the Macaws and Parrots at the clay lick, apparently they don't like the rain because they can't really see predators through it. [what we would have seen at the clay lick:] It was consistently hot and humid which made it impossible for stuff to dry (actually I discovered that the only time some of my clothes were truly dry was when I was wearing them, as my body heat helped remove some of the moisture from it... until we started hiking and then it was all drenched again)
Ready for the rain!
The amazon is also where we ended up spending the new years eve celebration. There was a party thrown by the staff as many of them had brought family.  We were entertained by local music, dancing, and good drinks, and went to bed promptly after midnight as we were leaving at 7am the next morning.  It was fun having a very unusual new year celebration among friendly people and bugs.

Happy new year everyone!

Many more photos can be seen here:

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