A wake-up call at 3.45 a.m. to get to Lima for the flight to Puerto Maldonado; a tiny, new airport with a luggage carousel (!) but only a large push-pull trolley to get the luggage from the plane to the baggage carousel! Puerto Maldonado is a small town with motorbikes and few cars, the roads are rough and there don’t seem many hotels, but it is the main way into this part of the Amazon rainforest. On arrival we had expected to be hit by a wall of hot, humid heat, but luckily it was unseasonably cool that week. We were transferred to a small jetty and then sped 2 hours up river in a long, narrow boat to the Tambopata Lodge for our stay in the jungle. The young female manager gave us a laid-back welcome and we settled in for the night. The following day we had the pleasure of sitting in the long boat for 5 hours while we chugged further and further away from any form of habitation or cultivation into an area of primary rainforest. Many stops to look at birds, or dangling Oropendola nests , caymen basking on the banks and even the odd turtle. On reaching our campsite the tents were put up by the staff while we went off for a forest walk. Filing through forest at the back of a group of 10 wasn’t very good – we couldn’t hear what was being said and as it was late not many birds were about anyway! Back to our campsite, a three course evening meal and bird lists by candlelight. Then off to our tent. The romantic notion of sleeping in a tent was very quickly chased away as we crawled around awkwardly trying to undress, wriggling about on a hard floor trying to get comfortable and using clothing for pillows. How sound carries too, we could hear other people’s discomforts, belches, farts, snores – never mind the sounds of the jungle! I had had a low grade headache through the day and decided it was possibly because I was a bit dehydrated, so at dinner I drank 3 ½ large cups of fluid! I didn’t think ahead! Toilet tent! Three times I had to get up in the darkness, pull on wellie boots, unzip our tent, find my way by feeble torchlight to the toilet tent, balance precariously to step over the front of it and then teeter dangerously on the two wooden planks either side of the gaping hole! I didn’t drink so much the following night – bugger the headache!
Our main reason for coming to the Amazon was to see one of the most spectacular bird events in the southern hemisphere - Macaws and parrots at the largest clay lick in the world.
Just as the sky was beginning to lighten we got up, donned wellies, drank a hot cup of Mate de coca and set off across the river to a very muddy bank where a group of Americans were already installed on stools. Our group had also brought stools but we both squelched 12 feet further back to a convenient log where we could see both the clay lick and the trees many of the birds perched in. Gradually the numbers and noise of macaws, parrots, parakeets grew. Loads of Blue-headed parrots squabbled on the clay, noisy Mealy parrots shrieked for good positions and some of the magnificent Macaws (Scarlet, Red and green, as well as Blue and Yellow) joined in the mêlée. The flight pattern of the large macaws is so distinctive; trailing tail, easy wing beats and the tail spreading to a beautiful fan as they approach landing. I love the shouting, noisy parrot family; raucous, colourful and vibrantly alive! For more than an hour we watched these lovely birds; binoculars, telescopes and cameras all doing their work. After a bit, people started milling and none better than the oldest person in our group, Geoffrey. Laden down with binoculars, camera and bag, clutching his telescope on a monopod he crashed and bumbled back and forth through squelchy mud and river debris. Sadly we had missed seeing his stool gently collapsing beneath him and the muffled giggles it caused. Geoffrey was oblivious to the mud gathering on his bags, clothes, equipment and boots and his long-suffering wife Jean, just sighed and said, “All the family wait for something to happen to Geoffrey, and it always does!”
Most of the group then opted for another jungle walk but we stayed at the campsite, sipping hot mate de coca while watching the wide river flowing past. It was idyllic, a vista to left and right of pristine jungle, green and fresh, the clay lick downstream and perfect warm temperature. Peaceful and relaxing. A walk along the creek beside the campsite yielded a marvellous array of butterflies – orange, yellow, white with blue edges, swallowtails and iridescent blue ones. They settled and unsettled in the sand in a great swarm. In the afternoon we travelled even further upstream into the land of the jaguar, tapir, capybara, cayman and turtle. The ground was muddy and our wellies essential, but the guide had suggested that as the stream was fresh and clean and we might like to take a dip. Brian decided on a hair wash … much to my amusement as he struggled to take off a wellie to rinse his hair, without overbalancing into the water! It made a good bit of video! Others in the group were even braver and went for full immersion but probably regretted it the next day when the multitude of bites they got started to itch!
During the night we were quite dry in our tent as the heavens opened and drenched the place. Not everyone was so lucky. Jean needed to go to the toilet tent in the middle of the night and hoped no one saw her in only pyjama top, wellies and see-through poncho!
was a good job we had seen the clay lick at close quarters the day before, as
after the nights rain the mud was deeper and the macaws and parrots fewer.
The staff packed up the soggy tents, loaded the boats and we started our
trip back down the river to return to The Lodge and a cold shower!
Our treat that evening was a magical nighttime trip by boat looking for
caymen. Stars were out in a
clear sky, a low mist swirled and the rainforest noises hummed in the
background. We drifted for
fully ten minutes in total silence, absorbing the magical qualities of nature.
Back at the Lodge, neither of us could summon any appetite, anyway we
felt quite tired and it’s difficult being in a place with no electricity, no
lights, no TV, no hot water, no facilities for amusement!
And cleaning teeth etc. by candlelight isn’t very satisfactory!
Next morning we left the Tambopata Lodge the in the dark and as the boat chugged its way back to civilisation and our flight to Cusco, we saw a huge red ball in the sky, its deep red reflection in the water, with verdant green forest on either side – a most wonderful dawn and sunrise.
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