“The tarantulas are out all night so they won’t care if we are running a bit late,” our amazon jungle guide responded when I asked him if we could move back our night jungle hike in order to watch the World Cup USA/Portugal game. I was actually surprised at his answer for two reasons. First, even though we are in the remote jungle of the Amazon River Basin in Peru with only a generator for power and one TV in the employee’s quarters, we will get to watch the game. The World Cup is without a doubt the one sporting event that the world loves. Second, there are tarantulas out in the jungle close to our little rustic lodges? Eek! I was expecting llamas in Peru – not tarantulas.
From the moment we landed in this hot, tree-dense part of Peru it felt different. It didn’t feel like Peru to me – it felt like Southeast Asia. The rain forest and the river and town just gave me that feeling. Megan felt the same – it brought back memories of Singapore for her and the rain forest that she grew up near. We had a shock to the system as we went from altitude and cool temps in Cusco to landing in the muggy Puerto Maldonado airport. The air was thick – welcome to the jungle. We were quickly whisked away in a wooden boat for 2 hours on the river traveling to our remote huts in the jungle. During that time our local jungle guide, Fran, explained our activities for the next day. Apparently they included not only tarantulas – but also a 10 km hike in the jungle, fishing, cayman (alligator) spotting, monkeys, and lots of mosquitoes. This was going to be a jungle animal safari. The Cayman Lodge was a basic jungle lodge situated right on the banks of the Tambopata river. There were simple cabins with bathrooms, mosquitoes nets and we were given ample candles since there was no electricity in the cabins. The eating lodge (also very simple) had generator power from 5 to 10pm –and there was one TV in the employee quarters which they kindly let us sit in and watch the soccer match.
That first night after the game we did go out with into the jungle with only a strong flashlight to see the nocturnal animals of the area. Megan and I were a bit squeamish and held on to each other tight as if we were walking through a haunted jungle – but honestly there was nothing to be scared of. We spotted a large sloth high up in a tree, a number of icky insects, and yes a big, hairy tarantula about 2 feet from us. At one point Fran had us turn off all of our lights to stand in the dark jungle and take it all in. Megan let out a little nervous gasp and held on to me as we were enveloped in darkness and a myriad of strange sounds.
The next morning we were awoken by a whole new set of sounds. As the sun rose the jungle animals woke up and started being vocal. As I lay in the bed surrounded by my mosquito net I listened intently. Not one single sound was familiar to me – in fact most sounded unreal like a recording you would hear on a Disney jungle ride. I sort of expected a Tarzan yelp to be interjected among the birds. But this was indeed real, and it was probably one of my favorite ways I’ve ever woken up.
After breakfast we were instructed to pick out rubber mud boots for our hike. I was a bit skeptical of hiking 10km in boots that were not real hiking boots – it sounded like a whole lotta blisters if you ask me. However they told me that it would be horribly muddy and that I wouldn’t want to use my own boots – so I took their advice.
The hike was not necessarily hard – it was flat, but it was hot. Fran pointed out various trees and told us stories of jungle life – and we were enveloped among the big trees of the rain forest canopy. We learned how to survive on termites as well as other random jungle facts. I somehow even got Megan to eat a termite! There was a lot of squirming involved – but she did it. We came to a lake and hopped in a wobbly wooden canoe and spent an hour in the hot sun looking for caymans and other bird life. The lake was so still. It felt as if we had found this hidden Lost World as birds took off and landed around us, and we paddled wobbling past caymans that were camouflaged like logs. Occasionally you’d see and hear a pack of monkeys swinging through the trees setting my Tarzan imagination off again.
On our way back to the lodge Fran had promised us some fishing. This normally wouldn’t excite me too much – but when he said we’d be fishing for piranhas – I was hooked (seriously – how could you resist that pun?). He fashioned a fishing pole out of bamboo stick, some fishing wire, and a hook. I felt as if I had entered the set of Giligan’s Island with my homemade fishing pole in hand. He had brought a small bag of raw beef and showed us how to put it in on the hook and fish in the river. It was hot crouching on the banks of the river – but once I start fishing I became addicted and focused despite the sun beating down on me. I had a number of little nibbles and would yank the pole quickly as Fran had showed us – but each time – nothing – just less meat. Even though I had no luck, Fran did. He pulled out a large piranha and we all shrieked in excitement as he showed us the razor teeth. It would be a part of our dinner tonight as we packed up and hiked the rest of the way back to the lodge.
I was surprised at just how much wildlife we were able to see in our short 2 nights at the lodge. Just think what we would have seen if we had stayed a week! We spent the rest of the day hanging around in hammocks, dodging the mosquitoes, and enjoying the sounds of the jungle – minus Tarzan.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Intrepid Travel as part of the Niece Project, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
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