The Amazing Amazon

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If you’ve grown up in the U.S. like I have, you have probably heard of the Amazon as one of those mysterious places filled with wildlife and nature and one that magically intrigues almost everyone’s interest. It just sounds exotic. Even before I finalized my Peru plans, I knew the Amazon was huge, but that I wanted to visit at least a small part of it while there.

Like many tourist attractions, there are parts that are tourist-heavy and others that are not so much. The Amazon tours in general are split into two different kinds–one that appeals to people who have families and desire convenience and another that is not filled with as many people due to government restrictions, but is equally, if not more rewarding. I chose the second option and I had to look into a tour company in order to carry out my plans.

Manu National Park is actually a reserve–a part of the Amazon rainforest that requires you to travel in groups no more than 10 people to keep Deet levels low (yes, the ingredient in mosquito repellent) and promote reduced human contact. For those reasons, the Manu tours are expensive compared to other trips in Peru. Thankfully, I had previously booked tours with the same company and the owner decided to give me a huge discount (which I am still incredibly grateful for!) Unlike the other people in our group of seven, I didn’t know anyone but was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and considerate everyone was. The group consisted of two couples from Spain and France and a pair of friends from England and Scotland. Our tour would last 4 days and 3 nights and we would stay in Eco-lodges provided by the particular tour company we were traveling with, Eco-Manu.

Our first day involved an early pick-up and lots of driving over curvy and rocky roads. We had two tour guides split between the four days we were there. Our first tour guide, Arthur, was Finnish, but he had married a woman from Cusco 30 years ago and had decided to settle in the city and work as a tour guide later. His knowledge about the region was truly incredible and he had answers to almost any question we had.

On the way to our first stop for the night (the Bambu lodges), we made mini stops to observe waterfalls, certain plants, and colorful birds native to the park. I loved that Arthur didn’t rush through the sights and crank out brief descriptions, but that he really made an effort to delve into the explanations to help us understand the area he was so passionate about.

Soon after arriving at the Bambu lodge, we were served a delicious trucha by the cooks that worked onsite.

The second day started at 6 am with a walk near our lodge as we explored the flora and fauna of the area. Arthur showed us the cocona fruit, which looks like a yellow pepper that is eaten raw or made into a juice. He also pointed out tons of coca leaves that are harvested legally in the region and used to cope with altitude sickness.

We then drove to the towns of Pilcopata and Atalaya where we took a short boat ride to the Eco Manu lodge on the Madre de Dios River. The trip included rubber boots, which would help us immensely in the next two days as we traversed the muddy puddles of the rainforest.

We went to the wildlife reserve center known for saving and protecting animals in need. There was a 2-toed baby sloth named Mochila and she was intially nervous and scared. Once some of us held her, she didn’t want to let go! I just wanted to take her home with me 😀 The center also had turtles, monkeys, and a Guacamayoa rainbow colored bird that resembles a macaw and is native to the Amazon.

After lunch–another mouthwatering concoction of fresh starfruit juice and Peruvian dishes–our tour guide took us on a walk through the jungle. We saw the paw prints of a jaguar! Jaguars are native to the Amazon rainforest and there is a small (10% chance) that you can spot a live one while you’re there. Arthur told us that even after 20 years of experience taking tour groups into the Amazon, he had only seen a jaguar several times, so the rest of us wouldn’t feel too disappointed.

The all-knowing Arthur told us about small ants that we spotted in several places while hiking. At first, we didn’t think much of these insignificant creatures, but he informed us that they can bite off your skin if you step on them and happen to get one on your body. Some native Amazonian tribes used these ants as a weapon against enemies due to their unparalleled strength.

Dinner was served and we had to bid Arthur farewell and welcome our new tour guide, Fernando. We quickly warmed up to Fernando during another post-dinner hike through the jungle where we attempted to scout out caimans in the swampy areas of the Amazon.

[To be Continued]

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