What do you think of when you think of the Amazon rainforest? What comes to mind? Do you think about colorful birds and insects? Perhaps plants that eat those said insects? Jungle cat’s maybe? I know I do. Even with certain preconceptions that I’ve developed over the years from a myriad of sources ranging from National Geographic magazines to Disney’s “The Jungle Book”, I still didn’t really know what to expect when arriving at the Puerto Maldonado airport. Was it going to be just like the nature films I watched in high school Biology class, or was it going to be something different. Upon researching Peru prior to my arrival, when I learned that part of the rain forest stretched into Peru I immediately booked a tour. So my jungle adventure began with Corto Maltes.
The plane touched down at the Puerto Maldonado airport around 8 in the morning. My guide and some of the staff from Corto Maltes greeted me upon my arrival. I met with the rest of my tour group (a lovely family from North Carolina and a couple from Spain) and we headed down to the river. We took a boat down the river to the Corto Maltes lodge. I was in complete and utter shock when we pulled up to a gorgeous property with an assortment of beautiful bungalows (with hot water!) After catching up on some sleep in the hammock outside my bungalow, I met up with my group to go on a tour of the plant life in the jungle. Our guide explained to us about the various kinds of jungle fruits that were only found in the jungle. We even had that opportunity to eat some right off the trees. Supposedly 20% of medicines are derived from plants found in the jungle. We got to experience the plant responsible for certain anesthetics. After putting it to my tongue, I immediately felt its numbing effects. He showed us the spikes on a plant that were used in conjunction with bamboo to make a “blow gun” used for battle or hunting purposes. We were introduced to the strangler vines. The strangler vine basically grows around trees and eventually overtakes them like a bad zombie movie. After our tour we headed back to have dinner.
The food at the lodge wasn’t just simply a meal, but a craft. These dishes were not only delicious, but aesthetically pleasing. Needless to say I really looked forward to meals! That night we went out into the boat in search of Caimans. Caimans are crocodiles that live in the river. They often times come out at night to hunt. We were fortunate to see a bunch of them floating in the river. There are primarily two different species found in the river, those being the white caimain and the black caiman. The black caiman are much rarer and were previously endangered as they have in the past been hunted for their hide. We even had the opportunity to hold one when our guide grabbed a small one out of the water. It was really pretty cool getting a chance to hold one. Kind of intimidating as it stood there with its mouth wide open exposing its razor sharp teeth, but nonetheless definitely provided a bit of a thrill.
The next day was our river boat tour of the Amazon jungle. We boarded our boat early and headed off to Monkey Island. The island itself had even more cool looking vegetation, including different kinds of fruits and of course the animals that eat them. A group of Capuchin monkeys and squirrel monkeys roamed through the trees as if they were expecting us. They put on a little show for us as they wrestled each other and caught various fruits that our guide threw up to them. We then continued the trek down the trail to a boat that we took out into the river. The river itself was beautiful. It was surrounded by all kinds of exotic looking trees and vines. We were fortunate enough to see a bunch of caiman throughout the day hanging out in and around the water. We also saw some wild looking birds and monkeys hanging around in the trees by the water. Perhaps one of the highlights was the family of river otters that swam past our boat. According to our guide its pretty rare that they are out in the river at the same time as the tours.
The following day I spent with the Spanish couple and our guide visiting a local jungle village. We spent a good couple hours watching how they make fire, playing a popular game involving spinning a top in a circular space and finally honing our archery skills shooting arrows at targets in the trees. The second part of the day we visited a local farm. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We got to sample a bunch of different kinds of fruits right off the trees! We tried some oranges, sweet lime, and sugar cane among many others. I even tried eating a hot pepper against my guide’s advice. Everyone got to see me turn the same color as the pepper. Not to worry however, apparently sugar cane naturally reduces the effects of the hot pepper. Who knew? We then headed back to the lodge where we had yet another fantastic meal.
All in all I had a great time and learned a lot on this trip. Definitely something I would recommend to anyone whose up for a jungle adventure. Definitely recommend bringing some good bug spray and sun block, its gets pretty brutal out there. All in all, yet another great experience in one of Peru’s most exciting microclimates!
Evan is a volunteer with Karikuy. To learn more about how you can participate visit www.karikuy.org/volunteer