Dan In Peru

Dan In Peru

Story and Photos by Daniel Puiatti

In June 2013, I was offered a fantastic opportunity to travel to Peru.

Being fascinated with the country’s shamanic traditions, ancient geoglyphs and captivating landscapes—I had no choice.

But Peru, much like any travel destination, has health considerations that can’t be ignored, and the trip required that I take some preemptive measures to ensure my physical integrity during and after my time there.

Part 1: Preparing for Peru

My first step in preparation for the trip was to review my itinerary, which included one week  deep in the Amazon jungle of Puerto Maldonado, and another week high in the Andes mountains of Willkapampa.

My research started similar to many a college essay: with Google

After about 30 seconds of scouring the first few search page results I composed a terrifying list of potential aliments, which included:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis B
  • Malaria
  • Rabies
  • Yellow Fever
  • Altitude Sickness
  • Sunburn
  • Existential Malaise

OK, so the last one is probably a byproduct of reading too much Jean Paul Sartre and not necessarily related to Peru. But, I do have a profound fear of rabies.

As I continued my research, I came to the realization that the internet is a magical place, filled with vast quantities of incredibly useful and useless information—it was time to consult an expert more capable than Wikipedia and Google—although the latter did allow me to locate the aforementioned expert.

A quick search for Toronto Travel Health lead me to the Medisys Travel Health Clinic’s website, and a few moments later I was scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Jay Keystone, renowned travel health physician and expert in tropical and infectious disease.

Dr. Keystone has been practicing tropical and travel medicine for 35 years, and is the Director of the Medisys Travel and Adult Immunization Health Clinic; he is also a member of the Tropical Disease Unit at Toronto General Hospital, and a professor at the University of Toronto.

I couldn’t ask for a better source of information.

Dr. Keystone was incredibly informative, and I have included clips from my consultation below, organized by topic. Check them out:

My consultation with Dr. Keystone revealed some really interesting details about travel to Peru. For instance, it turns out that the primary causes of injury and death among travellers in Peru are motor vehicle related incidents. Surprising, and something I had completely neglected to consider.

In retrospect, I spent lots of time researching online, time which would have been much better spent procrastinating. And, as I discovered, it’s a travel health clinic’s job to tell you what immunizations and health precautions you should take—a job which Medisys did exceptionally well. After my appointment at Medsys I felt confident I had the proper knowledge and vaccinations to keep me healthy in Peru. No doubt, DIY research is never as good as talking to a seasoned expert!

Even the most adept traveller should head to a travel health clinic before departure. For more information about health issues if travelling to Peru, check out Health Information for Travelers to Peru

As they say in the parlance of our ancestors: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And I am confident that Montezuma will not be getting his revenge with me.


Part 2: Departure

I awake at 5:30 a.m. from a night of almost no sleep. 

The excitement and anticipation of my trip to Peru has kept me wired, and thoughts raced through my mind all night—I could not help but continuously reflect on how incredible the next two weeks would be.

I arrive at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport at about 6:30 a.m.—my flight wasn’t due to depart for four hours, and the terminal was almost totally empty, aside from one other traveller.

“Where is everyone?” I ask.

“Torontonians are always in a rush,” a fellow responded, “You don’t need to rush—just be patient.”

And so I was, and with my patience a new friendship was forged at Pearson’s Terminal 3. My friend’s name was Vincent, he was returning to Argentina from a business trip to Toronto, and we would both be stopping over in Panama on our way to our respective destinations. Vincent was fond of old-school cameras, edgy magazines and swearing to emphasize points of importance in conversation—we got along swimmingly.

Vincent would come to teach me an important lesson about good people, and how as travellers we often depend on others to help us get by in unfamiliar circumstances.

I examine my gear one last time before boarding the plane, and make sure to slip my notepad into my breast pocket. No way I was going anywhere without it directly at hand. I had already begun scribbling down the maddening amount of thoughts that were rushing through my mind, and I was prepared to document every mundane detail of my experience—I wanted to forget nothing.

Outpost En Route to Peru

Reading material

As we boarded our flight and tore across the heavens, I took a moment to review my itinerary for the umpteenth time. Two weeks in Peru: Week One would be spent in the Peruvian Jungles with the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving biodiversity and supporting sustainable work and local development initiatives. Week Two would be spent with the Mountain Lodges of Peru, trekking up and across the Andes to Salkantay, in Quechua, to the highest peak of the Willkapampa range of the Peruvian Andes.

I had read extensively about both organizations: about their work, their mission statements, their priorities. This was all fine and good, but now I was on my way to experience these organizations for real—in the field. And let me tell you—there is no better way to learn about what an organization does than by getting in with their people on the ground.

I can’t help but gaze out at the skyline. Time slowly begins to slip away as I loose myself in the clouds. For a few moments I forget my place on terra firma, and feel as if I have slipped into another world, one filled with incompressible beauty that is afforded to us by travel through the troposphere. It is this same type of beauty, which is almost unexplainable, that would become a permanent companion on my travels through Peru.

Thank goodness for pictures.

Our plane screeches to a halt, and I am snapped out of my phenomenological reflections—I am still in a daze of swirling thoughts. Only the incredible blast of heat that hits me as I exit the plane manages to snap me to attention.

“Welcome to Panama,” says Vincent.

This was indeed Panama, and it was hot. Panama was also Spanish, which I did not speak.

Luckily Vincent did, and he took it upon himself to help me navigate to the next gate, a task that certainly would’ve been less enjoyable without him. Remember what I said about relying on others as travellers? Well, having to rely on others is a great thing, I’m discovering, as it thrusts you into one of the essential components of travel—other people. Thanks to Vincent I boarded my next flight with no problems. Thanks Vincent.

And again, I was off.


Part 3: Arrival

“Twenty minutes to Lima, prepare for landing.”

I arrive at Jorge Chavez International Airport around 7 p.m.; it is dark, hot, and the airport is buzzing with people.

“Finally,” I think to myself. “I’m in Peru.”

I meet my local contact at the taxi roundabout, he speaks no English, but we communicate just fine through a series of wild gesticulations and nods as we make our way to his vehicle.

We exit the airport into a chaotic swarm of cars; the air is filled with a cacophony of horns, engine noises and shouting. Mini-buses, mopeds and moto-taxis race in every direction. No one seems to be concerned with road markings; the entire road has become one gigantic lane.

As we dance through the chaos and move into downtown Lima, I am struck by the night: neon signs glow everywhere, incredibly decorated buses and moto-taxis line the streets, and people, so many people!

We arrive at the hotel around 8 p.m., and the receptionist reminds me that I need to be downstairs at 6 a.m. the next morning to meet the rest of my team and then depart for Puerto Maldonado.

I decide to make it an early night and drift off into a deep unconsciousness, serenaded by the sounds of the night bustle.

***

The alarm clock screams to life, blasting a mess of static and Peruvian Bachata music—this works much better than coffee at waking me up.

Downstairs in the lobby I find my travelling companions, including representatives from the Rainforest Alliance, who I’ll be here to shadow. We would be spending the next few days together, and after a brief introduction we were off to Jorge Chavez International Airport to fly to Puerto Maldonado.

Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios (a region in southeastern Peru, bordering Brazil and Bolivia) is one of the largest cities in Peru’s southeastern region. Located between the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers, the Madre de Dios region is exceptional for its enormous trees, broad rivers and landscapes that contain an enormous variety of flora and fauna, including thousands of species of mammals, insects and plants.

In all my conversations about Peru, I have rarely encountered people who had an experience in the Peruvian rainforest. Mostly, the discussions would focus on Machu Picchu and the Andes, two of Peru’s main travel attractions—this made my excursion to Puerto Maldonado even better.

I board LAN Peru No. LA 2075 which will be stopping off in Cuzco before heading to Puero Maldonado. The flight is seamless, quick and best of all, completely on time. In fact, the flight stats of this particlar route with LAN Peru has an on-time rating of 5, meaning that that this flight has on-time performance that is basically perfect. We land in Cuzco for a moment and are off again. The mountains surrounding Cuzco are absolutely beautiful, and I am thankful for the opportunity to sample this stunning landscape before heading into the Rainforest.

Upon landing in Puerto Maldonado we made our way to a bus that would be transporting us to a dock where we would be boarding a boat to our first destination: Refugio Amazonas. We would be touring the Refugio Amazonas to learn about the sustainable practices adopted by the lodge’s management through consultation with the Rainforest Alliance.

After a quick drive through the rainforest we arrive at the river and board a boat that would take us down river to Refugio Amazonas. Because the lodge is located deep in the jungle, we are forced to dock and then proceed on foot to find the lodge.

Puerto Maldonado PeruPuerto Maldonado Peru 2

Enter the Amazon

Located on a 200-hectare private reserve within the buffer zone of the Tambopata National Reserve (the reserve was created in 1990 to protect the forests and ecosystems adjacent to the rivers Heath and Tambopata), Refugio Amazona is, put simply, an incredible architectural and engineering accomplishment. It’s also aesthetically beautiful.

Refugio Amazonas Peru

Refugio Amazonas night lodgings

Constructed entirely by locals with readily accessible materials—wood, palm fronds and clay—the lodge is both beautiful and environmentally sustainable. It sits raised above the jungle floor by a series of wooden columns, so that the lodge is about 10 feet above ground. There are no walls around the commons area, no electricity or artificial light (although a generator is turned on for a few hours once a day), and there is wildlife everywhere.

Specializing in kayaking, mountain biking, canopy climbing, and wildlife tours, the lodge is a perfect base of operations for anyone looking to explore the Tambopata National Reserve. And recently, with the assistance of the Rainforest Alliance, Refugio Amazonas has been able to identify and implement numerous efficiency improvements to the operations of the lodge. From energy optimizing techniques, to food acquisition, storage and preparation methods, the partnership between Refugio Amazonas and the Rainforest Alliance has allowed for an improvement in the overall efficiency and sustainability practices of an already eco-conscious lodge.

After a tour and a spectacular dinner (check out the Rainforest Expeditions website for some of the recipes they use), I am assigned my room, which I would be sharing with a Peruvian writer named Iván Reyna Ramos. Iván spoke no English, but again, we communicate just fine through a series of thumbs-ups, hand gestures and grunts.

Refugio Amazonas Peru 3

Open concept jungle view

Our room was something to behold. Consisting of three walls only, the west face opened directly out into the jungle.

“Where’s the other wall? I ask.

Iván says nothing, he just smiles and nods.

I quickly decided to take the inner most bed, keeping Iván as a buffer between the jungle and myself. (This decision would prove wise one, as I awoke late in the night to the sound of  some sort of giant jungle rodent cozying up to Iván, followed by the sound of Ivan flinging the beast back into the jungle.)

Refugio Amazons Peru 4

Open room

After fortifying myself in my bunk, I drift off into the absolute darkness that comes with being in the middle of the jungle—lulled to sleep by the sounds of the rainforest.

Here’s a sample of what it sounds like:


Part 4: The Tower

It is only my second day in the Peruvian Amazon with the Rainforest Alliance, and already I have learned some really important things:

First, it is the Amazon.

The Amazon is hot, and you will sweat a shirt-load. And while sweating is inherently a good and therapeutic process, you will also be loosing a substantial amount of hydration, so bring water with you everywhere. Also, as you sweat you will realize that your clothing, unless made of very specific materials, will never dry, or never seems to feel quite dry due to the humidity. I encourage you to purchase clothing constructed with materials that will help your clothing dry quickly.

Second, mosquitoes have an affinity for exotic cuisine.

In this case, it is the delicious blood of a foreigner. So, cover yourself in bug spray, don’t wear shorts, and perhaps try to accept in advance that you will inevitably get bit.

Third, that vine is probably a snake.

That stick, is probably a snake. That snake, is most certainly a snake. In short, there are lots of snakes, and while most will slither off into the jungle when you come near, it is still wise to wear pants and boots. Avoid picking up sticks.

At 6:15 a.m. we depart Refugio Amazonas—the air is moist and the jungle is alive with the screams of parrots and the chatter of bugs. I have quickly learned that it is best to keep most of my gear packed as we are almost always on the move. I rather like this as it keeps my mind stimulated. In the rainforest, novelty is constant.

Our next destination is the Explorer’s Inn, located about two hours by riverboat from Refugio Amazonas. I drift between wonder and disbelief as our boat cuts a line through the glasslike water of the still morning Amazon river. We arrive.

Glasslike Amazon Water River

Glasslike water

Aside from being a welcome oasis in the rainforest, the Explorer’s Inn is quite a special place. Since its founding in 1975, the Explorer’s Inn has become a principle example for ecotourism in Peru through its dedication to conservation and science.I make my way up the dock into the commons area of the Explorer’s Inn. Once inside a woman greets me with a cold towel and star fruit juice—the cold towel is spectacular and I ask for another.

The Inn maintains an on-call Resident Naturalist, and offers biologists room and board and the opportunity to carry out research in the Tambopata rainforest (a quarter of all the beds at the inn are reserved for scientists doing research and field work in the area).

Explorers Inn Entrance

Entrance to the Explorer's Inn

I was offered an opportunity to accompany some researchers from AIDER—AIDER, a local NGO in Peru, manages part of the Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja Sonene National Park—to the parrot clay lick and Gas Measure Tower to see the sort of work they do. This was an opportunity I most certainly could not pass up.

After another quick boat ride and we arrive at the parrot clay lick where we observe, from a hidden vantage point, a variety of birds carrying on being birds. There are various theories as to why parrots eat clay, the researchers from AIDER theorize that the parrots eat clay for sodium, a mineral which they can’t quit get anywhere else. For an ornithological enthusiast, this must be paradise.

We depart by boat again to our next destination: the gas measure tower, a 42 metre high tower that measures gas levels in the Tambopata region—it is an essential tool for local reasearchers looking to study how the rainforest helps regulate carbon in the atmosphere. We trek for about an hour through the jungle, spotting various types of wildlife along the way. I ask our guide if he has ever seen a jaguar, he tells me he has. Jaguars, a feline in the Panthera genus, and one of the only Panthera species found in the Americas, are essentially enormous jungle cats and are the third-largest feline on earth (behind the tiger and lion). The jaguar is common to Peru, but rarely will you see one, as the Jaguar is crepuscular (meaning their peak activity periods are around dawn and dusk).

I grow giddy with excitement. At one point during the trek we are forced to cross a river. The bridge we use consists of an old 2 x 4. Everyone suggests that I go first as I am clearly the heaviest of our crew—sound reasoning. At about three paces the 2 x 4 piece of wood snaps and I manage to jump across before my shoes are drenched. I make it across with dry feet—the rest of the crew is not as fortunate.

We trek about 20 minutes further through unpredictable bouts of rainfall, until we come to the base of the gas measure tower.

Now, when I first heard the phrase “gas measure tower,” I had some strange mental images of what to expect. But, upon arriving at the base of the tower, I must say that the gas measure tower looks exactly like a gas measure tower in so far as it is a tower that measures gas.

The tower sits at 42 metres high, stretching far above the jungle canopy, and has enormous scientific importance: it helps measure how the Amazon rainforest acts as a carbon sink. The tower, constructed in 2011, is the result of a partnership between the RAINFOR consortium of the British universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Leeds, who continue to study the impact of CO2 in the Tambopata National Reserve. And interestingly, the tower is open to visitors.

I begin my ascent slowly, moving up, beyond the tree line. A flock of macaws explodes from the trees in a cacophony of screams as my boots clang against the metal tower.

I reach the top and am greeted with perhaps the most incredible view of the rainforest. It seems to stretch on forever in every direction. There is only green and blue as far as I can see—just forest and sky. This view is quite possibly the most incredible thing I have ever seen.

A panoramic view from the top of the Gas Measure Tower


Part 5: Amazon Nights

The tower begins to sway as the wind gathers intensity. I proceed to make my way down the 42-metre-high Gas Measure Tower with deliberate haste.

Upon reaching the base, I experience a brief moment of amour-propre, having conquered the treeline and my own irrational terror of heights. But there is no time for basking in self-contentment, I have a schedule to keep and much more to see: novelty here is constant, payed for with speed.

My next destination is the Tambopata Eco Lodge, situated within the Tambopata National Reserve (TNR), on the perimeter of the Bahuaja Sonene National Park. The TNR is an immense area (680,000 acres), protected by the Peruvian government, and is noted for an abundance of life—in fact, some believe that the ecosystem of the TNR is one of the most diverse on the planet with over 10,000 species of plants and 600 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, more than 1,000 butterfly species and well over 100 species of amphibians and reptiles.

A map of the Tambopata National Reserve Peru

A map of the Tambopata National Reserve

Within moments of my arrival at the lodge, I see where its reputation for wildlife diversity originates. Near the entrance are Mealy Parrots, Coati (which resemble huge raccoons), a stray cat, an Aguti and some humans—there are also butterflies everywhere. The whole scene is both bizarre and charming—an almost cartoonish sort of interspecies coevality.

Tambopata National Reserve Passport Stamp

Tambopata National Reserve Passport Stamp

After another cold towel and starfruit juice, I take a tour of the lodge with Rolando Sota, its manager. Rolando tells me that the lodge was founded back in 1991, and that it is one of the smallest eco lodges in the area (by design).

The philosophy is that smaller groups contribute to a more fulfilling visit, and this helps reduce environmental impact.

Rolando shows me some of the various innovative methods introduced by the Rainforest Alliance to help the lodge keep its eco footprint low: water purifiers, food storage methods and various recycling systems. You can get a full rundown of these innovative ecological accomplishments at: http://www.sustainabletrip.org/profile/tambopata-ecolodge.

Entrance to the Tambopata Eco Lodge

Entrance to the Tambopata Eco Lodge

A lizard under attack

A lizard under attack by ants

An Aguti

An Aguti

A Mealy Parrot Tambopata Peru

A Mealy Parrot

 A Coti Tambopata Peru

A Coti

Now, I must mention something I noticed during the tour: a giant wooden sign with the words “ayahuasca” written on it. 

Ayahuasca is an ancient and legendary psychoactive brew that is often used during divinatory rituals by shamans of Amazonian Peru.

What makes this brew extra interesting is that apparently no one is really quite sure how the indigenous people discovered the synergistic properties of the plants used to make ayahuasca. And if you think about it, among the countless species of flora in the Amazon, the chance that the two specfic plants necessary—banisteriopsis caapi and psychotria viridis—would be combined in such a way as to create the effect it does is pretty remarkable. I will return to the subject of ayahuasca and shamanism a little later in my journey, as it is one that especially fascinates me.

During the tour night seems to descend on the lodge without warning, causing it to glow in a slow pulsing aura of orange light. The view of stars is unreal, and the blackness of the night sky looks to be matched equally by billions of white dots.

“Let's go to the boat,” says Rolando, “we will find caiman.”

And so I follow Rolando towards the boat, our path through the jungle illuminated by intermittent torches. The blackness of the jungle fills my head with strange thoughts of predators lurking—perhaps fear of the dark is not so irrational.

Travelling by Night

Travelling by night

Our boat runs silent as we launch from the dock, and one of our guides makes his way to the front of the boat to illuminate a path through the night.

I think to myself, how in the hell are we supposed to find anything out here—it is total darkness. 

But then I notice our guide intermittently shining his flashlight in a 180-degree horizontal arc, skimming the shoreline and leaving behind tiny glowing specs in its wake. Then it hits me, our guide is not searching aimlessly, he is looking for the reflection of light in their eyes—and it’s working. I begin to notice more and more sparkles of light along the shoreline—the eyes of caiman glow for a few seconds after being illuminated, it is just enough time for our guide to direct the boat towards them.

Caiman are essentially small alligators that can vary in size from 3 to 13 feet. The ones we spot are about a foot long, and completely harmless. We draw close to the group and they remain motionless.

Our boat backs up and our guide resumes his search, scanning again and again. 

A strange and wretched odour grows stronger as we move up the shoreline and our guide focuses the beam of light on an enormous brown mass in the distance.

“Capybara,” our guide whispers, “is the biggest rodent on earth.” 

Capybara are indeed the largest rodents on earth, and they resemble a cross between a dog and a rat. Again, they are harmless to humans, but are the preferred prey of jaguar, puma, caiman and anacondas, all inhabitants of this part of the Peruvian rainforest. I am happy that we decide to return to the lodge after our encounter with the capybaras.


Part 6: Giant Otters and Strange Sounds

The last few days have been amazing, and I am beginning to think that it will be impossible to top what I have already seen in Peru.

Today I will be heading for Sandoval Lake Lodge, located deep within the Tambopata. The lodge is situated on a series of bluffs overlooking Sandoval Lake, and it is the only lodge actually located within the protected Tambopata Reserve. As such, we are only permitted to drive to the perimeter of the reserve—the rest of our travel must be by foot and river canoe.

Lake Sandoval is one of the most beautiful and wildlife-rich lakes in the Tambopata, and it is also home to a raft of endangered giant otters. Giant otters are endemic to South America, and many of the remaining pockets of these animals are located in Peru. The otters can grow to almost six feet in length and have a powerful social structure which causes them to operate as a cohesive unit: sleeping, playing, travelling and feeding almost entirely as a group. Unfortunately, giant otters have been poached for decades, causing their numbers to collapse. There now remain approximately 5,000, to see them is a spectacular opportunity.

As I mentioned, Tambopata is a protected area, and so we cannot drive through it. Instead, we drive to the perimeter of the reserve and begin a 3-kilometre trek through the rainforest towards the lake.

The Trail Begins

The trail begins

The weather has been chaotic all morning, and rain comes in spastic torrents, transforming the earth into a mess of muck, rock and foliage—but it stops the bugs, for this I am thankful. Anyone who has ever ventured deep into the rainforest will tell you it has a hypnotic effect. The sounds, sights and smells enchant, and it is easy to get overwhelmed—the rain increases this effect exponentially. The intensity of the rain grows to a thunderous downpour, blocking out all sound and reducing visibility to nothing. I press onward, following the mud of the trail, it is all I can make out.

The rain eventually slows and fades and I notice that the jungle has grown eerily silent. Neither animals or the chatter of my group is audible. I slow my pace, listening for any hint of my group: a voice, footsteps, the snaps of cameras, anything—but there is nothing.

I am completely alone.

A tingle shoots up my spine and my senses grow frenzied. Every sound resonates with booming intensity, and my eyesight narrows as I search for movement. The dank smell of wet earth is pervasive. Then I hear it. A strange and unsettling sound, bestial in nature—it fills me with apprehension.

I search feverishly for the source of these wild noises, scanning the trees in front of me.

What the hell is it? Where is it coming from? Is it some kind of monkey? Is it dangerous? How far is the nearest hospital? Are there hospitals in the Amazon?!

“It is a horned screamer,” our guide whispers, causing me to spin around violently. Behind him I notice the rest of my group, moving silently and scanning the trees for the source of the noise.

The horned screamer, akin to its name, is a large bird with a horn like growth on its skull and a distinct, almost supernatural call. The screamer is actually a member of the duck, goose and swan family, but unlike its relatives the screamer has a chicken like beak instead of a bill. Truly a bizarre creature.

We eventually give up trying to find the screamers and make our way towards a set of gigantic wooden canoes that will take us along a tributary that connects with Sandoval Lake. 

Our Jungle Canoes Await

Jungle canoes await us

The tributary is overgrown with foliage, and is no more than 10 feet wide, just big enough for our canoes to pass through. As we near the mouth of the tributary that connects with Lake Sanoval I spot a lone man out in the middle of the lake, paddling in a slow and cautious manner.

“He was attacked by an anaconda on this lake a few weeks ago,” our guide announces.

The Tributary Meets Sandoval Lake

Tributary meets Sandoval lake

An Anaconda in Los Amigos Conservation Concession, Madre de Dios, Peru by Geoff Galice

Anaconda in Los Amigos Conservation Concession in Madre de Dios Peru by Geoff Galice

I can’t tell if he is joking, but I immediately move closer towards the centre of the canoe. Anacondas are no joke, and they can grow up to 29 feet long. They can also kill a human easily. My imagination runs wild; my only respite comes when we finally reach the docks of Sandoval Lake Lodge.

Sandoval Lake Lodge Entrance

Sandoval Lake Lodge entrance

The lodge itself is spectacular, situated on a bluff above Lake Sandoval and offering an unmatched view of the lake and surrounding jungle. The lodge is built out of harvested driftwood mahogany and is owned jointly by a nonprofit conservation group and five families of indigenous Brazil nut collectors. And as I mentioned, the lodge is actually within the protected Reserved Zone of Tambopata, the only Lodge in Peru like this.

After a quick snack—consisting of plantain chips and deep-fried yucca root served with an array of hot, sweet and savory sauces—we depart the lodge and board a makeshift catamaran resembling a wooden deck fixed atop two canoes.

The view from Sanoval Lake Lodge

View from Sandoval Lake Lodge

I feel my chances against an anaconda are much better aboard this vessel.

The weather has once again shifted. The skies are completely devoid of clouds and the sun beats down on us relentlessly as we move out towards the centre of the lake. There is no escape from the heat, but there are no bugs—for this I am thankful.

“Nutria!” someone shouts “Nutria Gigante!”

And just like that, perhaps 40 feet away, a raft of giant otters. I count about four of them, and they seem unconcerned by our presence as they chatter playfully with each other. I am humbled to be able to see these beautiful animals while they still exist.

I thought I had seen the best Peru had to offer. Today showed me that things were just getting started. The best is yet to come.


Part 7: Reserva Amazonica and the Rainforest Canopy

The Rainforest canopy: second sky to the jungle, home to birds, monkeys and today, playground of fearless adventure seekers.

My day begins with an early morning boat ride away from Sandoval Lake Lodge and towards Reserva Amazonica Lodge beneath a dazzling sky of blue, white and purple atop a verdant green horizon. This ethereal picture is one of my favourite moments so far—simple, natural and stunning.

The boat ride feels like it lasts only a few seconds before we reach the Reserva Amazonica docks—I almost wish I could spend the day on the boat, lost in the sky.

The walk towards Reserva Amazonica is scattered with swarms of white butterflies that explode upward into a fluttering jumbled cloud as we pass, it feels magical until our guide informs us that the butterflies like to conglomerate around areas where animals have urinated. Hmmm…

Amazon Butterflies Peru

Beautiful Amazon butterflies

We are greeted at Reserva Amazonica, like many of the other lodges, with star fruit juice and cold towels, these moments of respite from the intense heat and humidity of the jungle are paradise, and have become starting points to the beginning of a new lodge experience.

Today my experience is happening at Reserva Amazonica, a lodge located on the outskirts of the lush Tambopata National Reserve noted for the wide variety of activities that it offers: challenging jungle treks and vigorous paddles, enchanting and accessible rainforest trails, thrilling treetop canopy tours, and of course bird watching. The lodge is a veritable cornucopia of adventure. Awesome.

After resting for a moment at the lodge I make my way towards the platforms that will transport me to the jungle canopy.

The platform stretches high above, piercing the canopy—and as I make my ascent the rain and wind adds a certain dimension of excitement, as the platforms are drenched and the suspension bridges sway more than usual.

There are about 8 people gathered on the first platform, and one by one they begin to make their way across the first suspension bridge towards the next platform. Some of run, some of move slowly and cautiously, gripping each side of the bridge.

Then, it is my turn.

Amazon Canopy Tour

Amazon canopy tour

Images of the Tacoma narrows bridge tearing itself apart in the wind flash through my mind just before I step onto the suspension bridge. Thanks brain—what a perfect time to recall this memory!

I should mention, at this point, that the bridge is a series of wooden planks with rope guide on each side that sits about 4 feet above the planks. Now, for an average sized person, these rails offer a comfortable boundary. However, I am 6’5, and a majority of my body projects above the comfort zone afforded by these guide ropes.

I do, however, have a clear view of the canopy below. Not bad!

Don't Look Down

Don't look down!

As I proceed from platform to platform the length of the bridges grow longer and longer. Finally, I reach the final platform which has two optional directions (every other platform had only one connected bridge prior) One direction leads to a miniature tree house (which people can actually rent to sleep in), the other bridge leads to the end of the canopy tour. The bridge to the tree house is by far the longest, and the wind and rain have reached a furious level. I pause and consider my options for a moment, thinking how easy it would be to quickly make my way across to the end of the canopy tour.

Longer Amazon Bridge Crossing

Don't look down x2

“What the hell, when am I ever going to get to do this again?” I think, “Better not waste this opportunity.” I race across the bridge to the treehouse.

The tree house is remarkably stable, and has something that looks like a water pump running deep down into the canopy below. This isn’t a bad little spot to hang out, it is both cozy and has a great view—the view of the night sky must be spectacular here.

The rest of my group slowly filters into the treehouse and we all pause to celebrate our canopy quest. It feels great, but once again we are on a schedule so the celebrations are cut short.

The wind and rain have started again, soaking the bridges and causing them to bounce in the wind. I decide it is time to get the hell out of dodge and double back over the bridge to the final tower.

I return to Reserva Amazonica and promptly guzzle a huge glass of star fruit juice.


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