Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Amazon Tuesday 6th July We were off to the jungle area of Puerto Maldonado today. It was a 30 min flight down from the Andes in a south east direction from Cusco into the Amazon Basin. There was a heavy police presence at Cusco airport due to politically motivated strike action scheduled for the next few days. We assembled in the car park after we collected our bags and met with others who were to be part of our group. Martha and James, a mother and 17 yr old son from NY, Chan, from LA and Alesandrou from Rome. There were protesters outside the airport gates and so we had to wait for the next flight to arrive so we could depart by mini bus in convoy for our various destinations. The luggage that we were not taking to the jungle was loaded with others, sky high, onto the back of a small tuk-tuk. The driver was going to try and take them via the back roads to the storage office. We were all eventually loaded onto about 7 mini buses and left the airport with a police escort that felt rather ‘James Bond’ish. There were amigos and more police on both sides of the street as we left when, suddenly, we slowed down. Then, the side of our van was being hammered with fists, the door opened and three guys jumped in and screamed to the driver to race on. We were sitting at the rear of the bus and I thought we were being hijacked when one of the guys eventually turned around and said, “Hello, I am Jorge and I will be your tour guide”. Everyone was rather stunned but nervous laughter eventually trickled out. I told our guide later that he was lucky I was not sitting near the front or I would have pushed him and his mates out the door! We then drove off away from the protesters, who put up a rather weak effort after all of that, and had to drive for 30 min along a windy dirt track to avoid further protesters and to reach our lodge’s pier along the Tambopata river. This river winds through Peru and Bolivia before flowing into the Amazon proper in Brazil before draining into the Atlantic Ocean. From the pier it was a 2-½ hour trip upstream in a canopied long boat with about 11 of us onboard. There was a single stop along the way where we had to scramble up a muddy slope to register and have our passports stamped as we entered a protected reserve area. There was a further 15 min walk through the, now dark, jungle before we reached our lodge, Refugio Amazonas. Although tired after our long and action- packed trip we were all captured by the romantic scene as we entered the lodge for it is without electricity so, the candles and lanterns in use made for a most serene environment. All of the rooms are open to the environment so the beds are netted and, no electricity means cold showers. We had pre-dinner drinks and chatted with a few other guests before our dinner by candle light and retiring to bed. Our wake up time for the next day was to be 4.30am! We managed to find all of the things we needed in our bags by using the candles provided as the two torches and binoculars, brought along especially for this sector of the trip, are in our other bags that hopefully made it to storage! Wednesday 8th July 4.30am: Wake Up 5 am: Breakfast by candlelight 5.30 ~ 10.30am: Jungle walk and small boat trip. 1pm: Lunch 3pm Jungle walk 7pm dinner Thursday 9th July We were lucky to live through this day!!!!!!!!!!! We were due to leave our jungle lodge at about 8am but there was more strike action scheduled so we had to make other plans. These plans, had we known then what we know now, we would never have agreed to! The plan was to wake at 2am, leave by boat at 3am, meet the bus at the port at 5.30am and get into the airport at around 6ish to avoid the protesters. Our flight did not leave until 12.40! It sounded ok until we all loaded onto the boat. It was fairly full as another group was leaving. It was dark with a fog on the water, little to no visibility and the boat took off at great pace with no lights!!!!!!! None of us could see where we were going so, we thought; how the hell could the boat driver see. It was a traumatic, freezing and frightening 2 ½ hours. We made it to port without incident but most of us were in shock and unable to believe what we had allowed ourselves to be put through!!!!!! We finally made it to Santiago at about 1am after flying from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco, Cusco to Lima and Lima to Santiago!