Sunday, September 9, 2007

Enter the Jungle

Day 2: August 23, 2007.

Lima, Cuzco, Puerto Maldonado, and Amazon Jungle, Peru.

Got a wake up call at 6:30AM. Snoozed until 7. Packed in a rush and showered. Hot water this time. Made it downstairs by 7:30 for a bottle of water and the bus to the airport. The reservation appeared in the system for me but there was no ticket number. I waited with Alvaro (the guide) for nearly an hour trying to get the travel agent to straighten everything out. Finally got the problem fixed just before the flight closed. Fortunately I had already checked my bag under someone else's name; if I had waited there's no way it would have been put on board.

Took the plane to Cuzco and after taking on more passengers we immediately left again, this time for Puerto Maldonado. The guy sitting in front of me had apparently never flown before and made awful groans for most of the flight. I thought he was dying or something. It turned out he was fine and only had a minor stomach ache. I don't get some people.

From the airport we took an open truck to the outskirts of town where we left our main bags and continued with only our day packs. The truck dropped us at the river and we took long covered canoes with outboard motors down the river to Monkey Island. We took pictures with spider monkeys (the biggest monkeys in the Amazon), brown capuchins, and a little saddle back tamarind. They were all happy to come out and chill with us when we produced mini-bananas. One of the Spider Monkeys was so happy to meet us that it wrapped itself around the face and head of the mom of the family on our tour and wouldn't let go. It was kind of funny. It stayed there for several minutes and our guide kept telling her not to touch the monkey, but really it was the monkey he should have been scolding!

The lodge we were to stay at was nice enough. We each had a little shared bungalow raised off the ground to minimize the snakes, tarantulas, and insects that would come traipsing in. No hot water, but we got to choose between beds and hammocks.

Once it got dark we went out in a boat looking for caimen. I was glad to be wearing 100% Deet and a mosquito net. I had gotten my Yellow Fever, Typhoid, etc shots the day before leaving New York and they would take ten days to be effective. If I were bitten now, it might go very poorly for me. At least I had my antimalarial pills. Lots of insects out and about. We only found baby caimen though. The eyes glow red in the spotlight of the boat at night and that's how you spot them. When we had looked for about an hour without finding any big ones, we returned to the lodge for dinner.

Dinner was weird jungle fish that I assume wasn't kosher. I had an omelet instead. During the meal I found out that there was a shamn's garden nearby with lots of medicinal plants and whatnot. Supposedly very cool. I decided to go find it. The locals said it was only a 5 minute walk or so. After dinner and a Pisco Sour at the bar (they taste a little like Margaritas and have raw whipped egg in them which separates and floats to the top), I went out alone in the jungle with my mosquito net, a mini maglight, and a pocket knife.

The darkness was tough to deal with. I had to walk very slowly, tiptoeing basically to avoid snakes. Didn't see any, probably for the best. I did find a burrow though with 4 tarantulas in it and hunting around the outside. They were roughly 2-3 inches long, black and furry, with reddish rear ends. They were pretty skittish but when I waited patiently they came out. Very stealthy walking. Never hear them.

The jungle is loud, lots of bug calls and falling leaves. The leaves actually sound very loud in the darkness, they sort of make a crashing sound as they fall. I'm not familiar with most of the odd calls so I can't recognize many animals. One exception is a medium-large grasshopper thing I found making a racket. I can definitely recognize those now by the sound. I found carapaces of large beetle with pincers like a scorpion glued to the bases of trees. 1/3 of an inch long maybe. Kind of shiny. I also found a fifth tarantula in a large hole up the trail. Same species as the other four I believe.

After walking for about an hour into the pitch black jungle, I concluded that I was nowhere near finding any sort of garden. In the interests of getting some sleep (and not getting lost/killed) I decided to head back to camp.

It's really creepy walking through jungle alone, particularly at night. It's impossible to see. The jungle is three dimensional but my light was tiny and I could only see one pinpoint at a time. I had no idea what was going on outside the light. Good thing I walked slow and watched my step. On the path about 50 ft from bungalow were hundreds of large red ants marching in a column. Some were just a bit bigger than regular ant size but others, the warriors, were enormous. I just saw one at first, then noticed the entire column. The first one I saw was so big I mistook it for a spider. The mandibles on the warriors were massive and shined white in the light. Reddish colored bodies. Looked very mean - I walked around. I also hoped they wouldn't visit me in my sleep.

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