As Amy shares the final part of her mini-blog trilogy following her epic 10-day tour of Peru with G Adventures, read to find out about her Amazonian wildlife adventures, her private tour of Lima, and her thoughts of her Inca Journey
From Cusco, it’s just a short flight of about 45 minutes to an hour to Puerto Maldonado, in the southwest of the country, just 34 miles from the Bolivian border. The flight might be short, but it seemingly takes you to another world, far from the Andean peaks and adobe buildings, to the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. As part of the rainforest, the vegetation is different still from the cloud forest surrounding Machu Picchu, with taller trees carpeting the land. Even from the airplane’s window, a brown river could be seen snaking through dense, dark green foliage. As soon as I stepped afoot on land, the humidity hit me, and it’s a very different sensation to your body adapting to the elevation of Cusco, where the air is thinner.
This was the final part of my ten-day Inca Journey with G Adventures, having started from the Peruvian coastal capital of Lima, and explored the history and traditional culture of Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and the iconic Machu Picchu. Our group at the beginning had consisted of sixteen people, ranging from mid-twenties to sixties-plus, and coming from Australia, Austria, Canada, and the US (and me, the only Brit). The group was predominantly women, many of whom were travelling solo; some – such as myself – had opted to pay a small charge for their own room. However, many of the group were on the 8-day Machu Picchu Adventure tour, heading back to Lima from Cusco, whilst six others and I continued our Inca Journey into deepest, darkest Peru. We were to spend two nights in an eco-lodge in the Tambopata National Reserve, part of the Amazon basin in Peru, before arriving back in Lima for a final night. Not only was this a very different environment and climate to our previous locations, the focus would be on wildlife and nature, showcasing a very different side to Peru. Whilst history is one of my greatest passions, and learning about different cultures firsthand is one of my favourite aspects of travel, I’d wanted to visit the Amazon since watching videos about the rainforest as an eco-system in geography lessons at school, so it was a long-awaited destination to experience.
From the airport, the seven of us were met by representatives from G Adventures, and we boarded a bus. Our group of seven were to be joined by two couples (one from Scotland, the other Canadian), and there was another group of ten, who were travelling with their CEO. Our group was to be led by Julio and Joseph, whilst the other group were to be led by one of the lodge’s local guides, as well as their CEO. It was a short bus journey to the office where we were to keep our main luggage in storage, packing what we needed for the next two nights in duffel bags provided at the office. I had sorted what I needed for the Amazon very frugally, as I hadn’t realised a duffel bag would be provided! From the office (where I had my last spot of WiFi for the next two days), it was another short bus journey to Inferno (or Hell), where we would be taking a boat to the eco-lodge, with the two groups travelling in separate boats.
The boat ride to the lodge took about two hours, but it felt quicker as I was so absorbed in the views of trees lining the river banks on both sides, keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife. The wind was refreshingly cooling, a reprieve from the otherwise consistent humidity and heat of the region. Along the journey, we were lucky with our wildlife sightings, which can by no means be guaranteed. Unusually, we saw a company of macaws feeding from a clay lick, something which you might only see once or twice a day. In one tree, 34 macaws could be spotted, and every now and then a pair would swoop and fly. We spotted side neck turtles (which never put their heads in their shells) on a log by the river bank, and several herbivorous capybaras, including one which came running up from the river. Capybara look cute, but they are in fact the world’s biggest rodents, yet have webbed feet for swimming and diving. However, perhaps the best sighting was the red howler monkeys we spotted jumping from tree to tree! That moment was a memorable, almost unbelievable, highlight.
The lodge in the Amazon was my favourite accommodation on the tour, although it’s not guaranteed that solo travellers on the ‘own room’ option will have their own room during the two-night stay in the Amazon. However, I was lucky and had a room all to myself. The lodge buildings – including the restaurant, bar, and bungalows – use native architectural styles, with eco-friendly technology and low-impact materials. Bungalows feature two rooms with en suite facilities, and were simple but comfortable and spacious. There’s no electricity in the rooms, although candles are provided for lighting; hot water for showers is solar-heated. Electricity is run by a generator for a few hours in the bar and restaurant in the afternoon and evening, and it’s possible to charge phones and cameras during that time in the bar. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included during the two-night stay at the G Lodge Amazon, and are served buffet style, although due to the small size of the kitchen, choice is restricted, but the food served up is simple but delicious. I particularly liked the hot sauce offered along with lunch and dinner, which I would always drown my food in.
Upon arrival, Julio gave us a briefing about the lodge and the timetable that day, beginning with the option to go on a brief walk into the jungle as we’d arrived early, and a presentation that night before dinner and the night walk. Julio had a great sense of humour, and was always joking and teasing, but he was also incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife and flora of the forest, having grown up in the jungle. During the afternoon walk, we saw a variety of different mushrooms – including jelly mushrooms – wild jasmine, an unusual flower sighting as there’s not typically enough sunlight in the lower levels of the forest for flowers to thrive, a fallen Brazil nut tree (which seemed to distress Julio), poisonous bullet ants, and vultures. It was a gentle introduction to the jungle. That night, after dark, we grabbed flash lights for our official night walk with Julio and Joseph, on a trek into the jungle that’s more akin to a spider walk, given the incredible variety of spiders spotted, including Hunter spiders, which can jump only about a meter, and a wolf spider. I’m not the biggest fan of spiders when they’re in my home, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by the spiders in the jungle; they’re to be expected as it is their home, and I would hate to be an ungracious guest! We also spotted crickets and grasshoppers, which are distinguished by the size of their antennae and eyes (shorter antennae and bigger eyes for grasshoppers), spotted a bamboo rat, which makes an incredibly loud noise, and mut mut birds, which were beautiful but sleeping. Towards the end of the walk, Julio told us to close our eyes for a few minutes, and once we opened them and took a little while to readjust to the darkness (our flashlights were off), we caught sight of fireflies in the sky, which was a fabulous and enchanting sight to behold.
Activities in the Amazon are generally in the early morning and evening, as those times are best for wildlife viewing, and to avoid the worst of the heat and humidity. The next morning, we set out for a nature walk in the jungle, taking a short boat ride further along the river bank to begin our trail. During the walk, Julio and Joseph pointed out different species of trees, including a wild fig tree (of which 115 different species can be found in the area), erotic palm tree, the root sap is used by locals as a natural aphrodisiac, and the root of a chicken leg tree, the sap of which can be used to treat pain. Julio has had experience of visiting a local shaman in the jungle to create a cast from the sap of the tree’s root, which was just one of the examples of his own personal experience which he used to tell us more about the jungle. We also saw strangler ficus trees, including stepping inside one which had killed off the original tree. We spotted several tarantula holes, and Joseph used a stick to coax the tarantula out of its home. One of the most unforgettable experiences during the walk, however, was when we came across a bushmaster snake, curled up on the ground against a tree, perfectly camouflaged. It might have been very still at that time, but it was also one of the deadliest snakes in the rain forest. I felt like my heart was in my throat when Julio said that it was poised ready to attack, urging us to keep still and be quiet, so we all kept very still as we took our photos. Until the other group came across us, with one boy being particularly noisy, singing or shouting and generally being a nuisance (honestly, I could have swung for him at that moment), when Julio told him to be quiet. A less nerve-wracking sighting was the saddle-backed tamarind monkeys we spotted in the trees just before we canoed across the oxbow lake, where we spotted an electric eel, and fed piranhas. As we headed back to the lodge on the boat, we also spotted more red howler monkeys feeding at the clay lick.
I spent the afternoon relaxing, although there was the option to visit a local farm down the river. Our final activity in the Amazon, though, was the caiman cruise after dinner. Beforehand, Julio explained the differences between crocodiles, alligators and caimans, and gave us some more information on caimans in particular. It was pitch black on the boat, with only Joseph’s flash light to illuminate the river banks, as he searched for caiman and other creatures. We spotted a Great Putto, a nocturnal bird similar to an owl, as well as several caiman, which were a lot smaller than I had even anticipated. One of the larger ones swam right by where I was sitting in the boat.
After two nights in the Amazon, it was time to head back to Lima for one final night. As is sometimes the case when flying, there was a slight glitch in that Avianca had cancelled all their flights that day. Julio and the other tour leaders were trying to arrange alternatives for us, particularly for the two couples whose connecting flights the next day were imperative, but ultimately our group (including the two new couples who had joined us in the Amazon) decided to book a flight with a different airline to arrive in Lima that day, rather than stay overnight in Puerto Maldonado. The original seven of us were met by Javier at Lima and taken back to our original hotel, and we enjoyed a final meal at a restaurant in Miraflores called Punto Azul, which was particularly renowned for its ceviche. Along with ceviche, I also had lomo saltado fettuccine, an interesting fusion with the Peruvian dish with pasta and a rich, creamy sauce. It was a fitting end to the tour.
However, I wasn’t quite finished, as my flight didn’t depart until 9 in the evening, giving me the day to spend in Lima. I’d arranged for a private city tour and transfer to the airport with Best Bite Peru, and Ruben showed me the post-colonial highlights of downtown Lima, which was more reminiscent of Europe, with some particularly grand buildings and plazas, including the Plaza de San Martin, and the Plaza de Armas, which was flanked by the Cathedral and imposing government buildings. We walked along the long, pedestrianised Jiron De La Union, and ate a churro, which tasted similar to a doughnut and was filled with chocolate. There’s a local saying that you haven’t been in Lima if you haven’t walked along Jiron De La Union, and you haven’t walked along Jiron de La Union if you haven’t eaten a Churro, so I can officially confirm that I have been in Lima! We watched the locals enjoy a performance of huayno, a dance that’s popular in Lima, and even joined in, at which point I noticed that I was the only tourist in the area. Tourism is far from over saturated in Peru, with only 2 million visitors a year; by comparison, over 42 million people visit Las Vegas on average in a year. My private tour was filled with fascinating history and information about Lima, and notable landmarks and buildings were pointed out. There was time before heading to the airport for a quick stop at a quirky bar for a beer tasting, which was a nice bit of fun to end the tour.
I felt a real sense of stillness in myself and tranquillity in the Amazon, whether we were canoeing on an oxbow lake, searching for spiders and other nocturnal animals on the night walk, or relaxing back at the lodge. At the same time, I realised the bizarre irony to this, as the Amazon itself is rife, teeming, with life, from carpets of leaf cutter ants working together to carry home pieces of leaves to the constant buzzing, creaking, chirping, calling and other unique (often onomatopoeic) noises that filled the air, reminding me that the Amazon is very much a bustling hub of activity and life. Its dense immensity and tall layers of trees and plants that seem to consume you from all sides reminds you of the small part we each really have in the world; we are all just small parts of something much bigger than us. This is something I very often (if not always) tend to muse on when I travel; I am reminded that – despite how it may sometimes seem when surrounded by the too-often doom and gloom of news – the world we live in truly is a wonderful place, filled with beauty (both natural and manmade), and opportunities to learn and discover more, for friendships, despite similarities and differences.
Travel itself opens us up to new experiences (if, of course, we let it), to push us outside our usual comforts, to broaden our minds. On this ten-day tour, I’d enjoyed some of the most incredible experiences, challenging myself to hike the Inca Trail, cooking local dishes in Cusco and Lima, eating a live termite in the Amazon, admiring the iconic Machu Picchu, learning about the traditional skills of weaving in the Andes, and so much more. Travelling in a small group, I was able to get to know new people better; the group size was perfect, as the tour leaders were able to spend time with everyone on the tour, so nobody felt overlooked, and it wasn’t too large to create too many cliques. As a solo traveller (and particularly as I wasn’t the only solo traveller), it was nice to have that element of socialisation with the rest of the group, the security in knowing that transfers and activities had been organised, and the opportunities and flexibility to enjoy some of my own time (including my cookery classes), and the privacy of my own room for a reasonable supplement.
Peru is endlessly fascinating and intriguing, and offers so much for travellers. Machu Picchu may be the headline attraction – and it is easy to understand why it was voted one of the Seven New Wonders of the World – but Peru’s history spans 5,000 years, and Machu Picchu was but a short-lived chapter. From the numerous archaeological sites to the Baroque grandeur that the Spanish colonialists stamped on cities like Cusco and Lima, and the timeless traditions that continue to live on in the Andes, there is so much history to immerse you in Peru. Its landscapes are awe-inspiring, dramatic, humbling, and beautiful, from the soaring peaks of the Andes to the lush vegetation and snaking rivers of the Amazon basin, and there is plenty of adventure to be had. As diverse as its landscapes and climates, Peruvian cuisine is a rising star on the international culinary scene, and Lima is widely considered to be the gourmet capital of South America, blending influences, cooking techniques, and fresh ingredients. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to South America!
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