The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado, a small Peruvian jungle town a stone’s throw away from both Bolivia and Brazil, was the oppressive, suffocating heat. ‘Oh myyyy Godddd’, I muttered to Brian, shooting him my most desperate this weather may kill me look. But I got no sympathy from him. He was dressed in jeans, sneakers and heavy wool socks, small rivulets of sweat were already rolling down his face.
We were met at the airport by a representative of Eco Amazonia Lodge, where we were staying, and driven to the Rio Madre de Dios, part of the vast Amazon River watershed, where we were loaded onto a boat and motored an hour and a half downriver to our jungle lodge. The river was wide, muddy brown and undeveloped, a few wooden boats upturned on the shore here and there. Thick green trees and vegetation grew dense along its banks and the heat, that heat!, weighed down on top of it all.
The Rio Madre de Dios
We arrived at the lodge and were shown to our bungalow, a pretty little wooden room on stilts equipped with a cold-water shower, two-beds, and a ceiling fan that ran only during the 4.5 hours in the evening when the electricity was on. Then, it knocked and squeaked so loud it scared the jungle animals, I’m sure. “Like the bed of honeymooners,” our neighbor described it. I didn’t care, I was happy for whatever breeze it could provide us.
Scenes from Eco Amazonia Lodge
On that first day we puttered across the river by boat to “Monkey Island,” a piece of land owned by the proprietor of our lodge where monkeys once held in captivity are released to live in the wild again. It was a short but shirt-soaking hike through thick forest. Curious monkeys swung in the treetops, checking us out, while the more adventurous monkeys climbed down to the forest floor to see what we had to offer.
The monkeys on Monkey Island
My favorite part of our visit to Monkey Island, however, was the sunset we caught as we headed back to the lodge for dinner. To the east, the sky dimmed to a twilight shade of purple-blue while, to the west, the sun blazed in deep oranges and reds as it sunk beneath the horizon.
Sunset in the Amazon
We ate dinner in a common hall with the others in our group: A couple from Denmark, a couple from Switzerland, two Canadians, and a man from Germany. We chatted for an hour about the upcoming American Presidential election. No matter where Brian and I find ourselves, everyone we meet peppers us with questions about the election. Who will win?, they all want to know. But we can only tell them who we hope will win.
After the chat, thinking we were done for the day, our group began to disperse but before we could our guide approached and told us to meet in the lodge lobby for a nighttime float down the river.
As we settled into the boat our guide explained that we would float down the river with the current, motor off, so that we could “feel the nature” and listen to the sounds of the forest. As we drifted away from the lodge we entered total darkness. The stars, thousands of them, were shining in the sky and the moon above was a silver sliver in the shape of a grin.
It was incredibly peaceful and quiet, save for the sound of large animals- caiman and snakes- splashing about. The jungle was alive with layers of noise. When the cicadas stopped croaking, for instance, a whole other melody of noises would rise up from beneath their silence.
Me, I sat in the boat grinning ear to ear, staring up into the vast night sky and thinking to myself how insanely lucky I am to be on this amazing adventure.
The following morning we were back on the boat at 6 a.m. We motored a short way down the river and set to walking.
As we hiked we saw larva, macaws, and tarantulas. We saw gigantic butterflies that were a dull shade of tree-trunk brown but, when they spread their wings to fly, they revealed themselves to be the most breathtaking, shimmering shade of blue.
Tiny wildlife of the Amazon
We walked past ants hauling bits of leaves. Our guide explained that the ants are agriculturalists. They plant mushrooms in their den and then they use the leaves to feed the mushrooms. Then they eat the mushrooms!
We walked past gigantic trees that our guide called plywood trees and others he called lightening rod trees because they have their own magnetic pull. We climbed to the top of a rickety tower in order to look out over the treetops- the canopy so thick I could not see the ground. It was stunning.
Giant trees and an overlook in the Amazon
After about five hours of walking we reached a swamp where we climbed into a canoe and paddled about. It was unbearably hot and the sun beat down relentlessly. The place felt tropical and exotic and wild. We saw turtles and caiman in the dark, dense water. A layer of swampy thickness lay over the water like a skin. Our guide told us that anacondas live beneath it.
Clockwise: Our guide steers the canoe, a caiman eye peeks out of the water, swampy dark water, a turtle enjoys the sun
After six hours of hiking in the jungle heat we neared the end of the trail. Our guide pointed to a messenger tree that, when hit, echoes deeply through the forest. As our guide struck the tree to demonstrate how tribes use the tree to communicate, it began, suddenly, to rain. A downpour that soaked us to the bone and happily cooled us.
Enjoying the downpour
The day, overall, was incredible.
On our 1.5 hour boat ride back to Puerto Maldonado Brian and I chatted with Harvey, from New York, and Danish wife whom we’d befriended during our time in the jungle. They were lovely, had children the same age as Brian and I, and had lived their lives as travelers. Over the course of our few days in the jungle they’d told us stories of their trips to Ireland and Africa and beyond. Their eyes twinkled when they spoke, and they were thrilled when they learned of what Brian and I are up to.
As we puttered back towards civilization Harvey leaned over to me and told me about a friend that he has in Uganda. “She’s had lots of bad luck, he has no money,” said Harvey, “But when I told him that we were going traveling again he said ‘Ah, traveling, ’tis a very good investment.’”
Certainly it is.
Clockwise: Canoe through the jungle, monkeys in trees, tarantula in the bathroom, fishing, hiking in the Amazon