Our world tour of 15 countries in 10 months included 52 flights one of which was from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado to be met by our driver and transferred to the banks of the golden brown Madre de Dios River. We boarded a long-tailed boat for a 45 minute journey deep into the rainforest to arrive at an eco-luxury lodge on the river with 35 wooden cabanas inspired by the Ese’Eja culture.
Our first trek on foot ended on the bank of a secluded creek where a strategically placed wooden kayak had been left, large enough for our party of five plus the guide so we spent a glorious half an hour slowly manoeuvring our way down the shallow creek. With the jungle soaring above us we were accompanied by butterflies in their thousands of every conceivable colour, some landing on our boat and some on us for a free ride downstream, scarcely a word was spoken.
We entered a small lagoon and met the most bizarre creature; think highly colourful exotic flying turkey with poorly applied blue eyeshadow and you’re not far off the mark. There were literally hundreds of them around the quiet lagoon providing its favourite food.
They are the Hoatzin, known as the missing link between reptiles and birds, and surely look like they’ve crossed the time line between the prehistoric era and the present day. They have multiple stomachs like a cow to process their food, make a loud grunting noise similar to a pig with a sore throat and don’t have any predators because they taste like cow dung. The locals know them as the stinky bird. Lovely things.
There was a choice between the Amazon Canopy Walk or the Anaconda Walk, unsurprisingly we opted for the former. As you may guess, it starts by going up, a long way up. Our guide led us to a rickety old tower with ragged steps, what seemed like hundreds of them, disappearing into the overhead covering. They would take us up 35 metres to look down over the summit of the jungle, we didn’t look down until we reached the platform, and what a view.
It was only when our guide started to point out the route of the canopy walk connecting nine vast Capoc trees that we noticed the foot bridges. This was not for the faint hearted.
The wooden planks less than a metre wide bounced and rebounded with every step, the netting, doing its best to create sides, was a little frayed and the balustrade ropes to hang on to were slippery and unstable. Frankly, the whole thing looked perilous and precarious but we both made it to the first huge Capoc and the next one was easier. After a few crossings between trees tops we were enjoying our jungle journey so were stopping halfway across to marvel at the views below from the Canopy.
The Canopy Walk ended at another tower with a final connecting foot bridge to the Jungle Tree House – available for a romantic dinner and night for two at 2,200 Soles about £600. We crossed the rope bridge, old hands at this now, to take a look at what a night would be like suspended 35 metres off the ground. Answer? Not for us really, far too small, a thunderbox for a loo and unsure of the room service at such a height.
As we made our way back through the jungle to the lodges we heard a thrashing in the treetops, a troupe of squirrel monkeys was crossing our path directly above us. Small, chestnut brown and incredibly agile these travelling troupes usually number a hundred or more, probably half of them came down from the canopy for a meet-and-greet with us.
They made no audible noise themselves, there was just the crash of ferns as they descended jumping from one branch to another. At one point dislodging an old wooden bough and sending it clattering to the ground landing just in front of us. But what a sight this was, literally dozens of inquisitive little monkeys completely surrounding us, the nearest just a few feet away, terrific fun and a great memory to take home with us from our days in the Amazon.
The next expedition was half an hour up the river and an hour hike to Sandoval Lake billed as the most beautiful in South America. On entering the National Park, where strangely you have your passport stamped, we were advised to keep to the centre of the track as a precaution due to Bullet Ants crossing. These king-sized ants inflict the same venom as a python so best to give them a wide berth.
Our guide stopped us in our tracks following one distant squawk enabling us to experience one of the rarest sights in the jungle. Two royal blue Macaws with bright yellow breasts flew to perch in the canopy above us. I would have known these as parrots – the Long John Silver kind – white around the black beak and about a metre in length due to its long blue tail.
At the end of the challenging hike to a remote part of the deep jungle we found the creek and kayak that would provide the entrance to the lake. The enclosed narrow creek meandered us through the tangled everglade, then with little warning we were disgorged into the vast motionless lagoon, it was breathtakingly beautiful.
We were not entirely alone on this secluded tranquil lake. From our small kayak we spotted Howler Monkeys watching us manoeuvre around the shallows, a large Paiche broke the surface to take a look and half a dozen Cormorants flew close by inches from the surface no doubt searching for a late fish supper. But the one species we wanted to see was the rare Giant Otter of which there are less than 5,000 still in existence globally and they are understandably very wary of humans.
Our luck was in though. We noticed a disturbance at one of the banks and paddled quietly closer. A family, or romp, as I was reliably informed by our guide, of six Giant Otters came out from the margins to no more than twenty metres away. They have poor eyesight, using their whiskers to sense nearby fish, so in absolute silence we watched them hunt, catch and eat large fish for perhaps an hour or so. These are not the reddish brown cat sized otters we now have inhabiting some of our UK rivers but thick set and grey up to a metre or more in length with large heads and white chests.
They swam and dived together effortlessly as if part of a synchronised swimming team and once a fish was caught in its powerful jaws it would appear to stand up in the water grasping its prey while we heard the crunching and tearing of bones and flesh, all adding to this unique spectacle.
As we sat quietly watching the exceptional scene and the sun sank providing us with an orange and pink sunset, the lake was to gift us with one more souvenir of our visit. High above us flying in formation across the lake were five red Macaws and in the trees above the feasting otters were the infants of a family of monkeys chasing each other across the canopy, we appeared to have been transported into a Disney film.
Our time in the Amazon rainforest was what global travel is all about, it was the experience of a lifetime, allowing us to get closer to the wildlife than we ever imagined and one we will never forget.
David Moore is Author of ‘Turning Left Around the World’. Published by Mirador and available from Amazon, it is an entertaining account of David and his wife’s travel adventures – often intriguing, frequently funny and occasionally tragic.
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