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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Into the Woods... er, the Jungle!

My 'ride' down to Puerto Maldanado
On Sunday, Ingrid and I headed off to Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport for our separate flights to Puerto Maldonado, Peru. It was a short, hour long flight and I arrived first. After gathering up my luggage I sat just outside the terminal, marveling at the sweltering heat and wondering why I hadn't just burst into flames as yet.
Cardinal a the airport terminal
Ingrid's flight was due an hour later. The time arrived and left, no Ingrid. Hum... no doubt the airline ran on Peruvian time. Another hour came and went, no Ingrid. So, obviously her jet had careened into a jungle haven ruled by dinosaurs and she was being eaten by a T-rex.When her jet finally arrived I was composing a letter to her daughters, expressing my deepest sympathies. Happily reunited, we had next to decide where the heck we were going. As we thought about what we would do this week, were were rapidly surrounded, not by the piranhas of my nightmares, but something nearly the same; hoards of taxi drivers who offered us cheaper rides into town than the taxi drivers next to them. There were also hawkers of jungle adventure tours. Ingrid & I scrutinized the pamphlet of a likely adventure venue, and soon were sight seeing as our a taxi whisked off to the adventure HQ in downtown Puerto Maldonado.

For $200 American dollars we signed up for three days and four nights of room and board in the Peruvian Rain forest jungle. There we can pick and choose from a number of outdoor adventures offered daily. We were pretty pleased with our decision for the week, and our first task was getting to the our adventure spot. So, along with another couple of travelers, an Aussie and his Peruvian sweetheart, the adventure hosts stuffed us into taxis and drove us the three miles to the river's edge. There we were in view of the Puerto Maldonado bridge, over which cars and trucks traveled high overhead. A few hundred feet below we could see river boats, and I could see I was never going to be able to get down the hill with my luggage and without broken ankles. As I secretly pondered the sturdiness or lack thereof of my ankles, one of the adventure guides picked up my two travel bags and marched downhill at a rapid pace. Relieved, I followed him, and Ingrid to the first of our week's adventures - 'crossing a chunk of log crossing over a steep ravine adventure'. 

Ingrid crossing the log bark footbridge
While Ingrid marched ahead, I pondered the bridge's ability to sustain my weight. Finally I decided what the hell, if the bark broke and I plunged down the ravine, I wouldn't have to be bothered getting down the 'dusty 'Slippery Steep Slope Adventure'. 

Ingrid and fellow travelers trotting down the 'Slippery Steep Slope Adventure'
followed by the 'Plank Over the Mud Adventure'
I took my sweet time descending the Slope, stepping sideways like a giant crab until I reached bottom. Then I crossed the plank and finally stepped on board the boat, only to discover the boat was not our transportation. The boat was someone's home. We crossed through their on-board, open air living room (judging by a man, asleep on the deck's hammock). The fellow who had my luggage, was now on a narrow little boat which I could get to easily - in his view - by crossing over two other narrow little boat bows. That was the 'Don't Fall into the Piranha Infested River as You Step from Boat to Boat to Boat Adventure'.

Soon we were seated in the narrow boat, sailing east along the Madre de Dios River.
Boating the Madre de Dios River
The ride was exciting and the river was wild, wide and exotic looking. Soon we arrived at our destination, Yakari Eco Lodge. There we abandoned ship and tackled the 'Rickety, Slanted, Unstable Steep Stairs Up From the Riverbank Adventure'.

Yakari Eco Lodge river landing
The site was wonderful! The first thing that caught my eye was a little Javalina pig, that greeted everyone like a happy puppy. I found out her name is Lucy, and she is the camp pet, and she is 8 months old. 
Little Lucy, the White-collared Peccary by the dining hall porch
There was a large thatched dining room with a cute patio where we had lunch & dinner with our fellow travelers. The meals were semi-formal, with 'local' & regular foods served to us in courses. And Ingrid and I had our own cabin, which was elevated above the jungle floor and had screens instead of windows. Our beds were equipped with mosquito nets.
We had electricity for several hours a day for charging up our devises
Ingrid, in our room, resting up from her last Jungle Adventure
During lunch we were told the adventure of the afternoon was to take a boat ride, then take a 2 kilometer hike to 'Monkey Island' where everyone would be provided with tidbits to feed wild monkeys that take food from one's hands, and have a go at relieving tourists of their cameras, etc.
Believe it or not, I took a pass on the tour. Instead I stayed behind to do some birding around the grounds.

I gathered up my little traveling chair, my camera and binocs and headed out. First thing I noticed was high up there were lots of hanging nests. 

Hanging nests
It wasn't long before I spotted several of the large birds that built the hanging nests - Orpendolas. There are many kinds of Orpendolas and I think I figured out which one I was seeing.
One of the nest builders - a Russet-backed Orpendola birds
Some of the birds found me instead of the other way around.
Squawking Orange-backed Troupial
And believe me, I had to look up every one of them in my new Birds of Peru guidebook.
Green and White Hummingbird
Here's the kicker; I did not go birding alone. Nope! Little Lucy, the pet camp White-collared Peccary/Javalina, followed me around like a loyal dog. Whenever I sat, she would lean against my legs, begging for scratches. She would then plop onto her side, legs up, imploring me to rub her fat tummy. OK. I fell in love with the pig. I swear, I am going to stuff her in my suitcase and smuggle her back to Fair Oaks. 

At one point I was sitting, waiting for some cardinals to return to a post, when I saw something walk out of the jungle foliage. I was thrilled to see a Brown Agouti, an oversized rodent, the size of a pekinese dog. 
The Brown Agouti that trotted out of the Jungle
The Agouti saw me, no doubt, but I was far enough off it sat on its haunches, quite relaxed. It stayed until a camp dog - a buddy of Lucy's - spotted it and chased it away. I wanted to murder the stupid dog! 
The wren-like, Pale-legged Hornero (oven bird)
When the heat got to me, I decided to head back to my cabin and was excited to hear of Ingrid's Monkey Island Adventure when she returned. 

Not long after sunset, both Ingrid and I went along on the last adventure of the day, an after dark cruise on the river, to look for wild Caiman, a relative of the alligator.
A Caiman in the spotlight
We spotted several Caiman, some in the river near the shore, and others, like the one above, on land. We were all impressed with our guide's ability to shine lights and miraculously spot the eyeshine of the foot to two foot long Caimans. Really enjoyed the night time cruise and I even got in some bird viewing, a roost of egrets piled in a tree. By the time we got back to our cabin I was totally ready to sink into bed, pull down the mosquito netting and get some shut eye. 

And for no good reason other than it thrills me, here is a little clip of my view over the Peruvian Rainforest.

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