Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day Sixteen - June 25th, 2009 - From Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, in the Amazon

Mom & I are feeling somewhat better (I have a sinus infection, she probably ate or drank something bad) and we're headed to the Amazon.  Our hotel has called a cab for us, but they are late, and so begins Transportation Adventure #3.  The hotel continues to assure us that the cab will be here any minute, but we have a plane to catch, and eventually we give up and walk down to Plaza San Blas.  We get a cab, and during the 15 minute ride to the airport our driver informs us that normally you should arrive at the Cusco airport 2 hours early.  As it is, we will be less than 1 hour early.  We are crossing our fingers at this point.  There are a ton of police in riot gear outside the airport.  Hmmm.  We enter the terminal, and the line at LAN Airlines is over 100 people long.  Dang.  A roving LAN employee assures us that despite the fact that we are checking baggage, we can use the express kiosks.  Allison steps up and enters her info.  She prints a boarding pass, and finds it to be for her flight to Lima, 3 days from now, not today's flight.  Crap.  We pull the roving employee over and explain the situation.  We are ALL immediately moved to the front of the customer service line.  SUPER SCORE!  We wouldn't have made our flight any other way.  We get our boarding passes and head thru security to find no one at the departure gate.  It has changed.  It's only right across the hall though, and soon we are on the plane, and not only that, we're in the FIRST ROW.

The flight is just over an hour, with excellent views of the snow-capped Andes.  We land at the tiny Puerto Maldonado airport, and take a bus to the office of Rainforest Expeditions, our tour company for this portion of the trip.  They have storage here, and we shuffle our stuff around so we're taking as little as possible for the next couple of days.  We board the bus with other folks headed to the same lodge.  One of them talks about the infamous burned bridge.  They say it was about 2 hrs from Cusco, which pretty much confirms that it was the bridge of our early adventure.  So the locals eventually set fire to what timbers remained.  Wow.

The bus driver stops briefly and points out a monkey in the bushes on the side of the road.  It is the smallest variety of monkey that exists here, and it is indeed tiny.  A few minutes more, and we arrive at the Tambopata River, where a boat is waiting.  

We board for the hour and a half ride to the lodge.  They serve us fried rice, with the portions individually wrapped in banana leaves.  It's great.  On our way to the lodge, our guide points out the capybaras on the shore.  These animals are the largest rodents in the world.  

Eventually we arrive at the "Port", some wooden steps leading up the muddy riverbank.  A 10 minute hike up a muddy trail brings us to the Posada Amazonas Lodge, and it's beautiful.  

It's an open-air complex, with separate buildings connected by wooden raised walkways.  The rooms are great - no doors or windows, just curtains, no hot water, and mosquito nets for the beds.  There are large racks of "Wellington" boots  at the entrance, and we are instructed to pick a pair for the duration of our stay (the trails here are very mucky, it's a rain forest after all...)  

We settle in, and at 2:30 we hike with our guide, Jhin, to the Canopy Tower.  Jhin is clearly very knowledgeable, and explains much about the flora and fauna that we encounter along the way.  We see some of one of the larger varieties of monkeys along the way, and a number of interesting birds.  Our group consists of the 4 of us and an Indian couple.  

The Canopy Tower is a 37 meter tower, constructed mostly of steel scaffolding components, that is taller than all but the very tallest trees.  The view is incredible.  We hang out awhile, and descend.   On the hike back to the lodge, we see Leaf-Cutter Ants at work.  They are amazing to watch.  

So industrious.  Having had a proper night's sleep, and being in a completely new and different environment, we are no longer pining for home.

Our tour company, Rainforest Expeditions, has set their operation up in the most eco-friendly way possible.  Also, they hire as many of the native people as possible, and after 20 years of operation, the locals have the option of completely taking over this lodge.  It's been in operation for 12, so it's up in 8 more years.

We have some beers at the open-air bar, then a fantastic dinner.  Each group has dinner together with its guide, and Jhin informs us that we'll be getting up at 4:30 for an early morning lake tour, so we crash.

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