Sunday, May 30, 2010
We got up early, around 6:30, and went down for breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It was fairly full, with everyone speaking American english. Given that the flights from the US come into Lima in the middle of the night, and flights out to Cusco and elsewhere don't leave until the following morning, it's probably not that surprising. Our guide Carlos was right on time - we were a bit worried that he wasn't early since our flight was in an hour, no matter how close we were to the airport. We paid the airport departure fee, and got through security and to the gate just as boarding was beginning.
We had a nice flight into Cusco, getting above the Lima fog layer very quickly, and looking out over the Andes as we flew east. Landing in Cusco is an adventure - because of the surrounding mountains, the plane bascially spirals down into the bowl where Cusco lies. If you're on the left side of the plane, you can get some really nice views of Cusco and the surrounding area, including some of the ruins, like Sacsayhuaman. At the airport, we stopped for about 30 minutes while some passengers left and others came on. Out our window we could see some big billboards for Coke and McDonalds - we didn't feel that much on holiday as of yet.
Shortly after taking off for Puerto Maldonado, we fell asleep, waking up on the descent. The river (we assume the Tambopata River) was twisting back and forth on the left side of the plane on our approach. After picking up our bags, we were greeted by our guide Yuri from Posada Amazonas. The same company owns Posada Amazonas, Refugio Amazonas, and the Tambopata Research Center (much farther away from Puerto Maldonado upriver). The world's largest clay lick is right by the Tambopata Research Center, but it takes something like 7 hours to get there, and we didn't have near enough time, so we settled on Posada Amazonas, which is only 90 minutes upriver, and has a smaller (but still nifty) clay lick.
We took a short drive to the headquarters, where we had to repack our gear, taking only what we needed. We weren't expecting this, and it would have been much easier to do the night before in Lima. It was incredibly, unbelievably hot - we were sweating like we would after working out for 30 minutes, not packing luggage for 5. We got everything into our smaller blue bag, plus the camera backpack. It would have been nice to have our small, lightweight backpack, but we forgot to pack it. We wondered what else we forgot to pack, and hoped it wasn't anything too important. With our two bags, we drove over to the "dock" where we boarded the boat to go upriver. On the boat ride, we had some fried rice wraps, which were remarkably tasty. There were a couple dwellings here and there, but for the most part, the river and its banks were empty except for birds and butterflies. We did manage to see two white (aka spectacled) caimans, which we had never seen before. All the caimans we saw in the Pantanal in 2008 were black caimans.
At Posada Amazonas, we got an introduction to the resort and the surrounding area, were given some time to unlax, and then we were off. We took a nature walk to Canopy Tower. The hike was stiflingly hot, but we still felt more comfortable wearing our lightweight jackets because of the bug protection. Fortunately, the bugs weren't anywhere near as bad as in Iquitos in 2006, and not as bad as the bugs in the Pantanal in 2008 either. Among the highlights of the walk were a stilt palm tree with a spindle crownshaft, some blooming Ceiba trees, some red-leafed palms, and howler monkeys up in the trees.
By the time we got to the canopy tower, it was quite a bit cooler, like a cold front had come in. Because of this, at the base there were far fewer bugs, so Justin took off his jacket and his hat. Once at the top of the tower, however, all the bugs were back, and were quite annoying - making it hard to keep the camera or video camera still. The view was great, so it was unfortunate that bugs made it difficult to take pictures or video. The sunset was nice, and all of the red from the blooming Ceiba trees really stood out against all the green. The Mauritia flexuosa palm trees stood amongst the green, with a quasi-palmate, quasi-pinnate leaf. There were lots of birds, which were easier to hear than see, including a bunch of macaws. We did see a Bat Falcon relatively close to us, chowing down on something it had caught.
Back at the bottom of the canopy, it was a bit dark, so we used our torches for the walk back. On the walk back, Yuri managed to coax some sort of giant spider - about the size of a tarantula - out of a hole. I'm not sure if that was for our enjoyment or his amusement. Once back at the resort, we went to the bar and had drinks. Justin had a Chuchuhausi sour, which was a Pisco sour with some Chuchuhausi (a local plant) liquer. If Chuchuhausi is available in the US, we'll be grabbing a bottle. We also had an Amazonian Paradise, which looked a lot like the Shiznit, a drink we make at home. We got a picture of the drinks with the wooden Capybara in the bar. Dinner was good, and we chatted with the other people in our group, many of which were on a package tour from Intrepid Tour with their guide Miguel (who's local office is Reality Tour Arequipa, we also have his contact info if anyone wants it). Interestingly, they had just been to many of the places that we were about to go - Nazca, Colca Canyon, Arequipa and Puno. They told us that we would really like Colca Canyon, that there are lots of Andean Condors out this time of year.
We were really tired, so we went back to our room to get to bed. The insect net was well-designed - it stretched over the four corners of the bed like a fitted sheet. On the bed itself, since it was still quite warm, Crystal asked "who would ever use these sheets?" And then we went to sleep.