My first trip deep into the jungles of Manu national park was the trip of a lifetime, but not in the way that I’d expected before setting out. This is the story of danger, adventure, heroism, and friendship.
We were headed to a very special place
The sun shone, the water gleamed, the river called and I had to go. Though I had been to the Southern jungles of Peru before, this was to be my first independent expedition. In the South-Eastern corner of Peru near Brazil lays the largest untouched piece of jungle left on planet Earth: Manu. It is part of the greater Amazon region but is unique in its biodiversity.
A great expedition sidekick
Lauren is a French woman in her mid-30s. She was as tough as nails and smelled slightly of brie. She was trained in biology and fluent in 3 languages, including the two that could be of use to the expedition, Spanish and English. I myself only spoke a few words in Spanish at the time, so her translation skills were crucial to the group.
Lorene is a person I have the upmost respect for, she is quite possibly the toughest person I have ever met in my life. She is strong, kind, intelligent and brave. I will never forget what we went through during those days on the river. It is a story I will tell my grandchildren about, of the bravery and strength of the young lady from France.
The trip for the jungle
We started our adventure from the old Inca stronghold of Cusco, long since taken over by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1500s. While leaving the city, we traversed the high Andes in a bus for 8 hors, and then plunged into the depths of the Amazon rainforest.
We first passed through the “Cloud Forest,” draped in moss and mist and constantly covered in cloud. Then after about 1500 met,ers we entered the “selva baja,” or the low jungle. Here the flora and fauna changed into what most perceive as the real jungle. We arrived at the low-land town of Pillcopata, around 500 meters above sea level at 6pm, and spent the night in a hostel named after the national bird of Peru, the “Cock of the Rock”.
In the morning we arose before dawn and traveled deeper in the jungle. First by bus, then by boat. After 4 or 5 hours on the river, we arrived at our drop off point. From here we would be alone and have to make our own way to our goal by traveling for over 3 days down-river.
Traveling farther into the jungle
Now alone except for the company of one another Lauren bargained for a boat in the tiny town of New Eden. Eventually, we found a man who would take us to the native community of Shipetiari. We would stay there 5 days among the Machiguenga natives waiting for a medicine man, a “curandero” who would never show. He was “off fishing” they would say. Saddened by this we decided to return to New Eden and find a new boat to take us further down river.
After spending another night in the village of New Eden, we bargained with a boatman to take us downriver to another village known as Boca Manu. It was a boat trip that lasted 12 hours. The bright sun reflected off of the water and burned our skin. We arrived in Boca Manu at the mouth of the Manu River in the evening while the sun was turning the jungle sky shades of orange and red. We looked for some fish to eat but nobody felt like cooking for us, even when we offered to pay more than normal. For two or three days we relaxed in Boca Manu, taking a ride up the river and seeing the famous “River Wolves,” the Giant Amazonian River Otter swimming and playing in an oxbow lake.
Trouble strikes us on the river
While we were traveling peacefully along the river to another village, something suddenly happened. Before I knew it, I was flying through the air, and then I hit the cold water. When I emerged from underwater and clawed my way back into the boat, I noticed that my friend was bleeding. The adrenaline was so strong that it made me feel like I was high on some powerful drug.
“My leg is broken!” she moaned with only a tinge of fear in her voice. “We’re in the middle of nowhere” she said. At first I panicked, but I quickly realized that was the wrong thing to do.
“Whatever it takes, we will get you out of here” I said, while smiling through tears.
It was a horrible situation to find ourselves in. We were in the middle of one of the most remote jungles on Earth, in the middle of a river, in a boat that was stuck on a log, and my friend is in serious mortal danger. As another boat passed we screamed and waved our arms for help, the boat passed us, and then returned. Most of the passengers on our boat moved to the other boat, therefore reducing our boat’s weight so that we could float freely again.
The long way home
Lorene’s leg was bleeding badly and she was in pain. Despite this, never once did she complain or show an ounce of fear. It was getting dark, and it was clear to us that we wouldn’t make it out of the jungle that night, so we decided to sleep in a small town called Puerto Azul just on the side of the river. There were no hostels, no medical center, nothing. We slept in tents and Lorene slept on a bench. I would wake up every 15-20 minutes to check and see if the pool of blood where she was sleeping had grown. I was worried about her bleeding to death, but thankfully she did not. The next morning we were on our way again on the river. I reminded the boat driver “You know if we wreck again she will die?”, he gave me a look that confirmed he already knew, and drove carefully down the river.
We puttered into the town of Boca Colorado, where we’d come from a few days before, at around 2pm. It was a small town that can only be described as feeling like the Wild West. There were prostitutes, drunks, and stores that buy gold were everywhere. We made a quick stop at the medical center, and then caught a truck to another river. We took a boat across this river and then got a bus to take us back to Cusco around 10pm. We arrived at 5am in the Andean city of Cusco and took Lorene to the hospital. I took a taxi to a hostel and collapsed from exhaustion.
We made it through the all the trails the jungle threw at us. After a 15+ day expedition everyone was safe. Lorene was on crutches for a while, but now is back hiking and going on new adventures. Also I have a new friend for life.