Peru travel: Slices of luxury in Peru’s steamy jungle

Refugio Amazonas, one of Rainforest Expedition’s lodges in Tambopata.
Inside the lodge.
See slide show.

Viewing this as the perfect antidote to the motherhood blues, I eagerly dusted off my worn out hiking boots and prepared myself for several adventurous days in the Amazon jungle. Located in the heart of the Madre de Dios region of Peru, this trip is not for the weak or faint of heart, but it is for those who want a magical trip, something out of the ordinary, and who relish the thought of being close to nature. Don’t get me wrong, I also was salivating at the thought of spending five days alone to just be.

Day 1: Arrival and a Boat Ride

I was greeted at the Puerto Maldonado airport by Uriel, one of our guides during the trip. Within minutes, we were at the Rainforest Expedition Headquarters, where I was welcomed with a refreshing glass of lemonade and introduced to Angela, Sonia, and Monica, the former of whom are travel agents, and the latter a director of sales for Rainforest Expeditions. After getting organized, we made our way to the bus, which wound its way through muddy jungle roads to the port in the indigenous community of Infierno. From there, we boarded a boat that chugged upriver to the Refugio Amazonas, the first of three lodges where we stayed.

During our ride and lunch (a savory meal of rice mixed with vegetables and eggs wrapped in a banana leaf), Uriel gave us some background about Rainforest Expeditions and the people of the Tambopata region. We learned that the main source of income was in agriculture products: cotton, coffee, sugar cane, cacao, Brazil nuts, and palm oil. We were told to keep our eyes open for turtles, caiman (alligators), capybara, macaws, and even jaguars. Sure enough, after a couple of hours, we saw a turtle sunbathing on a log and a capybara drying him-self off after a well-deserved bath.

You know that you’ve found Nirvana in the jungle when lodge staff greets you with a warm, wet washcloth to wipe the grime off your face after being stuck on a boat for four hours. After being shown to our rooms, I quickly refreshed myself (read: whore bath) and then headed to the bar for a frothy concoction called a banana monkey made out of-you guessed it, banana, rum and pineapple juice.

With a cocktail and a cheap, paperback novel in hand, I made myself comfortable on one of the lounge chairs located in the bar. An hour later, the other members of the group as well as some who arrived on a later boat were briefed about events for the next day. After inhaling an adequate buffet dinner, my roommate, Martyna Kloska, a tour guide and travel agent, and I headed back to our room, only to be greeted by a frog in the toilet. Five minutes later, Martyna came up with the brilliant idea of pouring water on frog to prompt his exit out of the bowl. This plan worked and we were back to the getting-ready-for-bed business.

Day 2: A Canopy Tower, A Children’s Playground and a Harness

Have you ever climbed eight flights of stairs at the crack of dawn, with nary a cup of coffee to help you withstand the journey? Well, I have. Early the next morning, we made our way up the 25 meter canopy to watch the sunrise and get a view of the toucans, macaws, and raptors. Once I reached the top, however, my crabbiness soon caved in to my sense of awe as I lost myself the vista that greeted me. We could see the jungle for miles and although I have complained about the sounds of birds waking me up in the morning in previous posts, this time, I didn’t mind it so much.

It was after breakfast that I began to miss my daughter. Why? Refugio Amazonas is the perfect lodge for parents with children three years and older. Lodge staff provides a series of activities for children, including two 2-3 hour hikes, swimming, beach time, kayaking, tree climbing, and crafts. The hikes, in particular, have been built around an imaginary girl named Ania and her adventures in the jungle, which I imagined would appeal to many children and parents.

Brushing my sentimental feelings aside, I prepared myself for the next activity: tree climbing. For this exercise, I was harnessed and chained and then asked to elegantly climb up a rope. Needless to say, I managed the feat with little elegance despite imbibing in a little Dutch courage. Don’t judge.

Once my bruised pride recovered (the alcohol helped), we made our way down to the port for our next stop: Tambopata Research Centre. We arrived at the Centre in the midst of a tropical storm. Covered in mud, we were once again welcomed with warm washcloths and a cold drink. After a refreshing shower and dinner, our group headed to the bar for the most important event of the night: drinking. I have a confession to make. For the last twenty years, I have had an on again off again relationship with Jose Cuervo. I don’t know what the attraction is, but every once in a while, he pops back in my life and as it with most affairs, it never ends well. With the group shouting “toma, toma, toma” in the background, a quick bite of lemon, and a lick of salt from the back of my hand, I managed to swig back two shots of tequila. After this, I listened to a 35 minute lecture on macaws. Maybe it was the tequila, but as God as my witness, I actually cried when I saw a photo of a baby macaw and am now personally invested in their propagation. One nice thing that Tambopata Research Centre does is provide you with several lectures about the animals on the reserve and a detailed history of their macaw research. A little teary eyed, I went to bed.

In the Tambopata rainforest.
The capybara like some mud, to say the least.
See slide show.

Day 3: A Hike through the Jungle

After breakfast, we pulled on rubber boots and went for a hike through the Tambopata Nature Reserve. Trudging through muddy jungle paths, we encountered birds, a variety of insects, and saw monkeys swinging from treetops searching for breakfast. Now I have seen monkeys at zoos, made faces at them through barred cages, but seeing one in its natural habitat is a sight to behold. When we returned to the reserve, exhausted, but happy, a burgeoning cloud-cover made it impossible to partake in afternoon activities. So I did what any mother who has a little free time does: I read AND managed to finish the novel. After a three hour break, we went for another walk, this time on the other side of the reserve where we climbed another canopy to watch the sunset. Climbing down, we made our way back to the lodge where we had dinner and promptly went to bed.

Day 4: Claylicks, Kayaking, and Posada Amazonas

At the crack of dawn the next morning, we made our way to the island across the river to observe the claylicks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaw#Diet_and_clay_licks in action. For those of you that don’t know, claylicks are another term for macaws that eat a certain type of clay found in exclusively in the Amazon region. Scientists posit many theories for this behavior, but chief among them may be that the clay contains high amounts of sodium, which may be vital for their survival. At five am, just as the sun was peeking out from the horizon, aided by a cup of coffee (I LOVED these guides) and with binoculars in hand, we observed a flock of nearly thirty macaws make their way to the claylick. We then had breakfast and prepared for a few hours of kayaking upriver.

It is hard enough to pay attention to the task at hand when you’re just learning your way around it. It’s even more difficult when you have a good looking guide. In this case, his name was Jorge. The fact that I did not tip over in my kayak can only be attributed to luck and dear Jorge’s infinite patience. I think I love him. Families or kids can opt to do a two day, one night kayaking/camping trip with Jorge as your trusty guide. Ladies, I’ll leave you to your dreams about this one. As a side note, he’s also a pretty talented tattoo artist.

After our kayaking trip, we boarded the boat to wend our way downriver to Posada Amazonas, the lodge closest to Puerto Maldonado. Upon our arrival, we were greeted similarly: with a warm washcloth and drink. But, Posada Amazonas had another surprise for us: hot water! I can’t tell you how good it feels to jump into a steaming hot shower after being stuck in the middle of a jungle for nearly four days. I’m not sure how long I spent under its delicious spray, but I can tell you that I felt like a new woman afterwards. I felt so new that I headed to the bar for my final bit of alcoholic indulgence in the jungle. This time, I eschewed the exotic and stuck with the safe, a mojito, which hit the spot.

When travelers who don’t know each other are thrust in the same tour group, you either end up hating or loving each other. We loved each other and because of this we felt like no topic was out of bounds. And so over dinner, we discussed the upcoming Peruvian election. Some people liked Toledo, some PPK, but no one judged another person for their choice. It didn’t matter, but it in the end it was a nice way to end the night.

The next morning, we took the boat back to Puerto Maldonado and said our goodbyes to each other promising to share photos and catch up with a drink later on. I was eager to see my daughter and hoped that she would be happy to see me. Three hours later, after I made my way through my front door, I could hear my daughter rousing from her nap. I rushed upstairs and there she was with her arms held out waiting for a hug. And like any mother who finds herself in this situation, I picked her up and hugged her.