"...one of the wettest places in the World, the
Peruvian Amazon Jungle
is part of the Amazon Basin which covers 40% of South America and is home to the largest rainforest on earth...."
Puerto Maldonado is a small jungle town in the south eastern corner of Peru in the Amazon Rainforest, 30 miles west of the Bolivian border on the confluence of the Rio Tambopata and Rio Madre de Dios, a tributary of the Amazon River. We arrived by air and went straight to the Rio Tambopata, and down the muddy slipway by the riverside to a damp looking boat. The river was immense; dark brown, wide and turbulent. The boat was no more than a large canoe with an outboard motor which seemed even damper when we got underway, particularly before the rain eased up.
We made good progress downstream, down the Rio Tambopata and the Rio Madre de Dios, but the going was more difficult after we turned right, past the Bolivian border post, and upstream on the Rio Heath. The mood of the passengers also became more difficult as it started to get dark after 3 hours, when we still seemed some way off our destination. The boatboy went to the front in an attempt to illuminate our way with his inadequate flashlight. The boatman at the back took a wide course around the bends to find deeper water and slowed down dramatically in the more turbulent parts of the river. Another hour passed, it started to get cold and the passengers became silent. The boatmen occasionally shouted to each other; we were not able to understand but they sounded nervous. I caught myself wondering what the best plan would be if we got stranded in the depths of the Amazon jungle when we eventually arrived - and the mood changed instantly as we settled in to the comfortable Heath River Wildlife Centre.
Over the next few days we adapted to life at the lodge, taking guided walks in the mornings and evenings, river trips to hides and clay licks, comparing notes with the very knowledgeable guides and other guests at lunchtime and at dinner, then a cold shower before bedding down in our 'luxury' huts, comfortable in a safari kind of way despite being open structures with nets for windows. We went to sleep to the sounds of the jungle - and at first also woke up to them several times during the night.
We saw macaws, a falcon, red howler monkeys, parrots, some capybaras stomping about looking grumpy, and we heard a crashing about in the undergrowth which our guide said was a tapir. On this trip I took the wrong lens and camera, and did not even try to take photographs of much of the wildlife. A lesson for the future is always take a big fat (but well insured) camera whatever the expected conditions.
After the first couple of days we took another boat to the Rio Madre Dios. On the way we saw another boat ahead and we slowed down for our boatman to buy a large fish from the fisherman and his small son. We gave the little boy a sweet - huge smile! - the fish was put in a sack in the bottom of the boat and we thought that dinner would be good tonight. We went on upstream to Sandoval Lake where we paddled in small wooden canoes over the lake to the excellent Sandoval Lake Lodge.
The pattern of lodge life continued but we saw different wildlife here, including a giant toad, a family of giant otters swimming across the lake, and caiman, with baby ones in the shallows at the edge of the lake with their eyes peering out of the water. We saw a surprising number of birds, herons, vultures, spoonbills, cormorants, nightjars, asthmatic birds; all pointed out to us by the guides, and looking spectacular in their jungle habitat. We also saw a sloth but it was high up in the trees and hardly visible and we did not have the week or so it would take before he awoke from his slumbers and moved. And, favourite of all, a hairy Tarantula which the guide said was relatively harmless despite its reputation.
On the last day, early in the morning, we paddled back across the beautiful misty lake thinking, as we do when leaving many places we will never see again, that one day we must return.