During the flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, I watched the snowy mountain ranges turn into the vast green landscape of the Amazon. It was easy to spot the brown Tambopata River snake through the green land.
When we landed, we had to transfer our stuff from luggage to smaller duffel bags to bring into the jungle. There is a limited weight for each traveler for the Tambopata Research Center, as the only way there is by boat. A fun fact I learned along the way is that TRC is the only lodge in the national reserve protected by the government. Out of the trilogy of the lodges, Posada Amazonas and TRC are the best for viewing wildlife.
To get to the boat port, we drove an hour on a dirt path. The port wasn't actually far, but the countless potholes in the road made the bus drive at a walking pace. On the boat, our lunch was served in a wrapped banana leaf. Inside was fried rice — a cross between Peruvian and Chinese food. On the way to the lodge, we spotted a white caiman and some tortoises.
The boat ride was only an hour. From there, it was a twenty-minute hike to reach Posada Amazonas. We met our guide, Inés, who took us to the canopy tower. It was a bare metal tower that stood 137 feet tall. It's supported by only four wires, attached to distant trees that you hoped existed. Walking up, you could feel the entire tower swinging in the air.
At the top, there is an incredible 360 view of the jungle which extends until the horizon. While enjoying the view, birds and monkeys were calling out for a beautiful background noise. Inés pointed out some different birds, which we saw through the telescope she set up. It was amazing to see on top of the forest trees.
We went back to the lodge and relaxed, where we found a station to crack Brazil nuts. We found a pile of nuts in their shells and cracked them all, eating them along the way. Dinner was buffet style in a large dining room in the lodge. The food was great, but unfortunately ran out.
At 4 AM we embarked on a twenty minute hike to a river port, where we boarded a small motorboat. As we set off, the sun began to rise. The dark was soon illuminated by the bright orange sky. After an hour boat ride, we went to another lake port where we boarded a small catamaran.
For the entire morning, we went wildlife viewing along the river. There were a lot of different birds in the trees and on the shores that we were admiring. Suddenly, our guide got super excited and told us to be quiet — she found the river otters. There is only a single family of five that lives in the entire three-kilometer lake. There they were, all swimming right beside our boat. It was an amazing sight.
When we reached shore, we were given twigs with a string attached to them. With these, we were fishing for piranhas. I took a small piece of meat to attach to my hook as bait. We all dropped in the lines into the lake, and immediately I could feel the fish nibbling. To catch one, you have to wait for it to feel a strong tug. Every time I yanked my pole out of the water there was less meat, but no piranha. For having my line in the water for 30 minutes, I was disappointed that I didn't catch a single one.
After my embarrassing performance, we embarked on the six-hour journey to Tambopata Research Center. Again, our lunch of chicken, plantains, and sweet potatoes was served in a banana leaf. Along the ride, we continued to spot different wildlife. The river also had small rapids and many large obstacles. Because it was also dry season, the water was extremely shallow, so we could sometimes feel the boat gliding across the rocks on the bottom of the river.
An hour before reaching, we visited a clay lick where thousands of parrots and macaws were feeding along the cliff side. It was incredible to see them out in the wild eating clay. We were also lucky to experience this at 1 pm, as the birds typically leave around midday.
Reaching TRC, we immediately set out on a monkey walk. We hiked around the jungle off trail and spotted different monkeys. We saw a few howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and toucans. We were in such dense forest it felt as if we were exploring where no human had been before.
We then had the same style dinner which we had at Posada Amazonas. In the common quarters, a researcher at TRC presented her work on macaws and what she's learned about them. It was a great presentation and gave a lot of context about the birds that we were finding in the wild.
It was another early morning, and we headed out at 4:30 AM to see the Chuncho Macaw Clay Lick over sunrise. We arrived before any birds and enjoyed cake and coca tea for breakfast. Slowly, the parakeets, parrots, and macaws began to come and start their meal. Occasionally, a large bird would fly over and startle all the macaws and they would all scatter. Then they would warily come back. This was amusing to watch, as it seemed as if they were in their own flock.
Our next activity was the bamboo walk, where we walked through a section of the jungle which was overrun by bamboo. At the end was a beautiful viewpoint over the Tambopata river, which was partly dry. Along the dried islands in the middle of the river, we saw a lot of different kinds of birds through the telescope. I also found a lot of ants, such as the cone ant and leaf cutter ant.
Leading up to the view, you could see a huge trail of leaves that the leaf cutter ants abandoned. It was a magical sight because it was as if someone left it there intentionally. It was so dense and had such a strong contrast against the ground it was hard not to be mesmerized.
In the afternoon, we went on the Palm Swamp hike. We had to wear long rubber boots that reached our knees, because it was going to be very wet and muddy. In some places you stepped, you could feel your foot sink all the way down in the mud. While we were going around, we spotted more monkeys and macaws. We also came across even more leaf cutter ants. We followed them and found the entrance into their colony, which looked like huge mounds of hardened soil.
By the time we were going back to the lodge it was dark, so we had to use our headlamps. This attracted many different bugs, which hit my face as I tried to make my way through the dense forage. In the middle, we found a giant tarantula in the middle of the trail.
After our dinner of chicken and rice, we went on a night hike. This wasn't so much spotting wildlife, but more spiders and other cool insects. It was fun to see what kind of different creatures emerged in the night that hid in the daylight.
Today was our day to travel back — we woke up at 4:50 AM to leave by 5:15 AM. The river was warmer than the air, and so steam was coming from the water. This gave the illusion of a thin layer of fog right above the water, which made for a beautiful sight against the rising sun.
We got back and we repacked our main luggage. We spent the afternoon eating at Burgos's Restaurant, which is the only tourist friendly restaurant in the entire city.
As we were flying back to Lima, the sun was setting, and I could see the brilliant colors through the window. The soft red and pink reflected off the clouds and gave it a uniformity, as if it was a cloud ocean. Only mountain tops interrupted the layer of clouds. Even though by the time we arrived it was night, clouds reflected the soft orange glow of the streetlights below, so it wasn't dark.
We spent our last hours in Peru by visiting Museo Larco, which had an amazing collection of different artifacts. Because we went so late, we were the only ones in the museum, and so we got a private tour. Our guide was very passionate about the history of the artifacts and gave us incredible context. It was amazing to learn about the cultures and beliefs of people in different times. For dinner we went to the Café del Museo Larco, where we learned more about the preparations for the delicious Chicha Morada.