River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Peruvian Adventure - Final part

May 2005

The concluding part of Anne's Peruvian Adventure

Called at 5am. It was still dark! Pancakes for breakfast with rolls, marmalade, fresh fruit juice and coffee. The cooks, waitresses and chalet maids were all men who either lived in or from the adjacent forest. They smiled and did all they could to help. The guides were female, training to be guides of the whole country. Now six in our group, and the others did a 7 mile walk to see some otters (shame they were not there that day) I opted out and when I said I would walk by myself through the jungle I was given a guide to myself, and her knowledgeable friend came along as well. The owner lent me her stick. We saw lots as we could stop and be silent. The guide wielded her machete around her head to ward off insects so I kept my distance. I saw agouti and bushy tailed squirrels and lots of butterflies. In return for their knowledge I helped them with their English.

Back to make friends with 3 Scots who were good fun to be with. The other two girls were homesick townies and not really my type. After a lunch (the portions were not too big, and it was 8 hours since breakfast) of deep-fried sweet potato and salad; beef in real gravy with rice and mushy lentils, and papaya with lemon to finish, I had a two hour siesta. Well it was hot. Then into the jungle by myself. I kept to a path and was alone and it was hot, damp, with insect and bird noise and I had to wear sun lotion, insect repellent, anti histamine cream (no idea if they cancelled each other out) but it was great! The best part of my holiday. I watched another squirrel close up, heard a pig type thing (but could not see it as I did not stray too far from the path) some lizards, one of which was red, and a few birds. The guides were horrified to learn what this mad English woman had done. They always have to say where they are going, and take a machete to prevent them from being eaten! There are big cats here, but not very big, and they would have seen me long before I saw them. Back at the lodge I made friends with the tame macaw; he was unable to fly and led a spoilt life and featured in everybody's photos.

We were taken on a boat trip, in the dark, to see more caymans, but they were conspicuous by their absence. So back to base for supper, this time a praying mantis was on the ceiling, vegetable soup; spaghetti with home made tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, followed by rice pudding. I tried to shower before bed but splashed the candle and the matches were by my bed!

Up at daybreak for fried egg sarnies and down stream to see lots of macaws and a few green parrots at a salt lick. This cliff contains essential minerals and they visit every day. There were two hides, one for us and one for two students who were here, free, as part of their university course; to study the effect tourists have on the birds of the forest. I thought numbers of birds here could be affected by the weather and passing monkeys trying to eat them, but then I do not have a degree. On the way back we saw a capybara (the world's largest rodent, 4ft long (no tail) 110 lb) it looked like similar to a large guinea pig, and is the only animal able to gnaw through the very hard shell that contains about ten brazil nuts.

There were ten British students here, courtesy of their universities, and British taxpayers, studying the effects of tourists on the wildlife. They provided the small museum in the loft over the dining room and I was allowed access to their own library. The only nightlife here was scrabble by candlelight or reading books left by tourists; they had made a small arboretum, labelling trees and shrubs with name and medicinal qualities. My opinion was asked for ideas on this. Other visitors were groups of bird watchers, mostly Americans, (599 species) who spent all evening ticking off all the birds they had seen during the day. The new manager was 71 and full of new ideas for the comfort of her visitors. She was full of energy and considering better ladders to the rooms and more snacks for hungry Americans.

A cup of coffee and then across the river to a farm. We should have gone after lunch, but it was Sunday and the boatman would be playing football, match came before tourists, I am used to coming second to sport! There were three homes on stilts, with pigs and chickens living underneath. Pigs being clean went in nearby bushes but not so the fowl. There were about 5 acres of sugar cane, sweet lemons, (they let the sour ones rot) coffee, tea, coca, cocoa, papaws, figs, beans, bananas and must have grown sweet potatoes. The lodge bought their surplus.

They have used slash and burn to clear another acre of jungle (not using the wood), which they would leave fallow for 5 years and crop for 3. Nowhere was level and trees and bushes grew all over the place, so not fields just odd shaped areas. We were invited into a home and saw a small girl playing, her toy a bowl of nails. I noticed the cooking fire was made of wood, on a wooden floor! Necklaces were for sale and as I was the only one to bring money I had to buy. Schools are provided if there are 10 children, if not a taxi (boat) takes them to the nearest one. The oldest inhabitants were a 91-year-old man and (presumably his wife) of 81 still paddling her canoe across the river to sell produce.

Sunday lunch - beetroot and potato salad with hardboiled egg; chicken rice and sweet potato followed by tinned peaches, fresh pineapple and papaws, then either slept or watched the weekly football match between lodge staff and men from out the forest. Some had boots, some bare feet, and one just one sock and boot. All wore shorts, some shirts, of various colours. The game was stopped when macaws invaded the pitch, but not when two of our players had to meet a boat. No one knew the final score but they had all enjoyed playing (not like our professionals) and any injuries would be better by next week. The cooks then went in to prepare tea and listened to some football on their wind up radio. I watched monkeys in the trees and was fortunate enough to see a female tarantula close up. I could have touched it. I was the only one there who knew how to tell the sex of a spider (males have knobs on the end of their feelers). Then it was suppertime, (today's insect was a very large moth), fish with onion sauce, rice and sweet potatoes followed by jelly. No bananas as they had not ripened. Bedtime, 8 hours sleep here; mesh windows (always shut the door) and mosquito net protected me from being bitten at night.

Up early for a very foggy boat ride (prudent to put on life jackets) back to town. The two townies couldn't wait to see their children again, but sorry sons, I could have stayed much longer.

Into Puerto Maldonado, which had been a thriving rubber town and then had a gold rush in 1970. We looked round the local produce market, avoiding 3ft square, very deep holes in the side of the road, lots of bananas and a good selection of I know not what. The small airport, opened 25 years ago, saves a 2 1/2-day 300-mile road trip. (This says something about the roads!) to Cusco. We bought surprisingly cheap drinks, to keep us going, as no one knew when the plane would arrive. We were lucky as only last week the air company had folded and there were no planes until it was taken over the next day. We carried on to Lima, then Atlanta and Gatwick. More than two days travelling to get home, but this experience was worth it.

Anne Brown

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