Posts Tagged With: puerto maldonado

Quest of the Gods – Day 4, Jungle to Cusco

Thunder and lightning kept me awake from 4am, which was a mixture of terrifying and awesome.  Being so close to nature, you never quite know what’s going to happen, and it really emphasised just how close we were to nature!  Waking up and heading to the bathroom, I realised that the bats who were living in the roof of the cabin had been a little scared of the lightning, and had left me presents all over the shower floor…. luckily it washed off easily enough!

I was packed and ready to go by 6:30am, despite the morning call time being 7:30, which I thought would give me an hour of alone time, but once I headed to the bar almost everyone else was there already!  Seems we’re a group of early risers, or maybe the thunder and lightning just kept us up – certainly Kirsten and Mike had been kept awake by the giant spider in their mosquito net (not a perfect honeymoon bed!)

Breakfast at 7:30 was scrambled eggs, fried plantain and the most amazing mango I ever tasted.

We quickly headed to the boat and were whisked on a 90 minute river trip to the port, during which time we raced a couple of the other lodges (everyone heads at the same time because there are only a few flights a day from Puerto Maldonado).

Racing on the river

Racing on the river

During the trip we did a bit of bird spotting, but everyone was generally subdued to be leaving the jungle so quickly after we arrived.  It would have been amazing to stay there a few more days, but i’m pretty sure even if you stayed there 2 years you would still be discovering new things!

After a 45 minute bumpy van ride to the office, we repacked our bags/suitcases from the duffles we took into the jungle and then headed to the airport.  We stopped at a little snack store and I bought some brazil nut and tomato cookies which were really good, even if the taste was a little strange.

Repacking our bags

Repacking our bags

At the airport, G Adventures have an agreement with Avianca to use their executive check-in lines, which made us all feel very important – particularly as all the other tours have to use the ‘normal’ checkin.

Airport selfie

Airport selfie

The airport is tiny in Puerto Maldonado and we were warned that the checkin process might be unusual – rather than owning a bag scanner and scanning the bags after check-in, the airport opts for a more hands-on approach – opening bags and scanning them with hands before they go through check in.  The process was kind of ridiculous, with hands probing around to find god knows what in our bags.  After promising I didn’t have anything dodgy in my bag, and a pair of gloved hands finding nothing, I was free to check in as normal and from then we had a short wait whilst Harold obtained the check-in ladies number (although he insists he was just getting a number to check his air miles).  We continued to tease him about this the whole trip!

The flight itself was uneventful, and the airline provided a USB port at our seats which was great for recharging my camera!

Plane selfie - Puerto Maldonado to Cusco

Plane selfie – Puerto Maldonado to Cusco

After we arrived in Cusco, the centre of the Inca empire, we were whisked to our hotel (5 minutes by private bus) and checked in.  Harold gave us a guided tour of the city and we tried the free Coca Tea (good for relieving altitude sickness, since Cusco is at 3400m from sea level).

True to form, Harold had booked us a table at an amazing little restaurant (Aguaymanto) for lunch which had the most incredible menu of Peruvian dishes and catered well to the needs of G Adventures guests.  It was really hidden up a back alley and a staircase but worth exploring to find it!

Group shot at the restaurant

Group shot at the restaurant

We shared some Nachos as a starter and then I had a thai green curry as a main, followed by a shared Mango Flambé for dessert.   It was awesome, and we all left feeling great about Cusco.  Nobody was really feeling the altitude, which we were all thankful of since we had been warned it could be a tough evening.

After dinner a short recognition walk showed us more of the area including the central square which featured a rather excited looking Inca on a fountain.  My google-fu tells me he is Pachacuti – the main Inca who built Cusco and Machu Picchu into the places they are today.

Cusco central square

Cusco central square

On the way back to the hotel, the girls were acosted by some Andean women holding cute lambs who forced them to have photos taken with the lambs and then demanded payment (as much as S20, $7) for the photos.

Once back at the hotel we freshened up before our briefing about the inca trial at 19:00.

During the briefing, we met our guide (Israel) and he talked us through the plan for the trip, packing and essentials.  We have a 6kg limit for personal items which will be carried by the porters – which gets reduced by 2.5kg for our sleeping bag and 1kg for our air mattress, leaving just 2.5kg for our personal stuff!

Israels recommended packing list for those 2.5kgs:

  • 3 t-shirts
  • 3 pairs of hiking socks
  • 3 sets of underwear
  • Thermals to sleep in
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Spare pair of hiking pants
  • Sandals
  • Warm jacket
  • Towel
  • Toiletries

I don’t know which lightweight shop he goes to, but when I put all that in my duffle it came to 4kg!  A quick rationalisation and I was back to 2.5kg – phew!

Israel talked us through the timeline of the 4 days

  • Day one – Gentle start – Pickup at 7:15, bus to the km82 start point, starting at 2700m, hike for 11km/6 hours, starting at 9:30.  Climb is only 300m, so we sleep at 3000m
  • Day two – Challenge day – Starting at 3000m, hike for 12km/8 hours, starting at 6:30.  Climb is 1200m, descent about 600m, sleeping at 3600m
  • Day three – Culture day – Starting at 3600m, hike for 16km/10 hours, starting at 6:30.
  • Day four – Machu Picchu – Starting at 3:30am, hike for 6km/2 hours, Gate to Machu Picchu opens at 5:30am.  After MP, take a bus/train/bus back to Cusco

We would have another 3 people joining us for the trail, and Mike and Kirsten would be doing the Lares Trek which is an alternative trek for those who are unable to get Inca Trail passes (only 500 passes are issued a day).  For our group of 8 hikers, we would have 19 porters!

Most important thing, which they kept reminding us, was to bring our passports!  Clearly that has burned them in the past!

In our day packs, we were told to pack:

  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito repellent & sunscreen (question: why don’t they make sunscreen which is mosquito repellent as well?)
  • Water bottle / camelbak
  • Toilet paper / baby wipes
  • Rain gear / Poncho
  • Snacks
  • Passport (must not forget this)
  • First aid kit / medication
  • Headtorch and spare batteries
  • Camera
  • Cash (S300 – S400)

Before the trail started, we had a tour day visiting the Sacred Valley, which is a chance for us to get prepared for the trail and also test our gear.  Our big bags would stay in Cusco whilst we toured the Sacred Valley and did the Inca Trail, so we would need to take everything with us tomorrow ready for the trail.  Exciting times!

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Quest of the Gods – Day 2, Jungle

After dreaming excitedly of the jungle, I woke before my alarm at 5:45.  At 6:00, the planned wake up call came through and I prised myself out of bed to quickly shower and repack then head down for breakfast.  The breakfast was a buffet style and included in the price of the tour (as it will be throughout the tour) – I had some granola, a banana, some bread rolls and a glass of orange juice.

At 7:00 we met in the foyer of the hotel to head back to Lima airport in a transfer van.  The airport is about 70 minutes from the hotel, and during the van journey Harold gave us a brief guide to the history of Peru and spoke a lot about the troubles in the past, particularly when the van was driving through some rougher areas of Lima.  Harold distributed our boarding passes – we are travelling with Avianca who are a Star Alliance airline, so my United miles work for this trip too!  Harold had pre-selected seats for both flights, since we would fly first to Cusco and then stay on the same plane to Puerto Maldonado.  Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the amazon basin and very close to the Brazil border, which makes it a pretty busy city by Peruvian standards.  When we landed at the airport we were the only plane on the tarmac, so it clearly isn’t that busy!

Plane selfie - Lima to Cusco

Plane selfie – Lima to Cusco

Plane Selfie - Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Plane Selfie – Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The first flight was uneventful, but late.  Or rather, running on Peruvian timing.  Once we landed in Cusco there were no gates free so we had to wait a while, and then wait whilst everyone deplaned, before we shifted to our second seats.  For the second flight Harold had arranged window seats for us all, so that we could watch the views of the river from the window.  Although we were visiting the Amazon basin, the river itself was the Tambopata river which is a tributary to the Amazon.  From the plane, it is one of the typical views of the Amazon basin – oxbow lakes, meanders, and huge amounts of vegetation. The second flight was short – only 30 minutes – and landing in Puerto Maldonado we could feel the excitement building.

The jungle from the plane

The jungle from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

After collecting our bags, we headed out of the airport to meet our local guide, Ronald (Ronny) who would be looking after us in the jungle.  We jumped onto a minibus and were taken to a small Gadventures office where we swapped out our big bags/suitcases for small duffle bags which we would take into the jungle (since the humidity is high and we don’t need all our clothes for the 2 nights in the jungle).  The repacking took 20 minutes and we had a chance to go to a local shop to buy ponchos, snacks, etc – I bought an ice cream!

Bus selfie

Once the bags were repacked, we got back onto the minibus for a 45 minute trip to the river.  The road was basic to say the least, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone who gets motion sickness… bumpy, but amazing and we began wildlife spotting as we drove along.  At the port, we boarded the boat which would take us on a 2 1/2 hour journey into the amazon basin to the lodge.  It’s worth mentioning that the service level of the staff here is incredible – we didnt even carry our bags down to the boat –  the Gadventures staff did that for us!

Boat selfie

Boat selfie

Harold had warned us that we should have our eyes open as soon as we got onto the boat, and he wasn’t wrong – the wildlife spotting started almost immediately!  We saw vultures, monkeys and a giant guinea pig creature called a Capybara.  Every time the guides spotted something of interest they called the boat to a halt and we moved in close to take photos, and were given explanations of the habitat around the creatures too.  We also saw a basking turtle on a piece of wood, which was fascinating.

Capybaras

Capybaras

Turtle on some wood

Turtle on some wood

A family of monkeys

A family of monkeys

During the journey we were served a packed lunch – mine was mushrooms, vegetables and rice, together with two of the worlds smallest bananas!  Those bananas were so cute, and are available all the time in the lodge.

Smallest bananas ever!

Smallest bananas ever!

Vegetables and rice

Vegetables and rice

 

Shortly before arriving at the Tambopata Eco Lodge we saw a spectacular sunset, which felt very special with the river spread out infront of us.  Once we arrived, we headed up the river bank to the lodge and straight into the bar where we were served welcome cocktails of fruit juice and then were given 45 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before a slide show presentation.  The electricity is only on in the lodge from 5pm – 10pm, so this was also the chance to recharge our cameras for the nighttime activities.

Sunset on the Tambopata

Sunset on the Tambopata

The rooms are amazing in the lodge – I had half of the building to myself, and as you can see, it was a really special experience.  There’s no electricity at all in the buildings, so we had to use headtorches and candles for everything – even setting up the mosquito nets, which seemed quite dangerous to me!

My home for the 2 nights

My home for the 2 nights

After a quick freshen up, we met in the bar and ordered a round of Passion Sours before heading into the slide show presentation. The barmaid wasn’t the fastest, so Harold had to bring the cocktails in for us after the slideshow started, but again – the service level was impeccable.  Nothing was too much trouble, and there was no bitterness to us being late or an inconvenience by ordering drinks before an activity.  The slideshow was educational and gave us an idea of what we could expect to see over the next few days, including Caiman which are probably the most impressive creature which lives around the lodge.

After the slide show, we headed to the dinner hall for dinner which was served buffet style.  The lodge had been prepared for my vegetarian needs and Ronny saught me out to hand me a plate of vegetables as soon as I arrived.  The food was amazing, and Ronny told us that almost all of it was grown within 10 minutes of the lodge.  For dessert they served crepes, and on the table was purple corn juice (Chica Morada) which is a Peruvian speciality.

As soon as dinner was finished we prepared and headed out for the legendary “night walk”.  This is a walk in the dark using head torches and cameras to spot some of the night residents in the rainforest.  We only walked about 300 meters from the lodge, but we saw so many amazing creatures.  Check out the photos for just a few examples – some were way too fast or far away to take decent photos of!

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Giant ant on a tree trunk

Giant ant on a tree trunk

A cricket

A cricket

Not even sure what this one is!

Not even sure what this one is!

A stick insect - not hiding well in the camera flash!

A stick insect – not hiding well in the camera flash!

Some sort of huge beetle

Some sort of huge beetle

A scary looking caterpillar

A scary looking caterpillar

Grasshopper, maybe?

Grasshopper, maybe?

Poisonous frog.  We know it was poisonous because it didn't run away when it saw us.

Poisonous frog. We know it was poisonous because it didn’t run away when it saw us.

A millipede

A millipede

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

 

After the night walk, to steady our neves we settled down for another Passion Sour (it would be rude not to, after all… it’s helping the local economy!) and reminisced about our first day of adventuring.

Once the cocktails dried up (the electricity got shut off), we headed to our cabins for bed time – preparing for bed by candllight was special, and getting into bed listening to the sounds of the jungle was an experience I will never forget.

The breakfast meeting was set at 6am the next day since we had a packed day of activities planned, so I drifted off to sounds of the jungle in fear of my 5am alarm! (No wake up calls provided in the cabins – there were no phones!)

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Amazon*

*its not just about books!

I’m pretty sure that for most people, Machu Picchu is designed to be the highlight of the Quest of the Gods trip, and i’m sure for me it will be an incredible, amazing experience.  But actually for me one of the biggest and most exciting parts of the trip comes right at the start – a trip into the Amazon rainforest!

I’m so excited – sleeping under a mosquito net, listening to the buzz of a rainforest. A real life rainforest. And riding on a motorised canoe.  The schedule on the Gadventures website is pretty ambiguous about exactly what we do during the 2 days there but i’m certain it’s going to be life changing.  The description sends shivers down my spine in anticipation!

“Fly to Puerto Maldonado and continue by motorized canoe to our comfortable, intimate and exclusive G Lodge Amazon. Enjoy guided excursions by expert naturalists to spot wildlife at nearby oxbow lakes, clay licks and treetop towers.”

HOW COOL DOES THAT SOUND?!  TREETOP TOWERS?!!?!?!?  and who could resist an oxbow lake?!  I used to love geography lessons!

Of course ,there are parts that i’m scared of…. tarantulas, for example – but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it?  I mean, this is a really once in a lifetime trip, so why not throw yourself deep in and be afraid.

“Life’s for the living, so live it, or you’re better off dead!” – Passenger, Life’s for the living

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