Cusco is wonderful. It's a town of artists, musicians, hippies, travelers and wanderers. I now understand why people go to Cusco planning to stay for a week and end up staying for months, and often even moving there. There is a draw there that many people talk about but usually cannot find the words to describe. There's just something there. I wasn't really feeling it at first, but I definately found it by the end and I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to return.
During my last few days in Cusco my dad came and met up with me. How great to see him after 7 months! Of course, since Machu Picchu has been closed due to the over 40 mudslides that have devastated the outskirts of Cusco and its economy which relies heavily on the influx of tourists who venture to the Sacred City to visit the ruins, my dad and I were not able to hike there as planned. So instead we decided to go to Puerto Maldonado, a part of the jungle near to Cusco. The roads are some of the most trecherous in Peru so we decided to fly there. After spending a few days in Cusco, (my dad huffing and puffing through the city which sits at 11,200 feet above sea level) we left for the jungle! After rushing to the airport, we were told that our flight was 2 hours delayed. We waited around for 2 hours, expecting our plane to arrive but, since we are in Peru, the plane was late and we borded 30 minutes after we were supposed to, even with our delay. We borded the plane and after we taxied out onto the runway we were informed that there was bad weather in Puerto Maldonado and that we would be returning to the airport. But after lots of back and forth... we're going, we're not going... we set off.
Once we got to our hostel we set up a 2 day excursion into the jungle. We took a boat ride on the Tambopata River out to the Reserve which is a protected part of the jungle that can only be accessed with a guide. Fortunately, the owner of our hostel happened to be a tourguide who had grown up in the jungle until he was 14 years old!
Me with my rubber boots getting ready to hike 3 km through a muddy jungle path.
The first thing we did when we got in our boat that we took out to the lake was go fishing for piranhas. Naturally, I was the first to catch one.
Our guide put this leaf in the piranah's mouth. It was like a little hold puncher, as soon as the leaf was in it's mouth it would chomp down on it. Those are some sharp teeth!
Some blood-thirsty bats hanging out on a tree for the day until flying around our heads and hair at night.
Lake Sandoval. This is where we stayed for one night out in the jungle. In the afternoon, after lunch and a nap, we went out again in our boat into the lake. We cruised along the lakeside looking into the lush jungle, seeing and hearing wild birds of beautiful colors. As we approached one section of jungle, the trees and bushes seemed to come to life. The shook and swayed and it was clear that there was something going on inside. As we got closer we noticed that it was monkeys! And 3 different kinds: squirrel monkeys, cappuchino monkeys and howler monkeys. We had heard the roar of the howlers from far away and were lucky to have the opportunity to actually see them!
Giant Ironwood trees. Is it interesting that my dad and I used to live on Ironwood Lane?
Here are some other creatures that we found in the jungle. Our guide was very knowledgeable and, having lived in the jungle for the first years of his life, he was able to find things that we, people who are not so connected with our natural surroundings, would never have noticed had he not pointed them out. Sometimes he would stop on the trail, look around, and point out a bird sitting still on a branch which blended in with the surroundings, or a turtle hiding under thick foilage, or the leg of a taranchula beneath a fallen leaf.
After a long day and lots of time in the boat, we wobbled up to our lodge where dinner was prepared for us and then to our mosquito net covered beds.
The next day we left early, walking 4 km back on the muddy path to our first boat at the entrance of the Reserve. From there we rode to a research center where endangered animals (and endangered of becoming endangered animals) are kept. First we saw a baby jaguar. He was so domesticated that he was purring and letting us pet him. Although all he wanted to do was play, we had to be careful because regardless of whether or not he wanted to do harm, those teeth could definately leave us missing fingers. Here is a video of the jaguar... and yes, those are my fingers which I managed to save only by the flick of a wrist.
Next were the monkeys.
After seeing the animals we walked to this bridge which was created so that researchers could climb up above the canopy at the early hours of the day to observe exotic birds that can only be seen very early in the morning. The bridge is 90 meters long and 42 meters above the ground. Unfortunately for my dad, he has a phobia of bridges. Not heights. Just bridges. But he faced his fear and scaled across! Relieved once he reached the tree where the bridge ends, his nerves peaked again as he was told that the only way down was to go back across the bridge.
Hiking back to where we were to have lunch was possibly the most terrifying adventure of the trip. Our trail had been flooded by heavy rains and so in our path was a flooded pond. We all stood there for several minutes before deciding that the best option would be to wade through it. My dad smoked a cigarette that would otherwise be lost to the murky waters. It was as if he were smoking his last cigarette, and he seemed to enjoy it just that much. I surged ahead, wading and eventually swimming through the pond. Soon I could not touch the ground and had to cling to a tree that stuck out of the water. It was difficult to swim since we were all wearing rubber boots so the best thing to do was not to kick but to let the boots keep us afloat. Just as I was about to push off and float to the next tree, I saw something skimming the surface of the water, quickly realizing that it was a caiman - a small river alligator... Great. Our guide told me to stop, telling me that since there where caiman in the water, the men should go first... a theory that I hardly accepted but given the circumstances, decided to obey. Floating from tree to tree we made it across the pond and safely back onto the path.
Overall, the trip was amazing. We were lucky with weather and with the number of animals and other jungle creatures we were able to experience. Right now is the rainy season in Puerto Maldonado but magically, we were graced with sun, blue skies, hot weather and no rain. It was difficult to go back to chilly, rainy Cusco, but also great to be back to have a proper goodbye with the city.
Coming back to Lima was almost like coming home. How time flies here. I can't believe that break is almost over and that my time in Cusco has passed. It's wonderful to be back on the coast and back at home with Dina and Klaus!