Last two weeks in Cusco and Tambopata National Park
31.07.2015 - 11.08.2015 35 °C
So in keeping with my promise to write more often, here is the second instalment of my travel diary.
I have spent most of my time since I last wrote in Cusco, finishing my language course and working for four hours each day preparing the breakfast and clearing up in my hostel (in return for a free stay). Though it meant getting up at 7am every day, no matter whether I´d been out the night before, I actually found working a great experience and I´m looking forward to the three other weeks of work I have lined up around Peru. It´s a great way to meet people and to get to know a place better. The hostel staff have loved telling me about all their local festivals and traditions (as I mentioned last time, there are a lot) and señora Ana spent the whole morning feeding me up every day, which I can´t complain about. It has also been a good opportunity to practise my Spanish while having a good gossip. My Spanish has come on a lot in the last two weeks. I´m starting to get a much better feel for it and I can navigate basic conversations without too many problems. My vocab has also improved a huge amount. I´m excited to see what it will be like after four more months. I´m glad I chose Peru as the place to learn, though - apparently both Chilean and Argentinian Spanish is very strange.
Other than class and work, I´ve had a more relaxing couple of weeks seeing friends, going to salsa class and going for long walks in the mountains around Cusco. One highlight was my visit to an animal sanctuary around half an hour from Cusco. They rescue rare species and each animal has its own story. For two pounds I got a private tour! They have a lot of llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos. I learnt a lot about them when I went on the llama walk in Berlin last year and I was told that, by nature, they don´t like contact. I mentioned this to my guide and he told me there was a llama there that loved hugs and asked if I wanted to hug it, which made me incredibly happy. They also had pumas who had been rescued from a nightclub in Lima and some condors, including a `baby´ (enormous). It was a rare chance to see condors up close, though I hope to see them in the wild later on in my trip.
It was very sad to say goodbye to Cusco after such a long time. It feels like a small town, though it´s actually a pretty big city, and it´s great to see lots of friendly faces when you´re out and about. I was also sad to leave the language school and the friends I made there, but it´s time to move on. Directly after my last Spanish class, I took the night bus to Puerto Maldonado. Though it´s only 10 hours away, it´s a different world. The sheer range of landscapes and climates within Peru never ceases to amaze me. Cusco is dry, high altitude, around 23 degrees in the day but 0 at night. Puerto Maldonado is in the Amazon rainforest. It´s around 35 degrees every day and the humidity is almost unbearable. You spend all day drenched in a mix of water, sweat, sun cream and insect repellent. Having said that, I really enjoyed the warmth after the cold nights in Cusco, and you get used to the humidity as long as you accept that nothing will ever really be dry.
I arrived there at 7 in the morning and was slightly stressed (if not surprised) when I realised that the person who was meant to collect me from the bus station hadn´t turned up. I also only had the number of the agency in Cusco I had booked with, not the local company. Luckily, it´s a small place and the other agents were able to call around and find out where I was supposed to go. After cleaning up a little in the agency office, I got straight on a boat to Yakari lodge, where I was staying for my time in the jungle. The river Madre de Dios is a large tributary of the Amazon that forms the main tourist area of Tambopata. The lodge was a luxury compared to my hostel stays and was picturesque in the way it fit in to the jungle scenery. All of the huts are open, with mosquito nets covering the windows and there are hammocks everywhere for relaxing between excursions. I even had a hut to myself with a private bathroom. The food was also great. After eating a lot of rubbish in Cusco it was a welcome change to get three healthy meals a day with lots of fresh fruit and salads. It was interesting to try some new foods including yucca and cactus fruit. I was happy to come out with only a few mosquito bites. Considering I get eaten alive in Europe in the summer, I thought it would be worse but my repellent seemed to work pretty well. It should, given that it has melted the labels off other bottles in my bag when it has leaked before. The whole place is teaming with wildlife. You can hear it all day and all night. The birds have very unusual and interesting calls. I also found a frog and a rat in my room at different points. Oh well, at least there were no spiders in there!
The first morning we travelled further along the river to do a zipline and a canopy walk 60m above the forest floor. Though I have done a lot of similar things before, I enjoyed the trek into the forest and I learnt a lot about the plants and butterflies from our guide. After lunch, we got into kayaks to paddle to monkey island. I was slightly dubious about getting too close to the water that is after all home to piranhas and caimans, among many other things. However, we were reassured that they weren´t interested in people so it was even safe to swim. The monkey island is home to rescued monkeys, who wouldn´t survive in the wild. They are very used to humans, which makes it a lot easier to see them than in other places. They all gathered round to take the bananas we brought and one monkey even climbed up someone´s leg to take the seeds he had in his pocket. After dinner we headed back into the boat for a night-time excursion, hoping to see the caimans. It reminds you how remote you are when the guide starts searching on the bank you have just stepped off to get into the boat ... You spot the caimans by the reflection of their eyes from the torch. We spotted quite a few along the river bank, but unfortunately didn´t get very close because they disappeared as soon as we tried to approach. However, we were very lucky to spot to capybaras. Our guide, who grew up in the area, said he´d never seen capybaras so still and willing to let us approach. We watched them for around 15 minutes from about a metre away. This was probably because they were two babies (around 3 months old, though already half a metre long) abandoned by their mother. Unfortunately he didn´t rate their chances of survival, but we couldn´t intervene. We were also lucky enough to spot a porcupine.
The next day we spent the whole day at Lake Sandoval. This is a protected area and no motor boats are allowed, so we left ours at the river and walked for around an hour to get to some paddle boats to take us further. During the walk the guide spotted a ´friend of his´and told us to stay very still and quiet. He fetched a stick and poked around for a while in a hole in the ground, then pulled out a huge spider. This disappeared again and he pulled the same spider out 5 minutes later, dead. It turns out that was the baby, and it had just been eaten by its mother (around 20cm). Apparently tarantulas turn to cannibalism when times get tough in the dry season. I don´t think they´ll be my favourite animals any time soon. On the lake we saw a huge amount of wildlife, including macaws, vultures, herons, tortoises, butterflies the size of plates and birds the guide called ´prehistoric´because of their resemblance to pterodactyls. We spotted some more caimans and I was lucky enough to see an anaconda in the water. After lunch our guide said he heard a group of monkeys, though the rest of us heard nothing until 5 minutes later. We very quietly paddled to the edge of the lake and waited for them to emerge from the trees. Though we had seen monkeys the day before, it was a privilege to see truly wild monkeys. Our luck continued and we even spotted a sloth high up in one of the trees.
Unfortunately our luck didn´t continue the next day. We were supposed to leave the lodge at 4.30am to catch the macaws at sunrise but unfortunately there was a storm in the night that didn´t stop until the next afternoon. I have never seen so much rain. The river rose by 2.5 metres in one night. Fortunately, we were able to go and visit a local native family. As with my experience on Amantani island, this was uncomfortable for me. They just looked sad and, though they said many many times that they were happy to have us there, I couldn´t help feeling like we were a burden. It was still an interesting trip - they showed us some of their hand-made musical instruments, children´s toys and we got to try archery using their bow and arrows. We also learnt a local dance and talked a little about their culture (their Spanish is minimal so communication was difficult). It is sad to know that these native traditions are already dying out. Their children go to school and are likely to choose to live in Puerto Maldonado later in life. There are also few areas of this part of the jungle that remain untouched. In the afternoon we tried to catch some piranhas but the water was just too deep and fast-flowing due to the rain. Sadly, just as the rain stopped, it was time to leave. I look forward to going back to the rainforest in Bolivia. It was a surreal experience knowing that I was in the Amazon and I actually enjoyed the lack of internet for a few days.
Tomorrow night I´m off to Arequipa on yet another night bus and I have found another week´s work in a hostel there. I have heard great things about the city so I look forward to seeing it myself. Thanks for reading again and I hope to find the chance to write again soon.