Escape • Explore • Enjoy

While the bodies still can and we still have our marbles!

Category: Tambopata National Reserve

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 7, The Concrete Jungle

Farewell Lake Sandoval.

Leaving Sandoval Lake was hard.

For all it’s flair of remoteness, one felt connected to mother nature where the animals and insects have the rule of the land.  For a better part.  We came, we got to experience it and now, it was time for us to leave.

The thatching of the roof.

A rival ant colony attacking another – the winged ants automatically flee the nest versus be taken prisoner.

The Lodge Cat.

There was silence as we paddled back to and up the canal.  By now, we were on auto-pilot spotting other species we share the planet with.  Landing the canoe, on went our day packs for the return walk to Madre de Rios and our long boat pick up.

A Caiman escorting us out of the lake.

White Necked Heron.

Anhinga Bird … called a Snake Head Heron.

Turtles bathing …

Alex did stop twice, once at the Tarantula hole for another tickle tease – still no change in the decision wanting to hold one, yeah, nah!

The second stop was at a trunk of a tree that was clean from any lichen, stranglers or just lazy hanger on’s.  No termites neither.

Alex picked up a stick and before he tapped the trunk, he identified it as ‘the Justice Tree’ in the bush.  In the good old days (even still remote villages today), naughty individuals were stripped naked and tied to the thing as their punishment.

Then he struck the tree with three or four heavy whacks.

They appeared in their 1,000’s up and down the trunk.  Fire Ants that live in it’s hollow trunk, co-existing.  There venom sting is up there with bee’s and wasps so therefore, can you imagine the pain inflicted to someone tied to the tree.  And when they are disturbed, there natural defense is to attack.

It’s wings were like velvet.

The Fire Ant Tree.

From Mother Nature …

The Long Boat arriving to pick us up.

It was one of the last ‘wikipedia’ facts of the jungle Alex imparted.

Back at the office in Puerto Maldonado, we said our farewells as our jungle safari came to an end.  Or so we had thought.  We will get to the free loaders mentioned in an earlier post (blog post – Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 5, Happy Birthday Claire – Jungle Walk) soon.

We can thoroughly recommend anyone wanting an experience in the jungle to use Tambopata Giant Otter Expeditions.  And most definitely, ask for Alex – he was just fantastic.  When not escorting folk as a guide, he doubles as a mechanic.

We took a tuk tuk back to our airbnb hosts.  Our plans were to get clean and then just chill however, Cesar invited us to attend a meeting rally his party were having for the upcoming elections.

Why not we thought?  Except the only clean pants I had were me swimming togs.  Big audacious green and white flowery ones.

By 5pm, we were being driven in his car, Salvit and another passenger too, with banners hanging from the car windows, in a procession that included other cars, tuk tuks and three wheelers, to a suburb on the outskirts of Puerto Maldonado.  Loud speaker music and tooting of horns, down a dirt road we pulled up, to hundreds of local villages who had come to hear electioneering speakers sell the ‘why’ they should vote for them.  And in amongst it, two white faces, one in his swimming togs.

We had no idea what the hell was being spoken.  Just when everyone started yelling and cheering waving the banners, did we too join in an cheer ourselves!

Off to the election rally meeting we go …

Somewhere in the suburbs of Puerto Maldonado

It was hilarious.  After it ended and we got back to close to where we were staying, we baled and they carried on.  Well into the night.

A far cry from the remoteness paradigm we had exited from, only ten or so hours before.

The old concrete jungle eh?

Where a different kind of animal lives.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 6, Happy Birthday Claire – Leaf Cutter Ants

It was just beautiful.

We were back in the canoe, sitting on the lake.  In a trace towards the horizon.  Oblivious to everything else that was going on.  Except the sun set.

The natural candle slid off the sky line silhouetting the distance Palm trees.  It was as if they were all candles simultaneously extinguished.  More than the one Claire did at breakfast.  In-fact, a heap more than the number of years she celebrated, having reached.

And then it was gone.

Sunset over Lake Sandoval.

Back on dry land, we left the confines of the lodge and walked off into the surrounding jungle.  A night walk.  Alex advised to stay close, with his machete in one hand.  More images conjured up of getting hacked up.  Again, happy to write, it wasn’t meant to be!

Head torches darted at the ground, to the sides into the fauna, or upwards to overhanging plants or tree trunks.  We had no idea what we were going to see, something was better than nothing and by now, we were experienced jungle trekkers.

Alex halted, asking us to turn off the torches.  In-front of us, little streaks of flame flirted just above our heads.  It was there, then it went complete darkness, to then be there again.  They were fire flies lighting up their butts to attract a mate.  Super cool.

Onward we trod.  The first spider was like a New Zealand garden spider.  It’s eyes lit up like the Caiman except there were eight of them.  Once Claire had seen it, she became the best insect spotter the remainder of the night trek.  Even Alex offered her a job as a guide by the end of it.  Claire politely declined – with good reason.

She spotted a centipede that has the bite of 1,000 bee stings; more spiders, grass hoppers and crickets.  Alex discovered a black scorpion.  Getting a photo was achieved with persistence using a stick because the venom it packed if pricked into human flesh could mean severe illness and sometimes turning your toes up.  We saw the biggest ant we have ever seen, the Bullet Ant.  They wander the vegetation solo and another insect to avoid so as not to come into contact with.

Leaf climber sharing a ride up.

Grasshopper.

Stick insect.

The Bullet Ant – approx 3 cms long.

A spider that looks similar to a New Zealand Garden species.

The elusive Black Scorpion – beware!

The Centipede with 1,000 bee stings sting.

The home of a Cicada having left it’s residence.

We stopped at the trunk of the Brazillian/Peruvian Nut Tree.  Our torch lights didn’t even make a flicker of reflection from it’s canopy, it rose so far up to the heavens.

Perhaps the one insect that stood out above them all was the Leaf Cutting Ant.  The trail they stomp can be hundreds of meters from their nest.  We observed a continuous line of photosynthesis green trickling down the trunk of a tree.  Harvesting from dusk till dawn.  Come back during the daytime and all you see is the trodden ground where their feet have imprinted.  They were super cool.

The Leaf Cutting Ant in column.

Back at the lodge, we popped a beer to raise and acknowledge a birthday day like no other.  Where being in the presence was certainly a gift.

Sure we didn’t see all the things you scare yourself shitless with when you google images of things you might encounter.  We were contented with what we had.  And more so, done.

It must have been enough, we didn’t even make the 9pm lights out when the electricity was shut off.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 5, Happy Birthday Claire – Jungle Walk

As we made our way back to the lodge, we encountered the Giant Otters again hunting and feeding.  They simply fear nothing below the water.  Even a solo Caiman is no match for a gang and apparently make good eating. Leather bag, belt and shoes from it’s hide too.

Giant Otter feasting.

Not on Lake Sandoval though, this is a reserve and everything is protected from human sacrifice.  Apart from the fish that was lying in our canoe first thing this morning. It was stiff having obviously jumped aboard during the night.  Alex took it up to the kitchen and the smell of it frying in butter and garlic was a nicer smell versus repellent and sunblock.  Possibly BO from sweat.

Half sunbathed, half not!

A cooked breakfast was served with the additional side dish.  It tasted divine.  Alex shared the table with us before he disappeared when we were nearing the finish, to reappear with the cook.  He was holding a plate with a flax piece in the shape of the sun as decoration.  On the plate was the top half of a bread bun and an ignited candle.  They started the “happy birthday to you” song that was sung with heartfelt kindness.
He positioned the flax decoration onto Claire’s head like a crown and then, she blew out the candle.

The three of us cheered and clapped.  There was no other sole present at the lodge.

The stiff fish found in the canoe.

The stiff fish cooked.

Alex and cook bringing out Claire’s birthday cake.

Happy Birthday Claire xxx

How simple and yet so special was that?

The art of placing value on an act of kindness far outweighed any materialistic gift that would normally be given.  Besides, I hadn’t bought her anything let a lone there being any room in my daypack to have carried the thing.

I’m confident, Claire will remember this birthday for as long as her body allows and, she still has her marbles.  Experiences, priceless ones, travel with you internally.  No matter where you step on the planet in future; nor how old you reach in age.  And is the core of behind why we love to travel still how we do, as crazy as that may read.

A birthday to always remember.

Picking up free-loaders is all part an parcel of it too.  As you will soon find out …

After we cut up the bun, spread some butter and plum sauce and ate a piece, we chilled a little swinging in the hammock.  Day trippers soon arrived.  Peace and quiet was lost in conversational noise.  All good.

Alex then signalled us and it was back down to the canoe and another b-line for the opposite side of the lake.  This time, there was no jetty but the embankment.  Paper, scissors, rock as to who of us steps off the canoe into the jungle to secure the rope.  I lost.

For the next two to three hours, Alex escorted us on a jungle walk.  We were on the side where the Howler Monkeys resided and their cacophony got louder as our compass took us in their direction.

Over to the opposite side of the lake we go.

Ales leading the way.

No worries, Alex had a machete.  It’s natural for images to flash before your eyes of how your life could end with one strike of the blade and the final resting place be fodder to life in the jungle.  Happy to write it wasn’t.  Alex sometimes had to cut a clearance for us to walk through.   Wearing hats gave us some solace that anything above if it fell would bounce off!  Meant we keep our eyes on the ground in-front and hands close to the sides.

How the family of Tarantulas didn’t hear us coming surprised us.  Five baby ones just parked up outside a hole.  Let’s not tickle the entrance, moving right a long.

The family of Tarantulas.

We happened to be standing at the base of a massive tree when a Iguana just walked on by a couple of meters from our spot, not giving us the time of day.  We did it, moving closer to the machete.

We observed more monkeys and birds however, we were just blown away by the trees and fauna as we trekked.  Trees that were hundreds and hundreds of years old.  Vines that co-habitat the trees too large to wrap your arms around.  Walking trees that actually grow new legs so as to move towards sunlight.  Strangling trees that like a Boa Constrictor or Anaconda, find a host to grow up it and then contract to kill the life out of it, using the rotting trunk to feed it the nutrients to grow more.

Stunning coloured butterflies darted and dodged.  Alex peeled back some bark from a decaying tree trunk to reveal leaf shaped cock roaches.  They scarpered as fast as they could under the decay on the ground.  Which was always constant, leaves showering down.

The walking tree.

The trees were just massive.

A leaf cock roach.

Look closely, can you spot it?

The tree vines were as equally as huge.

Eat Love Pray … not to be the one eaten!

The time did go quick and we ended up back at the canoe having done a full loop.  Alex has been doing what he does for fifteen or more years and knew the route taken like the back of his hand.  More living things tend to hide from the heat of the day which we didn’t mind.  Doing what we had just done at night, well, Alex assured us that it would be more alive with insect life ten-fold.

We were happy with the present status.

Back to the lodge we paddled.

Lunch and an afternoon siesta awaited us.

Un-beknown to us all, there was more on the canoe than we realised.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – The Jungle Part 4, Happy Birthday Claire – McCaws

The watch alarm interrupted complete darkness, enough to stir us awake.

We survived the night in our thatched hut without incident!  Only forgetting that it was still night and we had to get up and get dressed under torch light.  Remember, shine the torch only wear necessary and not up.  Last evening’s clothes re-worn; new application of insect repellent rubbed on.

Just after 4.30am, we were wandering back down the path toward the canoe.  Careful not to shine the torch off the track neither and, remembering to swing wide away from the holes we had taken a mental note of the day before.  Conversation was loud to warn we were approaching so as not to make eye contact with, anything.

Morning Mr Toad.

Out onto the lake we paddled and back towards the canal; back to where we uplifted the canoe from, and the hut with the coca cola, water and local inka cola.  It was all shut up and quiet.  Only us.

Streaks of orange and red were appearing on the horizon as dawn was breaking.

Sunrise mist rising on Lake Sandoval – the water was warm.

We re-traced our steps along the walking board for a kilometre and a half before Alex stepped off, and straight into the jungle foliage he went.  Without hesitation, we followed, keeping right up Alex’s jacksy so as not to loose sight of him.  There was a trodden track that we certainly didn’t deviate from it.

We could already hear them before Alex put his finger to his mouth to usher silence.  We creep forward at a snakes pace – I mean snail, to a small open area that had enough camouflage to hide us from their line of sight.  Looking up, we saw what we had come to see.  There were dozens of them.

McCaw Parrots feeding off a snapped in half palm tree.  Below them clinging to the same tree, were a number of Mealey Parrot’s.  Everyday, they congregate at the same spot at the same time to peck at the minerals from the rotting tree.  The noise was berserk.  As were new arrivals trying to off-stage the old ones off the stump.

We stood there for about an hour.  As the sun climbed up into the sky, the colour of shade dispersed.  And as the sun reached the feather of the parrots, did the full colour of their beauty blaze.  A rainbow of greens, blues, reds and yellows.  Still the noise was berserk.

McCaw Parrots feeding on a broken Palm tree.

Mealey Parrots below the McCaws feeding.

There is no rhyme of reason for when they decide to fly off.  Other people arrived as the parrots took to the sky.  Too late.  They should have had Alex as their guide; he was certainly onto it.

We too departed, backtracking the track towards our canoe.

What we had just experienced was so captivating.  Made extra special because it was Claire’s birthday.  What a start to the a special day.  The best present one could ever receive, being present at a McCaw feeding frenzy.

This was going to be a day of more, being present.

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 3, Giant Otters

Can ya get out of me sunlight please?

The sun was still beating down as we pushed off from the jetty.  We were now wearing long sleeved shirts and pants for the moment the mosquito’s clocked on a little later, deet having been smeared to exposed skin.  As was sunblock.

I helped Alex paddle as we broke bow water toward the opposite side of the lake.  There was some shade cover on that side, as I gathered my stroking technique from the good old dragon boating days.  Made me feel young again, although I was being careful not to dip the right hand grip under the surface.  Deet is water proof but limited only against living creatures above the murky brown stuff.

Once across, we slowed the pace to nigh a stand still.  Different birds featured more, whether basking in the sun or scrounging along the foreshore.  We’ve seen on National Geographic how croc’s leap from the shallows to gobble feathered species in one mouthful and wondered if we would get to see such in real life by a Caiman.  It wasn’t meant to be.

We spotted monkeys from tree tops and deep inside the jungle, the Howler Monkeys were echoing their hollows to warn off others from swinging into their territory.  Three groups were going for it.  It sounded more like truck passing traffic.

The Hoatzin was a deep inhaling breathing bird that snorted at us whenever we flowed passed them.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

Grey-necked Wood Rail

Neotropic Dormorant.

Red Howler Monkey.

The Hoatzin.

A number of other canoes with other patrons were also sharing the lake.  A group had congregated so we made headway to join them.  The family of Giant Otters (over 2 metres in length) were feeding on captured piranha’s.  The noise of crunching bones from teeth on bone was loud, drowning out the click of camera’s by the spectators.  No one from any canoe spoke as the we watched the episode repeat itself, as each otter faced skyward munching their prize.

Giant Otters hunting piranha’s.

As the daylight faded, the noise of the jungle started to sing with crickets and frogs.  Wrinkles in the water became more regular as insects were being chomped by surfacing fish.  More fading and then bats started to appear, darting and diving above the water in hunt of any winged flying insect.  They became black blurs as we watched the sun disappear on the horizon.

Alex guided the canoe inland.  With head torches on, light was directed to under the over growth on the shoreline, looking for Caiman.  They were easier to spot.  Their iddy biddy eyes reflected orangey red when light hit them.  Like a red eye flash photograph sometimes with people.

It didn’t take long to make the call, “there’s one” pointing in the direction.

Again, a maneuver to vanish the front of the canoe into the undergrowth.  Unbeknown to us, Alex quietly prodded his oar deep into the water.  I’m sure our language spoken and Alex’s laughter is still echoing around the lake as the Caiman jolted vigorously to splash water profusely, so as to escape.  We simultaneously clutched each other swearing and screaming.  I swore, Claire screamed.  Alex laughed.

This was approx. 2 metres in length.

Get the first stain of your undies over and done with and then everything else becomes more enjoyable!

Which it was.  We hunted more eyes; sometimes got close; sometimes not; sometimes prodded; sometimes not, all the way along the foreshore to arrive at our jetty.  There was one place where the their eyes outnumbered ours, three to one.  We didn’t venture into that undergrowth!

Sun setting over Lake Sandoval.

Night Caiman spotting.

And just before we disembarked, dozens of monkeys were moving in the trees.  We couldn’t see them with our head torch but boy, they were making a hell of a noise – similar to millions of locusts plaguing a field.

We sat eating dinner reflecting on what was.  There was no other people staying and therefore, we had the whole lodge to ourselves.  It was kind of weird but cool.  The electricity is powered by generator and only comes on between the hours of 5pm to 9pm.  Then it is pitch black darkness.

By the time that happened, we had cold showered and was safely tucked up under the cover of the mosquito net.  The key, not to shine the torch on purpose to look things.

The sound of the night was the best music to put one to sleep.

We wondered if the Howler Monkeys ever do?

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 2, The Caiman

The little shack was cute.  It was equipped with coca cola and water and the local Inka cola which tastes so much like the creaming soda we used to get as a treat growing up as kids, for special occasions like birthdays or Christmas.  Bags of nuts and chip were also on offer.  We weren’t tempted – just more weight to have to carry if consumed!  Instead, consuming water from our own supply was smarter weight apportionment.

A lizard scurried across our pathway we had trodden; too fast to capture a picture.

It was also the swampy spot where we climbed into a long canoe.  Alex centered us in the middle and he took a position at the back.  Stability balance was critical to stay upright and dry, especially when he gave a couple of back paddles to become afloat.  There were no life jackets nor safety brief neither – just the great Trip Advisor write ups about Alex being an excellent guide to the many who have gone before!  It was enough to be trusted.

Canoe dock.

Up the canal we go.

The small canal was no more than two canoes widths as Alex paddled softly.  Palm trees towered overhead and foliage skirted the lower waters edge.  He stopped suddenly to say, “Caiman, to the right”.  Both our heads swiveled in unison with eyes staring.  We had no idea what the hell we were looking at, expecting to see one bathing on the muddy swamp shore except, we couldn’t see anything all whilst Alex swung to point the canoe in it’s direction.  Crap, I was on the right side of the canoe and still, couldn’t see what he was seeing.  I moved closer to Claire that made the canoe wobble!

Alex slowed and then said “there, the two eyes are poking just out of the water”.  With focus, we too saw it.  Jeez Alex had sharp vision to spot the thing from the middle of the canal.  The canoe was pushed a little closer.   There was a stare off.  It was a small one but it’s body was under the water for us to tell.  Alex back paddled and we were moving again up the canal.

Alex has spotted a Caiman.

A little closer, now can you see the eyes?

Look closely, now can you see the eyes?

A second one was sighted and glared at before we reached the main water expanse of Lake Sandoval.  Wow, it was just beautiful.  The heat was up but we didn’t mind with the awe, as Alex shouldered us around the shore.  We ducked through a second canal way before some distance was made to reach a small jetty.  Ripples ringed the water continuously as fish jumped.  Smaller ones probably trying to escape the bigger ones because it was dog eat dog in the jungle.

Just about to exit the canal onto Lake Sandoval itself.

Turtles sunbathing.

Open water.

Lushness right down to the waters edge.

Tall palm trees ringed the entire lake.

Sleeping bats.

We disembarked and clambered up a pathway to thatched roof buildings.  One was an open dining area, bar and kitchen at the back, and bunk rooms along side; the second one was a fully enclosed room and, our bedroom for the next two nights.  Entering, instant look upwards to the roof exposing the weaving wondering if the fly spray being carried was going to be enough!  Mosquito nets over the beds, sweet.  It had it’s own toilet and shower meaning no traipsing across the landscape to the toilet once the electricity was turned off.  Shit, I would have adopted peeng immediately outside the door like the gals back on the first night of the intrepid trek if that was the case.

Lunch was served up in a banana leaf – chicken and rice with an olive and whole egg, it was yummy.

Our accommodation.

The view of the lake from our room.

Our bed with mossie net safety.

Lunch served in banana leaf.

Enjoying our lunch.

Day trippers frequent the place for their lunch as well so we had some opportunity to chat.  All the hammocks hanging from the trees were full as people escaped the mid-day sun.  Alex gave us some time to chill before we were head back down to the canoe for another paddle around the lake to watch the sun go down and then go Caiman spotting some more.

For the parents of the babies we saw earlier!

How does one rest up with those thoughts playing silly buggers with your mind?

Afternoon siesta, not graceful but off the ground!

Sandoval Lake, Puerto Maldonado – Into The Jungle We Went – Part 1, The Tarantula

Everything we needed for the next three days and two nights, had to be strategically squeezed into a daypack each.  There were no porters or horsemen for this adventure.  We were it.

What to leave behind was more stressful than the prospect of swimming with piranha’s!

By the time the complimentary pick up had arrived, our panic had evaporated.  Bridged with the knowledge that I have worn Claire’s undies before (blog post First Impressions and, Seconds, Thirds and Fourths – Part 1), as long as they were wholesome ones.

We met Alex at the Tambopata Giant Otter Experience tour location where we booked the tickets the day before.  He was to be our guide for the next three days.  His bag looked way more inviting to carry than our ‘stuffed to the brim’ ones.

Last minute water purchases were made – by the time we took our first steps, I was humping an extra six litres and Claire, four.   This was in addition to our day packs!

No sooner had we reached the end of the boulevard on the way to the long boat, Alex started his commentary of things of interest.  The huge mango tree laden with green oval shaped fruits yet to ripen dangling from branches high up was over two hundred years old.  And it was like that the remainder of the time we spent with Alex – he was a walking wikipedia with sharp eyes … especially when it came to animal and insect life.  He was incredible and just brilliant.

The giant mango tree over 200 years old.

Brazilian/Peruvian husk and nuts.

Of course, if you ask us to repeat the names of things that he imparted, pfft.  It took us half a day to let go of the thought of having forgotten something!

It wasn’t far to make our way down to the Madre de Dios River water’s edge.  The mercury was climbing, as was the humidity moisture so beads of sweat trickled.  All over.  The long boat was reversed up off the embankment and then we were off, carving the brown tarnished colour water towards the Tambopata National Reserve and Lake Sandoval.

It was a fifty minute scoot along the river to the spot we disembarked.  It was a bit of a steep climb up some steps to reach the embankment top; during the rainy season, the river flow volume increases to lap at the top rung.  That was hard to imagine and comprehend, given the width of the river in some places to be over 3-5 football field lengths. It forms part of the Amazon tributary headwaters.

Arriving at the long boat.

The race is on down the Madre de Dios River.

Arriving at the start of the Jungle Safari.

It was a short walk to the entrance where we had to register.  Authorities want to ensure that those that go beyond, do exit.  Or are able to advise next-of-kin that they didn’t because they became fodder for everything that crawls!

It was a 3 kilometre walk along well trodden track.  Stone steps used during the rainy season lay high and dry and a new boardwalk construction made for easy walking.  It wasn’t too far before Alex put his fingers to his mouth to silence the chit chat.  We slowed to a creeping step and then stopped to look up into the trees tops.  Monkeys.  Just doing their thing.  They stared at us as much as we them.  Wow.  To see them in their habitat was exhilarating.  We carried on.

Rainy season stepping stones.

Registering at the Tambopata Reserve entrance.

A wasp nest that looks like a pile of dog poo … with a sting or couple of hundred!

Alex stopped and picked up a length of grass, wiggling it in-front of a hole just off the board walk.  Then the furry thing appeared.  A Tarantula spider.  We both took a step back to the opposite side of the walking boards, putting a little more distance between us and it.  It retreated.

Alex wiggled some more and then the mother Tarantula exited the hole.   We couldn’t step back any further and thoughts of holding one ceased to be an option right there and then.  She was huge.  You had no clue which eye was looking at you as the fangs pronged at the piece of grass being toyed by Alex.  He got just as much enjoyment watching us whimper in fright as the hairs on the back of our necks stood to attention.

Our first ever encounter with a Tarantula!

The baby up close …

The babies mother … eeeeeeeek!

I made sure I was in-between Alex and Claire the remainder of the boardwalk to the canoes.

Taking a wide berth of all the holes from then on too!  No matter the size of the hole.  Just because.

Thank goodness I did pack the can of fly spray purchased at the market the day before too.

Okay for mosquitos and maybe half the can on the size of the spiders.