Friday, March 20, 2009


The final destination of our Grand Peruvian Adventure was an ecological reserve on the Madre de Dios River, an Amazon tributary in the Amazon jungle. (It was pretty wide. I can't imagine what the Amazon itself is like!) We flew into Puerto Malonado, gateway to the Amazon rain forest. You know you are in trouble when the airport you land in has only one runway, two commercial flights a day, and a two-story, wooden air traffic control tower that looks like a prison watchtower. It's also bad when first things you are handed are forms to fill out releasing the tour company from liability in case of an accident, illness, death, etc.

It certainly primed us for adventure.

We left the bulk of our luggage at the airport and took only small bags to our destination, which required a 20-minute drive in an open-air bus and a 30-minute trip downriver in a boat.

Do we look hot? We were. It was 95 degrees and 95% humidity, but we had to wear long sleeves and long pants because of pesky little malaria-ridden mosquitos.

We were delighted with what we found on our arrival, however. Our rooms were cabanas built up on stilts. We had a hammock in the screened-in porch and beds with mosquito netting. It was definitely a kind of Meryl Streep in Out of Africa feel--very fun (only Meryl never looked quite as much like a drowned rat as I did during this portion of the trip). There was no AC and only one electric outlet, which didn't matter since we had electricity for only 2-3 hours a day and used kerosene lamps after dark. It reminded me somewhat of the makeshift clubhouses we used to construct in the hollow when I was growing up. As a matter of fact, the whole time we were in the jungle, I felt like either a) a little kid playing in the mud, or b) an actress in an old movie.

Our first activity was a stroll through the jungle with our guide, who pointed out various growing, creeping, swinging, and crawling things to us. Just after dark, we returned to the trails with our guide and our flashlights. Wearing tall rubber boots provided by the Reserve, we crept along wandering trails and slogged through swampy areas with our flashlights off, not speaking at all until our guide would whisper and point to something, and then we would turn our flashlights into spotlights. Truly, it was like playing hide-n-seek with the neighborhood, only in a far more exotic setting. I think it was Bobby's idea of heaven.
But the MOST fun we had was the next day. Our "wake up call" was a tap on our outside wall at 5:00 a.m. By 6:00 we were on a boat that took us 20 minutes upriver to a wide trail. It started raining about the time we hit the trail, and although we were somewhat protected by the jungle canopy, the rain's run-off turned the path into a river of mud. No worries--we were wearing our awesome rubber boots.

We walked for almost two miles in these conditions until we came to a dock where we boarded a canoe.

Our amazing guide powered the boat with single paddle, maneuvering us away from the dock, down a short river, and out from under the canopy and onto Lake Sandoval, a very large lake surrounded by heavy vegetation growing right up to, and sometimes into the water.

Remember, I said I FELT like Meryl Streep, not that I LOOKED like her.

We felt the full strength of the rain out on the lake, but it wasn't so bad. I'd rather be wet and a bit chilled from rain than drenched in heat- and humidity-induced sweat.

We paddled around the lake a while, encountering a wide range of wildlife, from bats to birds to monkeys to caimans. The rain from our clothing began to fill up our boots, and by the time we got back under the canopy, we were seriously wet. Our journey back was even more of a 12-year-old boy's dream. What had been puddles on the trail that we walked around on our way in were now full blown lakes, and we didn't bother trying to go around them--we just hoped not to drown as we tramped through them, the water and mud coming to the very tops of our boots, and sometimes even into our boots. The rain was so heavy that the canopy ceased to be a protection, and our boots were almost conquered by the deep and sucking mud. Bob, in his khaki-colored clothing, could have been Teddy Roosevelt pressing relentlessly forward in River of Doubt. Heavenly, right Bob?
The most amazing thing of all was how JOLLY everyone was. There was not a single wimp, no whiners, no complainers. We laughed the whole time. I have new respect for Bob's four partners and each of their wonderful, wacky wives.
When we got back to our little cabana, we were able to rest for a bit, dry off somewhat, and enjoy the RAIN forest!


  1. That is SO cool! I'm so jealous!

  2. You look even better than Meryl! she's kinda weird lookin' if you asked me. What an adventure! It looks like fun