This post is a continuation of my first ever adventure in South America! Part 1 of this series was all about my adventure to Machu Picchu, Peru.
In this post, I’ll talk about me and my friend Andrew’s adventure to the Amazon rainforest. In between our time in the rainforest, and Machu Picchu, we did have a “chill day” in Cusco for recovery. I decided to write about our time exploring Cusco in part 3 of this series though. Planning ahead, I could tell that this post on the Amazon rainforest would be long enough with all the details I wanted to write about, so I decided to save writing about our Cusco chill-day for the next post!
With that out of the way, let’s get to the stories!
Flight To Puerto Maldonado
From Cusco Andrew and I took a short flight to the small city of Puerto Maldonado. We were picked up by our travel company and taken to a small lodge on the river, where we waited for a boat to take us to the main lodge in the rainforest.
We booked our 3 day, 2 night stay in the Amazon with a company called Amazon Planet. I highly recommend this organization if you are ever planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest! I have many great things to say about them (I’ll get to all of it), but for now I’ll speak about their conservation efforts that really impressed me. This group works heavily with scientists to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and protect all sorts of plant and animal species. A large portion of the price to stay with them goes right back into their animal reservation, where they heal and rehabilitate animals that were sold illegally on the black market. They help these animals to be released back into the wild, which made me so happy to hear. They also work on protecting endangered species, and work to actively bring back populations of animals and plants that are in danger. The environmentalist, vegan, and sustainability enthusiast in me was so happy to be supporting a company with these goals in mind!
Back to the story though. We had about an hour to relax at the lodge on the river. We kicked off our shoes and sipped tea on the back porch. It was very enjoyable. Then, our group of about 10 other guests all piled into a long river boat and took off to the main lodge. It was about an hour long boat ride, and again, it was very peaceful and relaxing! I could tell that “peaceful relaxation” was going to be the main theme of our stay there. 🙂
Or will it be?? Dun dun dun…
Arriving At The Amazon Planet Rainforest Lodge
The first thing our group did was go into the main building and sit down for lunch. There was another group there finishing up eating, and we were promptly informed by them that we were going to be VERY well fed while staying here. Well, they were right!
This collage is just a sampling of some of the amazing food we had while there! Each meal was 3 courses, with a starter, a main meal, and a dessert. Portion sizes were very generous, and they had no problem accommodating a fully vegan menu for me the whole time I was there!
Some of my favorite meals include the purple corn pudding (apparently a very traditional Peruvian dessert made from boiled purple corn, simmered with cinnamon, cloves, orange peels, and apple slices), the banana pancakes, spinach soup, fresh starfruit juice, steamed vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled – and finally, grilled artichoke and vegetables stuffed in a steamed squash with grilled macadamia nuts, peppers, and a garlic sauce drizzled on top (that one was really really good). Each meal came with a different fresh juice too! The starfruit one was the best.
Did I mention we also ate copious amounts of papas fritas? So many papas fritas.
We were taken to our bungalow after lunch. It was a small one-room building with an attached bathroom and small back porch. We were told that there were only certain parts of the day we would have electricity, and to be mindful of that. Also, there were mosquito nets over the bed! I was really happy to see those, so I knew I’d be protected from being eaten alive while I slept.
Trekking In The Jungle
After lunch we began our first trek in the jungle! Once again, I was really happy with the organization we booked with, because our guide was very knowledgeable of the area and everything we saw. He pointed out various wild fruit trees like star fruit, papayas, and mango. He cut off a large hard yellow fruit from a cacao plant and cut it open for us to eat. The seeds, when cooked under a specific process, are turned into chocolate! We only sucked on the sweet white/mushy outside coating (since the inner seeds are too bitter to eat off the plant).
He took us to the part of their property where their scientists stay. There was a large enclosure full of sand where they were apparently trying to bring back a certain endangered species of turtle. He also took us through their butterfly enclosure, which was very pretty!
Our trek ended at a mahogany farm. Apparently mahogany trees are in danger right now, because the demand for them is too high. Amazon Planet was working on bringing them back to the rainforest (did I mention I really liked Amazon Planet’s mission?)
We hiked for about 4 hours that afternoon, in our mud boots through the trails and winding brush of the forest. Occasionally our guide had to hack a path for us with his machete, and all the while he pointed out various plants and things of interest for us.
There was one tree he suddenly stopped us around, and gently started knocking on. Instantly, hundreds of ants started pouring out of tiny holes in the wood that we couldn’t see before! He said they were fire ants, and it was an example of a symbiotic relationship in the forest. The tree provided a home for the ants, and the ants, feeling any vibration on the outside bark, would swarm out of the holes and kill whatever landed on the tree (so beetles couldn’t damage the tree, for example). It was a bit scary, but neat!
After finally making our way back to the lodge, we all piled into two long river boats and set out for a sunset boat ride. This… is where things got interesting.
It started out like any other boat ride. We were riding along for awhile, enjoying the breeze and pretty skyline as the sun went down. Then we stopped in the middle of the river, divided into pairs and set out on the river in tiny inflatable rafts.
The guides told us to “just relax and enjoy the rafts” for awhile. We were only given one paddle, haha, so we couldn’t really go far, but it was nice to just float and relax on the water.
We look over and see that a corner of the sky is starting to become very dark. No problem though, it’ll probably start to rain at some point, but by then we’ll be back at the lodge, right?
Then the wind picked up… and the sky got darker…
Then the wind REALLY picked up. Waves rocked our tiny raft and threw themselves against us. Thunder roared above. We look around, and see that the other rafters are all starting to look around frantically towards the main boats. Andrew and I exchange looks. It’s getting harder to hear each other talk over the sounds of the ominous storm that was brewing around us – “Let’s get back to the main boat!” – one of us yells over the turbulent winds.
At this point, the winds were so strong, we were almost unable to paddle in any direction except the one the wind wanted to take us in. All of this happened in the blink of an eye it seemed. One moment we were floating effortlessly on top of the water. The next minute, the sky was opening up and all hell was breaking loose.
The other rafters around us started to panic.
The rain began.
Rafts are nearly capsizing.
It’s at this point in the story, I’m sorry to say, I do not have video or photo evidence to back up what happens next. Luckily, our phones were in a ziplock bag in my pocket protected from getting wet, but we were way too preoccupied to get them out and document what was happening.
I tried to paddle against the current to reach the main boat, but Andrew had to take over. He paddles furiously against the waves, it seems futile, but somehow, we are able reach one of the main boats. All other rafters were unable to reach the other wooden boat, but that boat operator was able to pick them up individually. The rain was coming down at an angle hard at this point. We were soaked.
Our boat operator, who we lovingly referred to as ”
Joe”, simply smiled and nodded at us. I’m pretty sure he didn’t speak a word of English, so there wasn’t much comforting going on. Just me and Andrew in the middle of a river that was 1/2 a mile wide, on a boat that was being thrashed around like a rag doll. Time seemed to slow. All I remember is the pouring rain coming down, giant waves heaving us ruthlessly in every direction, and the booming sounds of thunder and wind all around us.
Every other member of our group was on the other wooden boat. Suddenly, I catch a glimpse of them almost tipping completely over. I hear their screams mixed in with the sounds of the howling wind, but it’s hard to see what happens to them next, as the harsh rain keeps my eyes squinted and strained.
Then a giant CRACK explodes above us, as half the roof of our boat flies off. We’re doing everything we can just to hang on to the sides and not fall out. CRACCKKK! – and the rest of the roof is gone. Wood is splintering and flying all around us. Honestly I don’t remember thinking much during all of this, but simply reacting to each new threat as it came. Despite it all, Andrew and I had grins on our faces. Why? I’m not sure myself, but it probably had something to do with adrenaline coursing through us and the fact that the situation was damn exciting!
The operator of the other boat motions over to Toothless Joe – “GET TO THE SHORE!” he shouts over the raging storm. It was a rocky fast ride, but Joe powered our boat as fast as it could at a diagonal to the nearest bank. We reach a muddy stretch of beach and crawl out of what’s left of our boat. I look up to see the trees 30 ft ahead of us almost flattened with how much the wind is pushing them down. I turn back to see Andrew and Joe trying to tie our boat to a log in the mud. I grab hold of the rope and pull with all my might.
We’re doing everything we can just to make sure our boat doesn’t get ripped out of our hands and torpedo into the river again. It seems like hours pass by, though I’m sure it’s just seconds. Joe finally manages to tie the loose end of the rope to a log, and we crawl on all fours over to the other group. The mud was so deep, we had no other choice. It was like quicksand trying to pull us down into its murky depths.
The other group is in full-on panic mode. I toss a large mud ball at Andrew and he pelts one back. I get the feeling we’re both laughing hysterically, but it’s hard to make sense of what’s happening amidst the storm. “This is awesome!” one of us shouts – “I know!” the other replies. We’re both still grinning.
“Who is going to save us?!” a frightened voice says.
“What do we do?!” cries another.
“Will they call for help? Maybe a helicopter will come get us?!”
… the panicked members of the other group all say. Yes, it was kind of scary. Yes the river almost swallowed us whole moments ago. Yes, we most likely were in a situation that was dangerous. But man, Andrew and I loved it! I felt myself completely absorbed in the moment, and I loved the thrill.
We stood together in the mud for awhile. Just letting the rain and storm come gushing down on us. There wasn’t much else we could do. After waiting awhile, we all piled into the boat that didn’t get shredded and pulled the plastic tarps down on the sides to give us a bit of rain cover. We huddled like that on the boat for about 45 minutes, soaking wet, covered in mud, cold, achey… and waited some more for the winds to die down enough so that we could cross the river and get back to the lodge. By this time it was pitch black out.
Eventually, the winds did die down enough. We made our way slowly across the wide river, and safely to the lodge. We all lost some pieces of clothing (a poor Swedish lady lost her pants, the hip-deep mud sucked them right off her when she tried to crawl into the boat again). We were all cold, tired, and hungry. We were FILTHY, but we were all safe.
Everyone went back to their huts to shower, and then made their way to the lodge for dinner. The guests at the lodge were divided into two groups that day. The group that braved the storm on the river (us), and the group that braved the storm in the rainforest. That group had some exciting stories to share as well! They were in the middle of the forest when the storm hit, trees were falling all around them, splinters flying, and their guide suddenly just screams “RUN!” They ran blindly, through the dark trying not to get crushed, and flee the falling debris all around them.
Everyone quickly shared their stories of The Storm with excitement and vigor over dinner. Every person had a memorable moment to recap. It was a fun bonding moment actually. The lodge staff were quick to apologize profusely for the fact we were caught in those situations, but honestly it wasn’t their fault. They knew a storm was supposed to come, but it wasn’t supposed to come that day until much later at night when we were all in our huts for the evening. Also, it’s the RAIN-forest. And we got rained on… I wasn’t mad at all! It all happened so fast, I think the staff honestly handled the situations as best they could.
We made our way back to our bungalow and slept very soundly that night.
Bonus picture: Here’s what our boat looked like the next morning!
Rainforest Canopy Walk
The next morning our group ate breakfast together and set out for another long hike in the rainforest. This hike was VERY different from the one yesterday before the storm. Trees had fallen over everywhere, debris littered our path, and many times we had to forge new paths through the brush because the old pathway was too unrecognizable. Our guide let us know that a bunch of garlic trees had fallen nearby, and sure enough, at one point during our walking the whole forest just smelled like garlic!
Our first destination for this hike was their famous canopy walk. I say famous, because they kept “talking it up” to us, you could tell they were proud of it. It was for good reason though!
Once we arrived at our location, we split up into small groups and ascended a tall tower of scaffolding. From there, we began our slow walk on a rope bridge that went up, and up, and Up and Up and UP AND UP into the trees!
The final 20 ft or so was so steep, you had to use your hands and arms equally to climb up. At the very top was a small platform built into one of the largest trees in the area. On the platform we were officially above the tree line, and able to see very far out into the jungle on all sides. It was so cool!
We relaxed up there for awhile, and then made our way back down. The view from the top was one of the highlights for me on this particular adventure.
The Animal Reservation
After the canopy walk, we were taken to their animal reservation area. We got to see so many neat wild animals: a puma, howler monkeys, another type of monkey (I can’t remember the name, sadly), pygmy monkeys, turkeys, bears, Peruvian hairless dog, ocelot (wild large cat) and more.
All of the animals they had were rescued. Unfortunately, a large black market exists for people who want to (illegally) own wild animals as pets. They’re cute when they are babies, but then they mature into adults, and become more aggressive per their nature. They often get abandoned at this point, and Amazon Planet worked with animals such as these to rehabilitate them and then release them back into the wild.
One of the saddest stories he had to share, was about one of their bears, Cholita. She was a circus bear that was abused, had her claws ripped out, teeth ripped out, beaten… She became so stressed out to the point she lost all her fur. When she came to Amazon Planet she was severely undernourished, but they were able to bring her weight back up and provide a good enclosure for her to live the rest of her life out in peace. Because she has no teeth or claws, she is one of the only animals they have that is not able to be released to the wild. Regardless, I applaud Amazon Planet for giving her a good life and recusing her.
ALL circus animals, and animals that are used for entertainment are abused. There are countless hours of undercover footage that you can watch to learn more about this. It happens in every country, everywhere in the world. Because of this, I believe so strongly that no one should support circuses that have animals in them, or other places of entertainment that use animals. Cholita’s story is just one of many, in which animals become exploited for our pleasure. Instead, you can choose to support creative shows such as Cirque de Solei, live theatre, ballet, comedy clubs, or any other place of entertainment that relies on human talent!
After a short lunch break at the main lodge, and an hour to chill in some hammocks…
… we went back out for another hike to see more wild animals! At one point our guide abruptly stopped us in our tracks and hushed us. A faint noise could be heard far in the distance. “Monkey…” he whispers.
He hooted back to it. Waited. And it answered. He suddenly pivoted at a right angle from the path and went directly into the thick of the jungle. We followed.
This went on for about 15 minutes. Him chirping, hooting, and whistling out to the monkey, us waiting and holding our breath, and the monkey calling back to him. We went deeper and deeper in the jungle until!…
The canopy above us erupted with sounds of crashing and howling. We look up and squint our eyes. Above us, playing in the tallest part of the canopy, was a family of monkeys! It was hard to make them all out at once, but every few seconds we would get a great view of one jumping from a tree branch, or chasing a family member through the leaves. We even saw a baby monkey being carried on its mother’s back!
We stayed like that for a few minutes in awe. It was so cool! Every once in awhile they’d drop a huge piece of fruit down on us. I don’t think they were trying to hit us, I think that’s just how they eat (according to our guide). They take a few bites of a fruit, and then throw the rest down below them. Luckily none of us were hit, but it was still very cool to see!
This video is the best quality one I could get. Like I said, it was kind of hard to see them at times, because they were very high up. It was a very memorable moment on the trip for me though!
On our way back we also passed by a huge hollowed out tree that our guide told us had bats inside. Sure enough, if you stuck your head inside the opening and listened carefully, you could hear them!
The Night Walk
Once it became dark, we went with our guide on a night walk through the jungle. We wore our mud boots, copious amounts of bug spray, and carried our flashlights with us ready to spot as many nocturnal critters as we could find. Most of our group was afraid of seeing snakes (which our guide said was a definite possibility). Me on the other hand, I was afraid of seeing tarantulas – I really hoped we wouldn’t find any…
BUT… as luck would have it, we saw SO. MANY. TARANTULAS. Too many for my liking at least, that’s for sure! Our guide knew how to spot them, and what their holes looked like under logs. He was even able to coax one out of its den, that he said was the size of a dinner plate. It was so big, he said that it eats chickens. A spider… that eats chickens… Yeah, I did not need to see it! It only came out of its den partially, but I really didn’t want to get too close, haha. I have officially seen enough tarantulas in my lifetime, to never want to see another one again.
We did see many other cool night-time creatures though, such as a huge frog, giant grasshopper (size of gravy boat), a very colorful bird (that wasn’t actually nocturnal, but sleeping in a tree), and a large scorpion. The scorpion looked more like a spider, but with pincers. It didn’t have the classic curved tail above its head, but our guide informed us it was still a member of the scorpion family. It too, was the size of a dinner plate.
I wish my pictures from the night walk had better quality, but alas it was hard to get good photos with just flashlight and camera flash for lighting. Overall the night walk ended up being very interesting though. At one point, our guide hushed us all, and told us to all turn off our flashlights. We stood together and just listened. The entire rainforest was so alive – and loud! Chirping, clicking, buzzing, cawing, flapping… It was a whole different experience to be out there in the night vs. the day. We saw fireflies out there too. It was all very cool!
We finally made our way back to the main lodge for another delicious 3-course meal and then bedtime. Before leaving the lodge, the owner did come out to offer our whole group some complimentary wine, as a show of apology about our getting stuck in a crazy storm and losing some possessions. It was a nice gesture! I didn’t think they needed to go that far to apologize, it really wasn’t their fault a storm happened, but it was still a very nice thought. Andrew didn’t have any, but I had a small glass in hopes it would help me sleep. Something I forgot to mention until now, is that Andrew and I were both battling colds on this trip. He got sick day 1 of the trip, and I held out until about day 4. Regardless, my body finally succumbed and we spent most of our nights sniffling, coughing, and blowing our noses. There was also only 1 day on the whole trip where we didn’t wake up at like, 4 or 5am, so I really needed to try and sleep!
Overall though, our trip to the Amazon rainforest was amazing. The next morning we took the long boat ride back to the lodge in Puerto Maldonado, and then got on a flight back to Cusco. At times this adventure was relaxing. At times it was thrilling, and adrenaline-pumping. Every moment was unique and enjoyable though. I am so happy we booked with the company that we did, and so happy that we went on this adventure!
Well, that’s all for this rainforest post. I hope it was as entertaining to read, as it was for me to write and remember.
Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, detailing our time exploring Cusco and our hike in the Rainbow Mountains. Thanks for reading!