Greetings from the Amazon Basin.

A quick point of order here. For those following along, the first picture in the previous posting was not of Lori. Those Titis belonged to Norma, from Houston, Texas. She was on our boat.
And now on with the show.
Leaving Puno was going to be as much of a challenge as getting there. Our somewhat competent guides quasi-assured us that the airport would likely be repaired and opened on time for our flight the following morning. Looking him square in the eye, I detected a sense that optimism was triumphing over reason. The likelihood that a washed out runway would be turned into a useable strip through the engagement of local labour on a rainy Sunday that also happened to be New Years Day was a bit too broad a leap of faith for me to get my limited trust level around.
We instead opted for a private driver to get us to Cusco on time for our 12:15 flight to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Basin. To arrive on time required a 4 AM departure. We were up at 3:45 and in the car driven by a unilingual Incan looking guy named Saoul (rhymes with Raoul). Ten minutes into the ride, he tried to liven up the atmosphere with a little salsa music. I sort of politely asked him to can the noise until at least sunrise. Second pleasantry was the temperature at which he kept the vehicle. When Lori and I got in at Puno we both were given pillows and those blue blankets that used to be provided on airplanes. (Still available but I believe they now cost $25 to rent {pillow extra}). I thought that they were for comfort but apparently they were to be used to prevent hypothermia. I could literally see my breath. I requested a heat increase and Saoul obliged. So the temp rose to the equivalent of the sunny side of Mars. At least I was able to breathe without ice crystals clogging my nasal passages. Lori, as she is wont to do, slept through the entire ordeal.
We arrived at the airport on time and checked in only to be told that our flight was cancelled. I looked for the hidden camera. There was none. I started to freak. Before I hyperventilated myself into a coma, the agent from LAN (Peruvian National Airlines that should be called LAME) assured us that the next flight was only an hour later.
We hopped the flight and 45 minutes later were in the Amazon Basin with the temp in the high 20’s as compared to the mid-teens that we have experienced since arrival. Being at close to sea level was another major plus for the missus as the tightness in her head and blueness in her lips instantly faded away and she reverted to her same old self, for better or worse. We can’t speak for anyone else, but the smiles in our eyes as we arrived at a new place on the planet, in particular the Amazon, mutually reinforced our love of travel and our sense of adventure.
Before you start to consider this part of our voyage akin to Stanley and Livingstone heading up the leech infested and malaria stricken Nile, allow me to assure you that the five star lodge in which we are presently domiciled does not lack for too much (perhaps except for power between 3 and 6 PM). Also, the internet is a bit wonky at the best of times. But the floral extravaganzas, non-stop bird noises, sunshine and the usual troop of Australians makes this river bank destination a slice of paradise. We do have to take a hit of malarone daily in the event of Malaria but that is a minute price to pay.
The vehicle that picked us up at the airport was a semi-opened wood panelled truck that seemingly dated from the same era as the rusted and decrepit biplane that graced the front of the terminal.
Our welcome was held at the Butterfly Reserve where we were given a brief orientation, a cool drink and a great welcome. Touring the enclosure, replete with mariposas (that’s butterflies in Espagnol), we ran into a very nice youngish couple. They did not speak with what has become the ubiquitous Land-Down-Under accent. When asked where these nice people were from, the answer was Madison, Wisconsin. For those of you who know us, you will remember that Madison was the destination of our 25th anniversary. The reason for that selection was directly because of the incredible number of individuals that we have encountered on our travels who hail from that particular city. (As well as Lori’s initial contact with a Madison based company in the days of her now defunct, never did make a cent, eco-business). And they all are soooo nice. 
 Jen and James are ex-Wisconsinites presently living in Prague. He works for Esso and has been transferred 5 times in 10 years. Jen looks after their two young daughters. We shared a few meals together, had a few laughs, spoke about the niceness of Madison and wished them well as they prepared to leave the following day.
We rested up after our first night, having travelled a ridiculous amount of land miles over the previous few days. The spa like and luxurious atmosphere of this Inkaterra Lodge
lent itself to us deciding to unwind, chill and then move into enjoyment mode for the next few days that we would be staying here.
The first activity we selected was a canopy walk at 130 feet above the jungle floor. We climbed a huge tower
accompanied by a delightful Australian family and proceeded to cross over six wooden walkways that bridged the gaps between the trees. While the animal sightings were non-existent except for a couple macaws, the experience of walking across these man-made aerial passages affording spectacular views was nonetheless a special moment for us both.
We completed our mission and returned to base for our evening rituals of Pisco Sours (one of the better warm weather drinks I’ve had the pleasure to sample) prior to our next departure. It was presented as a twilight cruise that would allow for sightings of the nocturnal animals that populate the Amazon basin. Apparently there is an animal shift as the sun sets. (Hello Ralph, Hello Sam). Unfortunately the water levels are too high at the moment, it being the rainy season, to be able to view the animals lolling about on the now submerged river banks. There are supposedly caymans here (relatives of crocodiles). There were none visible. I suggested that for a better viewing there was an island or two in the Caribbean that we should be visiting instead. Perhaps the piranhas under the boat found my comment amusing but nobody else did. The cruise was devoid of any wildlife save and except for a giant rat (80-90 lbs) and her baby in tow, munching on the greenery at the river’s edge. Fascinating. Following that waste of time we dined with James and Jen. After desert, the waiter brought Lori a little birthday cake which was shared with the Madisonians. Lori reflected as to where she’s spent her last half dozen or so birthdays. Not exactly at Piazza Tomassos with Magic Tom pulling candy out of her nose.
Today is the major push. Up at 6:00, breakfast at 6:30 and on a boat travelling down the Amazon for a hike through the rainforrest by 7:00am. We were accompanied by yet another Australian family and had the opportunity to visit a farms and see the local flora and fauna.
These included ironwood, not a small tree as evidenced by the picture below. It is also incredibly dense and is the second Wood that does not float although any ties to Robert Wagner are tenuous at best.
We also saw kapok, rubber and acacia trees. As far as fruits – orange, avocado, several banana varieties, wild cherry, grapefruit and starfruit. In terms of fauna a millipede and a couple of frogs. No great shakes in the animal department.
The highlight of the hike was a canoe trip up the Gamitano creek (with a paddle). 
Lori, our guide Luis and I manned one boat.
Chris, Ellen, James and Jenna were in the other. My Taylor Statten canoeing skills rapidly reappeared after laying dormant for several decades. Luis and I functioned like a well oiled machine – him in the stern and me in the bow. I used a regular paddling stroke, bow rudder, cross bow rudder, sweep and feathering, much to the approval of both my wife and helmsman. The Aussies used twice the energy and zigzagged up the river. Our path was a series of straight lines based on geometric principals of cutting angles and arc to assure minimum paddling and maximum efficiency. Included in the tour was a stop off at the end of an old lagoon.
In addition to the strangest display of aviary that I’ve ever seen, including the Quotzon a bird that looks like a cross between a chicken and a turkey
and is a heavy breather akin to a stalker on a phone lin. It is known as the ‘stinky bird’ to the natives since it ferments vegetation in its gut and apparently has the same breath as a person who has dutifully fasted the full 26 hours of Yom Kippur without the benefit of a breath mint.
There is also the rusted out hulk of a steamboat which made the rounds in the Amazon during the late 1800’s; first as a rubber transporting vessel, then as a floating hospital. The boat navigated into this inlet at a particularly unusual high tide. How unusual? The water never again rose to that height, setting up a watery grave and ignominious end for the erstwhile good ship Lollipop.
Paddling a lagoon like river inlet to the Amazon is another one of those moments that really makes our lives special and we are hugely appreciative and respectful of our opportunity to do so.On to Lima tomorrow morning. Will review the beans.
  • Julian
    Posted at 20:30h, 06 January Reply

    Sounds like we have a lot to compare, from the Amazon to the Daintree and the "croc-cruises" sans crocs. Loving every image – and mid teens sounds pretty good right now. Lars Eller scored 4 goals on Wednesday night, doubled his total, and Bloke Coach Cunningham (not Richie) double shifted Cole. Brilliant (Eng not Fr). Enjoy every minute – BTW I won your soccer money back and won't risk it again! xoxo J.

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