After a fantastic trip up to Machu Picchu, we started our “real” field trip in Peru. We spent a day in Machu Picchu and explored a cathedral & the San Pedro market that sold everything from souvenirs and crafts to dead meat to live fruit to cooked food. The next day, we visited a series of ruins including Saqsaywaman (complete with rock slide!), Pisac, and Moray. We also got to visit the salt mines at Maras and Ollantaytambo ruins — both very unique and great experiences! Of all of these, Pisac was definitely my favorite. Our bus dropped us off at the top and then we hiked down to the town of Pisac and all around us were rolling hills, beautiful skies, and ancient ruins. It was most likely one of the best 360* view I’ve seen in a long time. A word of caution though: at one point, my foot slipped off the path and if it hadn’t been for the railing, things could have ended differently for me and that cliff.
Finally, on the fourth day, we were ready to head to the Amazon. We woke up at 3am to start our full day trip into the jungle. We drove over the Andes Mountains (up past 5000 m) and down into the Rio Madre de Dios region to get on a boat to get on a taxi to get on another boat to get to our first lodge. While the bus ride went relatively smooth with only the winding highway to worry about (that and the fact that there were no restrooms), the taxi rides were much more interesting. We crossed over many intriguing bridges that seemed no more than a few crisscrossed boards and, in some cases, makeshift log bridges with gaps that apparently only looked big enough for a tire to sink through (but our cars always got over them safely)
We then took two long boats on the river to get around. The boats could sit around 10-12 people with four rows of three. The seats were comfortable, surprisingly provided life jackets, and even had a tarp above to shade from the sun. However, even though the boat was powered by a motor, it still took us more than 10 hours to go upstream and reach our final destination for the night. Thankfully, the lodge and dining area were very nice, enclosed, and even had outlets and electricity. Although we found a few frog friends in the bathroom, I was surprised such nice living quarters existed in the Amazon.
The next day, we took a boat to our final destination deep in Manu National Rainforest. These cabin-bungalows were very basic, made of wood and mesh windows, and a separate facility for showers and toilets with brown water pumped from the river. We stopped by the ranger station before arriving and around dusk, went for an evening boat ride for some wildlife spotting. We did the same thing the next morning before sunrise, drifting along the oxbow lake. We saw black caiman (a type of crocodile), spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, giant otters, and a gazillion bird species for which I could never keep the names straight. I do remember that one of the most common birds was called a chicken and had a blue mohawk and glistening wings with a variety of colors. Later, we also saw capybera, wooly monkeys, tarantulas, pirrhana, macaws, parrots, pirrhana, and even the illustrious, oh-so-hard to spot sloth.
My favorite activity while we were out there was climbing the largest tree I had ever seen and looking down on the rainforest canopy. One of my least favorite activities was spending 6 hours at the clay lick waiting for macaws to come to the lick and eat the clay. Our guides, Jose and Darwin (who, by the way, were AMAZING!), explained that they do this to help digest many of the poisonous berries that the birds eat. However, it took them forever to fly down. If there is one bird that is cautious, it is the macaw. Or should I say macaws because macaws are monogamous and always fly with at least one other macaw (cue the aww’s). Plus their feathers are brilliantly red. Anyways, it took them forever to get to the lick so meanwhile our group ate pancakes, napped, solved logic puzzles, and painted tropical tattoos on ourself (Jose made the dye out of a special berry).
Before flying back to the US, we stopped in Puerto Maldanado. Puerto is a very small city with unfortunately not much to do for tourists. We left in the late afternoon and everything had gone rather smoothly flight wise until our TA’s bookbag was stolen at Lima airport. Since he was Belgium and not a US citizen, the most valuable thing in his bag was his Visa papers and we were afraid he would not be allowed to renter the US. However, our professor (being the important man he is) somehow got him through security and he is now safe, happy with a new $1000 camera, although sad without the 999 photos he took in Peru.
All in all, I could not have asked for a better spring break trip. This trip helped me accomplish a lot of firsts: visiting the Amazon Rainforest, visiting South America, seeing wild monkeys, shooting a traditional bow and arrow, trying exotic fruits from the tree… But I’m most proud to say that I’ve now set foot on 6 different continents! The only one left is Anarctica — and you bet I’ll be going there soon. 😉