Arriving in Cusco Peru early morning on 23 March 2018, and leaving the next day at 2 am on a trip to the Amazon was not such a good idea. We were still suffering from jetlag after traveling for 31 hours from South Africa to Peru, but nevertheless were ready and waiting for the minibus to pick us up at that early hour.
The excitement of experiencing the Amazon first hand, and realising a lifelong dream, spurred us on.
We are the only guests and have the knowledgable Angel, our guide, all to ourselves.
Soon we descend into the cloud forest and stop to spot the national bird of Peru – a big bright red bird called Cock of the Rock.
After a lunch set up in the jungle for us, consisting of brown rice with small pieces of chicken, egg, onion, peas and avo we are taken on a raft where we see enormous birds called Hoatzen – they can hardly fly and we enjoy watching their antics.
After being moved first to a 4×4 pickup and then to a boat, we finally arrive at the lodge in Manu National Park in the Amazon, 11hours after having left Cusco. Our lodgings for the night are four bungalows with no windows, only openings right round covered with mesh and two beds with mosquito nets dangling above them – the most wonderful way to hear all the sounds of the jungle at night and early morning with walls only one meter high. We later heard it was necessary o sleep under the nets not only to avoid being bitten by mosquitos, but also to keep blood-sucking bats at bay. We wake the next morning from wild unfamiliar jungle sounds and lie in our beds with anticipation watching the bungalow lighting up slowly from the first rays of the sun.
Early breakfast of fresh fruit and with EVERY meal – fried bananas. Also hot porridge which you drink from a mug – consisting of quinoa, apple, oats and milk with cinnamon.
We are presented with our gumboots which we wear the next two days – wonderful to walk with in the muddy jungle. It starts to rain, but we board the boat, the kind which get used on the rivers in the Amazon, propelled by a lawn mower-type engine and a long, almost horizontal propshaft to avoid rocks in the rivers. A live chicken, still kicking, does it bit for the outing by going along in a bag for the barbeque that evening.
We spot monkeys and spectacular birds from the boat, after all Peru boasts with the most bird species (1800) in the world. After an hour drive on the river we arrive at the Treehouse Lodge, the trees around our bungalow are teeming with Capuchi and Squirrel monkeys and also brightly coloured Scarlet Macaws, Chestnut-fronted Macaws and the everpresent Blue-headed parrots. We watch in awe using Angel’s telescope.
A two hour walk in the jungle has its highlights – a White-throated Toucan and spectacular Emerald Toucanet, to name a few as well as squirrels and huge reed rats. Angel shows us the most interesting nests of ants hanging from trees, footprints of a jaguar quite close to camp, and numerous signs of insects or animals living in the jungle. His knowledge of the jungle where he was raised, is phenomenal.
A bonfire awaits us when we arrive back at camp, and our chicken, now not kicking any longer, is already turning on the spit. Angel’s two brothers, Saul and Jasmani are in charge and prepare food cooked in a hollow giant bamboo shoot on the fire. When food is prepared in the jungle this method is often used as no pots are needed. The food is cooked by steaming it, and a big leaf propped in the opening to serve as a lid. The food is delicious and the meat tender and full of flavour.
We sleep in the treehouse and are entertained by the wonderful sounds of the jungle throughout the night. At some stage in the night a huge downpour of rain occurs and we are glad for the roof over our heads.
We meet Angel at five the next morning to experience one of the very popular excursions in the Amazon – to watch the flocks of Macaws that replenish their sodium shortage by licking the clay cliffs. A big disappointment when it starts to rain on the way there resulting in no Macaw turnout. We go for another two hour walk in the jungle, thankful for the gumboots as we wade through swamps and mud puddles -hardly feeling the rain with all the leaf umbrellas above us.
Lunch is very special being steamed inside the big jungle leaves, we each receive a green leaf parcel tied by bamboo string filled with chicken,vegetables ,rice and a boiled egg. So full of flavour, absolutely delicious.
We spend the afternoon floating down the river Rio Madre de Dios on inflated tyre tubes. What an amazing way to experience the river as well as the Amazon gliding past on either side. At first we are a bit sceptical when we see something approaching us in the water, thinking of the Kaaiman that are present in the river but harmless, or so they say! But it turns out to be very inquisitive otters and we relax and just let the current take us down the river.
One of the most memorable afternoons of our lives. We end up close to our first camp and enjoy a wonderful late afternoon time watching all the birds settling into their overnight spots in the huge beautiful trees around us.
After dinner with Angel by candlelight he takes us for a two hour nightwalk in the jungle. We hear the sound of a small Pigmy owl and and also see a big owl flying past. We have a very special sighting – a small 20cm high Marsupial. It stands on its hindlegs like its bigger family , the Kangaroo, and watches us warily. The unforgetable picture is printed in our minds.
The last day we take 18 hours by various transport modes to get back to Cusco. Two of the eighteen we spend waiting on the road at a huge rockslide – no way to pass before the rocks have been cleared.
Exhausted we wake the campowner in Cusco at 2am to unlock the gate, what a pleasure to be back at our Landy and what an unforgetable experience! The Amazon certainly lived up to all my expectations.
Our guide was Angel from Manu Rainforest Tours. Not only does he know the forest intimately (he grew up in this same area afterall), but he has studied tourism and is one of the few guides with a specialised knowledge of birds. What makes this business more recommendable is that Manu Rainforest Tours is a family owned business in which Angel, his mother and brothers actively participate – we experienced them in action and we certainly recommend them. Their website is http://www.manurainforestperu.com/manu-jungle-tour.html