After hugs, goodbyes, and hasta la proxima vezes in Calca, I made my way back to the apartment in Cusco. But not for long. After a couple of days, I caught a red-eye bus to Puerto Maldonado into the Amazon jungle.
Maldonado is the capital of the Madre De Dios, and is considered the gateway to the southern Amazon. It’s hot. Really hot. And humid. But with that miserable climate comes some of the most incredible biodiversity in the world. It was truly awesome.
As soon as I arrived, I linked up with Stephen’s childhood friend from Calca, “Chato” Fredy. Fredy is a welcoming and avuncular fella who has lived in Puerto Maldonado for about 10 years now. He happily toted me around town on the back of his motorcycle, while I tried to play cool and not let on how terrified I was as we bobbed and weaved through traffic and potholes.
Fredy first took me to the Serpentario, where I got a crash course in many of the bizarre creatures of the region. Snakes, birds, monkeys, insects, taxidermied otters, this off-brand zoo had plenty in store.
We also got some great food that first day, including a patarashca of paco fish and tacacho balls of plantain.
After dinner I ventured to try one of the most bizarre foods I’ve ever seen – suri suri. These grilled grubs are…decent. The crunchy head and skin are actually kind of nice, but the squishy salty insides turned my stomach upside down.
The next morning Fredy, his lady Virginia, and I got a great breakfast of chilcano (fish soup) with a side of yucca, rocoto, and leche del tigre (ceviche drink) to fuel up for a day in the jungle.
Before we took off, we linked up with good ol’ Riley Fortier! He had just finished up helping teach a biology course in Manu National Park (yep, dreamboat), and our schedules in Peru serendipitously aligned so that we could travel together for the last week of his trip.
Riley met Fredy and I down on the docks of Rio Madre de Dias and we quickly set off on an adventure. After a half hour in the boat, we disembarked at a trailhead and I got my first true taste of jungle.
Every square meter is teeming with life, bugs are everywhere, and strange sounds turn to white noise. I was totally out of my element. Boyish wonder mode.
We set off on the trail to find our destination the “terralinea.” I thought this was just a zipline, but it turned out to be a series of walkways through the tree canopies and two whippy quick ziplines as well. These also featured some terrifylingly impressive macgyvering.
After getting back from our hike, we saw a caiman on the boat ride home.
And got a delicious lunch of picuro, a small rabbit-like animal that lives in the jungle.
That night us three gents went to the town tower mirador to see the night sky of the continually industrializing Puerto Maldonado.
The next day I left Riley at the hotel for his first day of rest in a month, as I went to Lago Sandoval.
I saw more new types of wildlife that day than I had seen in years. Giant river otters, caimans, monkeys, birds, fish, insects and more. And the plants were something out of a dream. We also had a tasty lunch of juanes (rice and chicken wrap).
After getting back from the lake, I met Riley at our hostel and we sprinted off for the bus station to head to for the sweet cold-air relief of Puno & the Lake Titicaca region. More about that to come.