Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The Best Jungle Experience
Light headed and gasping, I was at 16,000 feet elevation, high above the Andes in an unpressurized Twin Otter airplane. While most visitors to Peru make a beeline to Machu Picchu, I was heading to the the Peruvian Amazon and the best jungle experience ever. Soon, happily, we descended into richer oxygen, and then bumped down on a small grass airstrip hacked out of the dense jungle. The smells were ripe and rich. The foliage was lush and alive with strange caws and chirps. Bugs buzzed. Most of all, it was hot and humid. We boarded a native canoe and travelled up a fast-flowing, turbid tributary of the Amazon, the River of Mother of God, ever deeper into the jungle, ever deeper into a strange lush world in which I felt totally lost.
Once at the Manu Wildlife Center, I settled into a small but comfortable thatch-roofed cabin on stilts. Generator-provided electricity was only on for a few hours each day so we relied on candles at night, a romantic touch. We arose early each morning and boated to clay licks where dozens of macaws and parrots, like technicolour rainbows, fluttered and swirled. We climbed canopy towers and found cactus, orchids and other exotic species high above a dense and variegated jungle. We boated along lake and river and saw endangered giant otters, lethal kaimans, toucans and birds of every ilk. Late one afternoon we hiked to a tapir blind where we lay under mosquito nets and listened to the awesome, scary sounds of the jungle as dusk fell and darkness enclosed us. Our imaginations ran riot as around us the jungle crackled, moaned, hissed and, occasionally, screamed. A troop of howler monkeys screeched past and then, our objective, a 500-pound tapir lumbered past.
Next day while hiking a troop of monkeys rained nuts down on us from the upper canopy. The visit into the jungle was an adventure, like a trip to Mars. Life abounded, nature was in control and I could almost see and feel evolution happening.