First published 13th July 2008 on

Well it’s been an up and down few days. Anyhow at least going to the jungle perked me up a tad. Flew to Puerto Maldonado on Sunday morning – which was an experience in itself. ‘There was some rough turbulence (mainly going through clouds over the rainforest) and a few moments where the plane suddenly seemed to drop, quite a long way. Put it this way it was the first plane I’ve been on where some of the passengers were screaming. No it wasn’t me. And yes, they were American women. You yanks get so excited about everything including potential imminent death. As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the airstrip I was soaked with, well ladies don’t sweat they glow, but I was glowing like a pig!

From there we were transported to the jungle tour company office where I met Gabriel my local guide (nickname Tarzan apparently, although I bet all the guides say that), and my surrogate family for a few days (seeing as they were sharing the same guide) a merry Dutch clan – with jolly dad Dick (who looked a bit like a Dutch Peter Buckley Hill and was instantly very friendly), mum Anneka and “kids” Nikita and Elmer.


We then got on a motor canoe to the edge of the Tambopata reserve, with lunch of egg fried rice wrapped in a banana leaf en route, from whence it was a 2 mile walk to our canoe and a trip round the lake spotting various beasts (and me realising I had the shittest camera on this tour) including a few caimans (one white one black, but they apparently stick to different parts of the lake – cést la vie) with red glowing eyes, and a gang of monkeys (squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys and brown cappuchin monkeys – see monkeys can resolve their differences) who were all busy harrassing the rather clumsy hoaxin birds (which the Dutch family rather cutely and bizarrely nicknamed “the flying chickens”).

My jungle room.

We were greeted by Millie the gracious hostess at the rather lovely Sandoval Lodge, and immediately introduced to the fact they had a bar and a shop. Ah well. After a hearty dinner, me and the Dick family were guided through all the undergrowth around the lodge shining our torches in the dark at massive tarantulas, chicken spiders (so called cos they eat chickens!), stick insects and the like. I was surprised to find a nest of 4 inch baby tarantulas incredibly cute and endearing, the way they flailed around towards the torch light with all 8 of their red eyes gleaming angrily. Awww. We even managed to see our 4th monkey of the day, a night monkey, hanging round conveniently near to the lodge (if it wasn’t jumping around I’d have suspected it was nailed to the tree.

Confused baby tarantulas. Cute! Now where's mommy?

After managing to suss out my mosquito net and having my first genuinely hot shower for weeks (yay) I was up again at 5am for an excursion via catamaran on the lake to spot animals. Sadly this time we were paired up with 4 noisy bastard yanks (sorry yanks but it’s true), who didn’t seem to get the concept that yakking loudly was liable to scare animals away. One in particular was exruciatingly loud, with a face like a retarded cabbage patch doll crossed with Beaker from the muppets to boot. She was one of those people who ticked birds and animals off in a book, if it was rare took a picture with a hugely pricy and very very noisy camera (it played a tune when turned on and off), and then seemed to have no further interest. She had even married a bloke who’s surname was Bird because she was so obsessed with filling her “6 inch notebooks” that she had back home with details of what she had ticked off. Yes you guessed it, she annoyed me. I started off being nice to her (she had the potential to be quite a sweet person when she wasn’t being self important) but when she started pushing me out of the way to get a view of things (including animals I had spotted) I lost my patience and managed to wind her up a few times in retaliation (don’t think she liked me asking if she was a bit like a trainspotter). Regardless of the noisy bellowing yank fucks, we still managed to see the giant otters and their babies frolicking in the shallows and scaring off caimans (giant otters are the daddies of the lake and EAT caimans).

There are otters in there somewhere, but the new camera wasn't up to the challenge.

Later (after breakfast) Dick family and I had a talk from Gabriel on medicinal jungle plants and a trip into the primary and secondary forest to see a load of scarlet macaws (big, beautiful and with squawks that sound like something out of jurassic park) and a thought provoking insight into the Brazil Nut trade. Basically Brazil nut trees are BIG BIG bastards, about 150 foot or more, and the people can’t climb them to get the nuts, they have to wait around in rainy season for them to drop.Even then the nuts are clustered perfectly within an extremely hard shell that looks like a squat coconut with grooves in it. The locals gather up shit loads of these shells and take them to the town where they’re flogged to the nut companies for about 5 soles for 20 kilos of nuts. Which is sod all basically. The local women often get work getting the nuts out of the pods, which is no mean feat (it took Gabriel about 6 blows of his machete to open the pod and then open nuts for us to try (I got one too after family Dick had “ooh yahed” their way through 3 each) – although considering Gabriel nearly left his machete behind, I have a feeling it may have been for show). We left the rest of the brazil nut for the agouti we saw (although I think Anneka wanted to eat it all!), and felt a tad sobered by the way in which local people get ripped off – after all Brazil nuts are pricy in the UK – so where’s the money going’.hmmm” 

After lunch and catching some extremely burny rays of sun, whilst watching hummingbirds, butterflies and lizards do their thang (and a slight walk into the jungle, until I realised I’d gone rather a long way and was absolutely alone, and got a bit heeby jeebied by the silence of the forest (apart from all the animal noises!) – it was back onto the catamaran and the return of the noisy yanks. Alongside Mrs Bird was a prematurely aging Jewish mother from Florida and her sullen teenage daughter. Jewish Mother seemed to spend all her time drawling loudly  “Did you see it Sarah? Did you get a picture?” to her daughter, who spent most of her time either whining at her mom or at the guide “I think I saw something” or messing around with her hugely expensive camera. We saw some weaver birds and their bollock like nests, plus (yay!) a sloth in the tops of some trees from the lake, and I could have watched him first deciding whether to move and then moving his little head around for ages, but the Jewish daughter was bored and so was Mrs Bird because the pattern and coloration on the sloths back didn’t match with the one in her huge and all important big book of every animal in the fucking world that she kept waving about.

We climbed up to the top of a tall and extremely wobbly tower to get a nice view of the lake at sunset and almost disturb some sleeping bats and a tarantula, and the long climb up the windy steps managed to shut the yanks up for a merciful few minutes, but they were back booming away in time for caiman watch – where we shone our torches from the boat to spot caimans eyes. Again every time one was sighted Mrs Bird and sulky Jewish daughter just SHOVED me aside to get their view and photo opportunity. It transpired at lunch that I was to wait for the guides to finish their trips the next day and then get my transport back to the airport, but I managed to blag an early morning walk. With the Americans (aside from Mr Bird who had a bad leg and would have to be carted to the boat). I tried to engage in small talk whilst paying my bar bill and had just bought a postcard with a picture of a sloth with markings exactly like the one we saw that afternoon. As I went to pass it to Mrs Bird she SNATCHED it out of my hand, nearly ripping it. Even her hubby had to say “don’t snatch”. I figured that my mosquito repellent was 100 percent deet so hopefully would fend off Mrs Bird on our trek. As it happens I’m so glad I went. We got to see loads of macaws (blue and yellow), parrots and parakeets (which I spotted in a tree but of course was soon pushed out of the way so the people with the proper equipment could get in front), a gorgeous white throated toucan (yes I looked in the big book of all the fucking animals ever), vultures, some dusky titi monkeys (what a GREAT name!), two brown cappuchin monkeys hanging from their toes (?) eating fruit from a palm and best of all a troop of tamarind monkeys just leaping through the trees over our heads (so much better and more alive than in the zoo). I still got pushed aside but somehow it didn’t matter. Especially as at the airport Mrs Bird pushed right to the front of the queue and was sent back. The look on her face was priceless!

Off to Lake Titicaca tonight on a whim. And a bus. What am I like??!!