At the office we met our guides - Willian (yes, it's spelled with an n) and Robin. They are both 20 something guys from the Tambopata region and grew up in the jungle. Willian was definitely the class clown and regularly made us laugh throughout the trip (often times unintentionally). Robin was more serious, super nice and very knowledgable about the jungle.
From the office we took a bus for about an hour across dirt roads and rickety wooden bridges (not kidding – sometimes they were just wooden planks that went over a five foot ditch) until you get to the boats. As we found out later, if it were raining, we would not have been able to use these roads.
They also gave us an overview of the agreement that Rainforest Expeditions has with the local community called El Infierno. The company has a 20 year contract with the local people of the Infierno where they split profits from tourism 60/40 (60% goes to the locals). Rainforest Expeditions also employs the people from the local community to work at their lodges as tour guides and staff. The only other jobs in this area are mining or collecting Brazil nuts, so this is a pretty coveted job for the locals. It works out great for the company because nobody knows the jungle better than the people the people that grew up there. Also, Rainforest Expeditions runs 'eco-lodges' and therefore do little damage to the jungle, something that is very important to the people of El Infierno.
As we approached the boats, one of the guides explained that Rainforest Expeditions owns three lodges – Posadas Amazonas, which is a one hour boat ride up the river, Refugio Amazonas which is about a three hour boat ride up the river, and Tambopata Research Center which is an eight hour boat ride. Eight hours on a small boat is a really long ride so the last one is for those folks who are really into wildlife, birdwatching and nature photography. I would not recommend such a long boat ride for first time adventurers!
We then boarded our boat, which is basically a long, thin covered canoe with a motor. When boarding the boat, the first thing you notice are hundreds of butterflies fluttering around. I’ve never seen so many in one place in my life. I attempted to film them but put the camera away when the boat almost tipped. Since the boats are so thin, weight must be evenly distributed on each side of the boat or it starts to tip. It's a little un-nerving at first, but you get used it. The boat ride turned out to be quite pleasant. The breeze felt amazing in the humidity and we managed to cool off for a bit. They served an amazing lunch on the boat– fried rice in a plantain leaf. Luckily for me, we had a family from India on our boat and they were vegetarians. Therefore I didn’t have to worry about the staff serving birds for lunch. I think the fried rice was my favorite meal during our stay!
- All rooms have three walls – one is open to the jungle
- Electricity is only available from 5pm to 9pm. Flashlights/headlamps are a must after 9pm.
- They serve breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner at set times and you eat with your tour group. We really enjoyed eating with our group as we had the chance to get to know some of the other travelers.
We then went to our rooms which were pretty cool at first glance. I'd consider this glamping, but we certainly were anything but glamorous at this point.
After unpacking, we met up with our group for an afternoon hike out to the look-out tower. The groups are intentionally small - our group consisted of five other people - two girls from Canada who were a few years younger than us, and an older woman accompanied by her grown son and daughter, who were treating her to a Peruvian vacation! On our way our guide, Robin, pointed out some interesting trees like the Walking Palm Tree and the Brazil Nut tree. The Brazil nut is really important to the people of the Infierno. During rainy season, when tourism is slower, they gather and sell brazil nuts. It’s another way they make money.
Dinner was served at seven pm and we ate at long wooden tables complete with candelabras and large wooden chairs. It conjured up images of Hogwarts, and Chris quickly claimed our table the Gryffendor table. Unfortunately, no one else in our group got the joke.
We were so tired after dinner that we went to bed. Chris fell asleep under the mosquito net rather quickly but I barely slept because giant bugs kept flying into my net – including a rhinocerous beetle. I heard bats and birds in the room and animals rooting around outside. Eventually I dozed off but we had a four am wake up call so my slumber didn’t last long.
The next day were in store for many more treats and a little more terror ...