The Ultimate Amazon Adventure (Part 2)
It’s not often that you can lie in bed and watch wildlife at the same time. Like the other Rainforest Expeditions Lodges, the rooms at the Posada Amazonas are open-walled. As I shift in bed and reposition my pillow to look out into the night jungle, I see the silhouette of a night monkey leaping from one branch to another. So cool. I check my phone to discover it’s 4:30 am, time to get up for breakfast before we head to the canopy tower.
We’re staying in a superior room, which means we have electricity when the generator is running. I fumble for the lights – YES – the generator is on. Even better, a green light on my recharger indicates the camera batteries are set to go.
We make our way to the dining room and treat ourselves to hot chocolate and pancakes before we meet Pepe in the lobby.
“What’s that?!” cries a British woman. She takes another sip of tea rather than reaching for her camera.
“An agouti,” answers a member of the kitchen staff who happens to be walking by.
I contemplate interrupting my pancakes to check out the agouti when the British woman comments it’s already gone. What’s better than wildlife over breakfast?
A Different Kind of Canopy Climb
It’s surprisingly cold as we make our way to the canopy tower. Cold fronts occasionally move up from Patagonia into the southern Peruvian Amazon creating the very unique sensory experience of being cold in lowland jungle. Thomas is actually wearing a down jacket. Even the chorus of red howler monkeys sounds cold.
Pepe has brought us to the tower especially early, so we have it all to ourselves. Yay! We climb the stairs of the super-narrow 37m (115ft) tower just in time for the first muted opal rays of the morning sun over the winding Tambopata River. The panorama of layered backlit trees rising through the mist looks like a shadow puppet battle between gnarled giants. The birds begin to wake. White-bellied parakeets dart by. An oropendola sounds, dips and displays. A macaw sits alone in a massive Brazil nut tree grinding a pod with its beak.
For the first time, we actually see the blue-throated piping guan performing its wing rattling ritual. We’ve heard it a dozen times, but this is the first time we witness it. Pepe is super excited despite the fact that he must have seen this a million times. His enthusiasm is infectious. I follow the bird with my binoculars and see the behavior four or five more times. The canopy tower is a much less labor-intensive way to discover the jungle world above (although I personally value the almost metaphysical experience of a canopy climb more.)
A Jungle Rollercoaster
I stare down the steep incline into the tunnel of trees waiting for a response. I don’t hear anything.
“Thomas? Thomas? Are you OK?” I call down the jungle track.
“Yeah, it’s not that hard,” he responds, “Just watch the curve. I’m going to keep riding.”
I grasp the handlebars, put my foot on the pedal, and say a little prayer that my mountain biking skills are still up to snuff. I take the plunge.
At first, I attempt to cautiously slide down the hill before my inner 16-year-old releases the break and – WHOOSH – I take off through the trees. I shoot through the forest dodging low hanging branches, rocks and roots. I fly along the serpentine path around trees, through gullies, and over bridged streams. The path is muddy due to last night’s rain, low gear gets me through most of it. Suddenly, splash!!! I’m stuck in a mud hole. Thomas is up the trail pushing through the mud. I don’t see Angel. Has he actually ridden across this?
He’s waiting for us on the other side of the bog, silently supportive. We continue our rollercoaster ride, experiencing the jungle high speed. Quite unexpectedly, I notice details which elude me when we are moving slowly through the forest, the shape of the land, the sudden shifts in forest (not to mention the enormous diversity of roots.)
We work our way to a perched overlook on the banks of the Tambopata and take in the views over an enormous bend. Again, one of those picture-perfect moments, a time to decelerate and contemplate Tambopata’s beauty.
“Nice?” asks Angel, a man of few words.
“Nice.” we answer.
Piranha Fishing on the Oxbow Lake
I’m getting used to getting up in the middle of the night; by day eight, I don’t even need an alarm clock. Primetime in the rainforest seems to be sunrise and sunset, so sleeping in means missing something great. We’re hiking along the wide path to Tres Chimbadas Oxbow Lake. (An oxbow lake is a bend in the river which gets cut off when the river changes direction.)
Sudden movement in the leaves reveals squirrel monkeys springing through the trees. Squirrel monkeys are commonly spotted in the Tambopata region, but strangely this is the one and only time we see them on our 10-day visit. It marks a small victory as we have seen all the monkeys we can see in the parts of Tambopata we are visiting.
I let out a small gasp when I first see the lake. It’s bathed in the burnt-orange rays of the morning sun and eerie clouds of steam rise off the water. We board a hand-paddled catamaran and Pepe propels us out through a channel in the water plants into the lake. Another group from the Posada Amazonas drifts ahead, their boat is bathed in golden steam.
We slowly glide across the glassy surface searching for the family of giant river otters that call the lake home. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the recent cold front, the otters are nowhere to be seen. Maybe they’re not morning people either. We do spot a very large black caiman floating in the middle of the lake. And as we drift along the opposite shore, we discover the trees are filled with hoatzins, beautiful birds with eye-popping plumage. High up in the trees, horned screamers announce their presence. We spot their unicorn heads emerging from the leaves.
Pepe finds a spot among the water plants and drops a line in the water. Fishing for piranha does not require a huge amount of patience. After a few false starts and some cleverly stolen bait, our partner boat pulls one from the lake. As their guide is removing the hook, he cries, “Ah, my finger.” Apparently, piranha don’t give up easily. The razor-toothed fish looks like it is covered in glitter; we examine it and return it to the water.
Our partner boat returns to the dock, but Pepe is determined to find the otters. As we cross the lake again to search among half-submerged tree trunks, the winds suddenly pick up and threaten to push our hand-paddled catamaran into the reserve portion of the lake, which boats are forbbiden to enter. Pepe paddles like a madman as the boat is swept further downwind. For more than two hours, Pepe fights the winds to get us back to the dock. When we reach the shallows, Thomas helps by poling the boat. We upset a huge caiman which is hidden in the water plants and the giant reptile shoots out startling us all. They promised us adventure!
“It’s incredible!!! Thomas, stand between the roots, so you can see how enormous the tree is.” We snap our pictures.
“That’s not it,” announces Pepe.
“What?! Are you serious? This isn’t the giant ceiba?”
“Yeah, it’s big,” he says, “but it’s not the really big one.”
The trails around the Posada Amazonas are blessed with huge ceiba’s, Brazil nut trees, strangler figs and ironwood trees. One ceiba is legendary.
Another ten minutes down the trail, we spot the behemoth. It’s quite unlike any tropical tree we have ever encountered. We’ve seen massive buttressed bases before. But the broad trunk on this monster is bordering on the demensions of a sequoia. Unlike a sequoia, the trunk curves and sports a wide candelabra-like crown of branches. I photograph it, but when I check it on the display, it looks like any large tropical tree. This is just one treasure you need to stand next to in person and witness the grandeur for yourself.
Kayaking into the Sunset
The jagged, broken limbs glide by; I reposition my head to avoid having my eyes gouged out as my kayak slips through a tangled arch of dead branches.
“I think Angel is testing us,” I joke to Thomas as he floats through the same narrow arch.
Angel is having fun leading us through a paddling obstacle course of half-submerged trees that have fallen off the eroding clay banks into the river. Of course, we could just choose to paddle in the open water, but Pepe, Thomas and I are meeting Angel’s challenge. The graveyard of trees is also the perfect place to search for sunning turtles and white caimans.
We paddle several kilometers upstream, scanning the trees for sloths, monkeys, and perhaps a tapir. We spot brown capuchins as well as fresh tapir tracks, which is a thrill because it means one is lurking somewhere in the jungle nearby. A variety of macaws and parrots swoop above as we explore. As with the paddle boarding at the Refugio Amazonas, the kayaks allow us to take our time with the river, to drift along the banks and to float around the broad bends.
We pull onto a grey-brown sand beach and relax in the warm sun. There’s still a slight chill to the air from the cold front; it’s actually the perfect temperature for paddling. Howlers and a chorus of birds and frogs announce that sunset is coming. We push off downriver just as the sun dips behind the trees. The skies slowly turn orange while we lazily drift back downstream to the Posada Amazonas. All that paddling means I am very ready for the dinner buffet.
Every visitor who comes to Tambopata is in for an adventure. The jungle and the river, the clay licks and the wildlife are all the true highlights of the region. Nothing can surpass the sight of hundreds of macaws and parrots circling above or a jaguar prowling the river banks.
But as I said before, some adventurers like their adventure a little more adventurous. The paddle boarding, the canopy tower, the jungle mountain biking, and the kayaking all allow visitors to experience the forest in different ways. They complement rather than compete with the natural attractions.
The canopy tree climb is something that goes a bit further. It’s an intense personal challenge and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, which we have never seen offered in other jungle locations we’ve visited. There’s nothing quite like scaling a hundred foot tree and sitting in its limbs while flocks of parrots and macaws circle and celebrate your personal victory. It’s awesome.
We’ve done some pretty amazing things in our twenty years traveling the globe and we have documented many of those experiences during the last seven years that we have been running the blog. Our Tambopata adventure definitely qualifies as one of our greatest adventures to date. The Amazon is simply amazing. We’ll definitely be back.
About the Lodges
During our foray into the Tambopata region we stayed in three lodges run by Rainforest Expeditions. The experiences described in Part 2 and shown in the attached video took place at the Posada Amazonas.
Unlike, the lodges mentioned in Part 1, the Posada Amazonas is owned by the indigenous Ese-Eja community of Infierno and managed in partnership with Rainforest Expeditions. The lodge is located in the community reserve, which is adjacent to the Tambopata National Reserve.
Rainforest Expeditions’ lodges are all similarly constructed to enhance the wildlife and birding experience. Bedrooms are designed with one wall open to the jungle, and all public areas in the lodges are constructed without walls, which means you can be scouting for animals during your whole stay. Very cool!