Adventure to the remote indigenous community of Puerto NuevoZoe Cole - 2014-03-28
Soledad Lake at ARCC
Day 1: 9th February 2014
Sunday Fun Day at the Center (ARCC). Today was a day off for everyone, to relax. We played games, read our books etc, it was nice. I also took the opportunity to take photos of Claire’s tadpoles so she could later ID them for her project. Jess and Alice made brownies for desert after dinner, using fresh Brazil nuts in the recipe. Many Peruvian locals in the Las Piedras are harvesting Brazil nuts at the moment as this is the peak season for them, when all the nuts are falling from the canopy. I also had to get ready for our 7 am departure tomorrow to the indigenous community of Puerto Nuevo. I packed up my stuff and made sure there was a spare tent available, intact and pitch-able. It’s going to be a long stay in a very, very remote part of the Amazon rainforest… another day upriver from ARCC.
Day 2: 10th February
Today we departed for a 7-hour boat ride up the river, still deeper into the magnificent forest. We left about 7 am, the boat was loaded with our crew, everyone’s kit, along with a 2 week supply of food. The boat ride up was very nice as the rain held off, and we had the wind of the boat which felt amazing. We had packed lunches made for us, which we ate as we passed endless forest with many huge trees that had fallen into the river along the way. Due to the high levels of water during the wet season many trees along the river banks can not keep balance due to eroding soil from fast flowing water. Most of the trees in the Amazon spread there roots very widely in order to keep standing, but obviously sometimes the weight simply cant be sustained. With the floods that we’ve seen recently the trees have had a tough job. We also saw spider monkeys, and my first sighting of a Howler monkeys! I have been hearing their loud call a lot, so it was great to finally see them as they darted up a sandy bank, and swung into the hanging vines. Howlers eat the clay on the sides of the river to protect their stomachs from some of the plants they eat which have strong toxins.
Howler monkey and Spider Money Eating Clay
We arrived at the community around 1pm. We were welcomed and everyone chipped in to help unload the boat. Us girls were to sleep in the school, which is basically a big wooden shed. The whole community consists of about 15-20 huts and the community members are almost all related. With our visit to the community, the plan was to give the opportunity for them to install running water and a flushing toilet. Before, the community would fill up buckets from the river and take it back to their houses. I noticed how they used the flushing loo, but also the long drop which they’d always used before. The community has a Head Chief and wife. Rosita was the chief’s wife, and she wanted to welcome us with a traditional drink that the woman make with yucca, which, is a root vegetable that is fermented (often using saliva!!), and it can become quite strong. I had a few sips but it was not my taste, and the team thankfully discretely helped me with it. The drink is called Mazato. I went to set up my tent, and a few of the little girls of the community followed us, interested to see what we were up too. They spoke in a very strong dialect of the Spanish; even the people who spoke Spanish struggled to pick up some words. I knew that these next few days were going to be tough, in terms of living conditions. I found myself in awe that people can lead there daily lives in such seemingly harsh conditions. The rainforest is one of the least comfortable places to be at the best of times. I was attacked by waves of sand flies, which are little devils. I wore long sleeves and long trousers, but still my arms and legs are destroyed with bites–just covered in them, and I have to resist the URGENT need to scratch.
First night sleeping in the tent, well it takes some getting used too.
Sunset from Puerto Nuevo Indigenous Community
Day 3: 11th February
Today we had a meeting with a few of the people in the community; to introduce ourselves and them to us. We had the opportunity to tell them why we had come. The reason we came to the community, in fact, was because Lena is working through Fauna Forever doing a research project on medicinal plants. Lena wants to understand how the community uses plants against illnesses. Brian, one of Fauna Forever’s coordinators, also wants to explore the forest here to see if he can find any interesting species. Brian is a herpetologist, which means he mainly studies reptiles and amphibians.
After the meeting we were ready for the day. We split up into two teams and our group went with one of the locals to make a trail. This basically means getting a machete, and cutting through thick bush, spiny bamboo, and the rest. We managed to cut through about 2.5 KM in about 5 hours and came back exhausted, and very thirsty! I had to down several glasses of water. In the field, you can drink loads but because you sweat so much it doesn’t keep you as hydrated as usual. I had to take some time out, as my head was thumping and I almost passed out with exhaustion and lack of water.
Later in the afternoon I went birding with Alex who knows a lot about Neotropical birds, what species they are etc. We didn’t walk far, I took out my tripod and managed to set up my equipment to get a feel for capturing birds. I went to bed exhausted.
Kids at the Puerto Nuevo Community
Day 4: 12th February
I laid in till about 7 am, which here is a long lie in. I went out and did a walk with a few of the team, just seeing what we could find. The trail was a loop which was about 2 KM, so were round it in just over an hour. The ground is very wet and muddy. I don’t think I mentioned earlier, but wellies (rubber boots) are the most useful footwear in this climate.
After lunch it started to rain, but it eased off and we were able to set up some pitfall traps. Some of the community came out with our team to help find a spot where we could set the traps up. When we found the perfect spot, it began to rain cats and dogs, soaking everyone, yet we continued with our job which was to dig holes and place large buckets into the holes with long plastic sheet walls between each bucket. It took us about 3 hours to complete it, and we hope to get some results in the coming days. Hopefully we’ll get some lizards, snakes or frogs, we shall see. If a frog and a snake fall into the same trap, I have a bad feeling that the frog would not make it to the next day! The trail between camp and the traps is very muddy and has some steep patches where we have to scramble up the banks. We also have to cross a river. There is a tree fall that we can balance across to get over.
Peru and BrazilJinnie Yeo - 2013-12-10
This is a blog entry by the very talented travel writer, photographer and good friend of Dave’s, Jinnie Yeo. Jinnie, Jo, Alex and Brendon (Dave’s friends from London) came to visit him in Peru in May 2013 and had a chance to see what Fauna Forever does in the rainforest. If you want to know a little more about Fauna Forever, the magnificent ARCC, Machu Picchu, Cusco or Rio – read on…
Please visit Jinnie’s blog which includes very helpful travel tips and tricks, hiking and nature travel advice, great stories and adventures from all around the world: http://curiousjinnie.wordpress.com/
I had mixed feelings about going to Peru. I’d wanted to see Machu Picchu since I was 21 so I didn’t know how it could ever live up to my expectations after wanting to see it for so long. Also, I’d been to a lot of jungles already (in Asia, Central America and Africa) and lots of jungle ruins. Well, I was pleasantly surprised, Machu Picchu is spectacular, it lived up to every expectation and I found myself running around, really excited to explore more of it. But let me start from the beginning.
A very close friend of mine, Dave (he’s like my ‘brother from another mother’), moved to Peru to do conservation work in the Amazonian rainforest four years ago. As I said before, I’d actually been wanting to visit South America for a long time, even before Dave moved there, so in May this year Alex and I decided it was time to go and see it for ourselves and also see what Dave was getting up to. One of my best friends, Jo, and her hubby, Brendon, decided to join us.
I was very excited, not least because this would also mean I have now been to every continent in the world except Antarctica. One day. One day!!
Dave and I decided to split doing an itinerary for the trip. He would obviously plan the jungle side to the trip and I would plan the rest. I always split my trips up a bit into a bit of activity, exploring and chilling right at the end. It makes for a real adventurous trip, albeit not the most relaxing, but I prefer getting the most out of a place and seeing as much as I can when I go somewhere new.
Well, I’ve done a dozen itineraries, I enjoy it and I know how to research places, find things off-the-beaten-track and decide what the best stuff to do are – for Alex and I. Planning a trip for friends is a very different kettle of fish. You have to consider what they like and what their standards in accommodation etc are. Somewhere down the line, it dawns on you that if anything goes wrong or isn’t up to scratch – you’re to blame. Keep that in mind before offering to plan a trip that involves others! It’s much more stressful. Luckily nothing major went wrong but it made me realize that maybe I’m not cut out for being a travel agent after all.
We landed in Puerto Maldonado after a long flight and a sleep-over in Sao Paulo involving many yummy (and strong) Caipirinhas . Dave was there waiting to pick us up from the tiny airport. I jumped on his motorbike with him and the others followed by tuk-tuk, Asian style!
After a really good meal in town, we spent the night at the Fauna Forever base (where Dave works). These guys are great, if you’re interested in doing conservation work or volunteering or even if you’re just interested in taking a gap year and going somewhere off the beaten track and want to give something back to Mother Nature, I highly recommend getting in touch with them: www.faunaforever.org
The next morning we hired motorbikes and drove through muddy jungle roads to a nearby animal sanctuary, we saw a peccary & some really cute but very smelly baby peccaries, some beautiful toucans and my favourite: howler monkeys. The howler monkeys were very friendly and we got to hold them, they didn’t seem to mind my ‘Elmyra Fudd’-style over-petting either :) a real treat and a highlight for me! We didn’t have too long here as we had to get back to catch a cab to Lucerne and then a boat out to ARCC (where we would be staying in the jungle)!
The boat took us up the Las Piedras river, deeper and deeper into the jungle. It was around a 6 hour journey and we enjoyed the scenery and some local cuisine (chicken, egg and rice wrapped in a big palm leave – delicious!) whilst on the boat.
After we got settled at ARCC (so beautiful & serene), Dave took us on a night walk in the jungle. What an experience! Your senses are heightened and when you turn of your flashlight it is pitch dark, all you can hear are jungle sounds (monkeys, crickets and who knows what else?!) and you can just imagine a jaguar watching you! Our time at ARCC was special. Like I said before, I was really excited to see Dave but had my reservations about going to yet another jungle. This time though, I did get to experience something new because unlike before I actually saw what the interns (conservationist, biologists and scientists) got up to and it was really interesting. Coming to ARCC you actually learn a lot about what is going on around us and how conservation work is really important (and not in a boring way, but a really interactive, interesting way). Also, I saw some very big trees in this jungle – some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. I was hugging as many as I could (don’t ask – a very strange habit I’ve had since childhood).
Dave was great and organized a lot of fun activities for us whilst at ARCC. We did many jungle walks, Alex’s favorite was a very wild, bushwhacking one. We swam in a stream, smearing mud on our faces and spent a day tubing slowly down the river, admiring the jungle, monkeys and blue parrots as we floated down. We picnicked on the river banks. We also spent time on Lake Soledad and spotted a baby camen and some big river otters whilst sipping cold beers and eating Peruvian sweets.
We went up a ladder (to heaven – literally!) attached to a huge tree and had a chance to sit on the look-out deck and see the jungle from high above! Jo & Brendi made it up the ladder as well, even though they have fear of heights!!
One morning Alex and I made our way down to the lake really early and it had a blanket of mist over the top – stunning. I went to the jungle prepared for eating boring rice every night and nothing else but to my surprise the food was really, really good! One night we had Peruvian Causa (Layered Potato and Tuna Salad) – so good! I wish I could remember more of the dishes, I just know we had big hearty meals and every one of them was tasty. Evening meals consisted of three courses. You definitely do not go hungry here!
If you are interested in ecotourism and want to get away from it all or if you would like to get a bit more involved with fundraising or volunteering, ARCC is amazing and all the people involved with them are so warm, welcoming and interesting. Have a look: www.amazoncenter.org.
By the time we left the jungle, we were all so chilled out and the London rat race was well and truly forgotten. I spent six blissful days not picking up my phone or going near a computer once – this doesn’t happen very often!
On the 23rd May we did the boat trip back to Lucern where we played a game of soccer with the local children (they annihilated us, I couldn’t even get ONE goal!), before getting a taxi into Peurto. Back in Peurto, Dave took us to a Thai restaurant called Anaconda lodge:
The Thai food there is amazing! And I got to once again hold a friendly little howler monkey:)
After lunch we flew to Cusco. I’ve had altitude sickness before (in Lijiang, China) but I was hoping I wouldn’t get it again. WRONG. My first day in Cusco was unfortunately spent in my room, hugging the toilet. My head was throbbing and I couldn’t keep down any of the coca tea I was given to help with altitude sickness. Luckily I was in a really nice room – we checked into Nino’s hotel and it was lovely.
Poor Brendon was also sick, I’m not sure if he was puking or not but I know he spent the day in his room as well. Luckily by that evening, both of us felt better and were ready to hit the town with the others.
Cusco is a great city, it feels like somewhere different but it has all the things to make your stay there comfortable. Many, many, great restaurants to choose from. Cool bars. Cute local markets, selling everything from sheep’s heads to bread, to these strange jelly deserts, to gifts and flowers. Everything you can think of. It has beautiful old churches, impressive Spanish architecture and cute cobbled streets. You can spend a long time just exploring this place with its different nooks and crannies.
We travel by taxi to Ollantaytambo and got the train to Aguas Calientes where we stayed overnight. I would have loved to do the Inca hike but you have to book way in advance for this and we missed the opportunity. The train ride was beautiful though, going past lakes and streams and passing through the Andes. Agues Calientes is a very touristy spot but it’s quite cool in its own way. Definitely only a one night stop-over town before MP though!
Alex ate fried guinea pig, which tastes a lot like chicken but they serve it with a face and everything! Eeeeeek. Not for the faint hearted. We all drank Pisco sours – a really yummy Peruvian cocktail.
The next day, we got up really early and stood in a queue around 5am hoping to catch a bus and be one of the first people to arrive at Machu Picchu for the day. In the rush to get out the door and all the excitement, I totally forgot my passport! Rookie mistake! :( Luckily the officials let me in but REMEMBER your passport when going to see MP! Even though it doesn’t say this on the ticket, they want to see it.
We were rewarded for getting up early by the most amazing site: low fog hanging over the ruins and hardly a person in site! Alpaca’s lazed around while we crept close to them to have photo’s taken with them.
Alex had heard about the Inca Bridge from someone back in the UK, so we headed off to look at it (it was built by the Incas as a secret entrance to Machu Picchu for the Inca army) the trail is cut into a cliff face with a 1,900 feet drop on the one side!
After having a rest and admiring the views we decided to move on, seeing as I didn’t have my passport, I couldn’t do Huayna Picchu but only Brendi seemed to fancy doing that anyway, so off he went to climb it, whilst Dave, Jo, Alex and I opted to do the Sun Gate walk. It’s a very scenic trail and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
That evening we got the 19:30 train back Ollantaytambo and stayed the night at Hostal Iskay – a great spot where Dave and his mom stayed before.
The next day we got to look around Ollantaytambo a bit more. A small but very cute place. It feels a bit like a mid-western cowboy town :) It’s hot, there are Cactuses everywhere, dust and dirt roads. I loved it. A local lady was selling barbequed sheep hearts, which Jo and I tried – they were really tasty! Alex and I also got to see some more Inca ruins for free – snuck in through the back way – local knowledge makes all the difference! Thanks Davey! :) We spent some time looking around a local market and before we knew it, it was time to leave.
Dave organized for us to go via La Terraza de los Incas’ in Chinchero to see some local woman colouring wool with insects and plants – very interesting! And they showed us how they weaved the material into blankets – hard work. We took some photo’s and made our way back to Cusco and back to Nino’s.
The next day was Jo’s birthday, we had a bit of a special meal that evening at: Uchu steakhouse, Calle Palacio 135 Cusco (thank you food bloggers – I found this restaurant recommended by a Foodie in Cusco!) Dave had mahi-mahi (a white fish from the Peruvian coast), Brendi had alpaca and the rest of us had steak – all served on hot plates with chips or mash and sauces. Alex also had the ceviche to start and I had the chocolate mousse dessert. All very good, as was the wine!
The next morning, Dave took us for a big breakfast at Jacks – OMG! Again: amazing food! : http://jackscafecusco.com The fresh mango juice with lime was the best juice I’ve ever had in my life!
The next day, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Dave and head home via Rio.
We booked into ‘Ladeira do Castro’ in Santa Teresa, which was lovely but don’t eat there – much better places to eat for much better value!
Santa Terresa is a bohemian neighbourhood with bars and galleries, I loved staying here. We ate at: Espirito Santa and had Piranha soup. The food was great! :http://espiritosanta.com.br/
We also went to Copacabana and Ipanema beach, where we were lucky enough to see pods of dolphins passing and jumping out of the water. Copacabana reminded me a lot of Durban in South Africa, prettier but similar.
We ate a Brazilian meat feast in Copacabana – the meat was amazing! Sorry, enough about food.
After just relaxing on the beach for a day and having a walk around the beautiful Jardim botanical gardens, it was time to catch a flight back to London.
By the way : Rio airport: don’t bother going through security early and don’t expect to do any shopping after going through – there is nothing! Also, when flying into Rio, we couldn’t draw money from the banks in the airport (strange!) but don’t panic, banks in town work.
An amazing trip, none of us will ever forget.