We were dropped off for the next part of our jungle tour at the tour operator's office in Puerto Maldonado. Here we met our guide John (who we nick named Jungle John so that there wouldn't be any confusion with Canadian John). We took a short car drive to the river where the three of us boarded one of the river taxi boats for a 45 minute boat ride up the Rio Madre de Dios. Upon arriving at the embarkation point we got on our backpacks (at least my John did, Jungle John offered to carry both his and my backpack) and climbed up a steep set of stairs to the top of the river bank. Next was a three kilometre hike along a boardwalk path through the jungle the path ended at a canoe launch area and by now dusk had descended.
There are no motor boats allowed on Lake Sandoval. The canoe was the typical long heavy wood canoe of the area. The paddles are super heavy made from a single piece of ironwood. I managed to do 6 strokes with the paddle and gave up - so the two John's paddled me across the lake. The darkness gave our journey a very mysterious and adventuresome feeling.
Fisher bats swooped above the water all around us as we landed the canoe at the lodge dock after about 20 minutes. Fireflies flitted in the jungle as we then walked another 10 minutes into the jungle to arrive at the Maloka Lodge.
After a rest, we met the rest of the group from this tour at dinner- there were two ladies a little older than us from France, two ladies younger than us from Peru and a guy in his thirties from Germany. The seven of us were the only ones staying at the lodge.
After supper, we did a short night walk to the dock. A caiman's eyes glowed red when Jungle John flashed his torch on him. I saw a falling star.
We went to bed early because I had to be up by 3:45am for a 4:30am start. I also needed to plug my phone in because we only had electricity in our rooms between 6-9pm.
The next morning we were all readyo to go at 4:30am. I had showered at 3:45am...there is no hot water at the lodge. My bug bite from the day before was still a bit sore, but much improved.
Dawn arrived as we (ok, John, John and Nico from Germany) paddled the canoe. We passed night blooming water lilies.
The air was filled with the sounds of birds and parrots waking up. There was also a sound like a howling wind or a jet engine that would rise and ebb which was weird since there was no breeze at all. Jungle Jim said howler monkeys make this sound at the back of their throats that sound like the wind when others come into their territory. The monkeys must have been very upset because the sound was increbibly loud for being such a distance away.
After crossing the lake to the canoe launch area we docked the canoe and walked the boardwalk path. The sounds of parrots and macaws got louder and louder. Many of them flew over head. We headed off the boardwalk onto slightly trodden paths in the jungle and Jungle John lead us to the Macaw nesting area. There were so many of them.
Too soon, it was time to head back. When we returned by canoe, we noticed all kind of birds along the shore including the snake duck, kingfishers, herons, egrets,and the Stinking Bird. He was very cute, but I didn't get close enough to see if he really deserved his unflattering name.
We had breakfast when we returned and I took a short nap, while the rain poured down, before going on our next hike at 10am.
We took the canoe out to the other side of the lake. Once again, the three guys paddled. Upon landing we walking another slightly trodden path. We first studied a very large fig tree; probably a few hundred years old.
Jungle John showed us many plants and trees along the way. He also pointed out a number of leaf cutter ant highways. The ant hills are huge...almost like small people hill.
I found what I thought was a parrot egg shell and showed it to Jungle John. It turned out that it was the eggshell of the Bushmaster snake which is poisonous. He said that those snakes are night animals.
By the time we returned it was really sunny, hot and sticky. Jungle John said that because it was so hot, we would do our next exploration at 4:30pm.
I took the opportunity to grab one of the hammocks and sleep the hottest part of the day away. I was in such a deep sleep that I vaguely remember waking myself up with a few snores.
The next excursion was all in the canoe. On the way to the lodge dock, we passed cappachino monkeys, howler and squirrel monkeys playing in the late afternoon sun.
The lake was like glass. You would almost think you were on a northern Ontario lake if not for the palm trees, caimans and macaws squawking in the distance.
Turtles lay on a log in the golden light of the setting sun. We saw so many birds, too many to name. We passed many more monkeys and even a tiny tamarind. A caiman floated in the lake near our canoe with just his eyes and snout showing. He quickly disappeared when our canoe floated near. We passed a tree that looked like it had a long, thick line drawn down its trunk but upon closer inspection, we saw that it was a line of bats.
For a short time, the setting sun set the lake on fire as parrots and macaws rushed to get back to their nests before nightfall. Fish jumped creating ripples in the calm lake. The Fisher bats came out again and swooped around the water surface.
Once darkness hit, we turned on the flashlights and searched the shores for the red glow of caiman eyes. We found a number of them and focused our flashlights on them so that we could take pictures. I would not be surprised if Manfred Mann's iconic song "Blinded by the Light" wasn't running through their heads cause they just sat there in stunned stillness as we got really close.
Once again, the stars and sky were so clear without the light pollution we are so used to.
Upon returning, we recharged our phones with our three hours of electricity as we went to the main lodge and had supper.
I found a huge bug in our room when we returned...I think it was a cicada. Not wanting to hurt it, John and I chased it around the room for a good fifteen minutes. We would catch it in a box, it would escape and the whole cycle would continue. Finally it just disappeared under the bed. It had clearly won.
John and I went to bed before 9pm. Next morning we get to sleep in until 5am - whoppee!
In the morning I awoke to find a number of monkeys playing outside our bathroom window.
I also discovered the cicada bug had gotten inside our mosquito net so had spent the night with us. This time after a few tries we did manage to set him free outside.
John and I were at the meeting point for 6am. The French ladies decided to sleep in and forego the morning canoe exploration. We passed many more monkeys on our way to the dock.
The usual suspect birds were doing their bird stuff at the edge of the lake while the macaws and parrots flew overhead. But this morning, we weren't looking for birds, we were searching for the endangered Giant River Otter- the largest of all otters.
And we weren't disappointed. We found a family of them, diving and playing like dolphins at the edge of the lake.
We were back for breakfast at 8:00am and then had to pack up for our 9:30am departure. While waiting to leave, I noticed a large, brown agouti walking through the grounds.
While on the boardwalk we passed a large gecko on a tree.
Too soon we were back on the motorboat, then back in Puerto Maldonado. It seemed so loud and busy after the peace and beauty of the jungle.
Next thing we know we were on the plane for a 45 minute flight to Cusco.
COSTS & TIPS
3 night, 4 day jungle tour including all meals ( tips for guides were extra)- $350 US per person
Tour booked through Orellana Expeditions firstname.lastname@example.org
First night at Collpas Tambopata Inn- Tambopatajungle.com
Next 2 nights- Maloka Sandoval Lodge
1 day binocular rental- $10
Flight back from Puerto Maldonado to Cusco- $120.00 Cad
Guide for Sandoval Lake (Jungle John)-
John italiano Guerra's Reyes 051 982701683