The Amazon Rainforest makes up some 5.5 million square kilometres of South America and extends through most countries on the continent.
We'd already visited the Peruvian highlands, the desert coast and the sacred valley so, we thought it was time to experience the jungle.
There it was on a poster. Beautiful, big, with green forests, colourful birds, monkeys and in bold type the words; Puerto Maldonado. It wasn't on our itinerary, we'd actually never even heard of the place, but as we were purchasing our bus tickets to Arequipa, we hastily changed our minds and instead found ourselves boarding yet another night bus in the opposite direction towards the Amazon jungle.
Arriving from Cusco at 6am in the morning, we were instantly greeted with the heat and humidity we'd expected, followed by an onslaught of tourist guides selling their jungle adventure packages. It wasn't until we'd reached the square however, that we met Czechoslovakian born, German raised cycling enthusiast, Klaus, at Magdelena's panaderia.
Klaus had several packages available and after researching other companies in the area, we decided to join him for 5 days at Lupuna Lodge, just 10km from the city.
Klaus met us at our hotel at 9am and we made our way to the boat. There, we were met by Millan, owner of the Lupuna Lodge and our host for the next 5 days.
Lupuna Lodge is set over 70 hectares of both farming and primary jungle and currently offers 3 rustic style cabins with thatched roofs, all with outdoor bathrooms. Shaded by mango trees, our little cabin came with a double bed, mosquito net and a small table. The only thing missing was a couple of chairs out front - not to worry, Justin put together a log bench with some wood scraps and we were set.
Then, it was time for lunch. We enjoyed a large serving of beans, rice, peas (which I peeled!!), and an avocado salad. Millan explained that most of the food eaten at the Lodge is grown on the property, helping to keep costs down. Lunch was served in the dining hut, behind the outdoor kitchen and we ate with Millan & Klaus. This gave us an opportunity to talk about life in Peru, an opportunity not given to people staying in the fancy resorts!
Once lunch was finished, we were given time to rest. It was interesting to listen to the sounds of chickens foraging through the undergrowth, insects buzzing and the distant sound of thunder that would eventually bring a cooling breeze and a light downfall of rain.
At 3.30pm, Klaus rang the bell, indicating it was time for our tour of the garden. Other than mangoes & avocadoes, Millan also produces bananas, chillies, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, corn, cacao, coffee and other tasty fruits which his wife, Diana, sells at the market in town. To finish the garden tour, we watched the sunset from the bank of the Madre de Dios river before returning to the Lodge for a light dinner of fried plantain, olives and avocado with a fresh lemongrass tea. If anythig is certain about this place its that we haven't eaten this well in months!
We started the day around 6am with another walk back around the garden while we waited for breakfast. Returning an hour later, Klaus had made a traditional Peruvian meal of tacacho, which is mashed plantains mixed together with some fried onions and garlic. Served with fried cheese, avocado, and a fresh, home grown salad of tomato, onion, capsicum, cucumber and a squeeze of lemon, it was a hearty, energy fuelled dish. To top it off, Millan served up some hot chocolate that he'd made from scratch using the cacao that also grows on the property. While we ate we were even treated to seeing some cheeky monkeys stealing fruit from the banana trees behind the dining hut!
After breakfast (which was amazing!), Millan took us into the primary jungle behind his plantations. We spotted more monkeys, butterflies, different insects and we learnt about the plants and their medicinal uses. We even drank water from a vine! Millan feels very strongly about conservation and of the 15 Lupuna trees in the Tambopata reserve, 12 of those are on his property alone. He's also recently purchased a further 80 hectares of primary jungle further up river which he hopes to run trekking tours to in the future.
We returned from our walk a little before 12pm and were treated to lemonade and coffee, both made again, from resources on the property. Millan likes to hide the coffee from Klaus, so he was thrilled I was there to coerce Millan in to sharing.
For lunch we enjoyed sardines in a tomato sauce with several small, boiled plantains, with the afternoon set aside for relaxing. Justin was a little stir crazy and went about collecting mangoes to make juice to go with our rum, while I had a wonderful sleep.
We also tried our hand at fishing. Millan showed us how to find grubs in some seed pods using a machete, then he gave us two sticks, each with some fishing line and a hook attached. We walked down to the riverbank and cast off but found the water was choppy with too many boats passing.
While it was unfortunate we walked away without a nibble, it's not like the fish from this river should be eaten anyway. Illegal mining deposits large amounts of mercury and other chemicals into the water, making the fish rather toxic.
For dinner that evening, Klaus whipped up a German Farmer's Breakfast with leftover tacacho. The dish was made using potato, tomato, capsicum, onion, garlic, and a fried egg. We shared a mango rum and a mint tea over travel stories and other topics of conversation. By 8pm, it was pitch black with the exception of a single battery operated lantern illuminating the table and that signalled it was time for bed.
On entering the hut, I saw what looked like the leg of a tarantula under Justin's backpack. Trying to remain calm, I told him to lift the bag and sitting, staring out through these big, beautiful eyes, was this tiny little mouse. I'd say he was cute but a few days later I found nibble marks on my thongs so I don't like him anymore...
We didn't have the best sleep. While we had been blessed with cooler temperatures, the monkeys had been wreaking havoc in the mango tree all night. I managed to spot several of them, including the resident squirrel all before breakfast (yuca with fried cheese and salad and a hot chocolate).
Today's activity was a trip to Monkey Island, a further 15 minutes down river. Klaus was to be our guide today and armed with fresh papaya, mangoes and Brazil nuts, we made our way to the island. When we arrived at the centre of the island, Klaus advised us to make noise so that the monkeys could hear us and would know we had food. After an hour...still no monkeys...and we all know how loud I can be!
Eventually, after hiking through the island, we did find the monkeys and had the chance to feed them with no other human in sight.. The story behind these inhabitants is that a man's wife cheated on him, so he left town to live in the jungle with 5 monkeys to keep him company. Since this man's death, the monkey population has increased to around 30 and the lodges surrounding Monkey Island have vied for ownership rights to charge entrance to this attraction. Currently the cost of visiting the monkeys is whatever you spend on fruit or a tour.
From Monkey Island we went a short way across the river to Monte Amazonica for a walk in their tree-top canopy. Being afraid of heights this wasn't really my cup of tea, but it was interesting to see another jungle lodge. This one had a swimming pool and large restaurant area...where they'll put your name on the table so you don't get lost at the buffet...
Back at Lupuna Lodge, we ate fried fish, caught in a lake somewhere in the highlands, with rice, avocado and some vegetables. Millan had used the time we spent out exploring to build a bench under a cacao tree opposite our cabin. Perfect for monkey watching. While we were out, 2 parrots had also arrived, making the fruit table their new home. Both are extremely friendly and can't fly very well so, we expect they have fallen from their nest.
We rested again before a dinner of fried yuca patties, olives and a matico tea. The tea was very fragrant and delicious. After dinner, we convinced Klaus to take us looking for tarantulas (not my idea, I can assure you). We managed to spot 2 rather large ones and a few smaller ones, as well as a giant gecko. Needless to say, I checked under the bed that night before sleeping!
We were called to breakfast around 7am and enjoyed a feast of tacacho balls mixed with peanuts and cilantro, a salad of green beans, pumpkin, yuca and fried eggs before packing up the fishing gear and heading off over the other side of the river for the Forest Creek walk listed on our tourist brochure.
After 30 minutes of walking we came to a small creek and went about fishing with our freshly caught grubs. In total we landed 8 swampies with little old me catching the largest. A further 15 minutes walking, brought us to the farm of Yudi, a former school teacher who set up camp in the jungle. We shared a coffee - even Justin drank his cup - before heading down to a larger river to try our luck for bigger fish.
Roughly 30 more minutes later and we still hadn't a bite but, Yudi and Klaus had prepared a tasty lunch of fish, rice and salad for us to enjoy with lemonade. We returned to the river with full bellies and while Justin tried his hardest to catch anything, I sat under a tree and read my book.
Returning to Lupuna, we visited the old lodge site once more to watch the sunset before dinner (spaghetti with tuna, vegetables and plantain). Tonight's cuppa was a lemon leaf tea and we also created the Jungle Caprioska - sugar, rum, mint, lemon and a dash of water.
So originally, this was to be our last day at Lupuna Lodge but, we had been invited to an ayahuasca ceremony that evening and would be extending our stay. We woke with the sun and snacked on a banana before heading across the river again, this time to Corto Maltes Amazonia lodge to witness the Collpa de loros, or parrot clay lick.
The parrots come by the hundreds every morning to lick minerals from the clay to aid the digestion of the some of the fruit and nuts they eat. It was incredible to watch as they all gathered together in the trees before swooping in to begin their lick-fest. At the slightest disturbance however, as one, they all give flight which for me was the highlight of the activity.
We returned to Lupuna for a breakfast of potato, tomato, cucumber, fried cheese and masa mora de platano before taking a small rest and doing the laundry. We walked next door to visit a native family also, but we didn't find this very exciting and it's not normally something Millan or Klaus would recommend.
On the way back, we stopped at the avocado tree and picked as much as we could carry because we hadn't had enough over the last 5 days! Returning to the lodge, we rested some more in wait of our ceremony before a final meal of plantain and egg was fed to us for lunch.
That night we would participate in the ayahuasca ceremony, a healing ritual to cleanse the body, mind, and spirit before crawling into bed at 2am physically exhausted.
The first thing we did was shower. The ceremony had been a sweaty affair and the refreshing cool water felt amazing. Then it was time for breakfast. Noodle soup with an egg (I dropped mine in the sand) and loads of water to rehydrate our bodies. We chilled out at the lodge for the best part of the day, enjoying more coffee and a light lunch before Klaus ferried us back into Puerto Maldonado around 3pm so we could catch our bus to Puno.
A stay at Lupuna Lodge is completely different to what other tour agencies in town are selling. Here, you are part of the family. You eat so much food you think you will explode and you have the opportunity to discover what it's like to live in the Peruvian Amazon. We had such a fantastic and relaxing time, we can't wait to get back there someday and say hello again.
Lupuna Lodge offers packages starting from 2 days but, we'd recommend staying the whole week so you can really get the feel for the experience. 5 day packages start at 480 soles and include meals, drinking water, tours, transport, and accommodation. For more information, head to www.lupunavacations.com or email millan_sanchez@ hotmail.com / firstname.lastname@example.org.
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