Three nights in the Amazon Rainforest

Our itinerary for getting to the Amazon required:

We departed our hotel in Lima and wormed through traffic to the Lima airport. The process of checking in and getting through security seemed hectic, a bit mad, and definitely rushed, but from the time we were dropped off at the airport to getting through security was under 25 minutes. The American TSA needs to be sent here to take lessons. Incredible.


We found a quick breakfast and our flight was uneventful. When we landed on the tarmac in Puerto Moldonado, the crew pushed wheeled stairs up to the front and back doors of the airplane. With the doors open, the air conditioning struggled to keep up with the heat and humidity. Fog rolled down from the ceiling.


We clanked down the stairs to the tarmac to the tiny airport to collect our bags


A crew from the  Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica  is waiting for us. We are shuffled aboard the vans and driven through the small city of Puerto Moldonado to the riverside where a number of motorized canoes wait to haul us downriver to the lodge.


The boat ride takes about 30 minutes. The pilot makes big sweeping s-curves across the river. We spot a few other boats headed to other places on the river, bobbing up and down as we cross their wakes.


Along the way one of our guides, Miguel, gives us a brief orientation about what to expect this afternoon and tonight. Mostly the trip is quiet and peaceful with a cool wind from the speed of the boat hiding the intense heat and humidity. About 10 minutes into the ride, cell phone service drifts away and my phone becomes my camera.

We arrive at the dock for the lodge. I say “dock” but this really a ramshackle set of stairs leading down to the water’s edge. You can see the water level in the river changes frequently and a normal dock wouldn’t work. Our boat pilot does a large u-turn in the river, pointing the bow of the canoe upstream, turned slightly to the bank. He idles the motor just enough to stay in position on the river, letting the current pull us sideways to the dock. We are instructed to leave our life jackets on the bench seats and climb up the stairs. Agile and sure-footed crewmen jump aboard the boat and haul our luggage away for us.

As we walk up to the lodge a handsome young waiter greets us with some tropical passion fruit juice beverage. I worry that we have landed in the next season of White Lotus. I look around to see if I can spot the victim. If you find yourself in a White Lotus situation, try to spot the victim. If you can’t spot the victim, it’s probably you (we survived).

We are given the logistics of our stay, our passports are whisked away to be photocopied, and we haul off to our cabins to freshen up before dinner. This is entirely necessary. No one from the plane has acclimated to the heat and we’ve all sweat through our clothes.


Our cabin is adorable, with a river view. We freshen up and change clothes. I realize immediately that my 4 linen shirts and my week’s worth of other clothes will not withstand the rigors of the amazon. Next is dinner in the lodge followed by our first excursion.


The lodge is beautiful and rustic and built and furnished from an absurd amount of wood. The central space is one large screened porch with a conical roof held up by a huge central pillar, which was once a tree trunk. The tables are giant slabs of giant tree, the chairs are hewn from logs with a chainsaw. Ridiculous. But lovely.

Dinner was a light three courses. We were relieved to find vegetarian options. We wobbled off the log-chairs and made our way to the “eco center” to get a breakdown on the options for our various excursions.

Our assigned guide, Gustavo sat us all on some couches overlooking some posters describing all the activities the lodge has to offer. Those of us who arrived on the boat together were destined to take all of our excursions together. We had the pretty and quiet Chinese expat, the divorced dad and his two kids in tow, and us. The six of us, plus Gustavo and another boat pilot climbed onto a motorized canoe for a trip upstream in the dark.


Gustavo stood at the bow of the boat with a hand-held spotlight. We were admonished to keep flashlights off, as our guide needed complete dark, and the boat’s pilot needed to see signals from the guide.

Gustavo appeared to use a side-to-side sweeping motion to indicate “go” and an up-and-down motion to indicate “stop”. Or maybe I have that backwards. He guided us to the shoreline and began scanning for critters. He spotted a small-ish caiman and trained the spotlight on it. The caiman seemed annoyed and slipped into the river. Gustavo made slashing motions with the spotlight and we were off again. Gustavo scanned the bank, explaining to us that he was looking for eyes. A bright light will reflect back from the retina of an observant critter, revealing their location. We stop to observe a larger caiman, this one several feet in length.


We spotted more caimans and several birds. Gustavo directed the boat out into the center of the river. The pilot turned off the motor and Gustavo turned off his spotlight, instructing us to take a minute to look at the stars. My eyes adjusted slowly and I began to see the milky way emerge from the blackness. The spotlight clicked back on, the motor revved up, and we were piloted back to the dock of our lodge.

Now, after 9pm, the heat has finally broken. Back at our cabin, a cold shower is refreshing and we prepare for bed, periodically waking up to the sound of mangos falling from a tree and landing with a heavy thud on the ground.

I wake before 5. The sun is rising and birds are making jungle bird noises. I shower and dress and slather on absurd amounts of sunscreen. It won’t matter, it will all melt off as I sweat gallons throughout the day. The dumb, stupid hat I bought at the beach in Lima turns out to be the perfect jungle hat. The wide brim protects my dopey ears and neck from the sun; the drawstring keeps the hat on my head while racing up river on a boat.

There is no universe where I would have chosen a trip to the amazon. But this trip is for my wife. She turned 40 and wanted to see Machu Picchu and the Amazon and so here I am, sweating at 5am looking at the river at sunrise. Marriage is compromise. I am leaning in and finding joy in the experience. This far from civilization there is no cell service, no internet, and the power goes off for several hours a day. The electricity comes from diesel generators, which need refueling and periods to cool down each day.

Each day is the same, more or less. We wake around 5, shower, find breakfast in the main dining room, get on a boat to go see something, return to the lodge, shower, have lunch, shower, read and nap, get back on a boat to see things, return, shower, have dinner, shower, perhaps have a drink in the lodge, and then retire. The lights go out around 10 when the generators are switched off for the night. We sweat constantly. Sunscreen is pointless. We wear long sleeves and big hats and hope for shade.

Time expands. Each day is a week long. My phone becomes a camera with extra icons I never tap. I nearly finish a book. I write in my journal.

We take a long hike through the jungle arriving at a creek. Along the way monkeys jump from branch to branch. We take canoes down the  creek to a lake and look for birds and turtles.

We hike out from the lodge to a tall wooden tower. At the top, several stories above the jungle floor, the tower connects to a network of rope bridges, allowing guests to see the forest canopy up close. I try to climb the tower, but I crane my neck up to see the rope bridges and my brain begins doing anxious backflips, alarm bells ringing in my ears. I don’t do well with heights. I “nope”  my way back down the tower and walk through the forest to wait at a small covered patio. I listen to the trees and the rain and the birds and the kids in our group go nuts on rope bridges 100 feet above the ground. When the crew descends and returns I hear tales of sloths in the trees.

We go out at night, after dinner, to hunt for tarantulas, scorpions,  and other creepy crawlies. The little girl is stung by a wasp. The guide whisks us back out of the jungle where she receives pain killers, hydrocortisone, and piles of attention.

We visited a fruit farm - which is helmed by a man and his wife, living in a cabin on legs (in case of flooding). When you think “farm” you might imagine neat rows of trees. This farm is a forest which includes fruit trees. We try limes straight from the tree. We try cocoa pods - slimy and white like alien eggs, they taste like fruity candy. There is star fruit, oranges, grapefruits, all kinds of things growing here, in abundance, just in the forest. Most of this fruit finds its way onto the menu at the lodge. Chickens follow us everywhere hoping for corn. We hike from the farm through the forest to a another creek and take a lazy canoe ride down the creek back to the dock and our boat.

We visit another lodge, famous for its medicinal plants. Our guide shows us a plant used by indigenous people to create blue temporary tattoos. I still have a blue squiggle on the back of my left hand. Gustavo deftly trims a large flower with his machete, showing us how the huge petals can be worn like a parrot’s bill. We take silly photos.

At our final dinner we say our goodbyes to our guide, Gustavo. Miguel, the man who collected us at the airport, gives us a rundown of our escape plan. We are to meet at 6am to board the boat back to Puerto Moldonado.

In the morning we take the notarized canoes back. Within sight of the bridge crossing the river at Puerto Moldonado,  our phones begin coming back to life, bleeping and blooping, and time shrinks back down to size. We leave the canoes for vans, which take us to the airport. Miguel hands us printed boarding passes (somehow? not sure how he collected this information). The tiny airport is overrun by the one flight leaving that day. We finally get on the plane, hot and sweaty. When the air conditioning comes on shiver in our seats.

Our flight takes us to Lima, and then back to Cusco for the next leg of our trip. We realize in the Lima airport that Miguel has failed us. We were supposed to have two boarding passes each, not one. At this discovery we race all over the airport trying to find someone who knows something. The LATAM airlines app is useless and won’t connect, so we can’t use a digital pass. Finally someone is able to reprint our passes and we race to security. We duck the line and race to our gate just in time to run downstairs to the tarmac to the waiting shuttle bus as the doors are closing.

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