Welcome to the Jungle

Adventure Travel, Fitness & Workouts, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Peru, Tours & Attractions, Wildlife & Animals — By on August 29, 2006 at 10:10 am

When we first nominated Peru to be the inaugural country on our big jaunt around the world, there was one thing we all agreed on – exploring the jungle was non-negotiable! Sure, we’d all been in rainforests before in countries like Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala, but saying you’ve trekked deep into the Amazon just sounded so much more bad ass. So of course, The Lost Girls absolutely had to do it.

To fully satisfy our desire for danger (Note to parents: this term is used only to add drama to our story), we planned a five-day excursion into the heart of the Amazon wilderness that began with a quick flight to Iquitos (the jungle capital and largest city in the world not accessible by road). From there, we took a large riverboat, the Amazon Queen, past remote tribal villages through piranha-invested waters (we laugh at killer fish) to our jungle lodge – Ceiba Tops. Check out our tales of intrigue, adventure and animal encounters below:

Getting High
Pumped full of malaria medication, our water bottles topped to the brim and SPF 30 in tow, we felt amply prepared to explore our steamy surroundings. Like most jungle lodges in Peru, ours conducted daily group excursions, designed to be gringo-friendly, yet still pack an adrenaline-inducing punch. Our first stop: The Canopy Walkway, an unbelievable series of suspension bridges that hang high (and I mean high) above the rainforest canopy. The guidebooks aren’t kidding when they say this experience is not for the faint of heart – or the elevationally challenged. Dangling almost 80 feet in the air on narrow bridges that creaked and shook with every step, we felt more like characters in an Indiana Jones film than Amazon explorers. With 14 bridges ahead of us, we snaked our way through the treetops across each one, getting braver and faster by the minute. We even navigated some with no hands! Fortunately there were a few makeshift platforms nestled in the huge tree trunks that provided a welcome rest and a chance to snap amazing aerial views of the sprawling rainforest below. By the time we made it to the end, we were practically swinging through the vines with excitement, the rush of ‘near death’ surging through our bodies. Even after our feet touched solid ground, we all agreed – this was one high well worth the come down!

Monkeying Around
As animal lovers, we were intrigued the second we heard about Monkey Island. Located a few miles down the river from our lodge, the isolated area is home to 8 different species of monkeys that are cared for and protected as part of a wildlife preservation project. Created to be the ultimate petting zoo, the island provides more adventurous tourists with the opportunity to interact directly with its inhabitants, who are supposedly people friendly. Hmm, we’d soon find out.

As we crept through the rainforest en route to the site, we could hear their distinctive calls radiating through the trees. Was there really such a place where tons of monkeys roamed freely just waiting for us to come play with them? As soon as we came to the clearing, we realized that this strange planet of the apes really did exist. Swinging from trees, running through the fields and leaping from board to board on a huge man made platform were more wild animals than in Times Square at rush hour. We went running toward the main monkey pen like kids racing to get the best swing on the playground. Clearly very accustomed to humans, the monkeys didn’t even flinch. In fact, they crept towards us hoping we might have a snack for them. The groundskeepers quickly handed us a soft white fruit that resembled a banana to feed our newfound friends and, of course, lure them closer for the ultimate photo opt. With our cameras at the ready, Amanda, Holly and I took turns coaxing los monos into our arms. We were pleasantly surprised by how sweet they were. Unfortunately, there is always seems to be a bad one in every bunch.

Out of nowhere, one of the larger monkeys swung down from the rafters, jumping onto Holly’s head. Possibly mistaking her as food, the crazy little beast grabbed at her hair and nibbled on her shoulder. Holly shrieked and twirled around in circles, trying to throw him off. Between fits of laughter, we came to Holly’s aid, trying to coax the overzealous monkey off her back with our remaining pieces of fruit. While we did manage to get him off of her, it proved only to be a temporary fix. We’d merely refocused his attention on another victim…me. I screamed as the cheeky little monkey attacked again, scrambling up my arm and gnawing on my hand. While my focus was to get him off me as quickly as possible, Amanda had another idea. “This is great stuff; I must get this on camera,” she exclaimed. “What? Are you crazy?” I managed to eek out in between wrestling rounds with my furry opponent. “Come on, Jen. Just a few more seconds and I’ll have the moment on tape. It’ll be excellent fodder for our blog.” Oh. Well if you put it that way! What’s a limb in the name of art?

In the end, we managed to get a ton of hilarious photos and video in exchange for only a few teeth marks on our arms – a worthy sacrifice (Note to parents: The monkeys were perfectly healthy and disease free; plus no skin was ever broken). We realized that all the hyper active monkey wanted was a little attention, so once we’d doted on him enough, he happily settled into our arms like a sleeping baby.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the island, snapping pictures and playing with our new fuzzy friends. Racing around like kids in a candy shop, we soaked in the magic of our newfound paradise, until we were brought back down to reality by our tour guide asking us to head to the boat.

Prior to our visit to Monkey Island, we thought such a place only existed in our childhood fairytales – painted in our imaginations by incredible storybook tales. But in the end, it took a journey into the jungle as adults for us to discover the true meaning of where the wild things are!

Charlie’s Angels
While taking a pit stop at a neighboring lodge, we made an absolutely amazing discovery: The ROUS species really does exist! For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, please stop whatever you are doing, sit down immediately in front of the TV and watch / re-watch the Princess Bride as many times as it takes to have all the classic one-liners memorized. Really, I insist! For my fellow film buffs out there, I’m sure I had you at “ROUS”, but for everyone else, please read on for an explanation.

Fortunately for The Lost Girls, our first encounter with a Rodent Of Unusual Size was love at first sight. Meet Charlie (he’s the furriest one in the group shot), the lodge’s resident capybara, and the largest rodent in the world. Normally, the idea of coming face to face with a gerbil-like creature bigger than a small child would send us screaming and running for higher ground (I mean, we’re not The Lost Boys, after all). But one look at Charlie’s sweet little face and sleepy eyes and he immediately won us over. He even performed tricks like rolling over on his side when we’d rub his nose and tilting his head just so whenever our cameras would click. He happily played the role of our favorite jungle pet, soaking in all the time we were spending playing with him and loving every minute. As several other tourists began to approach Charlie, we made a rather humorous observation – like a typical male, he’d perk up a bit whenever a woman would approach. It didn’t take long before one thing become obvious – he clearly favored attention from the ladies. Luckily for Charlie, he had three little angels by his side!

Jungle Love
The one thing that captured our attention (and our hearts) the most was the warm welcome we received from the locals inhabiting the small towns along the Amazon River. Even with an unlimited choice of tours available to us, one of our favorite excursions turned out to be an impromptu visit to the nearby village of Indiana. Despite the extreme jungle heat, we had a surprising amount of energy that needed to be burned off. So we asked our guide, Cliver, if there was a safe place we could go for a run or a hike. “Of course, Princesas,” he replied. “I will take you to a town where I know everyone and the people are happy to have visitors.” So we hopped in a little motorboat and sped up the river to the village. Holly, the resident runner of the group, went for a light jog, while Amanda and I chose to explore the town with a vigorous hike. We passed tons of townspeople along the way who would usually let out a little giggle (probably at our pasty, white skin) or a loud “Hello” (how did they guess we spoke English?). After an hour of trekking through muddy fields and a few too close encounters with some grazing bull cows, we headed back to the main square where we started.

There, a crowd of the most adorable kids we’d ever seen greeted us. They gathered around us for pictures and squealed in delight as they saw themselves on our digital cameras (a favorite travel trick of ours). As Amanda and Holly continued to play with the kids, I joined in on a nearby soccer game. I guess they’d never really seen a girl play before, because their mouths dropped when I kicked the ball far across the field and cheered when I juggled the ball seven times in a row. It was seriously one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had on the road.

Completely hot and sweaty from our afternoon of adventure, we hopped on the back of motorbikes to cool off. Our drivers were three guys from town who gave guided tours of the surrounding area for 10 soles a piece, about $3 (Note to parents: yes, they were very safe and licensed drivers). As we sped off into the sunset, it was clear, we had found a new appreciation and love for the Amazon people and the jungle towns less visited.

Ready, Set, Blow
One excursion we were most looking forward to, was a visit to a nearby village to meet the Yagua Indians, an indigenous tribe best known for its expertise in blowgun hunting. Not only would we be able to participate in an ancient religious ceremony, we would be officially inducted into the 2006 Class of B.H.I.T.s (Blowgun Hunters In Training). What more could a girl want? After a brisk hike through the Amazon, we arrived panting and dripping with sweat to the entrance of the tiny Yagua town. What little breath we had left in us was immediately taken away by the sight of this strange new world.

Peeking out from behind the doorways of palm-thatched huts, resting under trees and hand weaving traditional garb silently in the shade, were the most alluring and mesmerizing people I’d ever laid eyes on. It felt like we’d stepped back into a time when the Amazon was untouched and the term gringo had yet to be invented. Before we had a chance to process exactly where we were, our tour guide ushered us into a large hut flanked with bushy reeds, located in the center of the village. We took a seat on thick wooden stools and watched in awe as the Yagua elders begin singing and dancing around in circles, the swish from their grass skirts and long wigs filling the air. Our guide explained that the tribe was performing a traditional dance that paid homage to the rain god and told us we were welcome to take pictures and video. Normally that news would be a welcome offer to our snap happy tourist fingers, but it felt a little odd to bear witness to an ancient tribal ritual with our 21st century devices. But a few encouraging smiles from chief and invites for audience participation made us feel better about capturing the moment.

After several turns around the teepee with our new friends, we were led outside for our next challenge: to master the art of shooting a blowgun. We kindly offered up Holly to be the practice target, but our little joke flew right over the chief’s headdress. He simply shrugged and pointed to a wooden post in the ground about 20 feet away. We watched as the village men loaded tiny wooden stick into the mouthpiece of long hollow tubes, took aim and blew. One after the other, their darts landed squarely in the middle of the target. I wouldn’t want these guys hunting me, that’s for sure! The girls and I each took turns with the gun, surprised at how a light puff was enough to send our ‘ammo’ whizzing through the air. Holly and Amanda each made theirs on the first try and after a few misfires, I finally got one into the poll as well. Satisfied with our newly acquired blowgun hunter status, we thanked our instructors profusely and went off to explore the village.

As we walked around, stopping to check out the handicrafts sold by the locals, we couldn’t help but wonder. Was our presence actually benefiting the community or were we contributing to the demise of an almost extinct culture? There was no denying this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. I mean, we were interacting first-hand with one of the most ancient groups in the Amazon rainforest. But somehow we doubted the Yagua would count a bunch of tourists photographing them as a blessing. Fortunately our fears were soon quelled when Peter Jenson, an anthropologist from Wisconsin who founded the lodge we were staying in, explained the repercussions of us not bringing our dollars into this village. “The only way to keep locals from cutting down the rainforest is to show them they can make more money by protecting it,” he said. We learned that tourism not only helps feed the economy, but it also provides an incentive for indigenous tribes to preserve their traditions and continue to study their native language. Sure, in a perfect world, everyone would do their part to keep the people and the beauty of the Amazon safe. But in the meantime, The Lost Girls are happy to lend six helping hands.

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    8 Comments

  • Dirty Butter says:

    There is no way to put a puny comment after such a wonderful post!! I’m exhausted just from reading all about your great Amazon adventure, and I’m so glad you are sharing it with us.

    I voted for you today on BLOG VILLAGE, too.

  • Sue says:

    Wow! I surfed in via Andrea’s blog and am really happy I did .. :) This is one of the most interesting blogs I’ve come across in a while.

    Awesome! I’m definitely bookmarking you.

    Cheers from Toronto!

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  • Barbara says:

    All I can say is – WOW! Kudos to you for taking a risk and setting out the adventure so many of us have dreamed of. I wish I’d had the guts to do the same while I was in my 20′s (and before I got a mortgage). I’ll be putting you in my blogroll – hope you’ll consider doing the same of my site.

    ~Barbara
    http://babas.typepad.com

  • Mick Gordon says:

    I love those monkeys, and what a great post. I will suggest this as our next travel destination to my wife.

  • Bean says:

    Great blog, great post. I’m looking forward to following your adventures. It’s great to see you are making the most of every minute.

  • amanda's sister says:

    girls – do you feel like some of the luckiest people in the world, or what? whatever happens from this point on – remember that you have already done & seen more than most. i have nothing but admiration for all of you….

  • wow. like the place, specially the thrill of the bridge and the cute face of the monkeys..