My first jaunt away from the megatropolis of Lima was a week out in the Amazonian outpost of Puerto Maldonado. I met an English woman named Sylvia, and we stayed at the hostel, which was a thatched unit that the couple (from Spain) made themselves. We did a 5 day trek out into the wilderness. We hired a boat to get us across the river, hiked all day through the rainforest, then made camp on the river at an old abandoned (nomadic) hunting camp (several thatched roofs).
That night BIG thunderstorms moved thought the rainforest and dumped a major deluge of rain on us. We were camped near the river, and it was rising fast. We still had a lot of miles to hike the next couple of days, but that night we devised a plan,,,, what if the river kept rising? The trails would be real sloppy. Maybe we could somehow build a raft out of Balsa Trees and "FLOAT" 15 kilometers down to where the old suspension bridge that crossed the river? There were plenty of Balsa Trees around, (this was very deep in the interior or the rainforest), but we only had two machetes and one old ax, and figured that it would take at least half a day to build a stupid raft (that might or might not work). But our guide Jaime was awesome, and was all for giving the raft a try. Sylvia and I just laughed, thinking "...this is insane!"
Sure enough, the next day we cut down several balsa trees, and built ourselves a nice raft.
Cutting down Balsa Trees, peeling off the bark, and dragging them through the rainforest and down to the river.
Hauling the logs (these were the smallest ones) from the forest down to the river. Note the roofs of the old abandoned nomadic hunting camps we stayed at.
Tim and the Jaime lashing the raft together with peeled bark. This version proved too tippy, so we tore it apart and built a wider, more stable version. Jaime kept looking out at the river; he seemed worried. It rose about seven feet that day!
Sylvia and Jaime building the raft (while Tim takes photos!!!) We had to drag all these heavy logs down to the river, then peel the bark off some other trees into thin ropelike strips to lash the whole thing together. We would have to navigate through some rapids, and we were hoping it would hold together. All the while the river was rising higher and higher....
The third day we hopped on the raft and somehow
navigated 15 kilometers downriver. The river was rippin', and full of
sediment and debris! The trees were full of howler monkeys and
all kinds of weird birds and animals. Jamie, our "guide", was
kinda nervous.....You could tell by the look on his face!
The river was so high, way over its banks, that on some of the bends we had serious effort keeping the raft in the channel. A few times both Jamie and I had to jump into the river, and push the raft back out into the main channel to keep it from running into big trees and possibly breaking up. Jamie was still really worried about how wild the river was, and where we were going to end up at nightfall. This is the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, and it can get pretty wild at night!!!
Tim Smilin' while Jaime is fighting the currents trying to keep us on course! (Me and Sylvia were having a blast!)
Luckily, just before sunset, we saw a small boy up on the riverbank, and we yelled and waved to him.
The child smiled and waved back. Our guide yelled
something to him; then the little boy's papa showed up, and said something like
"come on ashore!". We stayed with them in their little thatched hut
overnight, had dinner that consisted of soup loaded with organ meat of some
kind! We pretended that it was delicious, and even asked for seconds,
but we both had full (though queasy) stomachs that night. We had lashed
the raft to a tree on the riverbank when we came ashore the evening before,
but it rained again overnight, and by morning the raft was still tied to the
tree but almost completely underwater. Breakfast
was excellent, and that next morning the whole family took us for an awesome
hike all throughout their sacred special places! They led us on a bushwhack
through the rainforest that saved us about a day of hiking.
Late that afternoon we flagged down a passing putt-putt (motorized dugout canoe) on the river and got a long ride back to reality along the flooded riverway. Lots of villages along the river were flooded out. Later we heard that many people died from the flooding and mudslides in the mountains that night.
We got back to Puerto Maldonado just in time for Saturday Night. After an excellent dinner, we went into town with Jaime and his wife (they had a golf cart!) and got good and drunk with them and their friends! Boy could she dance!
These are awesome folks; you'll
never find them listed in the guidebooks. They run a "youth
hostel"; very near the airstrip. Just ask around; all
the locals know them. And to my friend Sylvia Gurr;
Cheers and big hugs to ya Sylvia! What a fun week
we had, eh!
I spent nine more weeks in Peru. Some folks say it is a dangerous place, but I think it's a lot safer than New York City or Washington DC
No one goes to Peru without visiting the sacred city of Cuzco. And of course, only a few hours (by train) from Cuzco is the awesome four day trek to Macchu Picchu. I sure as hell ain't a believer in organized religion, but my time in Macchu Picchu was one of my most memorable spiritual experiences (and I've had a lot over the miles and years!)
Six weeks after Puerto Maldonado
I spent an awesome week trekking up in the high peaks of the Andes.
I did a nice loop up the San Antonio pass at about 17.000 feet.
If it hadn't been for excellent guides and lots of Matte de Coca,
that is one long high trek I would have never been able to complete.
Took a long bus ride down to Lake
Titicaca. Ended up in a hospital near the border of Bolivia.
After three days of severe constipation (too much local food; I'll try everything),
some friends said I was acting severely dehydrated and should get some IV fluids.
The IV helped a lot, and the test for Cholera was negative, but they wanted
me to stay in the hospital overnight. I said "no gracias" and checked
myself out, then jumped on a rickshaw and headed straight to the waterfront
for a boat ride out on Lake Titicaca.
Somehow I got myself invited to
assist a Smithsonian Institute group
with a bioassessment of the incredibly diverse interior Amazon
backcountry near Manu National Park. I was helicoptered into the
middle of nowhere for five awesome weeks. Someday I'll post the