Welcome to the Jungle: Part 1

Our second venture into the varied landscape of Peru brought us to Tarapoto, a cloud forest city in northern Peru located in the high jungle plateau of the Amazon Basin. As our plane descended into the “City of Palms” over muddy chocolate rivers — fitting as one of the areas biggest industries is cacao — and verdant mountains, the area reminded me a bit of the Caribbean. The jungle humidity hit me the second we stepped off the plane and my first thought was “I didn’t pack enough clothes for the number of times I’m going to have to change each day after sweating through my shirt just simply breathing.” 

We had booked an all-inclusive stay at the PumaRinri Amazon Lodge located just south of the confluence of the Huallaga and Mayo rivers for a four-day, three-night program. We’ve noticed that program tours here are quite popular and they make traveling so much more carefree and enjoyable. When we lived in London and traveled extensively through Europe we did a ton of DIY-type travel, but in South America we have found so far that things just run smoother when the logistics of who, what, where, when, and why are taken care of for you. Plus, when you arrive in a small town where your knowledge of the local language is conversational at best it’s so nice to have someone holding a sign with your name on it at the airport waiting for you like you are some sort of VIP. 

I have flashbacks to the time we found ourselves at a small train station somewhere in rural Portugal after getting off the sleeper train from Spain at 5 a.m. with only the company of each other and two elderly Portuguese-speaking women and sitting on our suitcases watching the sky turn light wondering why our connecting train had never arrived. It wasn’t until hours later when the young English-speaking barista for the coffee cart arrived that we learned the national rail workers had decided to strike that day!

Once our driver met for us at the airport and we were ensconced in an air-conditioned passenger van, we hit the road for the cliffside-hugging picturesque 30-minute drive to the riverside lodge with a brief stop in the village of Shapaja for an opportunity to purchase any drinks or snacks at a local bodega.  We arrived at PumaRinri just as heavy gray clouds started gathering together overhead promising a cooling afternoon rainstorm on the horizon. Once we got checked in, refreshed ourselves with a tasty welcome drink of freshly squeezed grape juice, we bounded down the steps towards our terraced river-view suite and quickly donned our swimsuits for a much-needed cooling off in the pool while we waited for the lodge’s lunch hours to start.

Twenty minutes into our swim, while floating contently on our backs with our faces upturned to the sky, the first drops of rain started to fall. First a lone drop here and there, then building to a glorious crescendo. After several dry months in Lima the rain was a welcome sight and Dan and I just continued to float with giant smiles plastered on our faces like a bunch of crazy loons. We were in our happy place.

With the rain still steadily falling we retreated to the lodge’s open-walled kitchen and restaurant, flanked by shady mango and coconut trees, with communal-style picnic tables facing out toward the river dressed in the traditional brightly colored striped fashion of Peruvian textiles. Meals with a view! We decided on fried salchipapas, a popular potato and sausage dish, and a Peruvian jungle regional dish known as juane made with rice, meat, olives, hard-boiled egg, and spices wrapped with bijao (macaw-flower) leaves for lunch before settling in for an afternoon of getting caught up on our books interrupted only by the steady staccato of falling mangos. Thud. Thud. Thud. One of the staff members relayed that in the five years he had been at the resort only one person had ever been the unfortunate target of one of the fruit missiles. 

The next day dawned bright and early with the 7 a.m. temps already promising a hot, steamy selva day. Fingers of fog clung to the mountains calmly gliding over the churning fast-moving river below. A hearty breakfast buffet awaited us and after availing ourselves of scrambled eggs and sweet corn tamales topped with fresh slices of avocado and salsa criolla, we met Freddy and took a short walk through the jungle to leave a breakfast of bananas for the local tamarin monkeys.

On our program itinerary for the day was a guided hike and swim to the nearby catarata de Pucayaquillo, a waterfall frequented by locals to cool off and enjoy the afternoon with friends and family. We even passed by one family hauling a small bbq with them. As we ascended through the shaded path toward our water oasis our guide, Nate, pointed out poison dart frogs, birds, lizards, and insects.  We did spot a couple of poison dart frogs on our jaunt, but they proved to be too quick and elusive to our camera!

Our Spanish still isn’t the greatest and it somehow got lost in translation during our check-in the previous day that the program for the day had been switched with the following day, so in thinking that we would be visiting a native pottery museum and cacao farm we hadn’t packed swimsuits or towels in our day packs, but that didn’t stop us from peeling down to modesty’s minimal layers and diving into the cool crystalline water of the sandy pool at the base of the fall.

Upon our return to the lodge, an air-conditioned nap was very much in order. If you’re looking for more of an alfresco siesta, there are a few colorful hammocks strung up underneath thatch-roofed posts to cradle you to sleep.

Waking up much cooler and refreshed, we grabbed our telephoto lens and hit the ruta de las ranas on the grounds of the lodge that runs past a natural pool down to the river to try our luck at spotting some poison dart frogs along the route. We luckily spotted two green-and-black camouflaged poison dart frogs on our jaunt that stuck around just long enough for a few quick clicks of the camera.

Stay tuned for the second part of our jungle adventure of slathering on yet more bug spray and glistening with jungle perspiration as we head to the village of Chazuta to visit a native pottery workshop and cacao farm!

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