Welcome to the Jungle: Part 2

Missed Part 1? Check it out here!

After an enjoyable first day in the jungle in search of poison dart frogs on our hike to the Pucayaquillo waterfall and effectively managing to evade the wrath of any mosquitos with plentiful dousings of bug spray, the program for our second full day at the lodge called for learning a bit about the local culture and livelihood of the area with heading to the nearby village of Chazuta to visit the native pottery workshop at the Wasichay Cultural Center, take a tour of the Isla Shilcayo cacao farm, and taste chocolates at Mishky Cacao. The pueblo of Chazuta lies just east of the PumaRinri Lodge, our tranquil home away from home for our brief jungle stay, in the same narrow valley created by the swift Huallaga River between the 1,000-meter-plus peaks of both the Cerro Escalera and Cordillera Azul mountain ranges.

As we were the only ones signed up for the excursion that day, we got an unplanned private tour with Nate, our same guide from the day before. Our drive over to Chazuta from the lodge continued east along the same windy picturesque route snaking alongside the river that we had taken the day before to get to the lodge. As we zipped right and zagged left through every turn we got everchanging glimpses of the dense green foliage rising from the muddy water, near vertical in some places and more gradually in others. En route, Nate somehow spotted a small lone tamarin monkey in a tree and I was kicking myself for having accidentally left the telephoto lens sitting forlornly on the bed, having been overlooked when packing our camera bag!

We started the morning off at the Wasichay Cultural Center with a guided tour of the museum and pottery studio that really tested my Spanish listening comprehension abilities with all the more technical words, but I did manage to understand that the tradition of ceramics in the community has been passed down for many generations, the clay is kneaded with the feet rather than the hands, funerary urns were used in pre-Inca times, and that the painting of the pottery is done exclusively by women, mainly in the traditional colors of white, black, and red.

After purchasing several pieces of pottery — and hoping that the extra layer of newspaper wrapping put on would suffice after we had communicated we were worried about the fragility of the pieces in our backpacks for the flight home — we walked the quarter mile up the dirt road to the Isla Shilcayo cacao farm. There we were greeted by the cutest dog and met the owner of the farm to get a CliffsNotes summary of the process of how a cacao bean becomes a chocolate bar before venturing into the low canopy of trees. With a fierce-looking machete, the owner deftly split open a cacao pod to reveal the stacked marshmallow-like inside and instructed us to sample the sticky white sweet pulp that surrounds the cacao seed. You have to wonder sometimes who was the first brave individual to look at something so odd-looking and think, “Yes, I should eat that,” but in this case, wow!

I suppose I have never given much thought before now to how bananas are grown, and they are always hanging from banana hooks, but I was surprised to find the fruit growing upwards from the branch rather than dangling down as we passed by several of the phallic-shaped trees that would make anyone chuckle. Our guide also pointed out various trees and plants used for medicinal purposes, including the sangre de grado (dragon’s blood) with resin the unmistakable color of bright red blood and, coincidentally enough, used by locals as a quick-drying liquid bandage that forms a protective skin-like barrier to seal cuts and wounds.

The farm also produces honey with an active beehive including a colony of tiny stingless bees. On our way out at the conclusion of our tour we bought a jar of crema de cacao y miel that tastes better than Nutella!

Upon leaving Isla Shilcayo, we made a brief stop at Mishky Cacao to purchase some locally produced chocolate before returning to the much-awaited air conditioning of the lodge and the promise of a cool shower. I’m not sure if it was the hardness of the water out there or the random bottle of hotel shampoo I had brought with me to use up, but by Day 3 of this trip I was starting to rock the start of some dreadlocks!

The rest of the day was whiled away snoozing in the cool retreat of our room before a sunset dip in the pool where we lingered over pisco sours until our fingers and toes had long since grown pruney and the stars started making an appearance. Feeling that a bathrobe thrown over a still dripping wet swimsuit was just a tad too casual even for an open-walled jungle restaurant, we ordered dinner in the form of room service and got in some Spanish listening practice watching a real-life ’90s crime dramatization show on the telly, El Asasiento de Joan. No plot twist here; the killer was the usual suspect!

After double- and triple-checking that we did indeed recharge the camera battery and, most importantly, packed the telephoto lens in our camera bag for our early morning bird and wildlife-spotting boat ride in the morning, we put a pin in another pleasant day in the Peruvian jungle.

Up next — the upcoming final post in this series of our Tarapoto jungle itinerary with a photo collection of what we spotted from our boat ride. Teaser: a sloth makes an appearance!

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