Since I was little, I’ve always loved the earth. Mama Nature has always been introduced to me with respect, whether it was my parents showing me how not to waste food and recycle, or me growing up and becoming vegan. What went hand in hand with this love and respect was an eternal fascination with the rainforest, and in particular, the Amazon.
I loved the idea of it – although I wasn’t quite sure what it meant – because it seemed to be the place where Mama Earth (Pachamama in Latin America) was at her most powerful. There are parts of the rainforest where man has never stepped, and indigenous tribes which have never been contacted by civilisation.
It is this fascination, mostly, which led me to book my trip to South America, and this week I finally got to set foot in the rainforest, something I’ve been dreaming of doing since I was a child.
I arrived in Puerto Maldonado (the capital city of the Madre de Dios region), got off the bus and was immediately hit by a wave of incredibly hot, humid air. Seriously, it felt like a tangible thing, and soon I was completely damp. One week later, and I haven’t really dried off since. I spent my first day wandering around the town and catching up on sleep after the bumpy night bus and booked a couple of tours – a day trip to Lake Sandoval and a three-day adventure in the jungle itself, several hours downstream in the Tambopata National Reserve.
The trip to Lake Sandoval was beautiful! We saw monkeys, birds, bats, butterflies, and a hell of a lot of mud. The real highlight though was just the act of being in the jungle, walking through the forest and rowing on the lake. I was about to do a lot more of just “being” during my three-day stay in Tambopata.
We arrived at the lodge having taken a four-wheel drive down the highway and then into the jungle towards the river. It was another half hour on the boat and a walk through more mud before we were greeted with the sight of some wood cabins tucked away in the trees. My room consisted of a bed with mosquito netting, a sink, a toilet, a shower… and no real walls. There was enough for privacy of course, but the lack of ceiling just meant that you felt like you were outside pretty much the whole time. Showering in the Amazon was an experience shared by some cockroaches and felt no different from stepping out into a rainstorm.
During my stay in the jungle, I took boats to see the parrots at the clay lick, held an alligator and managed to catch a rare glimpse of a jaguar sitting on the bank of the river, watching us lazily as we frantically set up the telescope and took photo after photo.
The highlight, again, was just being in the jungle. On my last day, I went on a hike with a guide (who spoke no English) into the reserve. As we reached the end, the heavens opened and we managed to communicate that it would be better just to take our raincoats off and enjoy the rain. I have never experienced rain like it. It was so much fun just to stand there and get soaked. The downside was that there was no chance of seeing any animals so after a while we decided to head back, and that was where the fun really began.
Little did I know, that while we stood at the trail’s end, getting soaked through, the jungle around us was undergoing a kind of metamorphosis, changing and shifting its form into something which only vaguely resembled what it had looked like on the way there. Branches fell, streams turned into miniature rivers, and puddles became lakes until the jungle had become more swamp than anything else.
The way back felt like we were playing a video game. Every few steps there would be a hurdle of some kind and we would have to jump, climb, wade our way through the obstacle course that Pachamama had created for us. I felt very small, inconsequential and in awe of the power of nature (and also very grateful my guide knew how to get back). Returning to the lodge, despite my waterproof trousers and rubber boots, it looked more like we had been swimming than anything else.
As I continue my journey through Peru, I think I will leave a small part of my heart behind in the rainforest, with Pachamama in all her glory.