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To Manu !
Machu Picchu Pilgrimage+Manu+Lake Titicaca

Iglesia de la Merced, LimaIglesia de la Merced, Lima (Molly Quackenbush)
We departed early in the morning to fly to Puerto Maldonado, the airport/gateway city for the Madre Dios, Manu Rainforest Area. We would be staying at the Manu Wildlife Center. Getting there was definitely part of the experience. Our guide Enrique picked us up. He was excellent throughout. His degree was in zoology from a British university, so his English was excellent. He had lived in the U.S., had a relatively worldly view of things.

We drove for a few hours down the 'new paved road'. This is the new coast to coast highway that the environmentalists are understandably so concerned about. I share and understand the concern. . . but it's not that easy. Don't the people need and deserve a paved road ? (It was the only one.)

Notes of what I see along the way: cattle in the road; every little community had a school, and many had a health clinic; much effort has been put into giving them electricity; many bikes, motorcycles, and variations thereof. There's a gold mine operation with a 'town' of blue tarp dwellings full of migrant workers. I worry about the social impacts. . .the 'girlie bars' and surely sex trafficking, and the devastating environmental impact.

We leave the good road for a lousy one to get to the first river. We boarded the boat on a 2 x 6 plank. I was pleased that the boat was clean, seemed in good condition, and had life preservers. We cross the river, meet a new transport vehicle. The road is dirt/rocks, and gets worse. They do have electricity which enables a small settlement to have a 'video bar' (and ice cream!) The young women wear spike heels on miserable sidewalks. There are more cows, goats and a pig in the road. Laundry is being done in a creek. More than one shanty has a satellite dish. We see farms, lumbering. It's against the law to cut Brazil nut trees. There are offices of the 'Agriculture Ministry'.

We were very fascinated by the atmosphere at these river ports, the economic activity going on. We thought it was reminiscent of what American ferry points must have been like two hundred years ago, with the exception of the boat engines.

We cross a wide mudflat shore to get to the second boat for 4 hrs going up the Madre de Dios River... as the sun sets, which is quite beautiful. We see a capybara and birds. It feels so remote and then we're out there in the dark ! It's a little scary, as the assistant boatman uses a large flashlight as a 'headlight' to see. I have to assume that the driver 'knows the road'. Enrique assures me that the driver lives across the river from the lodge, so that makes me feel better. (I was wondering why the boat departs so late in the afternoon, and could we have scheduled an earlier one? but Enrique says they're all that way.)

Finally we arrive at the Manu Wildlife Center. Julian, the manager, meets us at the boat. I couldn't see the wet rocks, slip and fall, (which was more embarrassing than painful), but quickly overwhelmed by the exotic, candlelight atmosphere of the facility. The dining room was very appealing and welcoming. Dinner was semolina soup, some kind of meat, with excellent mashed potatoes from scratch (as they were the entire trip). Dessert was trying to be lemon meringue pie. Overall it was very pleasant. . . and wonderfully peaceful.

The cottage was just what I wanted it to be. It was very clean, comfortable, and cozy. I had chosen this jungle option because it was remote, while also having hot water and private facilities (saving the camping for later.). We slept well, before the very early wake up, which we would get used to. (4:30 am wake-up is not usually my idea of vacation)

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