This post started out as a recollection of the main events from our disastrous tour of the Amazon jungle in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. It then warped into a creative writing piece written in the third person that was supposed to make it easier for me to write about these traumatic events.
It then warped again into a full-blown short story – written in the third person – that I’ve made available on Amazon for any and all to download in it’s entirety. It’s all true I swear! A real blow-by-blow account. Apart from some names of people and businesses to protect them (slightly).
I’ve no idea how it got to this point if I’m honest…
So, for those who don’t want any spoilers – please go ahead and download the full short story from Amazon UK or Amazon US. It’s approximately 10,000 words long and should have some images etc in the right places. It’s pretty cheap, so go ahead and buy me a beer! Hopefully it’ll make you laugh, smile or at the very least, extremely aware of the importance of Travel Insurance.
Anyway, enough duck & waffle – what follows are the highlights.
After arriving in Cusco, we booked a 4-day/3-night tour of the Amazon jungle with our tour operator. He was fantastic, and we ended up booking everything through him – including our hike to Machu Picchu.
We left on a night-bus a day after arriving in Cusco, it was the most terrible night-bus you could imagine. The whole night was spent smacking the sides of our seats as we made a very slow decent down a very zig-zaggy road on very slippery seats.
Despite this, pickup was relatively smooth in Puerto Maldonado – our rainforest location of choice in the Tambopata valley. We were loaded onto Taxi boats and transferred to the Amazon Eco Lodge which was situated on the very banks of the Tambopata river.
The Eco Lodge itself was beautiful, it was the paradise we had imagined. The rooms were fantastic – complete with our own swinging hammocks and mosquito nets (vital). The communal area – or cafeteria – was also well equipped.
The first day, as you can imagine, was a long day. Our first activity was a Jungle Trek, combined with Canopy walk and Zipline. We walked through the jungle expecting spiders to appear at every turn but the scariest thing that happened was a very large bug took an instant disliking to Sarah and decided to dive-bomb her shoulder.
The canopy walk was great, though we didn’t much appreciate the Zipline. I for one, being really poor at facing the correct direction. After this we had lunch which consisted of a full 3-course meal. After lunch we set off on a kayak from the docking area and paddled up-stream for approximately an hour. At this point I was personally sweating profusely from the exertion. Sarah was sweating from a fever that she was coming down with.
We disembarked on Monkey Island, a little island that was inhabited, funnily enough by monkeys. They’re pretty cute – and can catch like a professional cricketer. We kept throwing fruit at them and they just kept catching it. I even tried tricking one and throwing it a foot to the right. Everyone was apparently looking the other way but I swear to go this monkey did some kung-fu Matrix shit and caught it out of the air while leaping between trees.
That night we went Cayman hunting, it was extremely dark and extremely quiet. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find any as I’d been looking all afternoon while in the Kayak. We did however spot many a cayman. Perhaps more than 20 or 30 in total. They’re relatively small but still got the whole boat excited every time the spotlight would fall on a pair of glittery eyes half-submerged in the water.
Sleeping in the Amazon is also very strange. There are so many sounds! And moths circle the room while the lights are on. I’m not a great fan of moths. The mosquito net was a life-saver though and that night we didn’t get bitten to death. I wondered whether we’d fare the same the next night but unfortunately we never found out.
Day 2 started early for me. Sarah was took ill to wake up at 3:45am and it was about the only time in my life I had wished for a crippling fever. Instead I woke up and made my way to the Clay Parrot Lick.
Early morning parrot watching was actually quite fun. Our guide had brought with him a flip book of creatures, of which there was an entire page dedicated to parrots and their brethren. I saw perhaps a hundred and fifty different parrots, but the best thing I saw that day was a sloth on the ride back.
This sloth was perched high up the tree as to be almost invisible. I’ve no idea how our guide spotted it – perhaps he planted it for a tip or something?
The next activity that day was a trip to the lake. This involved quite a long hike though the jungle (along a clear path thankfully). Sarah was feeling reasonably OK by this point and wanted to brave the conditions. We set off along the path. In this heat we’d only bothered to take insect repellent, sunscreen and our water-bottles full to the max. Everything else we left at the lodge – locked up safely and hidden in our backpacks.
We saw many curious things on the trek, ants that carry leaves (leaf-cutter ants), termite mounds and creepy tree-parasite-vine things. Eventually we reached the lake, a long row-boat was appropriated and the tour guide rowed us out and across the river. At this point Sarah was feeling decidedly ill, we had to stop and rest anyway for our lunch at the opposite bank. But in this intense heat Sarah was pretty flakey.
On the way back Sarah and I surged ahead, mainly due to Sarah’s illness. We eventually arrived back at the river where the trail started and waited for the rest of the tour group to catch up. When we were all together and back on the taxi boat the guide gave us some terrible news.
Apparently while we’d been trekking, a group of 40 armed individuals had “attacked” our eco lodge. Thanks to the translation made by some of the other tour groups we were able to ascertain that it was not directed at tourists but was in fact a business dispute.
As you can imagine everyone was pretty shaken up – not knowing what to expect and fearing the worst. We arrived back at camp and had our worst fears realised. The entire camp and been vandalised. The walls were graffiti’d and the words “Terrano en litigio” had been sprayed everywhere. Worse than this, every item of furniture – and I mean every item – had been taken out of their respective houses and smashed on the ground. The cafeteria had been completely ransacked. Where once there had stood enough benches and seats to feed 40 or more people there was now only empty space.
What was worse was the vandalism and theft that occurred in all the guestrooms. Every single room had been destroyed and the contents of everyones backpacks had been strewn around. Sarah and I walked in to a complete disaster. Every item of clothing we owned had been left in a heap on the floor. Worse than this, that very day had been the only day in the entire 2 1/2 month trip that I had left the passports and my wallet unattended. Naturally my wallet was stripped bare – however we breathed a sign of relied when we spotted that the passports had somehow avoided detection. We had also lost Kindles and a new Laptop.
Our next-door-neighbours, Santi and Beatrice hadn’t fared any better, in fact you could say worse. Beatrice’s iPhone had been taken and so had Santi’s passport.
The police were already there when we had arrived back from our trip and had taken inventory of what was stolen from each of us. We then had to wait around for several hours as it became darker and darker and the police went over each item that was missing. Somehow, the police had managed to round up several of the attackers and had recovered some of the missing items.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when our Laptop appeared in the arms of one of the offices, I nearly had a heart attack when that same policeman managed to come up with a thick stack of cards – all of the bank cards from my wallet! At that moment we felt like the luckiest people alive.
Finally, we were allowed to leave – but not before the “business dispute” that had caused all of this violence had spilled out onto the dock. The group of tourists including myself and Sarah had to wait until the various party leaders (stakeholders) had had their say.
30 minutes later we were led away on a taxi boat to a hotel which the tour company had laid on for us.
That evening we spent a few more hours at the police station, going over the reports and even getting finger-printed! All the remaining lost items were noted down and the report was filed. We were sure we’d never see those items again but to be honest, the one thing we really wanted was to get the hell back to Cusco!
The third day, the day we were supposed to spend fishing on a lake and visiting a traditional Amazonian family, we spent frantically trying to escape this hellish jungle. After many bungled attempts at trying to get on a plane we finally escaped.
We were met at the airport by our original tour operator, he had heard of what had happened and promised to rectify as much as he could. He literally couldn’t believe it – nothing like this had ever happened before in all his years. He took us back to our original hostel, made sure we were ok and promised to speak to us in the morning.
The day we were suppose to return from the jungle found us receiving a full refund from our tour operator and a million apologies. All in all it wasn’t a fantastic trip to the jungle, far from it in fact.
But if we’re honest the tour operators did do us a real good service once the shit had hit the fan. We had a fantastic hotel put up for us in Puerto Maldonado the night of the incident, a complete and thorough police presence throughout and free plane tickets back to Cusco. We also received every penny of our money back – which we used to pay for the bulk of our Machu Picchu tour with the same operator. A tour that we’d absolutely enjoy.