So, there’s a bit of a gap in the timeline here in that I didn’t head straight from the Cotopaxi National Park to the jungle, but the time in between isn’t all that interesting on accounts of mostly having sat inside my hostal room in Baños feeling somewhat lonely, and then heading via Guayaquil to meet Andy in Chiclayo which can be best described as one of those towns where you only go to change from one bus to another. Eventually though, we arrived on the very edge of the jungle in Tarapoto.
There isn’t masses to do in Tarapoto itself, but we did visit the local animal rescue which is a bit different to the likes of Battersea Dog’s Home. This animal rescue takes in would be jungle inhabitants, usually endangered, that have been caught for sport or injured. Since all the animals are in cages, it doesn’t make for great photography. It also makes one think about what is “appropriate” when it comes to caging animals. In this case, if the animals escaped, they’d be unlikely to find food on their own, and the birds had injuries which meant they couldn’t fly. Yet it must be something of a sad life to be the only one of your species in a cage, although not all the animals were alone.
We also ventured into the local jungle at Alto Shilcayo, a day which we weren’t exactly prepared for. From what we’d read, it was a two hour walk to see the waterfall. What it turned out to be was two and a half hours each way with the assistance of a guide, crossing the river many times, and requiring far more food than we’d packed for a short walk. So, our lunch largely consisted of a papaya we’d picked up at the entrance to the reserve.
Pacaya Samiria National Park
Next, we made our way into the jungle proper, first taking a taxi from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas, then a speed boat at 3am to Lagunas where we were picked up by our guide, Guillo. Andy had found a tour operator that would take us by canoe into the Pacaya Samiria National Park, ensuring we were fed for the duration and provided with shelter for each night. It certainly proved to be quite the experience, and I think for me reaffirmed the need for a decent bed at night! Both Andy and I tried to fish when Guillo was trying to catch lunch, but neither of us were particularly lucky as we only caught one small fish each. We also had a go at paddling in the canoe, but hats off to our guides Guillo and Blanca, it was damn hard! I think we spent about 45 minutes each paddling in total before having to give up.
We did get to see quite a variety of wildlife, some fairly close up, and by some accounts we were luckier than most, although I do wonder if it was simply down to our guide’s ability to spot animals from a distance. All in all we saw sloths, parrots, three species of monkeys, river dolphins, giant otters, and more tropical birds. One one night, we went out in the canoe to spot caimans and crocodiles. Luckily, we came across three caimans over the course of the night, one of which Guillo managed to grab out of the water to show us, although it was only a small one. Eventually, you start to get the grasp of what you’re looking for: movement in the trees might be monkeys; butterflies close to the water are probably flying around a turtle; and of course, that high-pitched buzzing near your ear is another bloody mosquito!
How we did it
We got to Tarapoto by bus with Exclusiva, which is pretty good as it has fully reclining seats, so it’s fairly comfortable. To get between Tarapoto and Yurimaguas, we took a collectivo, but unlike the small mini-buses we’ve previously used, this was just a taxi which in theory will have four passengers. We were picked up from our hotel in Tarapoto to go to Yurimaguas, and got dropped off by a moto-taxi at the same company to return. There are two boat options for going between Yurimaguas and Lagunas: the fast boat takes about 6 hours; the slow one takes about 12. We took the fast boat which costs PEN 40 each eay, but it does mean waking up at an un-godly hour, the boat to Lagunas leaves at 3am, and the boat back to Yurimaguas leaves at 4am.
Andy arranged our trip with Jungle Amazone Adventure which cost PEN 150 per person per day. We decided to opt for four days. The minimum that can be booked with this company is three days. For this, we got picked up when our boat arrived at Lagunas, had a two guides, Guillo and Blanca, had all our food prepared and water included, and had all the accomodation necessary whilst in the jungle. I’d say we were well looked after and our guides were very good.
A couple of final notes about going in to the jungle. The first might seem like a rather obvious one, but if you do something like this on a canoe, the food options are going to be limited. Food for the four days was a mixture of rice, potatoes, spaghetti, bread, eggs, tomatoes, onion, cabbage, and fish, lots and lots of fish. In the interests of trying to increase variety, I ate the fish despite generally trying to adhere to a vegetarian diet. One of my main problems with fish is all the little bones, and by god were there a lot of them. One time I even ended up having to pull a bone out of my tongue, which was grim.
The other thing is about sleeping arrangements. Knowing we needed to keep our luggage to a minimum, we asked what we really needed to take with us. What we wish we’d been told was that there would be neither pillows nor blankets in the huts. Thankfully I carry my pillow with me anyway, but that’s usually because you’re only given one and I need two, otherwise my back and neck problems are aggrivated. However, Andy ended up having to do without a pillow as one wasn’t provided. It can also get comparatively cold at night, so you need something to keep warm. We both had our sleeping bag liners, but these weren’t really enough. We’d have been better off if we’d packed warm jumpers as well.