Amazonas – Puerto Maldonado – Cusco (or Cuzco)
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
As we had missed out on the canopy tower yesterday, Fernando suggested an early visit to the observation tower. We started at 5:30 am from the lodge where we met another early raiser, an Agouti.
Agoutis, a large, guinea pig-like rodent, are important for the Brazil Nut trees as they open the nuts and then distribute the nuts for later use. As squirrels in other parts of the world, they often forget where they burried them, thus allowing a new tree to sprout. Brazil nuts will carry their first seed pots (=nuts) after 30 years of growing.
After a 20 minutes walk, we reached the flimsy-looking 100 feet tall tower which is actually quite sturdy as it is secured by many steel cables.
We observed the tree tops for 45 minutes, watching out for birds, such as the White-breasted Toucan, a hawk-like Amazon Kite, Puff Bird, Parakeets and Green Macaws.
On our way back from the tower we learned about the loud noise in the jungle that comes from troops of monkey which are territorial and need to secure their area by loud expressions of strength.
Fernando also explained why this green-looking tree is called the Naked Tree. This tree sheds its smooth bark like a snake every few months to get rid of parasites or epiphytes. In addition, the tree stores chlorophyll in its bark for photosynthesis.
Back at the lodge we all had breakfast, except Heiko who tried to get a few more shots of hummingbirds and insects. He was especially after a Four-Tailed Hummingbird that was, however, so shy that he never got anything “on film.”
Sophia discovered an interesting spider net with separate, almost ornamental, accessory weavings.
"Hot lips" - Could there be a more fitting name for this flower?
We bid a fond farewell to our jungle home and headed back to Puerto Maldonado, first via river boat and then via bus.
During the boat ride, we saw some turtles on the banks of the river resting on logs. We also stopped in the middle of the boat ride to pick up some hard-core backpackers who got apparently stranded there in the wilderness.
Back at the Rainforest Expedition office, where we picked up our left behind luggage, we encountered a few very cute and playful "pet" Spider and Capuchin monkeys, adopted by the staff.
This one chased Alexandra...
Back at where our jungle exploration began 2 days ago.... Puerto Maldonado Airport.
During the short flight to Cusco (altitude: 3400 m or 11,150 feet), we could see the meandering Amazon River traversing the jungle.
A small bus picked us up from the airport...
... and brought our small group to the hotel “La Casa Del Abuelo”.
At the hotel we were greeted with our first cup of Coca Tea.
Coca - the Sacred Leaf (Erythroxylum coca)
The coca plant has been used in the Andean world for thousands of years, mainly for its medicinal properties and religious significance. Chewing coca leaves helps to overcome hunger, thirst and fatique and - as mate de coca or coca tea - altitude sickness. Even nowadays, coca leaves play an important part in shaman offerings to the gods.
Coca is best known because of its alkaloids, which include cocaine, a powerful stimulant. However, the coca leaf is not cocaine, just as grapes are not wine. The coca alkaliod content in coca leaves is negligible, under 1%, which means that traditional chewing of leaves or drinking of coca tea does not produce the high people experience with cocaine. Today, Peru is (after neighboring Columbia) the second largest producer of cocaine worldwide.
After a short rest which we used for packing and repacking our gear, we went on a walk through the city to a restaurant.
Cusco is the archaeological capital of the Americas and the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Carlos, a Cusco native, shared the history of his city with us as we walked Cusco’s central streets to the restaurant. The streets are lined with massive Inca-built stone walls that form the foundations of the current city and on which the Spaniards built their own churches and monuments.
During the walk, the altitude really hit us, we were short breathed and almost everybody experienced a light headache.
The dinner at the “Tunupa” featured not only an elaborate buffet, but also a local dance group performing in traditional costumes.
Later during the night we learned that we would have to pack again an overnight bag and leave most of the luggage behind...
We were lucky and thankfully came prepared - most hotel rooms offered only one outlet, not much if you want to recharge two phones, ipods, one laptop, a Kindle and two cameras...