Crazy, huge, poisonous, aggressive spiders with glow-in-the-dark eyes and egg sacks that spray babies everywhere. Why I love the winter.
I tell you, you will never appreciate winter fully until you spend some time in the jungle. Winter kills the worst bugs.
On May 26, we left Cuzco at 6 a.m. to start an 8-day journey in the Manu Reserve zone in the amazon basin. Also in our group were three recent Waterloo University grads from Canada, a Dutch girl and a retired couple from Colorado, USA. The first day was long, bumpy and dusty as we drove in a van towards the edge of the park. We spent the first night in the tiny village of Pilcopata. The temperature change from Cuzco, where it is cool and dry, was extreme. All ready we were hot and sticky.
The next morning we entered the park and loaded all of our gear into a long canoe-type boat. The trip down the Madre de Dios river was so pleasant! It was warm and breezy and there were few bugs to bother us on the boat. We sailed down river all day and arrived at our lodge in the jungle in the late afternoon. This lodge was run by local indiginous people. There were little thatched huts for sleeping and a dining hut. There was no power but we had running water from the river. The people from the lodge had a large tortoise tied up which they were going to eat for dinner!!! They untied it so we could look at it and it "ran" away when no one was looking. They were upset their dinner took off but we were happy it escaped. That night we went for a walk with flashlights to looks for bugs, snakes and other night creatures. We saw many insects, frogs, bats, an anol and a snail-eating snake. After dinner, we all headed to our huts to sleep. Josh and I walked into ours and there was a HUGE spider, as big as your palm, on our floor. We yelled for the guide to ask if it was poisonous. He said it was VERY poisonous and aggressive and we were suppsed to "kill, kill, kill" in his words. Everyone rushed into our hut to watch the show. Our guide got a broom and smashed the spider which made a terrible noise. Meanwhile, one of the boys spotted another spider on our ceiling because of its glowing eyes, and another and another and another... The next hour sounded like a war was going on in our room as we all hunted and killed spiders. There was a lot of shouting, laughing and "EWWWWWW!!!"s. Just when we thought all was clear, we spotted the mother of all spiders, guarding a huge, writhing egg sack. Our guide smashed the spider but accidentally got the egg sack as well! Tiny, transparent spiders sprayed everywhere -all over our sink AND MY BED!!!! We tried to brush off as many babies as possible (the babies are not poisonous yet) but eventually, I just had to crawl into bed with them to "sleep". In order to keep out the mosquitos and poisonous bugs with my bug net, I basically had to seal the baby spiders in with me. Ewww. I still feel a little like throwing up when I picture that egg sack.
The next day we left early to stake out a macaw "clay lick". Macaws and other parrots have to eat clay to get minerals to help with their digestion. We watched over 60 blue-headed parrots eating clay, a few orange-cheeked parrots and about 16 red and green macaws. After that, we headed upriver towards the reserve zone. We spent that night in a small town called "Boca Manu".
The next day we spent about 8 hours in the boat going up the Manu River deep into the reserve zone. We saw tons of birds, caiman (small alligators), some capybara (the largest rodents in the world -as big as pigs), a tygre weasel and more. We arrived at our next lodge and went for a walk in the jungle. We saw squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and capuchin monkeys. That night we got to try and sleep with weird howling and russling sounds going on just outside our tent. It was even worse because Josh had a few "bathroom emergencies" that night and had to run into the darkness scantily clad! Dangerous in the jungle! Not to mention the mosquito bites on your bum.
The next day we took a catamaran and paddled around an ox-bow lake. We got to watch a family of endangered river otters fishing and playing and some howler monkeys sleeping in the trees. While we were on the catamaran, a cold wind started blowing and our hot, humid weather was replaced by COLD, humid weather for the rest of the trip. That night we went for a walk along the shore and saw some caiman lying in wait for prey. We also saw some huge spiders bigger than your hand!
The next day, we headed back on the river to Boca Manu. On the way we all had our eyes peeled to spot jaguar that might be warming in the sun. We were nearing Boca Manu when our guide jumped up in the boat and said "JAGUAR!" There was a beautiful, huge jaguar sunning on the river bank. It watched us for a while then streched, yawned and walked off into the jungle. We were all very excited after that! We stopped at one point for a hike in the jungle and we saw a big, tan anteater taking a rest in a tree. It was pretty cute. The hike was pretty wet, especially after two of the boys slipped into a stream. It was pretty funny for the rest of us. We celebrated our jaguar sighting with beers in Boca Manu that night.
The following day, we spent mostly on the river heading for home. At one point though, we were able to get out of the boat and soak in some natural hot springs. We all enjoyed it very much especially since we were quite dirty and chilled. We stayed in a lodge not too far from the park entrance that night. They had a semi-pet capuchin monkey who was very interested in stealing our dinner. We had a peaceful sleep listening to all the frogs chirping in the distance. However, we also heard HUGE, BARKING bamboo rats. Not as soothing.
The next morning, we headed back by boat towards the town of Atalaya where a bus would be waiting to take us to Cuzco. The river was too shallow at one point so we all had to walk the final 500m on the shore while the boat went ahead with just the luggage. The ride back to Cuzco was again, bumpy and dusty but we all arrived back safely. It was a GREAT trip!