[Start with part one here.]

Meeting the Amazon.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

It was a 20 minute bus ride from the airport to the ferry, and 3 hours to the lodge at some obscure place in the rainforest. The surrounding was rich in flora. We saw a few white caimans and turtles.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

We reached the lodge by afternoon, settled, and went for a hike to a nearby tower in the evening — spotting animals, birds and plants on the way. Walking in the Amazon rainforest is a strange experience. Every moment a sound is heard, and one has no idea what animal/bird it could be. And I also learnt — if our guide is to be believed — that brazilnut, when eaten by women, helps produce more female hormones. It is, ergo, the secret behind well endowed Peruvian women. If that’s true, let’s all agree to stop bothering god for demands which can be met by a brazilnut.

The dinner was the first proper meal I had in 2 days, and it was rather delicious. The nights were peaceful — if the animal sounds, bird sounds, and the fact that you’re sleeping in a room that doesn’t have a wall on the side of the jungle doesn’t bother you.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Day three.
Bird watching.
Morning was at 4 a.m., breakfast at 4.30, and we were off to Lake Oxbow, a 15 minute upstream boat-ride and a 30 min. walk. The lake is known to house Giant River Otters, an endangered species. Besides those, there were countless birds. Every 100 m. along the shore of the lake seemed like a whole new micro-ecosystem. Every bird had a story and every tree had a story.

We don’t usually consider plants as living beings in the same sense as animals. But if one sees the evolution of plants in the Amazon basin (and indeed anywhere), they’re no different from us. Sunlight is extremely difficult to get for a plant  in a rainforest. Plants evolve to compete with other for sunlight and other reasons.

Sample these:
– A plant that has no trunk, for 2 meters above the ground, but just various smaller stems. This helps it grow taller.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

– A plant called the walking palm, similar to the above plant, but with the smaller stems spread out, which makes them look like creepy legs. It reminded me of the trees in LOTR.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

– Most trees don’t have branches except for the topmost few meters. Branches and leaves can’t grow at lower heights without sunlight.
– A tree with no branches and a bulging belly halfway through. The belly helps it store water for the dry season, and also helps spread seeds further away from the tree. (I’m trying hard not to make a joke about Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan here).

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

– A tree which grows its seeds into chunks of cotton, as cotton is light and takes seeds far away.
– A tree, again with no branches, because ants live in its trunk. Ants do not make the holes, but carry another insect to the trunk which makes the holes for them. Once that insect is done, ants transport it to another tree.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Incidentally, this tree is the one native women who indulged in infidelity were tied to. Taliban, take note. Males had to climb this tree full of ants to prove their manliness when they turn adult.

– A tree that had tiny thorns on its trunk. They are believed to have grown thorns to save themselves from being felled by large animals like dinosaurs.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

I would’ve chosen this tree to tie women and test adolescent kids.

At the lake, we saw birds and otters:
– The Hoatzin females mates with several males, lays eggs, and the male takes care of the eggs, which the female goes away to mate with another male. As a hardcore feminist, I’m proud of this bird, and so should you.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

– The Ahninga or snake-bird, has a neck resembling a snake.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

It helped that our guide knew his stuff, although if I *had* to nitpick, I think he knew disproportionately more about the mating habits and sexual preferences of animals and birds.

Some time was saved for fishing piranhas at one spot in the lake. It wasn’t so much fishing as it was some of us feeding piranhas. The water wasn’t clear, but we could see was pieces of the bait vanishing; piranhas are that quick. The boatman caught a couple (white bellied and yellow bellied); everyone else gave the piranhas free lunch.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Piranhas live for upto half an hour outside water, and the famous leaf experiment was done.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Next we tried to spot macaws; they look like parrots and are clay-eating macaws.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

We saw a few, but not while they were eating clay.

Alone. Almost.
Before lunch, I wanted to hike alone for a while without the guide and the group. I took directions to tree considered sacred by the locals. One needs to be careful while hiking as it is very easy to get lost, and no way to tell direction. There is also no way to get to a higher point in a rainforest — the only way is by climbing trees, not very possible. Plus there are poisonous snakes and animals.

Five minutes into the hike and it was scary. There were just too many unknown sounds around. As I was proceeding carefully (all the while reconsidering the decision to walk alone in the rainforest), I ran into an Australian girl from our group, Carolene, who was also hiking alone. Glad that I got a partner, we went to the sacred tree, and after lunch, on another long hike finding birds and animals. She claimed she was unfit, but effortlessly kept pace with me (if you have hiked with me, you’d know that’s impressive). I was later told hiking in smaller groups was more optimal to spot animals. I would definitely recommend hiking all by yourself in the Amazon rainforest. I suggested this in the tour feedback too. If they do implement it, there are going to be some scared-as-hell customers.

Herbal Viagra.
The final activity of the day was visiting a botanical garden and herbal medicine centre. It wasn’t mere lecturing; herbs were demonstrated.

We were all given a piece of a leaf to eat, and our tongues were numb in a few seconds. It was an anesthetic.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Another plant, when its leaves were folders and released, opened up erect. It was herbal viagra.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

There was an aphrodisiac too, which made a person of the opposite sex (or same — depending of whether you use the male leaves or the female) fall madly in love with you. Further, he/she will come looking for you in 3 days after smelling the plant’s fragrance off your body. Or so is the claim.

We were offered shots (that’s what the glasses looked like) of some medicines.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

I tasted the herbal Viagra and another one to regulate my periods. I could report the results of the herbal Viagra right now, but I’ll wait for two weeks and report both results.

After dinner, we went for a walk at night trying to spot insects and animals, and some star gazing. We saw a few insects, a millepede, a giant spider, a tarantula and a snake.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010
From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

Night sleep was peaceful.

Day four.
Final thoughts from Amazon basin.
That’s all the time I had in the Amazon. In a sense, the Amazon reminded me of the Grand Canyon. Standing at the top of the canyon, it seems like a dead- still landscape. But deep inside the canyon are millions of birds, insects, plants and trees in a vibrant eco-system. The Amazon was similar: Looking at the rainforest from the flight, it was just extensive plains of thick, green forests. But every square inch inside, the forest had its own story, several times dating back to the ice age or the time dinosaurs walked on earth. Natives see and experience a living forest every day; no wonder they are far more protective about the earth. A majority of us, on the other hand, haven’t experienced nature enough to see what the big deal is.

Nature is miraculous in the Amazon, and I agree with George Carlin’s words:
When we are trying to save the planet, we’re just trying to save ourselves. The earth has seen worse, and will see worse. It’ll just shake us off and start again. If you’re worried about the earth, don’t worry: The Earth will be just fine. We, on the other hand, are screwed.

Airline troubles.

From [Peru] Puerto Maldonado and Amazon rainforest 5th-7th Sep. 2010

I had booked a Star Peru flight from Puerto Maldnado to Cusco. Star Peru cancelled the flight 2 weeks before my trip. Instead they booked me on a LAN flight. While at Lima, I wanted to confirm all my flights and their timings, and during the enquiry, I learnt that the replacement flight was booked for 22nd Aug. instead of 7th Sep.

And they didn’t offer me a time machine to board that flight.

Star Peru assured me they’d correct it, but once I was at Puerto Maldonado and in the Amazon, I had no way of following up. I was hoping they’d book me on some flight to Cusco, as I had to hike the Inca trail the following day. No more flight adventures though: The ticket was booked.

The brothers.
After saying goodbye to our guide, Ivo, the group dispersed according to their flights, and I was alone to explore new people. I saw a bunch of males, both elderly and young, wearing long brown robes. I asked the guide of another company about them, and he said he had no clue. A few Hablar usted inglés? (Do you speak English? — Yes, I later realized it was the lamest question ever.) later, a young man introduced himself as Joseph Mary. They were Catholic evangelicals. Joseph was born and raised in Florida. He was always interested in religion, and in his freshman year he decided to drop out and join a mission close to his home in Florida. By then the mission had moved to Puerto Maldonado, so he moved too. 23 years in Florida; six in Puerto Maldonado.

A few questions later, he ask me what my faith was. I said I wasn’t sure, but if I had to pick one, it’d be Hindu atheist. He knew *exactly* what that meant. I had a few questions (mostly related to faith) and he answered them. The intent behind a question is more important than the answer one seeks, and I had come so far to learn. I gladly heard him out. He was smart, and had that glint in his eye which only those who are truly happy have. He said he joined the brothers — they call themselves the brothers of Jesus — because he thought he had found his true calling. I believed him. I said I was glad he had found his true calling, and that I was still looking. We laughed.

His flight was before mine. While parting, he used a Spanish saying which meant ‘good person’. I said, and truly believed, Likewise.

Flight to Cusco.

Part three here.

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