Our very first day in Peru began bright and early with a flight from Lima to Cusco to our final destination: Puerto Maldonado – the gateway to the Amazon.  Upon landing you immediately notice the humidity, and just how green everything is.  Once at the river port we boarded a boat for a 3 hour chug up the Tambopata River, an important tributary of the Amazon.   We stayed at Posada Amazonas, an ecofriendly lodge owned by the native community of Infierno peoples.    I thought it was going to be super romantic because they had no electricity (candles only!), no walls, and lots of gauzy mosquito nets.  That, to me, sounds like a recipe for romance.  And it might have been, except after dinner we returned to the room and even in the darkness we saw them: cockroaches.  Hundreds of them.  All over our clothing, sink, walls, backpack, and toothpaste.  Every time we moved something they would come scurrying out.  It was horrifying.  We jumped into bed under our mosquito net and huddled in fear as we listened to all the strange sounds the jungle seemed to produce.

In any case, the lodge provided us with an amazing guide, Ivan, who showed us many things the jungle has to offer:

Tarantulas:

Leaf Cutter Ants:

Piranhas:

And many, many birds, including these Macaws:

On the trek we also had the priveledge to see the endangered Giant River Otter, – a family of 7 of them, in fact.  It was so exciting to be one of the few tours to spot these incredible otters.  Due to overhunting, very few of these exist in the wild.

Visiting the jungle really made me appreciate the need for conservation so that all of these amazing creatures have a safe place to live.  They really, really, don’t belong in cages or pet stores.  The variety of plants, flowers, bugs and birds is truly astounding, some of which have not even been classified by science yet.  This short jungle excursion just whet my appetite…and I hope to be able to take longer jungle trip sometime in the future.

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I think many travellers are divided on the issue of group tours.  There seems to be a wide variance on the types of tours you can take, and along with that the types of people that tend to take these tours.  Many travelers shudder at the thought of taking a group tour, imagining them to be like your grandma taking a bus to Branson, Missouri, or a huge group of Japanese tourists checking out the Path in downtown Toronto.  As a  teenager, I took an EF tour with my highschool to Italy and Greece.  As a 14 year old, a group tour really is the ONLY way to go, and for me, it was a wonderful introduction into the world of travel.  As adults, Mike and I have done lots of travelling, but have never particpated in a group tour – save for a bus jaunt to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam (if you can count an overnight  boat tour as a group tour).

The worries  that travelers have about group travel are many:

1) Will we have time to do what we want to do, away from the group?

2) Will we be annoyed with the other people in the group, and unable to escape?

3) Will we miss out on the “real” experience of travelling by going from chain hotel to chain hotel on an airconditioned bus?

4) Will we not see how “real” people live, and eat local cuisine?

On the other hand, there are unquestionably lots of great advantages to travelling in a group:

1) Travel arrangements are made for you, and the hotels and attractions are usually vetted and pre-paid

2) You have the chance to learn alot more about the place you are visiting by having a good guide – much more interactive than reading it out of a book

3) There is safety in numbers

4) If you have an issue, the organization will have a back-up plan

Because Peru is such a large country with a wide variety of must-see sites, we knew it would take at least 2 domestic flights, and a great deal of inner-country travel to see everything we wanted to see – and that is a heck of a lot of planning.  Also, we only have 2 weeks.  And to hike the Inca Trail, you are obligated by law to have a guide.  We decided that an experienced tour company would have figured out the most efficient way of seeing all the highlights with the minimum amount of wasted time.  We spent a lot of time investigating different companies, and reading up on the experience of fellow travellers.  GAP Adventures is without a doubt one of the most well-respected tour companies in the world.  They are also a Canadian company, and head office is conveniently located a 10 minute walk from my house.  They have a HUGE variety of tours to choose from, so if you are into active adventures, have kids, want to volunteer, or  take in a cultural festival around the world, GAP seems to have everything covered.

We decided on a trip called Quest of the Gods, which will start us off in Lima, then off to the Amazon Rainforest (COOL!).  Then onto Cuzco, and from there a 4 day hike to see the legendary Machu Picchu.  We will also get a chance to go to Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world.  Altogether a whirlwind 14 day tour.  Exciting!!!!

This just in: Rabid Vampire bats are killing children in Northern Peru!
Eeeeek!

How could I neglect vampire bats in my post about scary things in the Amazon?!?!

This article is from the BBC:

Peru battles rabid vampire bats after 500 people bitten

Vampire bat captured in Brazil, 2005
Vampire bats feed on the blood of mammals while they sleep

Peru’s health ministry has sent emergency teams to a remote Amazon region to battle an outbreak of rabies spread by vampire bats.

Four children in the Awajun indigenous tribe died after being bitten by the bloodsucking mammals.

Health workers have given rabies vaccine to more than 500 people who have also been attacked.

Some experts have linked mass vampire bat attacks on people in the Amazon to deforestation.

The rabies outbreak is focused on the community of Urakusa in the north-eastern Peruvian Amazon, close to the border with Ecuador.

The indigenous community appealed for help after being unable to explain the illness that had killed the children.

The health ministry said it had sent three medical teams to treat and vaccinate people who had been bitten.

Most of the affected population had now been vaccinated, it said, although a few had refused treatment.

Vampire bats usually feed on wildlife or livestock, but are sometimes known to turn to humans for food, particularly in areas where their rainforest habitat has been destroyed.

Some local people have suggested this latest outbreak of attacks may be linked to the unusually low temperatures the Peruvian Amazon in recent years.