Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Into the jungle . . .

 We had an opportunity to make an "advance trip" to Puerto Maldonado, Peru, in the Amazon jungle basin, so we traveled with Elder and Sister Rhoades and Javier Cáceres for 4 days.  The choice is a 10 - 12 hour bus ride (if the roads aren't washed out), or a 45 minute flight.  So guess which we chose?  How do you know when you have arrived?  Easy, look at your Coke bottle.  The change in atmospheric pressure from 11,000 t above sea level to only 400ft deforms the bottle.

 Hermana Johnson is cold no more:  From low 60's and thin air to mid 80's, humidity, and the dense air at nearly sea level.  She says she wants to move here.

 Not many cars in Puerto Maldonado, it is quite remote and fuel is expensive.  There are hundreds of "mototaxis", which are either motorcycles modified into 3-wheelers, as shown here, or just a motorcycle that you hop on the passenger seat of.  The 3-wheelers will hold 2 passengers, so when there were more of us, we formed a little caravan weaving our way through town.

 It looks like Hermana J. is having lunch in the jungle, but there is a nice restaurant in town called "Burgos", and we all went there for lunch after arrival.  The food is different here, and good seafood is available as well as regional dishes, so it was another taste treat.

 After a good rest, we are off on Saturday morning for our jungle trip.  It was about a half-mile walk from our hotel to the pier where we take a boat down the Madre de Dios to our start point.  Everyone looks fresh and full of anticipation.

 Our boat was a little more modern than this dugout, but boats like this are still in service.  Our boat was about 35ft long, made locally of mahogany planks, with a 40hp outboard.

 Pretty flowers are everywhere, and we saw a lot of this variety, don't ask me what it is, but Hna J. wanted a picture of it.

 Time to trade our shoes for rubber boots.  We soon found out why these are necessary.

 Here we are at the start of the trail.  From here is it a 3km walk through the jungle to Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake cut off from the main river channel as the river reroutes itself.

 Our first sight was this lizard on the side of the trail.  We watched as he changed from brown to totally green.  I guess he thought he was hiding from us, but he was in plain sight.

 Another jungle plant.  Our guide told us the bark of this plant is used like aspirin for headache and fever.  It is especially potent when it develops the red pods like this one.  Nobody had a headache yet, so we didn't try it.  For an experience like we had this day, go rent the video of "Medicine Man" with Sean Connery, that's pretty much what we saw here.  But we did not see any of the indigenous people, of whom there are several tribes in the region.

 These are leafcutter ants.  They cut off a section of leaf, drop it to the jungle floor, then pick it up and tote it off to their anthill.  We saw these, army ants, fire ants and more kinds of ants.  Luckily I only got one fire ant bite on my wrist, and it reacted about like a mosquito bite, but it did hurt for a while!

 Now you know what the rubber boots are for.  We slogged down this trail for 2.5 hours to go 3km.  It about sucked our boots off with every step.  Later we learned that if we had come in August, the trail would be dry!  Oh well, we are glad we came.

 Here are a family of long-nose bats sleeping on a tree in the middle of the day.  We were happy to let them sleep.

Below, out guide bails out out canoe before we all get in.  This is a smaller version of the boat we went up and down the Madre de Dios in.  It is built for an outboard motor, but motors are not allowed on Lake Sandoval, so he paddled all the way around.  Elder Rhoades tried to paddle a little to help us along.  The entire circuit of the Lake took over 2 hours to see all the things there, and due to time of day and season, there were some things we didn't see, like otters.  Below that is our lunch, wrapped in a banana leaf.  This is a traditional lunch of rice, chicken, and an olive.  Easy to pack around, the packaging is biodegradeable (except for the fork), and very tasty.  We also had a bag of local fruit that was a new taste treat.
 Above is a "walking palm"  when it is smaller, and is growing in the shade, but can sense there is more sun nearby, it "walks", by extending its roots in the direction of the sun.  It can move about 1ft per year for a total of 3 years, and by then it has grown so big it can't move anymore.  But by then it is usually tall enough to get its share of sun under the jungle canopy, and it just stays there and grows.

 A turtle sunning itself on a log.  We saw lots of these, and even more that we didn't see would jump into the water with a big splash when we got too close.  It was a little startling at first, but we soon got used to it.

 We crossed paths with a caiman swimming across the lake.  They are like alligators or crocs, but are unique to South America.  This one was a "black caiman", which the guide said was about 3 meters long, and I would say that it was all of that.

This picture isn't very clear, but this is a heron with yellow and white body, blue head and black comb.  It wouldn't let us get too close but sort of followed us around the lake.  There were numerous small birds in vibrant colors, as well as some vultures that perched in the high trees watching us.  If we ever capsized, it would either be caimans, piranhas, or vultures that got us.  Or the howler monkeys, or the snakes, or the tangles of vines or .  .  .

 Heading back up the trail after the trip around the lake, it only took 2 hours to go 3km.  We didn't stop for many pictures along the way.  Hermanas Johnson and Rhoades are pretty trail-savvy by this time, and could pick their way through the muck very well.  This boardwalk was a welcome sight at the end of the trail.  Note the walking stick that Hna J used for balance and support - with good effect, as she didn't fall down once.
 Tired an exhausted after a long day in the jungle, but the sights and sounds and the whole experience made it very worthwhile.

 Sunset on the Madre de Dios as we are heading back upriver to Puerto Maldonado at the end of the day.

Late at night we went by the church (there are 3 chapels and 5 branches in Puerto).  Here's a family getting in/on the family car, which is usually a motorcycle.  We saw up to 5 people on one of these little cycles, but the record still stands at 7, which we saw in the Philippines.
Oreos for breakfast!  The hotel we stayed in provided an excellent buffet breakfast - not like the "continental" breakfasts you get at most US hotels.  This was the full spread!  In a jar next to the cereal and granola was Oreos - so why not.  I can tell you they are delicious with yogurt and a glass of mango juice.

Below is a member family we met with on Sunday after church.  Note they are holding their Mi Familia follettos.  With the information they had in these booklets, we were able to open familysearch.org accounts for them using the WiFi on my phone, way down here in the jungle.  They were very pleased to see the names of their antepasados (ancestors) pop up as ready for temple ordinances when we made the final clicks.  The closest temple to here is Lima, and it takes 2 days by bus to get there (yes, 48 hours), so they are lucky if they can go once per year.

 Above, Hermana J at a Family History meeting that the missionaries had organized.  They had the meeting scheduled, and were pleased when we arrived in town and were able to participate.

Farewell to Puerto Maldonado.  Our mototaxi driver just dropped us off at the hotel, where we packed up and got shuttled to the airport for the trip back to Cusco.  We had great experiences here, and met such wonderful people as we have everywhere in Peru, and are looking forward to coming back in a few months, especially Hermana Johnson.


  1. WOW! What a cool adventure! Did you get blisters from those boots!?

  2. You are certainly having some varied experiences, seeing interesting things and meeting wonderful people. How blessed to be senior missionaries!