Immersed in Peru’s jungle

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My friend, Patricia, and I traveled to Peru’s Amazon Basin during the high-water season one March. We found the surroundings so foreign that adjectives don’t suffice. It’s easier to use comparisons: tarantulas the size of cantaloupes, a rodent the size of a sheepdog, a termite nest the size of a beer keg, a monkey the size of a teacup, piranhas with teeth as sharp as, well, piranha teeth. . .

We stayed at Explornapo Lodge (a 5-day/4-night stay costs $820 per person in 2007), one of five lodges owned and run by Explorama Lodges (in U.S., call 800/707-5275 or visit www.explorama.com).

In the lodge, each room had a bed with a mosquito net suspended overhead and tucked in on all sides. A pitcher of water and a metal basin for washing sat on a small table. A kerosene lamp perched on a small shelf. There was no electricity, no running water and no flush toilets. Showers were cold, since river water was pumped each morning to fill gravity tanks.

Our guide, Cliver, gave us the lowdown: at night, keep a flashlight handy in case the kerosene lanterns go out. Stay on the wooden walkways to avoid snakes — and “other things.” And, of course, don’t drink nonpurified water.

Cliver led us on our first trek of the jungle. After a few steps, I looked back. I couldn’t see beyond the curtain of green; we were already in dense rainforest.

The trees were filled with birds. Cliver rattled off the species: white-throated toucans, ivory-billed aracaris, black-faced dacnises and spangled cotingas.

We heard a crash in the undergrowth and watched a juvenile agouti, sort of an overgrown guinea pig, disappear into a blanket of palm fronds.

Clive stopped again and pointed. A troop of monkeys — black saddle-back tamarins — was making its daily commute across the Sucusari River to dine on mangoes. Barely 20 feet away, they looked at us curiously. Their faces, bright white, carried the impassive look of mimes.

While I never felt danger, I did realize that the jungle narrowed the boundary between “safety” and “peril.” A trained guide made the chance of misfortune minimal, but the river or jungle easily could have swallowed us without leaving a trace.

Still, the remoteness from civilization and complete immersion into nature yielded more tranquility than unease.

JAMES D. JOHNSON

Chattanooga, TN

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My friend, Patricia, and I traveled to Peru’s Amazon Basin during the high-water season one March. We found the surroundings so foreign that adjectives don’t suffice. It’s easier to use comparisons: tarantulas the size of cantaloupes, a rodent the size of a sheepdog, a termite nest the size of a beer keg, a monkey the size of a teacup, piranhas with teeth as sharp as, well, piranha teeth. . .

We stayed at Explornapo Lodge (a 5-day/4-night stay costs $820 per person in 2007), one of five lodges owned and run by Explorama Lodges (in U.S., call 800/707-5275 or visit www.explorama.com).

In the lodge, each room had a bed with a mosquito net suspended overhead and tucked in on all sides. A pitcher of water and a metal basin for washing sat on a small table. A kerosene lamp perched on a small shelf. There was no electricity, no running water and no flush toilets. Showers were cold, since river water was pumped each morning to fill gravity tanks.

Our guide, Cliver, gave us the lowdown: at night, keep a flashlight handy in case the kerosene lanterns go out. Stay on the wooden walkways to avoid snakes — and “other things.” And, of course, don’t drink nonpurified water.

Cliver led us on our first trek of the jungle. After a few steps, I looked back. I couldn’t see beyond the curtain of green; we were already in dense rainforest.

The trees were filled with birds. Cliver rattled off the species: white-throated toucans, ivory-billed aracaris, black-faced dacnises and spangled cotingas.

We heard a crash in the undergrowth and watched a juvenile agouti, sort of an overgrown guinea pig, disappear into a blanket of palm fronds.

Clive stopped again and pointed. A troop of monkeys — black saddle-back tamarins — was making its daily commute across the Sucusari River to dine on mangoes. Barely 20 feet away, they looked at us curiously. Their faces, bright white, carried the impassive look of mimes.

While I never felt danger, I did realize that the jungle narrowed the boundary between “safety” and “peril.” A trained guide made the chance of misfortune minimal, but the river or jungle easily could have swallowed us without leaving a trace.

Still, the remoteness from civilization and complete immersion into nature yielded more tranquility than unease.

JAMES D. JOHNSON

Chattanooga, TN