With so many adventures behind us, we started packing up our things to head out of the Rainforest. We had been here for almost 4 days, and it was just starting to feel a bit like home. We had made friends with the other guests and the staff, but we had to leave all that to move on with our journey.
Like I mentioned before, this goodbye felt like the last day of camp. We had made friends so quickly, but it was still hard to leave them behind. The amazing meals, 3 daily wildlife excursions and the rustic living arrangements were all things we wouldn’t soon forget. We went on our final morning excursion and saw a few of our favorite bird species just starting to wake up to the rising sun. At this point in our trip, there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff to see, but it was still fun because I could practice identifying all the new bird species I had learned about. There were a lot of bird species here that they had in the Eastern United States like Cormorants, terns, egrets and herons. The difference was, they looked entirely different and had uniquely adapted to life in the Jungle. Although they were new species, they still seemed familiar and it was nice to start out being able to identify at least a few of the fauna here.
We had our last breakfast and started getting our stuff together for the long journey home. We later boarded the canoe with the 2 other couples and started paddling to the other side of the lake. Once we got to the place where all the canoes docked, we saw dozens of people shuffling back and forth in the otherwise quiet jungle. It was the time of day where all of the tours start coming through, and we were getting out of there not a moment too soon. Once again, we were so glad we stayed in the rainforest rather than in the city. We had such an advantage when it came to seeing wildlife, and almost all of our excursions were completely private. We would occasionally see another canoe a few hundred feet away but rarely closer than that. Anyways, we would be leaving the lake in good hands, and there were plenty of new people coming in to see all of the amazing wildlife.
We walked down the jungle path for a few minutes until we heard someone yelling “anaconda!”. My ears perked up immediately. The anaconda was on my list of animals that I wanted to see but didn’t want to get my hopes up. Just as we were about to leave, we got this nice parting gift. We walked back to the site to get a good look, and what we saw in the water was a baby anaconda, no longer than my arm. This little guy was almost more worm than snake, but still it definitely counted as a sighting. The tour guides think he had recently eaten something like a small frog because there was a huge bulge around his mid-section. It was cool to see how well adapted the anacondas body was to this, and it easily expanded to accommodate this large meal.
It was fun to get that last minute sighting, but we had to keep on moving. We pressed on down the dirt path, which after the recent rain had turned into a huge mud path. We had to walk along the sides to avoid the deep mud in the middle. I attempted to walk through this, but I almost lost a shoe. The way back was much quicker than the way to the lodge. This might have been either because it was familiar, or because we had seen most of the common wildlife already. We made one brief stop at the nature preserve office to go to the bathroom and get a passport stamp. This wasn’t necessary, but it was a free passport stamp with an otter on it so it was pretty much a done deal. The stamp did take up almost an entire passport page though.
We quickly boarded the motorboat, and began our speedy journey along the river. Along the banks of the river, I noticed the occasional farm with steps carved into the clay to allow the farmer to move to and from the river. While it was cool to see how people lived around here, it was a painful reminder of the diminishing rainforest. The rainforest is being cleared at a devastating rate and a vast majority of that clearing is to graze cattle and other animals for meat. This is such an ugly phenomenon and I am glad not to take any part in it. The one good thing is the ecotourism industry in this area. We talked with our guide and he told us that many of the people of Puerto Maldonado used to be miners. The Rainforest has dense concentrations of precious metals like gold, and some people use dangerous chemicals in order to extract them. This is harmful to the miner’s health and absolutely terrible for the environment, but for many of them it is the best job they can find. Once the eco tourism industry took off, many of these miners were able to get jobs as guides if they spoke English or as support staff. This not only gives them better income, but it is better for the environment than mining. In fact, these people who work here are now helping the rainforest rather than hurting it. Frequently they take young school children on field trips to show them the value of this special place and why it is worth protecting. They also entertain tourists from larger cities where they most likely do not have access to natural spaces like this.
We got off the boat and drove back to the office to get our things. After we got everything, we headed to the hotel where we would be spending the night. We thought it was wise to spend a night in Puerto Maldonado to rest up. If we had known what would happen next we probably would’ve reconsidered.