A very very sleepy faced me arrived down at breakfast for 8:00am. My FaceTime with Polly & gang earlier this morning, although great, meant I only got around 5 hours last night. With the schedule so gruelling, & still recovering from the Inca Trail, me thinks I may take a couple of days to recoup! Oh well, t’was worth it 🙂

Everyone was in the hotel lobby by 9:00am, bags packed, ready to go – again. A short bus trip to Cusco Airport where we were soon checked in & waiting in the departure lounge. The flight took off at 12:15pm & was only 45mins – about the same distance as UK to Ireland, except a far nicer experience than Ryanair & no irritating fan fair the moment the plane hit the tarmac!

It was fantastic watching the scenery change as I looked out of the window during the flight. One moment we were soaring above the huge mountain terrain we had just spent the last 4 days walking across, the next we were flying over dense green forest as we hit the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. As the journey took us deeper into the Forest, so the landscape became denser & denser with greenery. Then I spotted it – the Amazon River.

It was huge even from the sky. Like a giant anaconda winding its way through the woodland, bright terracotta in colour. From it would branch smaller waterways, but all the time my attention would be brought back to the main river itself. As the plane descended to land, the river got bigger and bigger – in some places as wide as the Thames as I’ve seen it in London. It was magnificent.

As we disembarked, the heat & humidity hit me. It was like stepping in to a sauna – the air was really heavy with moisture & was warm as you breathed it. It was quite claustrophobic, until you got used to it. Instantly I was another sticky mess! The sweat was dripping off me in minutes & I very quickly unzipped the bottoms off my hiking trousers to let some air in!

Our bags came off really quickly, so we were able to hop on the bus that was going to take us to the offices of our hosts – Rainforest Expeditions (they have a website at www.perunature.com) – to drop off any luggage we didn’t want to take on our onward journey to the lodge & to have a quick briefing.

Rainforest Expeditions is a community enterprise run in partnership with a commercial business. It is totally self-supporting & has been running for 16 years. The initial contract with the commercial partner was for 20 years, so it is unsure what the future holds for the project, but they hope to continue for many years to come.

It provides employment for local people, education through training, it brings an income through tourism & most importantly it gives money back to the community – having so far enabled they building of various community facilities including schools & meeting rooms. The contract they have at the moment means that the community project gets to keep 60% of all profits made here.

Our journey to the lodge took about an hour & was along probably the bumpiest, pitted, road I’ve every travelled along. I think every bone in my body was jarred, to the point where I thought I’d put my neck out again! Trying to take photos was a joke – there’s no ‘anti-shake’ setting IN THE WORLD that could have handled that road. Finally, shaken but not stirred, we arrived at a carpark with a small elevated hut. We left the bus & waited in the shaded canopy of the hut to be guided to the next mode of transport – a motorised canoe!

Single file we walked down some steep steps to the embankment at the edge of the river – The River! – where we climbed onboard. The canoe was very long & narrow with a canopy roof & bench seats running down either side. It took a little getting used to as if there were more on one side than the other it would tip over! After we’d all sat down – & we balanced – we put life jackets on, just in case. Again we set off. This part of the journey took about another hour but it was fascinating. Along the way we saw a cayman, some river otters & some macaws. We were even close enough to take pictures. I had to keep pinching myself to check it was all real! I just couldn’t take it all in.

Soon, we reached our destination & the canoe wedged itself up against the bank so that we could climb off & onto the steps leading up the riverbank. When I say steps I mean lengths of wood that had been nailed together & – to be honest – didn’t look too convincing! But we all made it to the top.

The walk to the lodge took far longer than it should – we just wanted to take pictures of everything. The forest around us was just so ALIVE. The sounds were almost deafening – too many to make out what they actually were, but they were all around us. Then, straight in front of us, sitting on a branch that crossed the path we were walking, just above eye level, sat a little Spider Monkey. It was absolutely beautiful. It was a baby & it just sat there playing with something it had caught & looking at us – we just stood there open mouthed. The of course we all reach for our cameras & started snapping away! Amazing.

Eventually, we arrived at the lodge. All I can say is wow. The complex is amazing. We walked through a break in the trees & there it was. A huge wooden complex built on legs & elevated above 3 feet off the ground throughout. All open wooden structures with roofs thatched by forest leaves & branches. The main causeway in takes you to an open foyer where there are a couple of toilets, a small shop & some seating, plus a lower level with a chill out area with tables, chairs (all made out of tree trunks) & some hammocks suspended from the roof beams.

From the foyer area one causeway goes to the large open dining area complete with ‘El Ronsoco Bar’, more casual seating plus all the dining tables & chairs, & behind which are the kitchens, the other causeway goes off to a meeting area where talks take place & there are various information stations too.

From the meeting area, several causeways go off to the rooms. There are about 50 rooms here, of varying sizes, all of similar layout. No doors – all doorways are curtains. Who’s going to rob you – you’re in the middle of the Rainforest!

The room layout is very simple. The walls are all stripped branches, lashed together. In our room are 2 beds, each with a full mosquio net suspended above to drop down over the bed at night. There’s a small table & 2 stools, all made from tree trunks, & a hammock suspended from the ceiling joists. To the side of the room is a curtained doorway leading to the bathroom which consists of a sink, a toilet & a shower. The shower tray is in the middle of the floor & the curtain is around it hung from ropes in turn hung from the ceiling joists. It’s a very very cool room – but let me tell you the coolest part…

the room only has 3 walls. The wall alongside the forest edge isn’t there – it’s completely open. So as you stand in the room, facing that ‘wall’, you’re actually looking at the Rainforest. The Rainforest is the wall – except it’s about 20ft away. No curtains obviously! It’s very, very cool.

After dumping our bags in our rooms we were straight in to our first excursion – a tour of the forest. It gets very dark here, very early. Once the sun starts to go down, the dense vegetation blocks the remaining light & the forest gets very dark. Once the sun has gone down, it’s torches on as you can’t even see your hand in front of your face.

We started by walking to ‘the tower’. A 120ft tower built so you can stand just above the treeline of the forest. Sadly we were just too late to see the sun set, but we got some great pictures of the view. Trees as far as the eye could see – miles & miles & miles of them. The tower itself was a bit of a heart in throat situation too as it was very tall (obviously!), but only made from metal tubing, steadied by tensioned steel ropes at each corner. The higher we climbed, & the more the weight at the top, the wobblier it became… I gulped a few times, but managed to hold it together 🙂 it was so worth it.

From here we went on our night walk. By now all light had gone & it was torches on. We stopped to look at many things along the way – including the fascinating ‘fire flies’ with their bright green eyes floating all around us – but I think my favourite was the 6″ black tarantula. The guide took us off the track in 2 groups, to the foot of a large tree. There just in front of the tree was a small burrow in the ground. Just inside the burrows entrance I could see the thick, black hairy legs of the spider & the large body. The guide used a stick to tease the spider in to thinking it was prey & POUNCE! – out it jumped. It was huge.

I think the scariest bit was the fact that we had to switch our torches off, as the tarantulas don’t like bright light, & as such all we had was a very dim light to see. When the tarantula came out, it was so fast that I lost sight of it & has visions of it disappearing up my trouser leg! We were within 3 feet of it. Scary, but great 🙂

We returned to the lodge shortly after this & had a delicious dinner of lasagne, washed down with a nice cold beer. But by 8:30pm I was ready to turn in. The electricity here gets turned off at 9:00pm anyway, so it’s kerosine lamps everywhere after that. The rooms themselves don’t have any electricity, just a couple of candles. So I had a shower by candlelight & then flopped on my bed ready for sleep.

As I lay there, I had the biggest grin on my face. Here I was, in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, lying on a bed in just my shorts & still too hot, surrounded by a jungle full of noises, the room flooded with moonlight from the half moon in the sky outside my bedroom ‘window’… it wasn’t the first surreal experience of the trek, but it’s right up there at the top of the list with Machu Picchu. I just couldn’t – & still can’t – believe it.

I tried to stay awake as long as I could, to just keep soaking it all up, but sleep was beckoning & it wasn’t long before I was gone. However, the sleep was short lived as our early morning call came a few hours later at 4:00am…