When I first looked at a map of Peru, I imagined a route that would suit our travel time. It looked simple enough: Lima to Cuzco/Machu Picchu, Cuzco into the Amazon Jungle, and from there, on to Arequipa and Colca Canyon. It obviously didn’t happen that way, and I definitely underestimated Cuzco’s centrality in the country.
Everything after Colca Canyon revolved around Cuzco in some way, including our route into the Amazon Jungle that we’d predetermined would be from launched from Puerto Maldonado, but ended up being nothing of the sort. We learned of the option to travel into Manu National Park and after doing a bit of research on each, and listening to some advice from travel guides, tour companies, and online testimonials, we opted to do the Manu route.
We actually bought our ticket into Machu Picchu at the same time we booked the Amazon tour, a 4 day/3 night excursion that resulted in a great trip, but a real tease nonetheless. We’d later learn that a little over half of our group would be staying 4 more nights than us, and venturing deeper in the lowland jungle when we would be heading back to Cuzco. That hurt a lot, especially after one Danish lady, who Teresa kept in contact with afterwards, informed us of a jaguar sighting during the latter period of her stay. We would’ve been able to stay a couple extra nights, but the only option was 3 nights or 7 nights. They didn’t have enough people to put a group together for the in between (us).
In the end, the actual booking was fairly smooth, but things got interesting the night before we’d be heading out. We walked down to Lizzy’s Travel, where we booked, to meet our guide ahead of time. He was set to give us an overview of what our tour would be like. His name is Bylly, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, if not a little too cautious with us when it came to the tour itself, in my opinion.
During his explanation of our stops, where we’d be staying, what we’d be eating (somewhat-Peruvian food with a mostly-Western flare, as per popular demand apparently) we were interrupted by a couple arguing with another tour guide and Lizzy herself. The couple, who were probably in their late 40s to early 50s and either Canadian or American, were pretty pissed off indeed. Apparently, their driver stopped in an outlying village and loaded up his van with either bricks of cocaine, or enough condensed coca leaves to be considered illegal. The couple was flying off the handle in a way that I thought wasn’t the smartest bit of behavior. I understand their rage at being put in a potentially dangerous situation. However, I thought at the time, and still believe, that threatening to contact government officials and lawyers isn’t the smartest way to handle people who probably own or have easy access to guns and drugs. If it were me, I’d be happy the ride was over, inform the tour guide of the situation she put me in due to her hiring practices, and move on. I wouldn’t be directly pointing the finger at possible drug mules in a country where I have no connections, know nobody, and don’t speak the language. And that criteria seemed to fit this couple, more or less, although one can never be too sure.
After that notable situation, we stepped outside with Bylly, who came across as genuinely sad about the situation. He proceeded to voice his concern over the corruption in his country and was actually embarrassed as though we’d be judging him because of what we saw. We let him know that shit like this happens in every country, in some form or another, and that we only judge people by their individuality, not what kind of group they might belong to. It was actually a cheesy but really emotional moment and we had just met this guy ten minutes prior.
So, we got up at the crack of dawn the next morning and were picked up by a van containing Bylly and another travel guide, Jose, who would be heading the larger group and taking those staying longer into the jungle. I’m still jealous thinking about it; they got to stay in tents!
I can’t remember most of their names, but there was the Danish lady and her 7-year-old son, an older Dutch couple named Hans and Eva, two big Danish guys about my age, and Uzi, an Israeli in his early twenties who finished his mandatory 2-year stint in the IDF and had been traveling through South America for a few months now.
It was a random group of people and there ended up being some hilarious drama that we heard about afterwards via email. The guides were very hesitant to allow us to venture out, or take the kinds of risks Teresa and I were more than willing to take to have an adventure (like a jungle walk while it’s raining? It was like they were used to dealing with people who come to the RAINforest but don’t want to get wet!). So there was definitely some quirkiness with the group and the guides and in the end, Teresa and I went out for walks whenever we felt like it, anyway.
Next time, into the Cloud Forest, tier one of the Amazon!