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iSUR Journal Part 1: El Gato Lodge

January 1, 2011


Moonlight over the Tambopata River


The rainy season has started. Last night it rained without stopping on the tin roof of my hotel. I slept straight through the beating and only woke up when it stopped. In the morning, I ventured downstairs to the hotel lobby to find out what was wrong with the Internet and found that there were a lot of things going wrong. Apparently nothing here works when it rains – including the city’s power and the credit card machines. I made a desperate walk to the bank in the rain to get out enough cash for my bill.

Therany, my guide, arrived right on time for our departure to the office of Rainforest Expeditions. Our goal was to catch one of their tourist boats upriver to El Gato, one of the rural tourism initiatives that work with Interoceanica SUR (iSUR). We were informed of a three-hour delay – the rain had also set back the planes in Lima and the tourists were late.

After waiting three hours at the hotel, we finally boarded a boat in the Tambopata port near Puerto Maldonado. There were about 15 American and Canadian tourists going out to the three lodges owned by Rainforest Expeditions – lodges that I will probably never stay at because they average about $150 per night per person. The strong rains made the Tambopata River incredibly strong and we struggled against the current in our heavily laden boat. At 6pm we were told that we had about three more hours to go. We were going to experience the river at night . . .

Luck was with us – the moon was full. The large trees that float down the river were visible in the moonlight and our boat driver was able to avoid them. We were, however, three hours late for our transfer to El Gato. The owner, Mr. Ramirez was supposed to wait at the lodge until we arrived and then take us up river to his property in a peke-peke boat. We had no way of contacting him and just had to hope that he would still be there.

Apparently I have grown accustomed to the unknown, because I just sat back and enjoyed the beautiful reflections of the moon rising over the wide Tambopata River. In the dim light, the water looked like quicksilver – never breaking, just undulating at the surface in the glowing light. The forest is much different in the Tambopata River than in the Madre de Dios. The forest floods in the rainy season and the soils are richer. We passed by giant mango trees and towering ficuses. Along the way we saw a jabiru stork, capybara, and a white caiman.

We arrived to find Mr. Ramirez waiting on the dock and we climbed into yet another boat for the hour-long ride to El Gato. Without a lantern, Mr. Ramirez guided us upriver by the light of the moon. The peke-peke mother is loud and it shakes the boat so two opposing forces impressed me – the motion of the river rocking me to sleep and the vibration of the motor shaking my bones. We arrived at El Gato at 10:30pm after over seven hours of travel.

Mr. Ramirez led me to my room, a rustic bungalow with a beautiful bed and sturdy mosquito net. I made myself at home and then ventured into the main lodge, barely needing a headlamp because the moonlight was so strong. A ripe mango fell from a tree right in front of me and I let out a little squeal. We were greeted by a meal of fresh fish and rice with fish eye peppers (pea size, delicious peppers that pack quite a punch).

I fell asleep at 11pm with plans to meet Therany at 6:30am for the start of our day. As I lay in my bed and listened to the sound of the river, the croaking of frogs, and the eerie calls of the bamboo rat, I realized how much I love living in the jungle, even if it means giving up electricity and ice cream.

Boat ride to El Gato


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