Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shangri-la - our first day in the Amazon Rainforest

the steps to the lodge

From Rio Verde we drove the short hop further into the Amazon proper and arrived at Tena in time for lunch.  The place we were staying is just into the Amazon Rainforest, about twenty minutes drive from the town.  And straight away, we could feel the increase in temperature and humidity.  It was clear that we were all going to spend the next three days being very sweaty!
TJ and Cathy left us there and took the truck off to Quito to have the time to get the fridge fixed, with the plan to pick us up again in three days time.

view from the lodge
The lodge we were staying at is called Shangri-la and is a bit like a big tree house.  You pull off the road down a short drive to a clearing.  From there, the lodge is about one hundred meters down the hill and you reach it by going down a winding set of log steps.  To save lugging your bags up and down though they have a 'flying fox' which is a metal basket on a pulley system that goes directly down to the lodge.

our lodge cabin

The lodge itself is mostly made from wood.  There are a series of wooden cabins around a central kitchen and dining area, and then further up there is a deck with lots of hammocks for chilling out.  The views across the river and into the jungle are fabulous, and we were lucky to have cabins on the edge, with balconies looking out over the basin.  Sadly, other than the one of our cabin and hammock, even when I can finally load pictures again, I won't be able to give you any photos of the lodge, for reasons that will become clear soon (or you know if you read the earlier news flash!)

the view from the lodge

I was really looking forward to the stay in the Amazon, with one exception; my fear of spiders was leaving me really rather nervous about sleeping in a wooden treehouse in the jungle.  And it probably didn't help that they have a tarantula called Matilda living on a clock in the dining room.  It wasn't so bad when she was just sat there quietly, but the Izzie woke her up and got her off the clock, and she started running around.  At that point I headed to the higher part of the dining area where I could see her, but could put plenty of space between us. Thankfully she soon settled back down to sleep and I could at least partially relax again. 

Having dropped off our bags in our room, thoroughly checked for eight-legged creatures, we collected our wellies and had lunch.  Or in Ben's case, had three lunches! We then headed off on our first foray into the jungle. Needless to say, with the high potential for creepy crawlies, I was fully covered up, including a hat.  As we walked through the jungle, my (uncovered) hands were generally held up in front of me, out of the way of the plantlife that was encroaching into the narrow track we were walking along; one of my companions said I looked as though I was putting up my fists to fight the jungle -and in a way I suppose I was!  But anyway I managed to avoid anything nasty landing on me.
the walking tree

Our guide, Roberto, led us on and it soon became clear that left to our own devices we could easily have got horribly lost, even this close to the edge of the jungle.  He stopped every so often to point out different trees and palms and tell us how they are used by the locals, some for firewood and construction, others for medicines and food.  One was the walking tree, so called because it puts out new roots and moves itself to better positions over long periods of time, while another had a rough, bumpy surface and they use that as a food grater.  He also pointed out the large conga ants that we had to avoid touching as they can leave you with a nasty numbness for a few days, or worse if you happen to react badly to it.

We passed the ground termites with their mud nests, and the tree termites with their nests made from bark and resin.  These are apparently a good mosquito deterrent and are used by the locals as a form of natural repellant in their homes.

We continued through on an increasingly invisible path, with Roberto occasionally using his rather large machete to clear the way, until we reached the caves.  Of course we woke up the bats and sent them flying above our heads, which unnerved a few people to start with.  The route through the caves involved a bit of canyoning.  As we reached the parts that were too narrow to simply squeeze through, we had to use our back and legs to shuffle ourselves up the cave wall to where it was a bit wider and then edge along sideways through the gap. This was not always easy, and at times the next foothold was further away than my and others' legs, or sometimes just confidence, would reach.  At those points assistance was required and I offer thanks to Nic, Roberto, Leon and Ben who all gave assistance at various times.

But in the end we made it through all of the gaps without mishap, and reached the other side.  Then is started to rain.  And it is not called the Rainforest for nothing.  We were soaked right through to the skin almost instantly!  At least it was warm rain though, so although it felt like we were standing under a power shower, it was at least a warm drenching.  So we made our way back in the rain, and arrived back at the lodge like drowned rats.  We all headed to our cabins and peeled off our clothes, leaving them over our balconies to dry.  I emptied a few gallons of water out of my wellies too.  Dried off, and wearing dry clothes, we headed back to the dining area via the bar, for a much needed cold beer.

Dinner was soon served, and we broke out the cachaca.  You may recall me talking about cap time before.  Well the cachaca was a bottle that Anne had kept for cap time but we had never got around to drinking.  When she left the truck in Lima, she left it with me to use at an appropriate moment.  And with three days in the jungle, now seemed like the time, so we passed it around and got through about half the bottle, deciding to keep the rest for tomorrow.  Thanks for that Anne, although it is fair to say that there were a few 'Shay faces' and some gave in and mixed it with their pineapple juice.

was this a very poisonous frog?
During the evening, Ben spotted a little yellow frog on the steps up towards the hammocks - in fact he nearly trod on it.  Probably just as well he didn't, as we think it was one of the really poisonous ones!  Obviously we were distracted by this for a while, before returning to our beers.
Then the generator went out and the lights all went out.  We had been warned that this would happen fairly early, so Nic and I were prepared and had our head torches with us, but we hadn't expected it quite as early as 8:15.  None the less, it was clearly going to be difficult to see enough to stay up for too long, especially as others didn't have their torches, so we concluded that we would probably finish our drinks and then head to bed.

But that isn't quite how it worked out, as you will see in the next posting!

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