Saturday. With our pickup and airport transfer scheduled for 0630, we lingered over a buffet breakfast and wandered the hotel admiring its examples of pre-Columbian relics and replica statuary. Outside the atmosphere was typically Lima-heavy. The all-pervading mist from the cool Pacific trapped over the flat urban landscape by the distant Andes mountain range.
The airport drive seemed much longer than our arrival around 36 hours ago, largely due to the traffic disruptions caused by the APEC conference, and we had ample time to pick up on the musical zeitgeist from the car radio. Affirming the musical selections on the hotel’s sound system was a continuous stream of popular music from the 70s to the 90s; sparking aural flashbacks and occasional toe-taps for a baby-boomer more lately attuned to the genteel tones of talk radio.
Our ultimate destination was the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, but the journey took us first to Cuzco on a 55 minute flight into the mountains, all the while wedged against the bulkhead by the looming presence of a Melanesian-sized local. The first glimpse of Cuzco revealed a long, narrow lake of red-roofed buildings wedged tightly into a valley between parallel mountain ranges. We stayed only long enough on the airport tarmac to exchange a few passengers before heading over the spectacular mountains on a 35-minute flight to Peurto Maldonado.
Variously described as “frontier” and “wild west”, the city of Peurto Maldonado presented as a large cluster of ramshackle buildings huddled in a clearing of rainforest on the banks of the broad Madre de Dios river. Those sweat-dripping passengers destined for Reserva Amazonica were identified and ferried to a nearby compound for pre-registration amid a tropical butterfly enclosure. On that brief trip our ears, now very attuned to the Spanish dialects, picked up a distinctive Aussie accent and we were soon chatting with a couple who live no more than a kilometre from us in Melbourne but were hitherto complete strangers.
After registration the party was bussed on a 15 minute drive to the port ‘wharf’ above the banks of the river. The descent to water level from the wharf – probably 20 vertical metres – gave an eye-opening impression of the flood capacity of the river. A 45 minute downstream cruise brought us to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonika.
In an open 200ha compound, supporting an ecological reserve of 10,000ha, Reserva Amazonica is a a shining example of carbon-neutral, eco-friendly luxury living in the steamy depths of the Peruvian Amazon basin. We were introduced to a boutique resort of 38 private cabanas, with every conceivable luxury “essential” and led to number 8, our sanctuary on the shores of the river and instructed to convene at the “main house” later for lunch, induction and safety briefings.
Cocona salad with beets, fava beans, peas, onions, avocado and coriander. (cocona is local fruit with a creamy coloured flesh tasting vaguely like tomato).
Grilled catfish with garlic butter and sweet lemon drops
Grilled chicken with coriander and spearmint
Seasonal Amazon fruit salad
Layered ‘dulce de leche’ sponge cake with orange & caramelised coconut
Lunch was followed by a series of health and safety briefings given by Inkaterra “interpreters”. In true eco-friendly style, these multi-skilled, multi-purpose folk variously act as guide, clerk, administrator, interpreter and waiter. First off, each new arrival was issued with a compound map, instructions admonishing any straying from well-worn tracks, and anodised aluminium water bottles for the purpose of constant hydration in the searing, steamy heat.
Sitting outside on the manicured grass, behatted, sweating and aluminium bottle dutifully clipped to a belt-loop, we were addressed by a rather officious interpreter on the do’s and don’ts of a forthcoming trail walk to discover flora and fauna in the wild. Above the buzzing of insects and the droning of the interpreter, a familiar ‘duelling’ guitar riff was gleaned over the PA system followed by those timeless lyrics I am wont to wail when in my cups … “So, so you think you can tell …”.
Struck by the absolute surreality of the moment; thousands of kilometres from home, in a luxury resort in the depths of the Amazon basin, the stand-out moment of the day was the first few bars of Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd’s 1975 lament to the passing of Sid Barrett, and my all-time favourite song. God moves in mysterious ways indeed.
The adventure walk that ensued was a fairly uneventful exercise; in fact the highlight was stumbing upon (metaphorically) a column of huge, but industrious, ants as their mission took them on a tangent across our path. Before dinner, we ‘signed on’ to the organised tours we wished to engage in the next day, foregoing a pre-dawn lake cruise in favour of a good night’s sleep and a canopy tour later in the day. Dinner was a buffet affair, and a couple of cocktails saw us to bed and in the arms of Morpheus by 8.30pm.