Kees Hendrickx

Recording Artist / Producer

Peru part 2: Puerto Maldonado – Amazon Jungle

Cusco to Puerto Maldonado – 30 minute flight


Puerto Maldonado is in the middle of the Amazon jungle, as you fly there you see massive rivers and endless trees everyway you look. As we started descending it literally looked like we were going to land in the trees but at the last moment a small runway appears and we landed safely. We arrived at 9 in the morning. The airport is the smallest I have ever seen. There was just one baggage claim machine on which the bags were thrown on from outside which we could see because there was no wall separating us. We could have easily just walked out and grabbed our bags. The first thing that hit us here was the heat, it was 9 in the morning and I was sweating already. Our pickup was on time and waiting for us outside, not like the guys in Lima. They took us to the reception house of Inka Terra (the company we booked our Jungle trip with), this reception house was also a Butterfly farm, a huge netted area which housed 1000’s of different butterflies. Some bigger than my hand. Really cool. Here we received a lovely cold fruit drink and had to fill in some forms and disclaimers in case we got eaten by an alligator. The place was unreal, made completely out of wood. Once we completed the paperwork we were off again to catch a boat to our lodge in the jungle. We drove through the centre of Puerto Maldonado and for Peru’s most expensive city it wasn’t very impressive. It more or less looked like any Peruvian town except with a lot more motor bikes. Everyone seemed to own a motor bike here. The boat port was a tiny wooden dock where the boat was waiting for us. The port also included the usual crowd of locals standing around waiting for nothing. We boarded our boat and met our receptionist who would escort us to the lodge.

The river we travelled up (Madre de Dios) is one of the main estuaries of the Amazon river and it really is massive. The water is a really dirty brown colour but this is from the mud and and it carries. The boat ride was approx 25 inutes and finally we arrived at our port of call. There were wooden steps made into the bank of the river that came down to meet the water. The boat pushed up the muddy bank to reach them and we hopped off to follow our receptionist into the jungle. Straight away you could hear the insects and birds, so beautiful. I kept expecting a Jaguar or snake to leap out from the bushes. We walked up a short hill to an opening where a large building constructed entirely out of wood had been constructed. It really is a massive place. Inside it has a huge high ceiling and it holds the restaurant area, lounge and all the smaller rooms for the guests. Since we love ourselves we had gone all out and paid for a private lodge which is a little walk away through some jungle from the main building. Our lodge key was attached to this Monkey carved out of Balsa wood. I was very tempted to keep it, Balsa wood is the lightest wood in the world. It feels very strange because you expect it to have a different weight when you see it, it kinda messes with your head when you pick it up for the first time. The keys were actually heavier then the monkey. We got to our lodge and it was spectacular. It was a massive open room with a bed in the middle, a couch and sitting area in front of an open view of the jungle forest. The lodge was made entirely out of wood and netted off at every open area by special mosquito meshing so you can enjoy the view without having to worry about insects. The view was simply amazing, right away we spotted birds in huge trees, butterflies and insects. We would have been happy to stay here for the duration of our trip, we didn’t need those tours into the jungle. Our first tour was at 3:30 so we had 5 hours to relax and check out the view which we gladly did.

Unfortunately it started raining just as we embarked on our first tour. This was a short jungle trek to spot animals and view a famous steamboat called Fitzcarraldo. There is also a film based on this steam boat which was also filmed here. The first thing we spotted was a sloth hanging in a tree, asleep of course since that is all they do but he looked rather cosy up there. Further on we saw many plants which our guide Gabriel explained everything about. Gabriel is a Maldonado native and grew up in the jungle. This is very apparent when you hear him talk about the jungle. As he says himself “ the jungle is my passion”. The way he walked through the jungle is amazing to see. He goes very slowly, not making any sound and he sees and listens to everything. Pity that the 8 Northern Irish people who were on the tour with us could be heard from 2 miles away. Still though, even with the racket of the Northern Irish gang we still got to see one of the largest rodents in the world, I forget its name, and some red howler monkeys. The elusive toucan was heard but we didn’t see it, it sounds a bit like a dog yelping, not exactly what I expected it to sound like. I have to to find a Toucan in this place, I told myself after seeing one briefly in Iguassu but failing to get a picture. The steamboat was now just a skeleton remains of its former self. Gabriel told us it was thrown into the jungle after the river rose so high that it washed the boat over the river bank and the small hill where it now rests in a little swampy area. It is a very strange sight, a steamboat in the middle of the jungle. He also told us the first time he saw the boat it was still fully intact but as tourists began to visit the area they started taking pieces of the steamboat with them as mementos, leaving a metal skeleton that is there now. It still looks like a steamboat though.

After the trek we headed back to our lodge and I was soaked, not from the rain which stopped halfway through our walk but from the sweat because it is so hot and humid there. The fan in our room is a life saver because we could not stand it otherwise. We would actually melt away. Even walking around the room would build up a sweat.

Our next tour was at 18.00 in the evening. It was the twilight river tour and thankfully it had nothing to do with vampires, although we did see some vampire bats, they didn’t sparkle though. The twilight river tour consisted of getting on a boat, going upstream and looking for Black Cayman alligators and any other nocturnal animals that might be about. The river bank is most active at twilight and at dawn, Gabriel explained. As we traveled upstream a huge thunder storm was visible behind us. We could hear no thunder but the fork lightning was spectacular. It was a little cloudy so the clouds would light up and a fork of lightning would shoot across the sky. I’ve seen a lot of lightning before in Holland but none were as great and impressive as this. When we reached a certain bend in the river, the driver turned of the engine and we floated in silence for around 15 minutes. Just listening to the jungle out there and seeing the lightning every few seconds made it a very special boat trip. It’s amazing how loud the jungle gets at night, you could stay floating there for hours just listening. Eventually we turned and started moving towards the river bank where Gabriel turned on his spotlight, the same kind we use to blind rabbits when we go shooting them. He told us the eyes reflect light when the spotlight hits them so this is how we spot animals in the water and on the banks. The first bank we came to had reflections and as we moved closer we saw it was a small Cayman, about half a meter in length. Really cool, as we came closer he scurried into the water and was gone. First day and we’ve already seen an alligator! Excellent start.

As we moved downstream we spotted another small Cayman in the water and then 2 Capybaras chewing on some grass on the river bank. These are the world’s biggest rodents, if a predator, like a Jaguar, comes at them from land they can jump in the water and stay under for 4 minutes. If they are attacked from the water by alligators they can quickly run to safety. Luckily they are not very shy which is great for us, we were able to get very close to them. It was hard to get good pictures though since we actually have no idea how our cameras work and we were just trying out different settings as we going. We are always very prepared for any situation. Just as we nearly reached our steps we spotted a very large Cayman on the bank. It must have been 3 meters long Gabriel said. He said there are many like this one here. I made up my mind right there I was not going swimming there after that. The receptionist we came on the boat with earlier that day said he goes swimming there sometimes, looking back now I think he was taking the proverbial piss as they say. I’m so gullable.


We passed the tree where we spotted the Sloth earlier that day and he was still there. Gabriel told us they named him Chewbacca, after the hairy Star Wars character. He told us the reason this one stays relatively close by is because he was rescued from the center of Puerto Maldonado. They received a phone call one day saying that there was a large animal in a tree and kids were throwing stones at it. You know what kids are like. A team went down to the city and rescued the sloth who was obviously terrified. He told us in order to get him to the jungle they had to saw through the branch Chewbacca was on because he refused to let go. A sloths grip can be like a vice Gabriel explained, if it doesn’t want to let go, its not letting go. They brought Chewbacca and his branch back to the jungle with them and he’s been there ever since. A nice story.


After the tour we headed straight up to the main lodge where we had dinner. After we walked back to our lodge and they had put on more lanterns for us to use inside the lodge. They turn the electricity off here at 6 o’clock because it runs on a generator so it would be a waste to leave this running all night.

At night the jungle is so loud and it seems every single animal wants to be heard. We weren’t sure if we would get any sleep and we had to be up at 4 am for our next tour. At 4 am there was a knock at the door, good thing too because I would have slept right through my alarm. The noises outside only make you sleep better I think. Susan had woke in the middle of the night hearing something rustling about outside. In my sleepy state I had told her not to worry, that it’s probably just a jaguar walking around outside. I don’t remember saying this but the idea of a jaguar walking around outside didn’t exactly comfort her. Anyway we woke the next morning with no jaguar staring at us in our room. So that was good. The tour for that morning was a trip to the claylicks on the river bank. A claylick is a huge wall made out of clay that parrots, macaws, parakeets and other birds flock to for the minerals in the clay. The claylick was 30 minutes upstream past Puerto Maldonado in the boat. As we travelled up the river the sun slowly came up. The river started off being very misty but as the sun rose the mist vanished. It was a truly beautiful sight to see. Once we got to the claylick we saw many different types of parakeets and macaws. We only spotted 2 parrots. Unfortunately all the birds stayed high up in the trees above the wall because there was an eagle waiting in the trees for them. It was still amazing to see so many large birds, just a pity we did not get to see them closer. On the way back we made a short stop at Puerto Maldonado where our guide Gabriel got off to meet his wife and little girl for 5 minutes. He told us later that he works 3 weeks on and then 5 days off. He always has to stay in the Inkaterra lodge even though his family is just a short 15 minutes away, It must be hard for him not being able to see much of his little girl and wife.

We got back at half 7 and it already felt like noon, it was also just as hot so I was already looking forward to my first cold shower of the day. We had our breakfast at the main lodge again and then went back to have a quick doze until our next tour at 10. We met Gabriel in the meeting house, its like a biology lab with snakes in jars, large insects and loads of animal skulls. It used to be a childrens dorm in the plantation days. Gabriel was ready to go and was carrying a large machete. “A machete” he told us “is the ultimate tool in the jungle, you do not need anything else”. He continued by explaining all the uses of this amazing tool/weapon. Defense, attack, cutting wood, branches, vines and his finger apparently which he cut badly 2 days earlier chopping down a tree, as you do. He looked like a Guerilla soldier in his jungle overalls and his tool belt with the machete hanging off it. What a man.

For this tour Gabriel took us to the botanical garden a short distance from the lodges. We walked for a little bit and Gabriel would explain all about the plants or insects we passed. There are some amazing plants in the amazon, one tree grows big hard thorns on its bark to ward off predators, another has an army of red ants protecting it. If you touch any part of the tree the ants will jump on you and bite you. Their bite is very painful according to Gabriel. One of the most interesting trees there is the walking palm tree which actually ‘walks’ to places with more moisture in the soil. It has huge roots that look like legs.

Everything in the jungle is used in some way by the tribes that live there. Having grown up in the jungle, Gabriel showed us some of the medicinal plants. Sangre de Drago – Dragons Blood is a tree that actually ‘bleeds’. The red latex that oozes out after the tree is cut can be used to treat cuts and wounds by rubbing it on the injured area. Another tree had the same bark as a snakes skin which can be chewed and made into a paste which can then be used as an antidote to the snakes venom. Really amazing. He then explained about the whole Brazil nut trade in the area and how the Inkaterra lodge used to be a plantation for cocao and brazil nut trees. On the way back we heard a Toucan but unfortunately did not see it. As we were walking Gabriel told us that Mick Jagger stayed in the exact same lodge Susan and I were staying in. How cool is that. We felt like real VIP’s.

At lunch we noticed we were the only people in the whole resort, it was mad. The whole place seemed deserted except for us and the staff. We felt like proper VIP’s having the place to ourselves. Even the staff found it hilarious. They gave us a set lunch which was more like a dinner really. Starter, main and dessert. The starter was one of the nicest things I have ever had, it was causa, made with mashed potatoes, tuna and avocado. It was unreal.

After the savage lunch we had an hour and a half to relax, have a doze and for me take my 3rd cold shower of the day. Gabriel took us on our next tour at 3.30pm. They made sure to keep us out of the midday sun. The tour was a boat trip around a small ox bow lake near the hotel. We got in a small wooden canoe and he paddled us around for a bit pointing at various birds, plants and some large rodents. He then asked if I wanted to paddle for a bit which I of course I did. After a minute of paddling I was sweating buckets. It was so warm and humid there it was crazy, I don’t know how people could stick that every day. We are definitely not made for that kind heat.


Before dinner that evening we went for a jungle walk in the dark. In the meantime a Canadian couple had arrived and brought us back to reality and out of our self imposed VIP status. They also joined us on this walk. The walk was really amazing, Gabriel can spot things so quickly. We saw loads of insects: spiders, grasshoppers, Preying Mantis and more. The highlight though, was the large Tapir we spotted. Gabriel got super excited when he saw this gentle giant, the Canadian woman who was with us was a bit slow and as Gabriel was explaining what a Tapir is she said “Oh its a bird”. The look of utter defeat on Gabriels face was priceless. He didn’t know what to say after that. We got some cool pictures of this massive animal, I had no idea they were so big. It also was very calm and just kept eating, more or less just ignored us. It was great. They usually don’t come so far downstream Gabriel said and we were very lucky to see one.

  Tapir Video

After dinner we went back to the lodge and I had another cold shower, I had at least 4 every day. Once again we fell asleep with the sweet lullabies of the jungle wildlife.

At 6 in the morning we woke to go to lake Sandoval, a massive lake that is protected as part of the Tambopata National Reserve. The boat ride was around 20 minutes upstream and then we walked for around an hour to a small pier in the swamp part of the lake. On the walk we spotted loads more parrots, Macaws and Parakeets. Also Gabriel spotted a small frog that looked exactly like a leaf. It blended into the leaves around it and I would never have spotted it. He warned us not to touch it, it’s skin was poisonous and any contact with your skin could mean death this far away from a hospital. Mad to think that such a little frog is so powerful.


Once we were in the canoe in the swamp and paddling away. Gabriel told us that this is the main habitat for the huge Anaconda snakes. He also told us that the film Anaconda was totally bollox, Anacondas never attack people and are in fact very shy creatures so it was unlikely we would see one. I didn’t mind that at all though, I think I would crap my pants if I saw one. We paddled through the overgrown swamp and eventually came to a large opening which led us into the main lake area and it was massive. So beautiful. All sides covered in large trees and immediately we heard the giant river otters that live here. We didn’t catch a glimpse for another while though. First we came across a nest of bats sleeping on a tree, they were vampire bats. There are more than 5 different types of bat living around the lake. We also saw more birds, Gabriel is a fanatical bird watcher so every time he saw a bird he would get excited and make us take a picture, where as once we saw the 100th bird we kinda got bored with them and didn’t want to take more pictures of them.


When we paddled around one of the outlets we came across the giant otters swimming in the water. There was a whole family of them and they were catching fish. The otters are magnificent creatures, one caught a fish and we could see it holding it with its front paws and biting the head off. They are very resourceful animals Gabriel said. We were lucky to see them because they prefer to stay in the thick swamp covered by bush. It was now round 9:30am and the sun was already scorching us in our little wooden boat. We took a break in the shade on the bank of the lake, the bank was filled with butterflies feasting off the minerals in the sand. Gabriel explained to us that an  indigenous tribe still lives at this lake. The Peru government is still trying to preserve the old traditions of these tribes alive but it is getting harder as the young people from the tribe opt to move to the cities in favour of staying. Special education schemes have been set up where young tribesmen and women can receive free education if, once they’ve completed their studies, they return to their village to and teach there for a number of years.


We eventually paddled around the whole lake, avoiding some areas that people are not allowed to disturb because of endangered species of birds and other animals nesting there. We walked back the same way we came but did not see any birds this time, once its after 10 o’clock the jungle gets much quieter and other animals seem to get active. We saw thousands of butterflies covering the path we walked on and spotted lizards here and there, there is always something to see here. On the way back we met 4 men dragging a large boat through the path towards the lake. The path was not exactly level and it was at least a one hour walk for us so I can imagine they were pushing and dragging that boat until well into the afternoon. With that heat I don’t know how they managed it, they were definitely feeling the heat though. Once we got back to the point where the boat dropped us off in the morning, the boat was missing. Gabriel looked pretty pissed off and made a call on his walkie talkie to the driver. We walked a little down the bank to a small hut. This was a waiting point for locals where they could catch a boat to Puerto Maldonado. A local was sitting there relaxing. He tensed up a bit once he saw us and didn’t really know what to do, he had a large bag of Brazil nuts with him and he pulled it closer to himself once we sat in the seats close by him. Maybe he thought we were going to rob them, the bags weigh at least 60kg’s Gabriel said, so I doubt I’d be able to outrun him with that on my back. After around 10 minutes the boat came and we headed back for lunch.


That afternoon we had a tour to the canopy walkway through the trees. We met Gabriel in the tour guides lodge, the one that’s like a biology lab. As I walked outside I noticed a large colourful bird with a huge beak in the tree in front of us. It was the elusive Toucan! It was an amazing sight. I was so shocked by seeing it I couldn’t take my camera out in time and missed my picture, but it didn’t matter. I finally saw what I really wanted to see. They are such beautiful birds, and a lot bigger than I expected. It had blue, red and yellow colourings with a big dark beak. Once it spotted us it flew away and was gone. Luckily Susan was able to get a photo before it flew away, she was on the ball. Gabriel was all excited and told us was a white-throated Toucan, very rare to see so another stroke of luck for us. It was definitely one of the highlights of the jungle for me. It also shows you to be ready for anything at any moment because you never know what you might come across, a good life lesson from Kees, that’ll be 10 euro’s please.

The canopy walk was another highlight. The walk is a series of wooden rope bridges suspended high up in the trees. It was really impressive but unfortunately as we went that afternoon it was extremely hot and all the birds and animals were sheltering from the sun and asleep. This place can be one of the most active places in the jungle Gabriel told us. The walk was still cool though. As we were up in the trees Gabriel met another tour guide who is also an avid birdwatcher. Gabriel told us in two weeks time he and this guide along with 15 others will be going further into the jungle for a few days to go birdwatching.


Before dinner that night we had another twilight tour. This time we were not on our own. The Canadians joined us again and so did two French people. Once again we went upstream and at a certain point the driver switched off the engine and we floated for a while in silence. Just listening to the jungle do its thing. Even though it was our second trip it was just as good as the first time. We scowered the river banks for animals. Once again we saw a Cayman alligator, this time it was an even bigger one. These animals look so powerful but then slide so gracefully into the water. You can’t even hear them.After the tour we tipped Gabriel as is customary in South American countries. Since he was our guide for 3 days we gave him what we though was a good tip but he was really happy with and even came to see us while we were having dinner to give us a present. It was just a large map but it was still really cool for him to do this.

On our last morning we had a bit of a sleep in until 7 o’clock. You can’t really sleep in because once it gets light the jungle wakes up and makes sure you wake up too. It also lights the whole lodge because there are no curtains which is really cool. We were sad that it was already our last day here. We had to tip the whole staff in the main lodge too so we worked an amount which we thought would be sufficient for them. We had to count in the cook, waiter, turnover service and receptionist. We gave them the tip and they thanks but looked a little disappointed. We said feck it, we can’t afford any more. We had the boat back at 10 o’clock and when we got into the boat the receptionist said something to the driver, who then looked at us in disgust, obviously it was about the tip. We felt really bad, they were probably used to people like Mick Jagger tipping them instead of two unemployed backpackers from Ireland. Oh well, we just had to sit through the dirty looks until Puerto Maldonado. Once back in civilisation we were driven to the Butterfly lodge to officially check out and then headed to the tiny airport to catch our flight back to Cusco.