Saturday, November 26, 2011

Help! I’m Going to the Amazon Jungle – What Can I Expect?

So you are about to sign up (or maybe you already did) for a trip to the Amazon Jungle in Peru, and you start to wonder what you can expect during your trip. (This post is addressed to people who plan to go on an organized trip to the Amazon Jungle. If you plan to go there on your own, well, my deepest respect and best wishes to you.)

What will you eat there? Where are you going to sleep? Will there be electricity? Air-conditioning? How about Internet? Mobile phone reception?
What kind of dangerous animals live in the Jungle? What will happen if you get sick? Will you have an easy access to a doctor or emergency services?

So many doubts and questions!

Let me address these points one by one.

1. Food: Let’s start with the good news: You won’t have to hunt for your food. You won’t even have to worry about buying it. Your travel agency will provide you with everything you might need, and will even accommodate for whatever food allergies and/or food preferences you might have. I guarantee that you’ll love the food—the Peruvians know how to cook and do it very well.
The only thing that I would recommend taking with you is a sizeable bottle of water (or a camelback). A couple of times a day you’ll be offered purified (boiled) water, which you can then transfer to your personal water system. Most of the travel agencies will also offer you a selection of soft drinks, but you don’t want to drink that. Well, maybe with the exception of Inca Cola, which you should try at least once while in Peru.

A birthday cake baked without an oven!

2. Accommodation: The lodges within the park can be best described as “rustic.” They are built from wood, have minimal to no decorations, and only basic furniture. Most rooms I saw had only a wooden-frame bed, a wall hanger, and, occasionally, a chair, and/or a small table. In fact, this is as much as you need, as you’ll almost exclusively use your room for sleeping and storing your stuff. Your day will be filled with so many activities that you won’t have time to hang around in your room. And, if you happen to have a bit of free time, I’m sure you’d prefer to spend it in the fresh air–either hanging out at the nearby beach, or in a hammock, relaxing and/or reading a book.

Most of the lodges I saw had an “open design.” What I mean by that is that any animals are welcome to come and visit you during the day and/or night, as the walls of the rooms don’t reach the ceiling. I guess the reason behind that is to enable better air circulation in the rooms. It’s also one of the reasons why all the beds have mosquito nets to protect you from those most unwanted visitors. It’s your responsibility, however, to neatly wrap the net around your bed. If you don’t, you’ll be food for many.
The lodges come with showers heated only by the sun. So if a warm shower is important to your well-being, your best bet is to hit the showers in the late afternoon or early evening.

Alte Madre de Dios:

3. Electricity: Even though we saw some electric lines in the jungle, in most places electricity is provided solely by generators. That means that even in the most luxurious lodges, you should not expect electricity during the night. (You wouldn’t want the generators to interrupt your sleep, would you?). In the majority of places, the generators would be on only for around two to three hours a day: one hour in the morning, and two hours in the evening. That means no light, no laptop/iPad/camera/mobile phone/iPod charging outside those few hours. It also means no air-conditioning. But that should not be a problem: as I mentioned above, most lodges have an open design that allows for easy air circulation.

4. Internet and mobile phone reception: To the best of my knowledge none of the lodges within Manu NP offers Internet access. However, in one of the small villages located on the outskirts of Manu NP, there was a sign proudly announcing an Internet café. Be aware, however, that it will take you several hours to get there from your lodge—traveling in the Jungle is slow!
There was absolutely no mobile phone reception in the jungle, except for this one village that had the Internet sign as well. In that village, the reception was good enough to receive and send text messages, but was not good enough to hold a phone conversation. So if being connected with the outside world is important to you, bring a satellite phone. Those still work everywhere.

5. Medical facilities: The last (semi-)proper medical facilities that we saw were in Paucartambo, some four to six hours away by road from the lodges of Manu NP. That means that you should think twice before you set out on a trip there while seriously sick. It also means that, in case of medical emergency, you’ll have to count on the resourcefulness of your guide and your co-travelers.

6. Dangers: There are some potentially dangerous animals in the jungle (the anaconda, jaguar, piranha, poison frog--to name a few) but, luckily, they have better things to do than attacking tourists. It might surprise you but, likely, the most dangerous animal you’ll meet—and definitely the most annoying—will be the mosquito. Mosquitos in the Amazon Jungle are ubiquitous, fearless, and laugh into the face of all insect repellents. Your best protection from them will be wearing long sleeves and sleeping under neatly secured mosquito net. More than any of the animals, you should be aware of reckless drivers, and pretty bad road conditions. During the rainy season, getting stuck in the middle of a jungle can also be an issue. So I would not plan a flight back home, or an important meeting, for the day immediately following your scheduled return from the Jungle. But other than that, I’m sure you’ll have lots of fun and I’m jealous that I cannot go there instead of you!