The Pacaya Samira reserve is the largest in Peru. This GPS point is the farthest we went into the reserve, a lake inhabited by seven Amazonian dolphins.
Hoping to explore a little piece of this huge reserve, we booked a 4 day tour with Manuel Rojas on our first day in Lagunas. We paid 100 soles per person, per day, for having two guides paddle us around, feed us and show us the animals. The park entry fee was another 20 soles per person, per day. All told, about 60€ per day for the both of us. Not too bad - quite a bit cheaper than the prices quoted in our Lonely Planet.
Our trip into the jungle began with a manic mototaxi-ride: 6 people, packs, paddles and provisions bouncing for about an hour along the muddy streets of Lagunas and the narrow dirt road to the reserve. Along the way we got stuck a couple of times, and near the end we got a flat tire and had to walk a bit... but we made it!
Our guides, Esteban and Nilo, moved our stuff from the taxi to a roughly 6m long dug-out canoe while we paid the park entrance fee. Then we took our seats, Ewelina and I in the middle of the boat, our guides at both ends. And off we went.
Paddling around the jungle is a very relaxing, quiet way to travel, at least if you don't have to do the paddling yourself. The river itself made almost no sound, and the guides paddled as quietly as they could so as not to frighten any animals we might encounter. When we spoke, rarely, we instinctively kept our voices down to match.
Our first encounter was a family of small, grey monkeys in the trees above, climbing and leaping from tree to tree, making a surprising amount of noise as they foraged for food. It was amazing to be so close to these animals, and so nice to see them free and wild, not confined in some zoo.
Our next encounter was some large spiders under a half submerged tree-trunck, our third some sleeping vampire bats on another tree. Esteban woke them up and sent them flying with a splash of water.
We saw birds: herons and tucans and parrots and hawks, and many others I cannot name.
We saw so many insects: dragonflies dive-bombing the river surface, cascades of jumping water bugs pouring from tree roots to the water, buzzing giant bees, beautiful butterflies, large and small in all the colors of the rainbow, many kinds of ants, flies, wasps, mantises, spiders. Sometimes we saw the mosquitos before they bit us, sometimes not.
Mammals: In addition to the monkeys of the first day, we saw 2 other species up close, and we saw a sloth in a tree from a distance. We saw dolphins and Esteban somewhat rudely roused a lobo (an otter? a beaver?) from its lair by cutting a hole in the den's wall with his paddle... one of two inhabitants snorted angrily, hit the water with a thump and then watched us from 20m downriver, while the other stubbornly kept snorting from deeper underground.
On our first night at the cabin we met a Danish couple and re-encountered the German engineer who had shared our moto-taxi into the jungle. We ended up chatting for a couple of hours that evening, mostly about travel. It was a lot of fun, so much so that we forgot about the evening's planned expidition to look for crocodiles, until one of the locals showed up with a flashlight tied to his head and a small crocodile in his arms. We held it, posed for photos and then it was (we assume) set free again.
The jungle wasn't all fun and exotic animals though - our luxurious mode of transport had two drawbacks: sun and monotony.
Most of the time we were completely exposed to the sunlight, with only the occasional tree leaning out far enough to provide shade. On our first couple of days there was no cloud cover, so it became very hot in the canoe. Also, to my surprise, I got sunburnt on the backs of my hands for the first time in my life - it seems our antimalarials' side-effect of increasing sensitivity to sunlight outweighed both the factor 50 sunblock and the acclimatization and tan I've built up over the past months. Weird, and uncomfortable.
Then, there was the monotony. In spite of the impressive roster of animals we ended up seeing, most of the time we sailed along the river in silence, with impenetrable walls of green on either side and the same three or four species of insects for company. We couldn't talk because that would scare the animals, and we couldn't sleep because we'd burn and miss the animals... so we just sat idle, waiting and hoping for something, anything interesting to happen. At first it was relaxing, but after a few hours we had to admit that we were actually quite bored.
Ewelina was also very itchy and uncomfortable due to over a hundred mosquito bites on her legs. So, suspecting that the drawbacks of the first day would only dominate our experience even more as the days passed, on the second morning we decided to shorten our tour to three days instead of four. Our guides took this all in stride, once we had reassured them we weren't looking for a refund they happily adjusted their plans.
We didn't regret our decision; the second day did indeed have the same problems as the first: my burns got worse, Ewelina's bites itched and the jungle was just a little more familiar and a little less exciting.
Our third, final, day was better. We were paddling back upstream, our broad backed guides working hard against the current. It was cloudy and... it rained! It rained torrentially for a while, as it must in a rainforest. Ewelina used our green umbrella and I peered out from under a sheet of plastic provided by our guides. Esteban and Nilo just wetly paddled onward, and when I asked if they didn't mind the rain, Esteban said he preferred it: it was refreshing, fresco.
Our last day was also the day we saw most monkeys and the sloth, and the day when right after lunch we saw the rain coming up the river toward us like a wall of water, and the day I found a dead, beheaded snake floating in the river. It was a good day.
But an hour or so before we reached our destination, the sun came out again and the heat with it, ensuring that we were glad to leave the little boat and didn't regret shortening our stay.
Visiting the jungle was an amazing experience, but for us, still sick of the heat and restless after being stuck with Typhoid in Yurimaguas, three days was just the right amount.