PERU: Lake Sandoval, Amazonia: Mundos Intocados – Untouched Worlds.As soon as we emerged out onto the lake from the dense jungle undergrowth and sky-filtered treetop canopy, the last rays of sunlight cast a golden syrupy glow on the outer edge of the entangled, eerie rainforest – nighttime was about to turn this part of Amazonia into a place that only animals and insects venture into.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
As soon as we emerged out onto the lake from the dense jungle undergrowth and sky-filtered treetop canopy, the last rays of sunlight cast a golden syrupy glow on the outer edge of the entangled, eerie rainforest – nighttime was about to turn this part of Amazonia into a place that only animals and insects venture into.
Overhead squawky scarlet red and blue macaws flew in groups of two and three as our canoe glided over the near flat-calm lake and two white herons stood cautiously by the roots of two palm trees on a small island. Elsewhere on the shore small yellow spotted turtles exposed themselves to the setting sun as a red beaked kingfisher popped in and out of it's hole in a tall decaying, limbless tree trunk. By the time the sun had dipped below the horizon we had reached Sandoval Lake Lodge camouflaged on a bluff above the lake, where on dusk it was easy to hear but not see both capuchin and squirrel monkeys. Checking into the lodge I also had my first glimpse of Peru’s forest-floor rodents known as Central American agouti, who are either various shades of brown or olivaceous in colour, as they searched for fallen seeds and fruits.
Earlier that day our small group arrived at Puerto Maldonado in southeastern Peru in the heart of Amazonia about 55 km from the Bolivian border, the capital of the Madre de Dios Region. Nearby is the Manú National Park, the 1.5 million hectares of Tambopata National Reserve, and the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. In this part of Amazonia we discovered that virtually none of Peru’s primary, pristine rainforests have been destroyed – out here most of the jungle landmass has as yet, never been explored.
After transferring only our essential gear into small canvas bags for the next two days we boarded a long wooden outboard-rigged boat with a roof of bright blue tarpaulin. It was moored on the banks of the Milo-coloured confluences of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios Rivers. Thirty-five minutes later we disembarked onto a muddy riverbank at the start of a muddy track, so muddy in fact that everyone was issued with gumboots – something I refused to wear.
The track was through dense vine-hanging jungle and it was obvious that it had rained in the last week as the quagmire-like trail was as boot sucking as you might expect. After about three and a half kilometres we emerged in a small clearing where some long skinny canoes were moored to a rickety wooden jetty that jutted out into a backwater slough.
The murky inlet was part of Sandoval Lake, which we had to cross to get to Sandoval Lake Lodge. In the roof of tall trees howler monkeys slowly moved across the canopy as our guide quietly paddled the canoe forward. On the edge of the backwater a dark blue heron waded in shallow water. Suddenly the guide stopped the canoe and pointed to a fork in a overgrown tree where an elusive sloth and her baby were wedged – hardly moving – hence living up to their name.
Having survived the lake crossing we were soon at the lodge bar, which was a hive of activity as other groups of modern-day Amazonian explorers ordered two-for-one happy hour cocktails – jungle juice at half price. Dinner in the main communal restaurant was a smooth celery soup followed by beef and rice with a spicy sauce drizzled over the slivers of beef. Dessert was a rich chocolate mousse – all very swish but yet informal. With dinner I ordered a bottle of Tacama 2011 Gran Tinto – a very satisfying way to celebrate my first day in Amazonia. However, some of the other adventurers had ordered the Peruvian national drink, Pisco Sour made up of Peruvian brandy, a squeeze of jugo de limon, a clara de huevo (white egg), hielo (ice), and finally jarabe de goma, a syrup.
After a comfortable night’s sleep in the well-equipped lodge rooms where we had the luxury of hot showers and mosquito net covered beds, our morning started with a pre-dawn walk to where the canoes were docked. As morning mist enveloped Sandoval Lake we quietly slipped away across the dank, blackness of the lake with only the sound of paddle strokes breaking the surface. The sun had yet to rise. Within minutes we came by a tree full of birds known as hoatzin proudly displaying a distinctive head plume.
Then as the mist lingered just above the reflective flat calm surface of the lake a black caiman slowly made ripples as it eased its way towards some tree branches sticking out of the water about 10 meters from the lakes edge. These voracious freshwater caiman can grow up to six meters in length and are considered one of the most deadly predators in South America.
Over the next two hours we encountered kingfishers, tiger herons, noisy blue and yellow macaws, green ibis, soaring vultures, howler monkeys that refused to howl and a family of giant otter initially referred to by the first Spanish explorers as 'River Wolves.’ They grow to about two metres in length with this group of four being the only otters residing in Sandoval Lake and are designated an endangered species. Requiring about four kilograms of fish a day, an adult can weigh upwards of 30 kg.
Once breakfast had been consumed our group departed on a 90-minute walk into the rainforest. It was still early morning as the heat began levitating off the jungle floor; a floor entwined with vines and the detritus of moss, ferns, deadwood and fallen leaves. There was a slightly disappointing lack of wildlife or birds but our guide still gave us an interesting insight into the flora and fauna along the trail as well as pointing out leaf-cutter ants, a hairy-black spider and a giant butterfly, known locally as an English Owl Butterfly.
On dusk we headed back out onto the lake. Howler monkeys, which by now were howling riotously, were spotted almost immediately as a couple of playful little blokes decided to feed on a tree full of small berries not far from the where we boarded the canoes. Otherwise it was an uneventful evening with little animal activity, as the skies darkened quickly with almost complete cloud cover – in fact the bar in the lodge was more active during cocktail happy hour.
As the lodge runs on solar and generator power, electricity is only available at certain times of the day between 5-6 am, a couple of hours at lunchtime and during dinner. Once the lights are turned off at 10:00 pm I needed a flashlight to read or see things. At an un-godly hour I woke to a scurrying sound and rustling in my room. Switching on my light I found a small rat in my wastebasket, chomping into a left over banana skin – he was asked to leave and refused, so he was unceremoniously heaved out over the balcony.
The mist had already disappeared as we returned back across the lake on our last day in Amazonia. Retracing our boggy way back on the jungle hike we finally boarded the boat on the wide, sediment-filled river for the trip back to Puerto Maldonado. All that was left was a shuttle ride to the airport, where there was even time for a cold beer before our flight out of Amazonia.
It was with regret that I departed such a wildly remote region of South America. Like many out-of-the-way places Sandoval Lake has certainly been discovered and is now a recognized tourist destination. Yet with its remoteness, it’s capacity to entice adventurous travellers is still limited. However, make sure you include this small part of Amazonia on your Peruvian travels – on this incredible planet of ours, this place really is one of the last untouched worlds – Mundos Intocados.
In this region of Peru you are immersed in a true jungle environment, so be well prepared, it will make your Amazonia experience all the more enjoyable.
Shane Boocock travelled to Lake Sandoval courtesy of World Expeditions. For more information about their worldwide tour programs visit:
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