BY PAUL RUSHTON
BEST FOR: A FEW DAYS OF HIGH ADVENTURE AND NATURAL COMMUNION AS PART OF A WIDER EXPLORATION OF PERU
NOT FOR: TRAVELLERS WHO INSIST ON WIFI AND HOT WATER ON TAP
If ever there was a sunrise worth rising for it was over the Rio Madre de Dios, as the humidity built over my few days to that hum before the thunderstorms. Morning breaks over the rainforest in colours almost unimaginable. As it happens I was already up, roused by the roaring of howler monkeys and a cloud of parakeets, watching the sky from a hammock in my open Machiguenga cabana and facing the riverbank which has slipped and claimed a row of cabanas and the structure that previously housed the spa in recent years. A fallen tree passes quickly in the cacao brown water.
On the other three sides we are flanked by the primary jungle; walls of green and relative dark; yelps and warbles, startlingly loud because the backdrop is quiet. The grounds around the lodge bloom and teem with butterflies and bright, tiny flags of foliage that herald the lines of leafcutter ants. Aguti, rodents the size of a small dogs, wander and scratch around the stilts of the cabanas and the pointillist tips of colour topping the leafy heliconias. Roofs thatched with fish-tail leaves and liana vines are cast in the rich pink and deep umber of the sunrise. My cabana is beautifully tactile and simple; sparse and purposeful; built from and furnished with satisfying wood in chunks and skeins; entirely open to the river save for mosquito netting. It boasts the very freshest of air, a comfortable bed, a lukewarm shower and is slung with a couple of hammocks. The power is spared in the afternoons and through the night when candles and kerosene lanterns pool around this jungle clearing. They light our paths to the eco-centre, with its preserved creatures in jars, wealth of information and roomful of gumboots; or to the lodge where we relax or sit for our meals on more exquisitely hewn wood in the low light under the high thatch.
By day we are expertly guided through the jungle paths, the twilight river or through the leafy backwaters by canoe. To secluded lakes haunted by vultures or lagoons full of turtles and butterflies. The guides stop to intuit and reveal a giant river otter or the gleaming eye of a caiman, a three-toed sloth or to coax a tarantula from its hole with a twig. I walk the swaying suspension bridges of the canopy walkway in the bright heights of the forest, the gently colossal and delicately flowering emergent trees, surrounded by a family of howler monkeys and reedy toucan calls. I look down through my boots and the slats of the bridges, twenty-nine metres to the forest floor. I am enthusiastically taught about the flora; the trees that walk and the sap to be rubbed onto a wound to form a perfect antiseptic plaster. I taste the jungle herbs and watch the butterflies drink the tears from the eyes of turtles. It is an incredible privilege, such intimacy and immediacy. The forest allows it because we are quiet and we tread lightly, guided by those whose ancestry is here, and who delight in modelling respect for, and positive engagement with the jungle, who speak its many languages and are gracious enough to translate.
Peruvian food is a big deal at the moment, not least in Peru where chefs are mobbed like royalty. It is fresh and intelligent, regional and seasonal and there are incredible indigenous ingredients. Eating causas in the Amazon conspired with my return home and the fruition of my first potato crop in driving home the understanding that there is no manufacturing the taste of an ingredient when it is right, scrubbed of soil and given spice, thought and zing. The food at Amazonika is as local as can be, imaginatively and sensitively put to plate and cut through with those chillies, that jungle cilantro and citrus. It is skilful and beautiful; a perfect crisply battered poached egg with my escabeche vegetables. The true flavours cannot be exported, from the coffee and Amazonian nuts to the cassava bread or the young, fresh cheese, my meals are made of harmony and immediacy. I’d trade one from the tree for all the avo-toast in Soho and wash it down with quinoa beer. There is no beating the humble and local. Such is this brand of travel. A TV here or a wifi signal there would feel ruinous. Here we are carbon neutral. We are supportive of ecological learning and local employment through our far-sighted hosts. Our breath regulates and the rhythm changes in the flickering of a lantern, and we are less those monkeys gone mad than a bright, observant link in the symbiotic ordering of nature.
CONTACT: Tel:+51 1 610 0400, web: www.inkaterra.com
PRICE: Approximately £337 per person for 3 days / 2 nights, full board and inclusive of a la carte excursions and basic equipment, in a superior double cabana.
NEAREST AIRPORT: Puerto Maldonado
TRANSFER TIME: One hour by road and riverboat