by Nathaniel McIntosh, Greenheart Travel Correspondent Scholarship Winner in Peru
Today is the big day where we start our journey to the Amazon Conservation Project. On the first day of the trip we will take a 7.5-hour drive to a place called the Cock of the Rock Lodge, named after a black bird with an odd shaped red head. On the second day we will drive another 3 hours before we get to the river where we will take a 45-minute motorized canoe ride to the project.
Even though this is a really long drive, it is in no way, shape, or form boring. We stop every few hours to stretch our legs, check out a local town, eat, or take pictures. This drive takes us from city to highland/mountain deserts to a lush and spooky cloud forest then to a rainforest with small mountain cities randomly sprinkled in. We went up and over/through the Andes Mountain range! We got to stop while in the cloud forest to look at a beautiful view, of clouds. Normally the view at this point is amazing but that only applies when the clouds aren’t so heavy. Nonetheless, it’s amazing up here and I wouldn’t want to think about the drop that is less than 50 feet in front of me.
After a beautifully scenic drive, we arrive at the Cock of the Rock Lodge. We arrive a few hours before dinnertime and are given free reign to do whatever we want. This lodge is beautiful! It’s built for tourists. There are hummingbirds everywhere and we are in clear view of the mountains. There are trails all around the lodge. A few of us decided to go out and explore some of the trails. We took a trail that went all the way out and back a mile or so. It took us all the way down the hill and to a beautiful river; it wasn’t hard to find our way back. It’s later in the night that I find my first large bug in the form of a giant spider (slight exaggeration). I trapped him with a cup and took him outside. I realize that I’m going to have to get used to large bugs and soon if I want to stay sane. I may not be a fan of bugs but the pros of this trip still greatly outweigh the cons.
Early in the morning (5:30 am) before breakfast, we headed down the road to an observation point to try to see the lek of the Cock of the Rock. A lek occurs in many birds and in it, males gather in an area and put on displays to attract females to mate with. Unfortunately, we only saw two, but we heard many more but they were not visible. After breakfast we piled back into the van to start the second part of the journey to the Amazon Conservation Project. Although this part of the drive was much less diverse, it was equally beautiful. We got to see a plethora of waterfalls and great cliff views.
Near the end of the drive we rode through a town that is very well known for its coca production but is too dangerous for local authorities to stop. Scary. Apparently they aren’t a threat to tourists, yeah OK drive faster. It feels good to get to the river because I am starting to get sick of sitting in a car. We load all the luggage and supplies onto the canoe and then get on ourselves. The canoe ride supplies us with more amazing views and provides a bit more excitement than the van. Because this is the dry season in the Amazon, the river was low and gave us a few rocky periods. We even had a few rapids-like turns; I definitely had my life vest on. After about 45 minutes of winding river turns we make it to the beach that houses the many steps leading up to the project. Carrying my luggage up the steps is much more of a task than I had thought/hoped but seeing the project’s buildings and landscape at the top is simply amazing. Finally made it!! Now my time in the jungle really starts.