Pilcopata jungle trip: the wrapup
For all of us, the trip to Pilcopata and to Manú was not quite what we expected. The jungle was great; seeing the communities there was great; and the food and accommodation was great. But the trip itinerary was not followed; the tour agency did not communicate very well when we asked what was going on; and (this really killed the trip for many of us) our main guide was 100% useless. I don't regret going on the trip. But it certainly could have been better.
As far as we were aware, the itinerary that we would be following was the one available on the agency's web site. However, it turned out that this itinerary was not followed very faithfully. We were not made aware of the fact that the bus to Pilcopata was over 8 hours (on a terrible road), and that it would take up virtually the entire first day of the trip.
On the second day, there was supposed to be a "mystic water ritual" in the jungle: didn't happen. On the third day, we were supposed to visit the community of "Santa Rosa de Huacaria", to receive an explanation of their lifestyle and of the issues that they face (and of the work that's being done to help them), and to be taught how to make bows and arrows by the locals. The community visit happened on the second day, not the third. Explanation of their lifestyle and their issues: none. Bow and arrow making: didn't happen.
The main guide
I can't remember his name. But I can remember that he was the most useless, ignorant, fumbling, utter moron of a guide that I've ever encountered. He knew absolutely nothing about the jungle (although thankfully, our local guide on the second day's tour and hike knew a lot). He was ostensibly our "translator"; but it turned out to be easier to understand the locals in Spanish, than to understand his abysmal English. He didn't really know what our itinerary was, and he was unable to explain why we weren't following it.
Basically (I hate to talk about anyone like this, but in this case it's the truth, through and through), he was just an all-round unintelligent, useless, and annoying person. We would have been better off with no guide. If we'd gotten lost in the jungle, I'd rather have been in the jungle alone, than stuck in there with him. A really disappointing guide.
Lack of communication
For a long time, Evelyn (the person from Proyecto Selva Inka in charge of the trip) didn't offer any explanations for any of the problems that we were experiencing. Finally, after some pressure, she explained a few things on the third day. The guide that we had was not the regular guide that they use: apparently, they have two regular guides, and both of them are away on a professional soccer tournament this week; the knob-head that we got stuck with was clearly a last-resort fill-in. Because of the lack of a regular guide, the itinerary was changed to not include the things that we noticed were missing, and instead to include extra horse-riding.
It took a lot of hassling to get even that amount of explanation out of the agency; and even after we did find out that much, there was still not even a hint of apology for not having been straight with us from the start, or for the below-average standard of our trip. Basically, they acted dishonestly and unprofessionally. I would not recommend that anyone else book a tour with Proyecto Selva Inka — because you may not get what's advertised, and you may not be told why.
Having said all that, Pilcopata is a great little town, and the jungle around it (although not quite the "real jungle", like in the protected areas of Manú) is exotic and gorgeous. A bit of a pity that the weather wasn't too great when we went; but nevertheless, it was nice enough for us to appreciate the beauty that was constantly around us. The tour and hike on the second day was definitely the highlight of the trip, and I think it made the whole thing worthwhile. I'd like to go on a jungle trip again, somewhere else, and next time to do it properly and to see things properly.