Our activity for this afternoon, after arriving in the jungle near Rurrenabaque, was to be taken on a romp through the jungle around our campsite, and to try and sight some animals. Sighting animals is much harder in the jungle than it is in the pampas, because the animals are all hiding away up in the trees, rather than hanging around in plain sight around a big river. But with a good guide, and a bit of stealth, it's possible to catch a glimpse of a few of them.
As well as hunting anacondas, another activity that people really look forward to on their pampas trips is piranha fishing. And this morning, that's exactly what we did! Straight after breakfast, we grabbed some meaty bait and some hooked reels, jumped in our boat, and set off to hunt some man-eating fish. Surprisingly, they're very small, and very hard to catch. Piranha fishing may not sound like a relaxing way to spend one's morning; but it's actually no less chilled than any other type of fishing. Plenty of waiting; and now and then, a little bit of catching.
When we cruised down the river for three hours yesterday, we saw quite a few of the famous pink dolphins of the pampas. This afternoon, we didn't just see them: we jumped in the water, and tried to swim with them. Unfortunately, the dolphins are both shy and speedy: as soon as you see them in one spot, by the time you've swum towards them, they've already popped up somewhere entirely different. I think they like to taunt as well. But hey, it was good fun sharing the river with them.
The pampas has many strange and wonderful animals — monkeys, dolphins, and alligators among them — but what most people really come here to see is the anacondas. The legendary water-snake monsters — that can (in parts of the Amazon basin) grow to as much as 10m in length, and that have long been the subject of adventure books and horror movies — are certainly a sight to see. And this morning, our group went on a romp through the swamplands, and found two little baby ones! Even these young critters had a formidable mouth of teeth, though.
Following our trip to the Sunset Bar, and a formidable spread for dinner, our group got back in the motorised canoe this evening, and cruised through the darkness of the pampas, looking for alligator eyes. It was a very unique and bizarre experience: on the water in the dark of night, with our flashlights searching the shores of the river, looking for pairs of orange eyes reflecting back at us. We spotted quite a lot of the alligators and their highly luminescent eyes; but unfortunately, our guide didn't manage to catch one and bring it on board. Damn: I was so looking forward to having another passenger on board — one with a two-foot-long mouth full of chomping teeth.
Although our friend the monito was cute and cuddly, and although he seemed to warm to me more than to anyone else, it seems that me and monkeys just weren't meant to be. After dinner tonight, back in Pilcopata, I suddenly broke out in massive spots of swollen skin rashes, which became totally, unbearably itchy. I also started feeling dizzy and light-headed. Luckily, someone gave me a few anti-histomines; and the next morning, after a solid sleep, I was feeling fine once again. But it must have been an allergic reaction to the monkey. Looks like despite the fun and games, I'll have to try and keep my distance from monkeys in the future.
This morning, we began our jungle tour with a visit to a farm-slash-tourist-retreat just outside Pilcopata. The farm is home not only to a very nice family of humans, but also to a large and varied family of animals. As well as our friend the monito, they also have a few other monkeys, some dogs, some macaws, some ant-eaters, some tortoises, and some tadpoles. And we got to meet and greet 'em all. A very colourful start to our time in Manú.
We had lots of fun with the monito that we met this morning in Pilcopata. And he had lots of fun with us, too. Little bugger couldn't help but show off his acrobatic skills, by swinging through the branches of his favourite tree. Luckily, we got him on video. Check it out.
The real part of our jungle tour began this morning, with a visit to a farm and tourist retreat just outside Pilcopata. There, we met the most gorgeous monito ("little monkey") you ever saw. Don't know what his name was; but all he wanted to do was climb up all of us, wrap himself around our necks, and cuddle up to our heads forever. He took a particular liking to me (because of all my hair, I guess — something of a jungle growing on my head), which unfortunately didn't turn out so well for me later tonight. Also very fond of bananas, of course.
There are many strange and intriguing stray people wandering around Cusco. But there are even more stray dogs. Here in Cusco, and in many other cities in Peru (and in Mexico), the "perros callejeros" (lit: "street dogs") are everywhere. It's not something that you see in Western cities, where we have dog-tag laws, council patrols, and "the pounds" (i.e. lost dog homes). But in Latin American cities, you can barely walk one block without passing a canine vagabond or two.