I have to admit that the real extent of my knowledge of Peru was probably the basic stuff we learnt at school and the fact that it was the birthplace of the famous Paddington bear. There was also the war with Chile I vaguely remember from newsreels.
Nothing was really going to prepare me for my latest trip. Yes I always do basic research, vaccinations, clothes, scripts and making sure passports and visas are up to date, but I did not really understand the full extent of how vast South America is.
The trip was to be split into 3 areas, flying to Lima first, and onto the amazon basin. Then up to Cusco the legendary capital of the Inca’s and then finally onto Machu Picchu, the ancient lost city. We all met at Gatwick, Janice my boss and Sam the cameraman who I have both filmed with before and Chris the soundman, a friend of another cameraman I know. He’s a Ben Fogle lookalike, slightly younger with a good sense of humour.
The flights were to be with Air Europa and first stop to Madrid, then an overnight flight some 12 hours to Lima. Check-in is the normal scrum and with very upset people who question you when you push to the front of the queue. As Sam said ‘Could you feel the daggers in your back Phil?’ but I stress that it was agreed well before hand before I get any complaints. Check-in was fine and quick. We went through probably the quickest security I have ever experienced, well done Gatwick, spot on and very impressive.
After a quick and quite agreeable Chicken Tagine in Café Rouge we boarded the plane to Madrid. The staff were smart and efficient, food okay, not brilliant.
All too quickly we arrive in Madrid after only an hour delay and check-in for next part of our long trip. Only problem being a 5-hour wait for an overnight 12-hour flight.
I was not sure what to expect from Air Europa, but was pleasantly surprised. New plane, very smart, comfy seats and charming staff. Food was okay, but midnight was too late for me to be eating a 4-course meal. However I did have a few bites then it was lights out, that’s enough for me.
The flight was okay and I slept pretty well, and after a quick film and breakfast we were making our steady descent into a cloudy but warm Lima.
Getting into Peru was fine, especially with all our kit, which can be a pain in some countries. Through the other side we met our first ‘fixers’ Bibi and Daniel. Bibi had set up all our contacts whilst we on our very tight schedule. While Daniel looks after many trips and organises flights and travel arrangements, both absolutely essential when we are so far away.
Taca airlines were to fly us to our first filming location in in the Amazon basin at Puerto Maldonado via Cusco. So after check in and saying goodbye to Bibi & Daniel we went through security again, and settled down not really expecting what was to happen next.
Whilst in the queue, we noticed rather a lot of very important people turning up. Janice was sorting out a few bits and bobs, and returned to say that the entourage was for us and that Marco Arata and Gianpier Giachetti their 2 top pilots were to ferry us around...how exciting, that has never happened before. We exchange pleasantries and board the aircraft, again, upsetting the locals. There seems to be a pattern emerging here.
On the plane we set up all the cameras and mic’s and settle down. Marco then beckons us into the cockpit and says we can fly up front with him. I ask him if it’s all okay and legal to double-check. His response is fantastic "Phil, this is Peru, anything goes, sit down, and enjoy!". So we did, Sam and I in the cockpit, him with his camera and me with my small camera and Go Pro. As we taxied out to the runway we watched Jumbo jets take off I had to pinch myself and ask where else in the world would this happen? We take off, all on camera and quickly climb to 30,000 feet, through the low cloud and into brilliant sunshine. Marco explains that its always cloudy in Lima and that as we fly over the Andes the terrain will change dramatically on the way to a Cusco. He also explained that, wait for it, we would be 12,000 feet above sea level and that we would struggle straight away with breathing, eating and sleeping.
We land in Cusco, after flying over some breath-taking scenery, snow capped mountains, parched landscapes and tiny villages. The runway is lined with houses and businesses and we circle the surrounding high mountains. I think Marco was showing off, but it was a great not only to see but also get on camera for a perfect landing. After a quick stop we are soon off again on our way to the Amazon basin deep in the jungle and landing at Puerto Maldonado. It’s a short hop and in no time at all we are on the ground. Doors open and we hit the heat. Its 80% humidity and 35C, thank goodness its winter!
We disembark, get our bags and wait in the heat. Its muggy and close, but I’m glad to be here. We are recognized by 3 young teachers from the east end of London. We have photos taken and set off to check into our destination Hacienda Conception, via a beautiful butterfly farm and head for the river in a lovely restored truck.
20 minutes later we are here, 3 or 4 boats ready to go. The area is quite poor, with workers in the river moving huge logs, and little kids running about. The porters work hard with all our kit, they are small stocky and very strong.
We set off for 45 minutes in a traditional long boat that is quite unstable, Janice and I exchange glances. After a few minutes we are speeding along the river and you start to get a feeling that you really are in the jungle. The river is swollen and is a bright muddy red colour due to the heavy rains up stream our guide explains.
A bit tired from our 24-hour trip, the gentle motion of the boat trip relaxes me and I nearly fall asleep. In no time at all we are heading towards a bank with just a single man waiting. As we approach, he rings a bell and two more men appear. The sun is fairly low in the sky now and there is a wonderful light, and its very warm and muggy.
We moor the boat and in no time the porters have all the kit in the thatched reception/dining room. It’s a huge with mezzanine level with spacious, if not sparse rooms, with good-sized showers and comfy beds. We are greeted with chilled towels and a welcoming drink of pisco sour a traditional Peruvian drink made from a distilled liquor mixed with sugar syrup, lime or lemon and egg white shaken with lots of ice cubes, its delicious.
We check in and are shown to our rooms and are invited to a very late lunch. The lunch is good with grilled chicken and beef with onions salad and a re fried beans. Plus the biggest sweetcorn I have ever seem mixed with a local cheese dish, all washed down with passion fruit juices.
We are shown to our rooms and told to get changed as we were to go Piranha fishing!!
We met our guide Alan, not sure if it was his real name, he is charming and well versed in all things jungle…thank goodness. He explains it’s a dangerous place with many animals, reptiles and insects that are deadly.
We go to the oxbow lake by the jungle lodge, which is calm and quite eerie. We climb into the boat and Alan gently paddles around the jungle lake. The mosquitoes are everywhere, and Janice is getting bitten, we all are. We fish with strips of raw beef on simple bamboo poles. Its relaxing and good fun. The little blighters nibble and tease us. I catch a small one but the camera is not rolling…damn, oh well next time. We chat about Anacondas, spiders and any number of jungle creatures. Sadly, the sun sets and we do not get another chance. Oh well it was nice to hear and see the many sounds of the jungle.
We get back to our rooms and shower and get ready for dinner. There is a whistle on the back of the door for emergencies!! i.e. anything that should not be in your room, whistle and it will be dealt with.
Dinner is fine, salads, potatoes in various guises, and a local fish steamed inside fresh bamboo sections, all delicious. Off to bed, I must admit I did sleep with one eye open.