Hunting > Adventure

Pain and Pleasure in Peru

The author's adventure was met with a lot of firsts, both painful and pleasurable.

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June 4, 2008
1:30 a.m.—Finally finished packing; alarm set for 3:30 a.m. Who needs sleep anyway? Big day coming. Flying to Lima, Peru, with my wife, Louise, to officially open the Amazon Basin for hunting. According to Thomas Saldias of Safari Club International (SCI), the Peruvian jungle has been closed to legal hunting for almost 40 years. He says I am to be the first international hunter to go to Peru as a licensed guest of the government to hunt the Peruvian jungle, and also to be the first to hunt the highlands for whitetail deer since the 1980s.

Hmmm. Have to take him at his word, but all those “firsts” don’t sound as great now as they did at the SCI convention back in January, when Thomas and Peruvian Minister of Industries and Internal Commerce Rafael Rey first approached me with the idea of “opening up the country” to foreign hunters. Somehow, on the eve of departure, I’m starting to feel a little like a guinea pig in an experiment. Rumor has it they eat guinea pigs in Peru.

June 5, 2008

1 a.m.—It’s been a long 24 hours, but we’re in Peru. Made it through customs and immigration. The officials here apparently aren’t used to people entering their country with guns and TV cameras—go figure. Nothing $1,000 cash couldn’t solve. They wanted the dollars to ensure I take the equipment back out of the country. Had a couple hours to sleep at the Ariosto Hotel, but Thomas and the president of the Peruvian Hunters Association, Luis Castillo, arrived and offered toasts to the various “firsts” of this hunt. Actually, I just had another first, my first “Pisco sour,” the Peruvian national drink: egg whites, lemon juice and some clear substance that makes my eyes water. Way too good for someone who’s had four hours of sleep in the last 48 hours.

5 p.m.—Puerto Maldonado. Long day flying. But we make it to the Tambopata River, then wait with Thomas and some others—camp helpers and “tourista” sisters from the USA—for a boat to take us upstream to camp. See my first sloth, hanging on a tree right beside us!

Thick, thick—the shoreline is jungle, a jillion plants; tall trees with full yellow blossoms, others with white bark and red blossoms. Plants everywhere. Really beautiful here. In this area scientists have registered 1,200 butterfly species, 632 bird species, 205 fish species, 169 mammal species, 103 amphibian species and 67 reptile species. Uh oh. I get that guinea pig feeling again. First hunter in a country always means infrastructure is lacking for said first hunter.

The “boat” is a big freighter-type canoe with an outboard. The river is brown as chocolate milk—can’t imagine what’s hiding under the surface. Upriver the stream narrows, runs faster as it’s about to get dark. Make that pitch-black: One instant we can see and the next we’re running blind. Then Thomas informs me that the first mate perched with the dim spotlight on the prow said the “captain” running the outboard hasn’t run the river after dark and he’s concerned. Not good.

Rapids! Rocks! Damn, the boat crashes onto rocks in the middle of the river and lists to port! The first mate abandons ship just as we hit; he’s safe. I grab Louise and we scramble onto the rocks. No time to think, the boat is taking on water; my cameraman, Todd, and I push the prow with all our strength, the boat inches back into the water at a crazy angle. On board again, our captain is obviously shaken. Then he runs us onto a mud bar! I know it’s mud because the first mate abandons ship again at the first sign of danger and gets stuck in Amazonian quicksand up to his chicken-little backside.

June 6, 2008
1 a.m.—Mutiny time. We are stranded there for nearly two hours.
The captain refuses to continue. One of the lady camp helpers is in great “bathroom-time” duress. The captain says the camp will send a rescue party for us, but admits under my intense interrogation that the people at camp don’t know we’re coming. It’s obvious he’s holding out for daylight. The camp helper lady won’t be able to hold out for another half-hour, and soon she won’t be alone. Oh wait, it gets better. The dim spotlight dies. Enough is enough. Todd and I commandeer the ship.

Thank goodness for our Cabela’s headlamps, our only light. I take over the prow from the first mate and Todd sits in back with the captain, literally forcing him to do our bidding.Off the mud bar. I make decisions based on the current directly below the prow and the bits of foam and flotsam floating by at speed. Has to be a channel through the rapids. Izquierda! Derecha!!!! Izquierda. Izquierda. IZQUIERDA!!! If it weren’t so stressful it would’ve been comical. NO YOUR OTHER IZQUIERDA!!!

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