Michael B. Jordan's 'Raising Dion' Co-star Details "Mental Cleanse" During Peru Trip

Courtesy of Subject
Alisha Wainwright

A former Smithsonian biologist who appears in Netflix's upcoming series revisits her tropical days with a vacation in the Amazon.

Before I became an actress, I was a tropical biologist. Years ago, I worked in the Panamanian jungle for the Smithsonian, where I collected data under enormous ceiba trees and woke to the calls of howler monkeys. Although my path eventually led to a career in entertainment, I missed my wilder times. So when I needed a mental cleanse after shooting  Raising Dion in Atlanta last year, after some deliberation and research, I chose Peru.

Playing such a complicated character in the movie was so rewarding, but in the process I had lost touch with myself. I wanted a new adventure, something that felt reminiscent of my days in Panama.

A couple months after wrap, I finally touched down in Cusco. After a four-day hike with Wayki Trek in the Lares Valley to the obligatory Machu Picchu, I headed north to the Amazon's remote Tambopata National Reserve, which is only accessible by an eight-hour boat ride. As we sped up an Amazonian river last month, I felt connected to nature in a way I hadn’t in a long time.

Even in April, when the rainy season has subsided, the air is still heavy and wet and pulsing with an uncomfortable heat. It sounds bizarre, but I forgot how much I missed it — the humidity!

As we glided over murky waters shaded by tall grass, I saw capybara rolling in the mud like little jungle pigs. Capybara are at the bottom of the Amazonian food chain, which is dominated by the powerful jaguar. Sighting the big cat is rare, but it didn't stop me from hiking hours in the days that followed to catch a glimpse.

I stayed at the sole lodge, offered by Rainforest Expeditions (from $654 a night; perunature.com). The elevated bridgeways at Tambopata Research Center's eco-chic lodgings connect common areas to open-air suites that lack a fourth wall. The only thing separating you from nature as you sleep is a mosquito net. Meals-wise, Peru offered so many new things, like incredible endemic varieties of fruits and vegetables. The way I savored the potatoes, you’d think I had never eaten one before. I was likely eating one of the 3,000 varieties of potato that has never spread beyond the border.

Most of my hikes were led by Harrison, a local guide. When we saw caimans sunbathing by a pond, I recalled the time a group of them blocked the path to my boat in Panama. When we saw black-throated toucanets branch-hop overhead, I remembered when a big-beaked bird shockingly flew into a bowl of flour on my Panamanian kitchen counter. As we walked along gigantic Brazil nut trees, I thought of my days studying in the rainforest. With every sighting (no jaguars, unfortunately), I was transported back to my time when I thought blue mud boots were fashion. A time when no matter how cool the outdoor adventure, I knew I wanted to leave it to pursue acting. Now I was walking through the Amazon jungle, satisfied to call it a vacation and not a job. My trip was a reminder of all the things I loved about the jungle without the stress of feeling that I wasn’t meant to be there.

And on my final day in Peru, as the boat zoomed back down the Madre de Dios River back toward civilization, I smiled with a recalibrated mind and spirit. I casually gazed out to the shore, and there she was: a full-grown jaguar strolling lazily along the water's edge. She waded into the river, gracefully swam to other side, and slinked into the bush. As my eyes hungrily watched her every move, I knew that although I live in Los Angeles, the jungle will always feel like home.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.