Iquitos (population around 435,000.
My first adventure out of Lima! The flight was great, on time and a good experience, thanks Peruvian Air. I had a window seat and saw the Andes from the air, what a sight. Sorry to the many who shared my experience at 2am (Bne time), in my excitement I forgot about the time difference, oops!
Iquitos is a slightly manic jungle metropolis, and holds the title of the world’s largest city that can’t be reached by road and Peru’s gateway to the Amazon. Iquitos is located on the Amazon River, it is a mere 106m above sea level even though it is more than 3,000km from the mouth of the Amazon at Belén in Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean. It is surrounded by three rivers; the Nanay, the Itaya, and the Amazon and is situated 125 km downstream of where the two main headwaters of the Amazon River, the Ucayali and Marañón rivers meet. For all these reasons, Iquitos has long been a major port in the Amazon Basin. Originally founded as a remote Jesuit mission in 1750s the town spent many of its early years fending off attacks from the indigenous tribes who didn’t want to be converted. During the late 19th century there was the rubber boom, which made rubber barons fabulously rich while the tribes people and mestizo (mixed races) rubber tappers suffered virtual enslavement, even death from disease and harsh treatment. In 1960s oil made Iquitos a prosperous modern place (loosely speaking) once again. Since everything must be shipped in by boat or air, costs are high.
|A Catholic Church but could not find a name|
|One of the oldest building in Iquitos, now Govt offices|
I arrived in Iquitos at 8ish pm and took a taxi to Amazon Jungle Ecological Tour Office and after discussing details of the tour, paid my money and accepted the offer to use their bunkhouse for a night’s accommodation (it was filthy but I did). I took myself off across the road for a beer at the Yellow Rose of Texas (really humid after a recent shower of rain) to celebrate a relatively smooth journey and hoped the large beer would help me sleep.
Next morning I was up and ready to go and no pick up, I was starting to think they had ran off with my money, however no, just on Peruvian time, apparently I was lucky it was just half hour late. Into another taxi with my companions for the next few days, Marne (French PH student) and Juan (Peruvian Civil Engineer) we headed to Naúto, about one and half hours from Iquitos. Our breakfast was at Naúto, final shopping at the markets for stores that were required in the jungle, then onto the boat for two and half hours (80 km) to our destination. The river ride was in a long canoe (motorised), complete with fresh market food, grocery items and a chicken that kept escaping. The breeze was a very pleasant relief from the humid day we left behind in Naúto.
We arrive at our Lodge, on the edge of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve to the native built huts, complete with bed and mosquito net that covered the entire bed, tucked in around the mattress so the mosquitoes could not enter. This worked a treat, not once was there any mosquitoes buzzing around inside. We were issued with our gumboots that became our uniform for the next few days. The boots and (Opa’s) vinyl over-pants were a godsend during my time in the jungle.
|A fishing community along the River|
|Huts along the River|
|Closest hut was the dorms, Marne and mine was at this end|
|Main hut was the dining hut, small to right the toilets with shower curtain for privacy|
|This is where we bathed, nice!|
|Where I slept|
|Views from our canoe on the many trips along the River|
|One of the four Piranha I caught when we were fishing, check out the teeth and this is a baby|
On one of our first walks we came across a Sloth, sleeping, hanging from a vine high up in a tree. Before we know it, one of our guides was climbing the tree beside the Sloth, pulled the Sloth over towards him, took the non-moving Sloth off the vine and wrapped it in his T-Shirt, scaled down the tree and presented us with the Sloth. The Sloth seems to have no defence mechanism and just lets us all have a hold and many photos before he is placed back in the tree. The Amazon hawk can take a Sloth from their resting spots and devour, with not even a squawk from the Sloth. He is called the ‘lazy one’ and when it does move, is very slow. My expression holding the Sloth is one of 'should we really be holding a wild animal'?
|The Sloth sleeping attached to a vine, they are nocturnal|
|Climbing the tree to bring the Sloth down|
|Bringing the Sloth down|
|Unwrapping the Sloth|
|Our main guide with the Sloth|
|Me in my jungle attire (thank you Opa for the overpants), not sure if I should really be holding the Sloth|
|'the lazy one'|
|These nails are used only for climbing|
One night we slept in the jungle in our own net covered hammock. The mosquitoes were so bad we all stood in the smoke of the fire to try and deter them from swarming us (even with lashings of DEET insecticide). A better idea would have been to go to our hammock and not watch our guides start the fire (from jungle wood) and cook our dinner. We went for a canoe ride in the dark and came across a few animals, a green frog, a small boa restrictor, baby Cayman (see the photo) and the odd birds. All were too far away for decent photos. At least once in the hammock there were no mosquitoes. The only sounds throughout the night in the jungle were the sounds of frogs, insects and the distant sound of Caymans (alligators). In the morning we packed up, headed to the boat and left our campsite for a cruise down the River and breakfast back at the huts. The recently arrived ‘jungle adventurers’ were eager to find out from us how we went. More jungle walks followed and after lunch we farewelled Juan.
|The jungle hammocks|
|My jungle bed|
|Who would have thought I would hold onto these baby Cayman|
|Sunset over the Amazon|
Marne and I head to the boats for a trip to a large lagoon. The going was tough for the rowers, down a very narrow inlet, covered in fast growing vines. Our guides where slashing away with their machetes and knives (standard tools of the trade) at the vines, next they were out of the canoe pushing us through mostly mud, till finally we vacated the canoe and walking very gingerly through the mud till the inlet opened up to a lagoon. Here we could board again and be rowed around this inland lake. Here we saw birds, heard the Caymans and then saw the Amazon’s giant lily pad, the Victoria Amazonica, which is huge, the photos show the main pad which is quite spongy, the flower in the water beside the pad, a new pad forming and the thorns around the rim and under the pad. Luckily the way back wasn’t as strenuous as the going.
|The journey to the inland lake|
|A new pad|
|The Giant Victoria Amazonica|
|The underside of the pad, very thorny|
|Giant Victoria Amazionica flower|
The following photos are of medicinal plants, flowers in the jungle, some so similar to ours, in fact I was a little amazed how similar our rainforests are to theirs. The photos were taken over several days while walking around in the jungle. We also played Tarzan and swung through the trees with the swinging vines, great fun and we climbed the trees by using the roots of giant trees. The guides always could climb higher!
|The orange roots are used in cancer medication|
|More medicinal plants|
|Drinking 'water' from the root of a tree. You have to scratch the bark to see if it was ok, then you cut the end closest to the earth first then higer up otherwise the liquid runs away before you can drink from the end.|
|Fauna of the Amazon|
|Giant Amazon snail|
|Our young guide scaling the giant tree|
I returned to Iquitos from the Jungle and after a long (cold) shower, I dropped my rather smelly clothes off to be washed and made my way to the Plaza de Armas for a walk around, have something to eat and talk to the attendant at iPeru for information on going to the Boras Boras Village. Later I went along the riverside to see the floating shantytown of Barrio Belén houses with thousands of people living in either huts that rise and fall with the river or huts built on tall stilts.
|Floating Houses of Belan|
|Stilt Houses at Belan|
The next day feeling slightly recovered from my bout of diarrhea and armed with information on visiting the outlining native communities and the butterfly farm, I head off looking forward to an interesting day. I took a mototaxi to the Puerto Bellavista-Nanay which was easy enough, though bartering for a canoe boat to take me to these communities was an event in itself. With my limited Spanish, lots of hand waving, drawing in the sand, I eventually had a boat and an agreed price that would take me up the river to these communities. I felt rather privileged, sitting in my own canoe for the day.
|Leaving Bellavista Nanay|
|Along the Rio Nanay|
|Me and my canoe heading down Rio Nanay|
|Fishing on Rio Nanay|
My (unintentional) first stop was to Serpentarium a tourist attraction that keeps the native animals in cages and is not recommended for tourists to go to. Unfortunately my driver took me there letting me believe it was the Boras. $20 S/ later and realising I had been duped after we had gone a short way; there was nothing to do but continue with my guide. Fortunately the animals looked to be in good shape, though they should never be kept in cages, they belong in the Amazon. I tried to tell my driver in my limited Spanish this is not the place I wanted to go to, unfortunately he receives a commission to drop tourists there so he was not really interested in my complaint.
|Me and the 'Lazy one'|
|Really they are the strangest animal|
|A young Tigrillo|
|Prehistoric turtle - it had the strangest head|
|You can see the strange head better here|
|Young boa restrictors|
Macaw - loving the paw paw
Soon we were back in the boat heading towards the community of the Boras of San Andres, located on the Rio Momón about 25 minutes upstream by canoe boat from Puerto Bellavista-Nanay. Their original tribal area was on the Rio Putumayo but they settled here during the rubber boom. They still maintain their tribal customs and I was welcomed by the small band of dancers in their ceremonial hut about an hour from their actual village. I was made ‘king for the day’, wore a crown, belt and shoulder bag indicating my new status. I then participated in several dancers which was a little unnerving but fun. The $30 S/ fee to be ‘king’ goes towards medicine for their village.
|Restuarant along the Rio Nanay|
|Me as 'King of the Day' with all my finery|
|One of the dancers that seemed to go on forever|
|Another welcome dance|