Thursday, 21 July 2011

Iquitos – 25th June - 2nd July 2011

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.
Nauto Harbour
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

Two of the five children of the family who looked after us

We slept well each night listening to the noises of the animals in the distance and the occasional motor canoe going past, it certainly was very peaceful after the traffic noise of Lima. The days began with either walks or canoe rides into the jungle.  Mosquitoes were the worst in the jungle, so damp and humid, their perfect conditions!  Breakfast was pancakes or omelet, both good with an abundance of fruit.

Views from our canoe on the many trips along the River
 We went fishing and caught the bait with pieces of meat and caught more catfish or for me four Piranha babies, but boy you wouldn’t want to put your finger in their mouths, razor sharp teeth. Our guide had a permanent reminder of when he was a small boy, he put his arm into a fishing net and a baby piranha took a chunk out of his arm, so there was no way any of us were going to put our fingers near the piranha’s mouth.  Lunch that day was our larger catfish deep fried.  It wasn’t too bad, very boney.  Chicken (grilled, fried, roasted or boiled) and rice is the main fare in Peru with tomatoes or sometimes beans, very tasty but it doesn’t take long to be tired of chicken no matter which way it is served.
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

Now onto Rio Momon

Me as 'King of the Day' with all my finery

One of the dancers that seemed to go on forever
Another welcome dance
The dancers (me included)

After the Boras Boras, I am back in the canoe heading further up the Rio Momón to visit another tribe, the Yahua native community at Padre Cocha (named after the missionary stationed there).  From here I had a 15 minute walk through their community to arrive at the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm.  The Farm is a conservatorium and breeding center for Amazonian butterflies and has become a haven for orphaned exotic animals such as the capuchin monkey, tapir, jaguar, puma, giant anteater, a baby tigrillo (rescued at 5 weeks of age) and manatee. The villagers still hunt these animals within the jungle and try and sell them in the markets to tourists.  The Police now comb the markets to stop the senseless killing of mothers so their young can be sold at the markets.  When the police do come across a baby animal they confiscate and fine the perpetrators and then hand over the animals to this farm.  The Farm’s entrance fee of $20 S/ goes towards supporting the butterfly project and feeding the orphans.  Money well spent!
Butterflies bred at the Butterfly Farm

Harry the tigrillo, Police rescued him at the markets being sold at only 5 weeks old, he will be unable to return to the Jungle and will live in capativity for the rest of his life.
Pancho the ronsoco, the largest rodent in the world

Giant anteater

At the butterfly farm I befriend an English girl and Irish guy who come back with me in the canoe to Puerto Bellavista-Nanay.  We ended up having freshly cooked fish at the port market and then shared a taxi back to Iquitos.  The rest of the day I picked up my laundry, which smelt divine after the Amazon, checked emails and my flight details for my early flight the next day to Lima. 

The next day, up early, headed to the airport, only to find my flight had been delayed.  Oh well at least I was at the airport, I enjoyed a coffee and waited.

Saludos Iquitos.

My time in the Amazon was quite an eye opener.  The sheer size of the Amazon, remembering I was only seeing a small section of the Peruvian Amazon, the Amazon is also in Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia.  The jungle holds amazing healing properties in the many endemic plants that are harvested to use in natural and western medicines.  I was given a thick black liquid made of boiled bark to help with my diarrhea by the family who took care of us at the lodge.   It wasn’t exactly pleasant to sip and I can’t report if it worked should I had persisted on drinking as I ended up taking some stoppers to ensure I would be okay on the long canoe and bus ride back to Iquitos.  I was disappointed the Lodge was not as ‘ecologically friendly’ as I was believed it to be, and hope in the future there are tighter regulations so that all waste is not put into the Amazon River, (I believe this is where I picked up the diarrhea) though I can’t see that happening, too many livelihoods depend on the tourist dollar.  A great experience and I am so pleased I was able to have this adventure.  Though I have a greater appreciation for my home and modern conveniences!!

No comments:

Post a Comment