The Amazon rainforest!

Trip Start Jan 20, 2010
Trip End Jun 16, 2010

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Monday, May 17, 2010

I won a game of numbers Bingo on the bus from Cusco to Lima, with my prize being a return ride to Cusco! I had no intention of returning to Cusco but I sold it to another passenger for 50soles (about 9), which bought me my next bus fare (Lima to Trujillo) for the following week. We had a return flight from Lima to Iquitos, leaving on the Monday 17th May, in the evening and returning on Sunday 23rd to Lima. Tom and I had lunch in the centre of Lima which was cloudy, grey and quite cold before heading to the airport. We got off our plane in Iquitos to be hit by a wall of heat and humidity, quite a contrast, and the sound of the jungle whining and chattering and hordes of insects clicking around our heads. The heat was intense but it was the humidity that was really shocking. Instead of taxis at the airport there were moto-taxis which are motor-bikes with a two-person rickshaw cart attached to the back which were so much fun, only about 20p per journey and were cool and refreshing with the wind on our faces. We took one of these through the town, racing through the busy streets, overtaking and wrestling our way past hundreds of other moto-taxis, all competing for customers and position on the road.

We stayed at a hostel called La Pascana which was lovely, run by a couple who gave us a lot of advice and things to do and on trips into the jungle which we were keen to do!

Belen Market is the most famous part of Iquitos and we went there early on Tuesday morning. It is a market full of fruit, people and animals from the jungle, many of them there illegally but it is a fascinating place. We walked past rows and rows of bananas, which were being sold for about four pennies per banana. There are four types of bananas in Iquitos and there were also fresh pineapples, guava fruit and many, many more that I had never seen before. They were also selling Ayahuasca, which is a hallucinogenic alcohol-like drink, used in many spiritual ceremonies and by shaman in the jungle. Other stalls were selling monkeys, parrots and the skins of boa constrictors, anacondas and jaguars and there were people wandering around with huge machetes and monkeys the size of a hand sat on their shoulders! I couldn't take any photos unfortunately as we were warned to not take anything valuable to what is a notoriously dangerous place for tourists!

After seeing all of the market on land, we went out on a longboat onto the water and around the floating part of Belen. There are houses built on stilts and in a similar way to Los Uros on Lake Titicaca, a community exists on the water, with a school, shops, a church and even their own mayor. There were lots of vultures, sitting ominously on buildings as we passed and it was obvious from the ramshackle nature of the buildings that it is not an affluent area.

It was 40*C by the time we got back to the Hostel and we went to another market on the other side of town and then took a boat down the Nanay River, hoping to visit a famous animal rescue and butterfly-breeding centre but actually ending up at a small farm that illegally captured animals for tourist photos. Unfortunately we didn’t realise this until we left but a positive was that we ended up with some cool pictures with a sloth, which is now my favourite animal!

On Wednesday morning we went into the jungle. We were picked up early (sadly not an unusual experience anymore!) and driven to the port of Nauta from where we took a small boat down the Amazon river and off into a tributary where our lodge was. From the boat we saw a grey river dolphin which was exciting and it was great to see the wide and quite fast-flowing Amazon river, right close to where it starts.

It was tourist off-season in the jungle so we got a great price for our four days in the jungle of about 30 per day, all food, tours and accommodation included. We were shocked also at how nice the accommodation was. It was a complex of wooden huts on stilts above the water, with balconies overlooking the river and the birds and other wildlife that lived in the area.

There were no windows, just mosquito nets although that first night, despite plenty of repellent, I still got ravaged by insects and woke up with hundreds of bites on my back.

It was just Tom and I on the lodge as guests, although it could hold up to twenty, but it meant we got the best room in the place and top-quality treatment! We had a guide called Luis, his assistant Jesus and an old guy who’s name I can’t remember but who was very nice and always wore a Mayoral campaign t-shirt from Iquitos.

We walked into the jungle on the first afternoon, with wellies and our guides, armed with machetes to hack away branches and any unwelcoming residents! We saw a snake, various birds and rainforest trees and also got a feel for the terrain and what it was like under the tree canopy. It was coming to the end of the wet season so there was still lots and lots of water and we had to wade quite a bit but this is supposed to be good for seeing wildlife as the water means the animals all congregate on smaller areas of land.

The following morning we got up very early and paddled out in small canoes, which was such good fun. We went down the main river but also in and amongst trees where the water level had risen to and we saw a sloth, monkeys, lots of birds including the Mama Vieja (Old mama), as it is locally called, bird. For lunch we fished for Piranhas (only a few inches long, though one did take a chunk out of Luis’ finger) and although I didn’t catch many, it was good fun and Luis caught enough for our lunch! We ate a lot of bananas during our time in the jungle, all four types, and plenty of fish caught locally, including the quite bony but tasty Piranha.

In the evening we went out once again on the canoes to visit a local village and then look for Caiman. We saw another Sloth and one of the best sunsets over the river I’ve ever seen. Although we got a couple of glimpses of movement and a dark object we were told was a Caiman, we didn’t see one properly but this would turn out to be the only animal we didn’t see over the week! We had paddled for about four hours and were absolutely knackered, with no strength, patience or desire to keep looking for Caiman! We returned to the lodge for dinner to find a tarantula in the dining area, which stayed there throughout our time on the lodge.

Over the days we were in the jungle we went out a lot on the canoes with Luis and Jesus, which was such an amazing experience and so much fun, seeing all sorts of wildlife. We paddled through trees at night which was eerie and scary and during pouring rain showers which soaked us completely through. We had a scorpion land on the boat at one point and in the evenings on the lodge we saw lots of vividly-coloured frogs, bats above our beds, plus lots of different and interesting birds which landed on top of the lodge for our viewing, including parakeets and kakarikis

On our final day we even swam in the Amazon River, on our way back to civilisation, at a point where we were reassured it was too fast-flowing for Piranhas, electric eels and sting-rays to get us! That was great fun and great to be in the famous Amazon River, where we saw a pink dolphin to go with the grey one we saw on the way in. From the boat we walked across some banana plantations and through a river-side village, seeing lots of locals who were more in awe of us than we were of them, as well as a dead coral snake and an iguana that strolled past us on the walk. It was so, so hot and tiring, especially after four days of paddling with wooden, splinter-filled paddles but we reached a main road after a couple of hours and took a crazy and exciting collective bus, packed with locals and a little girl’s chicken, back to Iquitos and the hostel.

We had one final day in Iquitos before our flight back to Lima and spent it going to the Animal Sanctuary that we hadn’t found before. It was started by a lady from Holland to breed butterflies but they had gradually accrued animals that were confiscated from market stalls or from people keeping them as pets that the police could not home. We saw lots of different types of monkeys that roamed around the sanctuary, parakeets and an aggressive but very impressive Jaguar!

We were very sad to leave Iquitos and took one final Auto-rickshaw through the bustling streets to the airport but we had spent an incredible few days in the area and I’m so glad we did the things we did. We flew out of Iquitos, over the jungle, the Amazon River and into Lima which was twenty degrees colder, with enough time for dinner before our bus ride north up the coast to Trujillo.
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