It is mid winter in Lima, colder than most can remember, clouded over all day, every day, smelly with noxious fumes trapped in the 90% plus humidity, but still better than the heat of summer. So, it was a nice break to take the chance to spend four days in the Amazon Jungle about 50 km down river of Iquitos in the north-east of Perú. The Amazon starts from numerous Rivers in the Peruvian Andes and then flows down past Ecuador and Colombia before traversing through Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean.
After a two hour flight we spent a few hours wandering the streets and markets in the middle of Iquitos. People live in shanty houses on the banks of the river, on stilts orfloating on the river itself as it rises and falls during its cycle, sometimes rising so high thousands of people have to be evacuated into the city until it falls again. The River is the life blood of this city. Commerce and trade and agriculture all revolve around this crucial waterway. The markets are huge - 35 blocks wide and anything and everything can be found. The variety of fish, meat, fruits and vegetables ... amazing colours and sizes and smells.
Afterwards we rode down the river for about an hour and were introduced to a completely different world. Only a couple of years ago Lesley distinctly remembers saying that jungles and roughing it were not at the top of her list of places to go for holidays - heresy for some. For those who know her well, 5 star camping is the way to go. Our resort was lovely - not five star - but certainly not roughing it. We rode along the river in little power boats, visited an authentic native Indian village and a river village, fished for and then ate piranhas for lunch; went bird watching, tried to spot the grey or pink dolphins, walked a jungle canopy walk, hiked through the jungle day and night, had close encounters with tapirs, spiders, moths, butterflies, centipedes, crocodiles, dolphins, macaws and sloths; and tried to not have close encounters with the mosquitos and thousands of little biting bugs that make the jungle their home. So as not to bore you we will only share the highlights of our visit here.
We went for a two hour speed boat ride into the depths of the jungle to go on a canopy walk, over 500 metres long up to 35 metres high extending over the top of the jungle canopy, broken up by small rest stations high in the trees. Now Lesley's friends know that she would not call this fun. In fact a very large amount of self control goes into such an experience for her. She can tell you exactly how many steps in each stretch of swinging, wobbling, creaking, thin planked roped bridge there are because she counted every one - it's a good way to control her increasing anxiety. Having said that and by resurrecting her mantra of "I've had babies - I can do hard things!" she survived - just! However, after surviving the canopy walk Lesley managed to slip on a mossy stone, sink her foot into mud, and overcorrect landing flat on her back on the muddy jungle floor. Pride injured, patient stable. Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence as the others were too scared to capture the image. We decided to help her up instead.
For Craig - it was an unforgettable and memorable experience high above the canopy, and not just the amazing views. Up in the canopy was one of the few close encounters for the week that earned Craig the title of “chick magnet”. As he was crossing one of the bridges, a movement and sound from above drew his attention to one of the tallest trees where he saw a two toed sloth, with baby in tow, making her way down toward the bridge. It provided our group with a rare opportunity to see her and her baby up close right there in the wild. Evidently two toed sloths move a little faster than the three toed variety and she decided the bridge was the quickest way between the two trees - wasn't it nice for these people to build a bridge just for her! Either she had to pass us or we had to pass her so the guide called Craig forward assuring him that the sloths are not aggressive. Lesley was watching all this from the safety on one of the stands tied to a tree. As he passed the sloth she let him know she was not impressed with him being so close to her or her baby and reached out toward him and snarled in his face. Very up-close and personal.
At the resort they have a couple of juvenile tapirs wandering around - not tame as such but certainly used to people. One named Cynthia (about the size of a small horse) likes to follow groups as they walk out into the jungle with their guides. So Cynthia followed us through the jungle as we looked at and learned about the amazing plant and animal life around us. Wary of her behind us the guide cautioned us to keep an eye on her and let her pass as at times she gets a little cranky if her way is blocked. We were just standing there listening when we heard Craig say ..."excuse me young lady! " as Cynthia poked her long ant-eating nose into his back pocket. Later we noticed a painting on the wall of our cabin room - Cynthia -weird - being stalked by an adolescent female herbivorous mammal.
Lesley: We packed torches because we evidently needed one to make our way back to our rooms at night in case there were snakes on the ground and we didn’t want to step on them. We also needed them for our night hike. “Come for a night hike” our guide says ..... Grab your torches (flashlights - no one else in the world knows what a torch is!) and meet me at the top of the path. Ok .... sounds fun we say. Get to the path covered in insect repellent, since the insects here could carry you away if they decide not to sting you and infect you with some deadly disease (or their eggs) instead ..... So what are we looking for? We are looking for giant frogs, crocodiles and spiders. WHAT..... WAIT...... SPIDERS what sort of spiders??? Oh .... All sorts - golden orb spiders with pretty golden spun webs, a variety of shapes and sizes .... And TARANTULAS ...... BIG FAT HAIRY BLACK THINGS that live in holes in the ground and can be found up on trees, or running along the ground to their houses. YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME - I wouldn't look .... All the other crazy people with us were extremely interested!! Then he found some crocodiles (caymans) in the water hole ... Ok turn off your torches (flashlights) and I'll call them to us here in the edge of the water! WHAT ...WAIT .... you're going to call to them!! We came back alive.
We visited a native Indian village where the family group demonstrated their ancient culture for us through song, dance and activities. One little girl carried around a three toed sloth, wound around her body, hanging on like a cuddly teddy bear. And one of the boys was swinging around what looked like a toy monkey by the tail.... Wait ... No ..... It's alive and it sat on his head during the traditional dance they showed us.
Later in the week we visited a river community. They generously spent time with us showing their homes with their rudimentary kitchens cooking over a fire in the corner, and small bedroom with four hammocks and clothes hanging on string attached to the wall. They fish in the river outside their front door and live on fish and plantains (bananas) for their two meals a day. We have so much stuff compared to them. There is so much that we take for granted, so much that just doesn't really matter - yet they are happy cheerful people who work all day to make a living and feed their family. The children are happy and play around. They walked us through their village, loved seeing themselves in the camera when we took photos, and loved to show us their world. These little places all have schools where the children are educated by the government at least to the end of primary school, and then they can go further if their family can spare them from the combined work of the family or if they can afford it. Boys are boys, little girls are little girls, and babies are cute in whatever culture you find them.
So we enjoyed our experience in a unique part of the world, with its creeks the size of rivers and rivers the size of oceans. The amazing Amazon flows from high in the Andes near the Pacific Ocean nearly 3,000 km to the Atlantic Ocean, as the main transportation to thousands of villages and towns. Its wildlife, climate, flora, people - and fresh air - were a welcome change for just a few days.