When I was in Peru, I hopped on an airplane out of Lima and ventured into the largest city in the world inaccessible by road. The city is Iquitos, in the North Eastern part of Peru and is home to roughly 1 million people. Why would I head to a city so far from the majority of civilization? Because it’s an amazing kickoff point for accessing the Amazon jungle and river.
A friend of mine flew down to meet me for a short holiday in Peru, and him and I decided to plan a trek into the Amazon together. I researched and booked an expensive tour that was highly recommended by an old travel friend from South East Asia. We hopped off the plane ready to explore and be enchanted by an area I had only dreamed about adventuring to. I’ve read several books and watched movies about the Amazon (and Congo) and could vividly imagine the amazing groups of trekkers that have entered the jungle in search of great adventures and experienced terrifying encounters with jungle monsters (spiders, anaconda’s, harmful plants, the list goes on).
After a day wandering around the city, taking it easy, and doing much-needed laundry, we were picked up early in the morning by our tour company. They took us to a little port where we caught a quick glimpse of a small market where I was shocked to find a live turtle being sold. It was incredibly disturbing for an animal lover such as myself and in my horror of it, I forgot to ask how much they were selling him for. He was upside down with his feet bound and he was just sitting on the hard ground with his head tucked into his shell. I kind of wanted to buy him and set him free, and looking back, I wish I had.
After that sad sight, we climbed aboard a little boat and headed down the Amazon to our first stop, an animal sanctuary of sorts. It contained ponds full of the world’s largest water lily and a variety of Amazon ‘pets’, including a pond full of piranhas, one full of caimans, and a pond with six of the largest, weirdest fish I’ve ever seen in my life, the paiche, or arapaima gigas. They were about 6 feet long and a foot wide and roughly 200 pounds. And they really liked eating chopped up pieces of piranha. Apparently they are some of the largest freshwater fish in the world, staying close to the surface to breathe and hunt. I was awed and a little bit creeped out watching them thrash up to the surface just to fight over the pieces of piranha. They looked a lot like giant river monsters to me and were setting quite the stage for my first official day on the mighty Amazon river..
After, we continued on to our jungle lodge. It was set back about 100 meters from the river, and you had to cross another little river to get to it. In true Latin American style the boardwalk was broken and the boat we needed to cross over in had to be bailed out first, but it added to the whole atmosphere of the experience.
We arrived and checked out our amazing little lodge. There were only two other people staying in the lodge, a cute, elderly couple from Kansas, since it was still in the midst of rainy season. I was impressed to find running water, cold showers, and even electricity in the evening for an hour or two. I see why we spent so much money, this is luxury in the Amazon.
That afternoon we went on a trek through the jungle to find whatever animals we could and also to check out a massive tree that the locals have protected from cutting down. In true rainforest style, we got caught up in a fierce downpour that no rain gear short of thick plastic could keep the water off. With soaking gear and clothes we tramped around the jungle, in awe at just how quickly our path flooded over with several feet of water.
The next day, we had a leisurely breakfast and then headed out to go fishing for piranha. I had a little more luck than my friend catching the teeny tiny fishies, but we both managed to catch enough to have a light lunch of piranha later in the day. I was surprised at how sparkly and pretty they were, regardless of their very sharp teeth.
That afternoon and evening we headed out on a short hiking adventure to a three-story tower in the middle of the jungle. It was a little over an hours walk away after a short boat right, and we passed through a small local village just off the river. We hopped into a small paddle boat after walking for a while and took an incredibly beautiful ride through the jungle with all sorts of drooping trees and lily pads covering the water.
We arrived to the tower and set up our mosquito nets and mattress pads before it got dark. We had an awesome little supper served up on banana leafs and finished our night off with a very eerie walk through the jungle with nothing but our headlamps. I was surprised at how creepy it felt, walking through the jungle in the dark, wondering about all the creepy crawlies sneaking up on you. I just kept picturing a giant anaconda slithering down a tree to kill me. But, I’ve got a bit of a wild and overactive imagination. We saw a few cool things, one in particular being a tarantula that we were able to get real close to and even touch with our hands.
I had a great sleep that night in the jungle as I guess I’m just used to sleeping anywhere, anytime. The next morning we were up just after sunrise to walk all the way back to camp to head out to a little sanctuary where they keep a variety of animals, such as different types of monkeys, toucans, prehistoric turtles, and an anaconda.
I have to admit that this is one of the highlights of my life, and where I fell in love with the most incredible little creature I’ve ever seen. It’s been on my bucket list for a while to hold and cuddle a sloth, and did I ever get more than I bargained for. Rosalita is an 8 month old sloth in the sanctuary, and the moment I saw her, it was love at first site. I picked her up and she cuddled right into me with the biggest smile on her tiny little face. I didn’t even know sloths smiled. I couldn’t let the little sweetie down for even a second and hardly cared about all the other animals in the sanctuary, I just wanted to spend time with her. Every time you scratched her head, she gave you the sweetest smile you could imagine. For the next few hours, I held her every second and only let her down when I had the opportunity to hold an anaconda. Not quite the same cuddliness. When I had to give her back, I had an ache in my heart and was so sad to leave. Even today my heart hurts a little when thinking about her.
After the animal sanctuary, my friend and I had a chilled out afternoon on a canoe ride down the little lake near our place. We managed to spot some really cool birds and nests in the trees and got to enjoy some calm water with the beautiful sunshine. We also managed to spot a couple of pocket monkeys that zip around the trees like tiny little squirrels. They reminded me a lot of Tarsiers in the Philippines.
That night my friend and I attended an Ayahuasca ceremony with an Amazon Shaman. Ayahausca is a hallucinogenic drug that many people take for the purpose of seeking revelations regarding personal, religious, or spiritual truths and enlightenment. We were both a little nervous and unsure of what to expect. The Shaman arrived and talked us through the ceremony and what would happen. We drank the not-so-lovely-tasting Ayahuasca he provided for us and sat in our chairs waiting for something to happen. Except nothing did. We had no hallucinations and felt no different, except maybe a little inebriated. The Shaman offered us some more but I wasn’t feeling well, as Ayahuasca can often leave you nauseous, and my friend declined so we sat there for the three hour ceremony, listening to the Shaman sing without anything occurring. I managed to doze off in the chair and soon the ceremony was over. I was a little disappointed to not experience anything, but I felt so sick, I couldn’t consume any more of the drink. Regardless of the lack any personal transcendence, I’m still glad I participated in the ceremony.
The next day was our last and we spent the morning looking for pink, fresh water dolphins. Yup, they really do exist and they really are pink. I missed an opportunity to see them in Cambodia a few years earlier and swore I wouldn’t make that mistake twice. We headed out on the boat and sat patiently watching and in just a few moments we spotted a dolphin. We sat watching them for a while and then donned our bathing suits and hopped in the water for a swim in the Amazon. I have to admit it was actually pretty awesome to jump in and say I swam in the mighty river. I was even pleasantly surprised at the water temperature, it was not very cold at all. After a few minutes of swimming around, I was again delightfully surprised by a pink dolphin that popped up in the water around me.
After our morning in the Amazon, we headed back to pack our stuff to boat back to Iquitos, stopping at a floating community and market nearby the city. People live in houses on stilts and get around to stores, churches, bars, and barber shops by boat. I’ve experienced floating villages and markets before, but this one had a beautiful charm about it. They call the river in this area the Black River as on a sunny day it perfectly reflects the sky.
We finally headed back to the city after four incredible days in the Amazon river and jungle of South America. What an incredible place and what an incredible experience we had. It was more than I could have imagined and worth every penny spent on the excursion. If you ever fly to Peru, don’t forget to check out Iquitos and the amazing Amazon.