The Amazon

I’m back in Iquitos now (unexpectedly it looks like I’m gonna be here for another night, but more on this later), after two nights in the Amazon jungle: It was a good but very intense experience.

The trip started early on Saturday 4 September. Once again, I had a very early 5am start after not getting very much sleep, and was taken by motorkar (the main kind of taxi here, a motorized tricycle made from the front half of a motorbike with a double seat behind, basically the same as a tuk-tuk in Thailand) to a boat on the Amazon River. A few other Peruvians and gringos came on board, and pretty soon we were on our way south down the Amazon, and since it was dark and there wasn’t much to see anyway, I grabbed a couple of hours of much-needed sleep.

Around 10am I was dropped off on the muddy river bank at a small village with a young guide called Luis, who led me through the village and a jungle path for about quarter of a mile to a small lake called Lago Lapuna. After waiting around for about 30 minutes in light rain, tired, having had no breakfast and becoming increasingly cranky and skeptical about my guide’s ability to guide me anywhere, a small boy arrived with a small canoe, and we all tried to get in it. There was no way it was going to take the weight of two adults, one child and my luggage, and my rucksack got pretty wet in the attempt. The prospects of a successful canoe ride to the other side of the lake were not looking good, and my patience with Luis starting wearing a little thin. Eventually, Luis decided to make multiple trips to the other bank, and then proceed to the next meeting point on foot. The little kid took my stuff first, and then me (with much trepidation, because the canoe was not very stable). I made it without getting dunked though, and then the little kid brought Luis across before setting off in the canoe with my large rucksack to the meeting point.

Luis & I then started off through the thick jungle, and before long my confidence in his jungle guiding and navigating abilities dropped even further. We were stumbling around in circles through thick undergrowth, using sticks to clear cobwebs and foliage because we didn’t have machetes. It seemed like we were wandering around for hours, getting hot, wet and muddy. Eventually we arrived at another bank, and a guy called Peter met us with a larger canoe. We all got into this, and made slow progress through a narrow muddy channel to another lake, Lago Yarina, where the water became deeper. After another 10 minutes of paddling, we arrived at a landing raft of the Emerald Forest Camp.

This was a bit of a shock to me at first, because the camp comprised nothing but a clearing with 4 open-walled shacks with palm roofs, with a bizarre selection of people wandering around (think of the scene in the movie Apocalypse Now when Martin Sheen arrives at Colonel Kurtz’s camp in Cambodia). Primarily I was shocked because I hadn’t grasped that I’d booked myself into a jungle camp — I’d assumed there would be some kind of lodge facility with toilets, running water etc. etc. But no, this was much more… Rustic.

I was directed to the “dining room,” which was another open-walled shack with mosquito netting around it, and crashed out in a hammock for a whiole before some coffee and eggs were brought in. At this point I noticed the sleeping facilities: Another open-walled shack, with a bamboo platform and a series of small white mosquito-net tents on it!

After eating, I was introduced to a few of the camp’s staff, such as Peter (the owner), Carola (the cook) and Tirsa (the cleaner, who crawled around the camp on all fours due to underdeveloped legs), and my guide, Raoul. I also met a few other tourists — there was a mixed group of about 5 Poles, and another group of two Italian girls, all of whom spoke better Spanish than I did!

After breakfast and resting for a while, Raoul took me for a 4-hour walk through the jungle, pointing out various plant and animal species. He was a pretty good guide, and we saw various critters (including a hawk that swooped down and grabbed a marmoset out of a tree), but also got very muddy and a bit scratched up. We got back to the camp just before it got dark, and I washed myself and my shoes in the lake before crashing into a hammock and waiting for dinner with the other gringos. I was invited on a nighttime excursion to look for snakes and tarantulas, but by this time my lack of sleep got the better of me, so I declined and hung out in the hammock for a while. I played cards with the Italian girls and some of the staff for a while until it was time to cocoon myself in the mosquito net and go to sleep.

The next day after breakfast Raoul and I set off in a canoe for a bit of fishing in the Yarapa River, using very simple fishing rods made of a stick, about a metre of fishing line and a hook. Raoul cut up a small piranha (the most common kind of fish in this river!) to use as bait, and very soon afterwards we started catching more piranhas, which would flip around gnashing their teeth menacingly in the bottom of the boat until Raoul skewered them with a knife. Raoul caught more piranhas than me, but I caught the biggest fish of the day, a catfish of about 20cm length. We also caught a couple of other kinds of fish, but I don’t remember what they were.

Just as we were finishing our successful fishing trip, the Italian girls arrived with their guide Wilson, who was taking them upriver to a village called Nauta to catch a bus back to Iquitos. Raoul suggested that we tag along, so we jumped into a larger canoe with an outboard motor fitted to it, and set off down the Rio Yarapa, with Raoul and Wilson pointing out all manner of critters (eagles, hawks, vultures, kingfishers, various kinds of monkeys in trees, freshwater dolphins etc.) along the way.

After a while, the Yarapa River opened out into the Amazon, and we travelled upriver (west) towards it’s source, the confluence of the Marañón and Pucate rivers. The Rio Amazon is a really bug river! We took the right fork up the Rio Marañón, and after a while reached the village of Nauta. By this time I was using other peoples’ clothes to cover my skin, because I was getting brutally sunburnt (still sore as at time of writing).

The Italians left to get their bus, and Raoul and I had a wander around the town, stopping occasionally to buy bananas, bread and beer. After a couple of hours, we got back in the boat and headed back to the camp for dinner — which included some of the piranhas we’d caught earlier! They actually taste pretty good, although there isn’t a lot of meat on the average piranha, and it’s pretty hard to separate the meat from the bones.

The night passed fairly uneventfully (at this point I was the only gringo/tourist in the camp), with the exception of the commotion caused when the father of the cook showed up from a hunting trip with a dead wild boar.. Some of which appeared this morning on a plate for breakfast!

After breakfast, I packed up my stuff and Raoul, Chino and I set off back to Nauta again, following pretty much the same route as the previous day. Along the way, a different kind of piranha jumped into the boat! We got to Nauta again (although more quickly, since the boat was less full), and after a beer or two Raoul and I got the bus back to Iquitos.

That should have been the end of the jungle story — I should be in Lima by now, in time for a bus trip to Colca Canyon tomorrow — but unfortunately my flight was cancelled. Apparently it’s quite common, and they didn’t even offer to provide a hotel for the night! They were even more arsey with me than everyone else, because I hadn’t confirmed my flight 24 hours previously (apart from the fact that no-one confirms their flights anymore, how could I call them from the middle of the jungle?).

So, I came back to Iquitos by motorkar, dropped off my smelly muddy jungle clothes at a lavanderia, and checked into the flashest hotel in town, with air conditioning, bath, sauna, minibar etc. etc. It’s $77, and so far has been worth every penny! Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to Lima tomorrow — they told me to turn up at 11am (although didn’t sound too certain they’d be able to accommodate me).

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