I have wanted to see the Amazon for a long time, but I always imagined seeing it in Brazil. However when we had the opportunity to see the Peruvian Amazon we jumped at the opportunity. My husband did some research and found the pink dolphins are easier to see in Peru---that was his main reason for wanting to go (now you are wondering why I didn't lead with a pink dolphin photo...more on that in a bit).
We flew from Cusco to Lima to Iquitos for the start of our journey. The drive into Iquitos was more like India, especially after being in Lima and Cusco. More poverty, more tuk-tuks than cars (and more than we had seen elsewhere….) and generally more chaos. The buses looked like "chicken buses" and our guide, Willie , said they are made out of wood with just a thin covering of metal. Very colorful. The drive to town took about 30 minutes and we were tired even though it was only 6pm or so. It was very hot and humid….
The next morning we met Willie again and walked down to the Malecon….a walkway near the Amazon. It sounds better than it looks :) Iquitos has seen better days. The rubber boon of the early 1900’s was its heyday and some of the architecture is still there, but mostly not in great condition. An old beautiful hotel with European tiles looks ok from the outside, but Willie said the inside is not in good shape and is currently used for military offices. Willie was very conscious of our safety and didn’t want us to take our cell phone out for fear it would be stolen. We walked around the old part of town and saw the Iron House….made by Eiffel...the creator of the Eiffel Tower. Story is it was supposed to go to Bolivia, but the water level was too low to take it on the Amazon, so it stayed in Iquitos.
We walked to the market of Belen and it was a bit crazy…but not more so than any other market we have seen in Asia or elsewhere. Willie said not to take photos, so we didn’t. He took us upstairs of the main building (most booths were out in the street) and he showed us all of the things that should not be there….like jaguar skins and turtle eggs. There were even live turtles people were selling for meat to eat. It always makes me feel uncomfortable and I want to save everything that is still alive. The upstairs also had shaman healing items like potions and ointments, etc. The market also had the usual assortment of fruits and veg in addition to the meat and other exotic items.
We took a tuk tuk to get back towards our hotel and Willie took us to an old steamer ship---it is currently on dry land as it is dry season, but in the wet season, the Amazon rises high enough for the ship to be in water---we are talking like 100+feet difference in where water goes. The steamer ship had exhibits on the rubber boon and how terrible it was for the indigenous people.
Even now, the area around the Amazon is a shanty town where houses are built on stilts since the water level changes so much. The government will give you a metal roof which is better than I’ve seen elsewhere, but the structures are still very basic and there is no plumbing. The areas outside of town are similar.
After our tour, we were soaked in sweat---it was so hot and humid! We sat in the a/c, ate dinner and got ready to leave the next morning for the lodge further down in the Amazon. We knew this would be our last chance for a/c in awhile so we savored every moment :)
We arrived at a small shack along the river and walked down a steep incline to board a wooden boat---there were about 10 seats and the windows on the sides could open. It was a peaceful journey and we even saw some dolphin at a distance. Only a part of the trip was actually on the Amazon and Treehouse (where we stayed) is on another river about 20-30 minutes from the “real” Amazon. All of the rivers feed into the Amazon, so other than the width of the river, it appeared to be the same ecosystem.
We walked to our treehouse---I knew I picked the newest one and the one closet to the river, but the website didn’t give a lot of other details…..so I didn’t know it was also the furthest out. We walked on raised boardwalk for a good 5 minutes (the ground underneath is dry now but is wet/part of river in the wet season) and then we walked up about 20 stairs to the platform of another treehouse. Then we had to cross a fairly long suspension bridge---so not my favorite….it was high up and swung when you walked on it. Honestly I’m not sure how I overcame my fear and walked across this one several times each day. That lead us to another platform for another treehouse and then across a shorter suspension bridge---this one didn’t move as much and was easier for me. Everything in the treehouse was screened in, including a small balcony overlooking the river. We had a bed that is covered in mosquito netting and a smaller bed (also covered) that we didn’t use, but it meant our treehouse was bigger than some others. The bathroom has a composting, flush toilet, a sink and a shower with ambient temp water…..typically it felt quite cold, for better or worse (sometimes the cold felt amazing!) A ceiling fan did help at night to keep the air flowing. We had electricity 24/7 and the treehouse was well made….beautiful wood and the tree trunk had a great patina in the middle of the space.
On our first excursion that afternoon, we headed out to the mouth of the river Treehouse is on and saw a sloth at a distance and several birds en route. At the mouth where one river joins another, there were several dolphins, including some pink ones. You would see a flash of pink and they would be gone---Marden (our guide) said they are shy and not as playful as the grey river dolphin. You could hear them come up for a breath as it was really quiet---we were the only boat for most of the time. We could also hear them breathe when they were in the river in front of our treehouse (although we were quite a bit up in the air). So, after trying probably 100 times over the 4 days we were in the Amazon.....we got the ONE photo above that shows something pink coming out of the water. I don't think National Geographic will be calling...lol! The river is huge and even after seeing one pink dolphin by chance and then thinking you could follow it with your eye for a photo....they breach so fast that unless you had multiple cameras taking continuous photos....you would never get a great shot. That is ok---I have the memories in my mind :)
We ate dinner at the main building and then headed out for a walk with Marden. It was pitch black and there was no trail like other places we have been on night adventure walks (like Borneo). We walked off the boardwalk and into the trees---we did have to wear their rubber boots to help in case of snakes or insects (was glad they had them!). It was hard to not be a little creeped out and think something was going to fall on us. We all had headlights, but they only went so far. We saw large frogs, white see through spiders, several types of ants (including one that Marden said was super painful and gave him a fever and was terrible….10x worse than fire ants), spikey trees, and heard many other things. We walked for probably only 30 minutes, but I was ready to be back on the boardwalk and in the light. On the way back to our room, we saw another type of frog that was camouflaged to blend in with the wood steps (nearly stepped on him). We also saw a tarantula on our last bridge that night….tried to tread lightly when we passed her. She didn’t seem to mind us at all. Even with all of the creepy crawly sightings, we slept well that night.
We got up really early---around 4:15am--- to be ready for the sunrise---we headed to the same spot we saw the dolphins last night. The sunrise was beautiful and peaceful. We looked a bit along the shore for animals and Marden heard some monkeys in the distance. He brought the boat close to the shore and we jumped out and went in to explore. The monkeys here are generally scared of humans and will go deeper into the forest with any noise. So the crumble of leaves and branches underfoot gave us away and we never did find them. Marden said later he was glad we didn’t encounter anything else and he was looking up and down and all around since we didn’t have on boots. Pretty glad I didn’t know he was worried in the moment…my imagination was going enough thinking of all of the things I could step on without knowing that the guide was thinking the same thing.
Came back and ate breakfast and then we took a short ride across the river to go for walk. We had seen a boat of tourists the night before looking in these trees and there were monkeys----they were trying to attract them with bananas. It made me uncomfortable---I didn’t like that humans were interacting so much with the monkeys----turning this small part into a mini-zoo. Marden explained more about their situation today----the woolly monkeys are furry and look like they would be nice to cuddle and villagers had kept these as pets. As they got older and bigger, there came a time when the villagers just dumped them. The monkeys were far from wild---they knew how to swing from the trees, but were so habituated to people, they could never really be truly wild, so the nearby lodges sort of started looking out for them. Some guests love that they can feed the monkeys or come close. As I understood the situation more, I see what a difficult decision this was (and continues to be). Villagers do kill some monkeys for meat, but there is some sort of agreement to leave these alone, so the human threat is less. There are about 8 monkeys in this group so it is small subset of the monkey population.
Our guide Marden seemed to like one of monkeys more than the others….the female called Martina. He called her name and she came. She reached out her paw and Marden held her paw and petted her. You could tell they had a real connection and that Marden was doing what he could to protect her. As time went by Martina was more comfortable and came down and started interacting with Kirk (my husband)---grabbing his leg and she was very interested in his sunglasses. We watched her for awhile and decided to move on. Little did we know that Martina gets jealous. We had walked to the side to see a large bird on top of one of the trees and Martina and another monkey swung over and basically tried to show us they were more interesting than any bird :) I was a little nervous to have Martina climb on me (for disease purposes) but she came over to me and there really isn’t anything you can do when a monkey wants to hang on you. She was on my boot and then decided to start nibbling----that is sort of a catch 22. Monkeys like other animals can sense fear and I was a little nervous, but I also needed to get her off me so I tried to calmly mention the nnibbling to Marden so he could help me. No big deal, she got off me pretty quickly and didn’t break the skin, so all is well.
We then started walking and Martina kept following. Marden said it was as far as he had even seen Martina go---she probably followed us for a mile or more. Mostly in the trees but occasionally she came down to check on us on the ground.
I was a little surprised at how few other critters we saw. We did see a monk monkey high up in a tree---the monkey looks like it is wearing a monk robe----and lots of birds, but not much else. The wildlife seems to be deep in the forest…and I’m not sure It is as prevalent as I expected it would be overall. I was certainly seeing less than I expected.
That afternoon, we sailed the "real" Amazon and took in the scenery. We saw several more pink dolphins along the way. Kirk decided he did want to take a dip in the Amazon and he jumped in right off the side of our little boat. Probably swam for 5 minutes and thankfully no piranha bit him :)
There is an area on the Amazon where parakeets roost each night and it was an amazing sight to experience and hear. Parakeets were coming by the hundreds to this group of trees and all being vocal. They were coming from all directions and since it was getting dark, you couldn’t really see their brilliant green color, but seeing them closer to black and white (especially in the photos) gives it an otherworldly feel. Really interesting to see and hear.
We headed back at a quick pace and saw a beautiful sunset along the way. I like being on the water, so this afternoon was a highlight.
The next day was much the same with time on the river exploring and going on land to try and see more animals. We tried some of the wild fruits and Kirk went fishing for piranha (catch and release). These should have been the highlights of the day, but the "highlight" (if you can call it that) of our last full day was the experience of viewing the tarantula life cycle. As we were heading out in the morning, we noticed completely by chance that a tarantula (perhaps the same one that was on our bridge) was INSIDE our treehouse. She was just sitting on the netting. Our rationale was that the mosquito netting on the bed would keep her out and she probably wanted nothing to do with us. I was truly ok with her being inside---I didn't feel threatened. Well, when we came back after lunch, she was still there and I went to sit on the screened porch and saw what looked like a really small tarantula and honestly thought it was sort of cute...until I looked up and saw probably 25 or 30 of these small tarantulas crawling everywhere! Eggs had hatched while we were out. To my credit, I was only hysterical for about a minute :) Then it was ok, we are in the Amazon and this is all part of nature and how can we get to a place where I can sleep tonight.....because the mosquito netting probably wasn't going to keep a baby out. I chose to go to the main lodge to read my book while I pondered (just couldn't be there and watch them crawling everywhere!). Before we headed out to our evening excursion, I told Marden about our new family members and he gave me 2 options---they could come in with a broom and encourage the spiders to leave (I felt like this was code for kill them) or I could do nothing. I didn't want them dead, so I simply hoped they would have moved on by the time we went back for the night (and I made a deal with my husband that we would tag team to the bathroom in the middle of the night with 2 flashlights so we didn't step on a baby). We got lucky and there were only 8 or so babies (and mom) left when we came back after dinner...and we actually slept.
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!