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South America 2015

Welcome to the Jungle

PERU | Friday, 7 August 2015 | Views [368]

Jorje's piranha catch.

Jorje's piranha catch.

Welcome to the Jungle

 
We arrived in Iquitos early in the morning after getting 3 hours sleep in Lima. The cabbie was giving us the standard spiel about our hotel being no good and he knew a better one and blah blah, the usual scam. He left us at the front door shaking his head. Turns out he was kind of right, there are two hostels with the same name in Iquitos and we were at the wrong one ! Eventually we got to our accom, dropped the bags and went for brunch. 
 
'Dawn on the Amazon' was our target, a funky little little cafe overlooking the Amazon river and with a well renowned tour service for the jungle. View and breakfast was amazing, tour prices not so much, offering us $250 US per day per person for a trip up the river, erm not what their website said by a long shot. We were very very very tired and didn't want to deal with street pushers for tours but we needed a cheaper option so we sucked it up and hit the tourist's street. The deals were many, varying quality and promises a plenty, guaranteed animal sightings at one, mainly because it had its own zoo, and special prices just for us on this special day. Sigh. We sat in many an office and listened to the sales pitch and looked at the pictures til we could take no more, our eyelids were too heavy. We made our decision, 600 soles, about $200US for a 4 day adventure 400km up the river. Much more within our budget than the original $250US per day. Locked in and paid for, it was nap time.
 
We rose late afternoon and went on a mission for supplies, some long sleeved shirts for mozzie (known as mosquitos by the rest of the world) protection, more bug spray, batteries, ponchos, and other jungle necessities. We had decided to detox again for this trip so no packing the rum. Followed by a late dinner and we were ready to roll.
 
Another early morning rise and the group met at the office for the journey to begin, 2 hours in a van to the river port of Nauta, the last stop before the jungle. Nauta is a bustling little market village where you can buy almost anything. The guides were telling us of bugs and wildlife and campfires and fishing trips and night walks through the jungle. It all sounded exciting and that it might go better with rum, so we made and emergency purchase of some local tipple before setting sail, we had been detoxing for about 10 hours, top work us ! We got into a typical local boat powered by what looks like a whipper snipper, the size over the boat defines the size of the whipper snipper. We stopped several times to refuel on the way.
 
About 2 and a half hours up river we we arrived at Renaco Lodge, our base for the coming adventures. After a late lunch the group of about 15 people split into their various categories and departed, leaving 5 of us for the remainder. Our first excursion, Pink Dolphin watching ! No we hadn't sampled some ayahausca delights from a local shaman, dolphins are prominent in the Amazon, they begin life grey and as they mature, lose their colour and turn pink. The river didn't disappoint. We saw several pods, lots of young dolphins feeding, jumping and playing just metres from our canoe, very cool. We watched for about 2 hours as the sun set over the river behind us, a stunning view and great way to end the evening we thought.
 
Back at camp a hearty dinner was had, chatting around the table and getting to know the group it had to be bed time but nope, boots on and torches out folks, we are going hiking ! Night time is a different world in the jungle, all sorts of new wildlfe, mostly insects and reptiles. We saw frogs, and bugs and spiders, a hairy scary tarantula, and listened to the orchestra that was the jungle at night. We got home about 11pm, ready for a 5:30 rise in the morning.
 
Bird watching was the morning mission, we took the canoe up river towards a lake, sadly the creek was blocked by a fallen tree and we couldn't get there but it didn't matter. We detoured on the water, just drifting through the different tributaries produced kingfishers, igrids, falcons, hawks, macaws, cormorants, owls and tucans. The noise from all the birds calls was deafening. Our guide Ricky pointed out some tennis ball sized lumps on the bark of a tree and told us they were bats, no one believed him until a camera flash sent them flying past our heads at great speed. We were awake now.
 
After breakfast we we set off again, by boat at first to another location for some hiking. The trip there was about half an hour and produced more birds and 3 different species of monkey in the trees along the riverbank. Some orange butterflies decided to make a home on Juanita's matching hat. The hike was all about the trees, bushes, natural medicines and food, and the meaning to the local people. We were shown how to make bush iodine, use squashed termites to repel mosquitoes, find water in the nuts of ivory palm trees and more importantly, which branches and leaves not to touch. The walk culminated in seeing the giant walking trees. The roots can grow up to 30m away from the base of the tree, they can 'walk' up to a metre each year. Thunder rolled in and headed for the lodge to evaluate our camping plans, the weather looking nasty for the night meant we were going to stay local so a late lunch and a siesta was the call.
 
The late afternoon bought good news. Fishing trip ! Jorje had been waiting for this ! Off up the river we went towards a small lake at the end of yet another tributary. The river was teaming with fish jumping so looked primed for the group to catch dinner. The target species was piranha, the equipment was a stick with some line and a hook tied to it. Probably less than ideal, in pro fishing circles but it would have to do. The bait, left over chicken from lunch. With all the activity on the surface, Juanita made the call that it would be embarrassing not to catch something. Talk about cursing yourself ! The rest of us did well, all managing to get at least 1 on board, Jorje winning the most fish of the day. The piranha are quite small but the teeth are very impressive and they can strip bait instantly. Further inland in more remote areas they get bigger, but aren't the man eaters the movies would have you believe. Back to the lodge for some fresh pirahna on rice and a mug-o-rum. Another full day of fun, though our arses were suffering the long days of sitting on the wooden benches in the canoe.
 
Day 3 and a well deserved sleep in, breakfast, then packed the bags, we were off into the jungle for the night. Another 2 hour ride in the canoe through the amazon maze. We bought cushions with us today. Some paths again blocked but eventually we opened out into a huge lake, the water was like glass. Along the banks we pulled up to our spot. First jobs were to collect firewood and hang the hammocks. The hammocks have cocoon style mosquito covers over them to keep you safe all night. The guides showed us how to strip bark from certain trees to use as string for the nets. Once the hammock was up a test run was in order, something that proved a little too much for Juanita, managing a perfect half-piked-back-somersault out of her hammock onto the jungle floor. Apparently Jorje's fault for rigging it too high up the tree.
 
We spent the afternoon fishing for dinner in various spots around the lake without a lot of success. In the evening we took the boat and our torches to search for cayman, finding a big one floating near some lillies. The really interesting bit came when fish decided it was time to start jumping into the boat, luckily for us the piranha species here don't jump. It started slowly but before long there was around 15 fish jumping around our feet in the canoe. Five different species including catfish and freshwater barracuda, and much bigger than what we had been catching. Now we had dinner as well ! Back at the camp we got a campfire going and smoked the fish on sticks. Juanita and I enjoyed a mug-o-rum then crawled into our cocoons for the night. The sounds of the jungle singing us off to sleep.
 
We slept surprisingly well considering we were in hammocks. Juanita managed to stay in hers for the duration. Breakfast from the fire and we packed up camp to begin the journey back to the lodge. On the way we spotted some cheeky monkeys so went ashore to watch them play. It was amazing to see them in the wild, like watching David Attenborough when they started making jumps between trees, falling 10m at a time from branch to branch. We floated back to the lodge surrounded by birds and butterflies. Several other groups had arrived back at the digs, we lunched and swapped stories before making the 3 hour journey back to Nauta. We waved goodbye to birds and fish and pink dolphins as we motored homeward, a final sunset seeing us off as we arrived at port.
 
There's been a few places we've visited over the years that give you a feeling of mixed emotions. The sheer beauty of the Amazon and all its life brings a massive smile, thinking about the rate it's being destroyed at brings a tear now more than ever having seen it. Peru has reserved large chunks of the amazon basin as national parks but the evidence of humans can be seen everywhere, mostly in the form of plastic bottles and wrappers. The situation is a lot worse in other countries. Makes us happy to have seen it, but sad to wonder how many others will in future generations.
 
Jorje y Juanita

 

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