Published: October 9th 2008October 1st 2008
We have spent more time in Iquitos than any other place so far on our travels. It was certainly the most interesting and beautiful of all the towns that lie along the Amazon; including the Brazilian leg. The reason though, is because we did our first trip into the rainforest. After traveling nearly 4000km down the river we never actually went into the rainforest that surrounds it! After arriving in Iquitos we could tell we were in a completely different country and we were also nearly back on the gringo trail! We were surrounded the second we got off the boat by mototaxi drivers (motorbikes with extra seats on the back) begging for our custom. Iquitos wealth was due to the rubber boom, but that industry is all but dead and now they rely on tourists and oil, but you could see that this was once a very prosperous place with many beautiful buildings and extravagant plazas. The heat was on a scale I had not experienced before. It was hotter than Belem and Manaus and the humidity was much higher. They actually encourage a very high intake of salt here to gringos due to the sweat loss. The locals are
used to the heat and don't even break into a sweat pulling a cart full of bananas for several miles! It floated around the 40 degree mark! We eventually booked a 5 day jungle trip and set off full of excitement and caution; we had heard a few horror stories, but mainly good reviews. Iquitos claims to be the largest city in the world that is not accessible by road. That is technically a lie. There is a single road to a village called Nauta 1 and a half hours away. I am a sucker for technicalities! Anyway after that trip with quite possibly the craziest taxi driver (and no seatbelt) we arrived (in one peice somehow) in Nauta and took a 2 hour boat trip to our jungle lodge which lay on a small river that lead into the Amazon. The whole place floods in the wet season and all the houses are built on stilts and you can see the water mark on all the trees. It is dry season now so the rivers are nearly at their lowest level. I would love to see it in wet season when you could paddle between the trees, but the
dry season has its advantges, mainly that there are much less mosquitos! Our guide was a proper nice fella called Gary (good local Peruvian Amazonian name!). He was a young guy, but had an incredible knowledge of the rainforest and had the keenest eye ever. He could spot wildlife a mile off in the depths of the rainforest. It really was quite incredible! There was a monkey that visited the lodge called the Doctor who was not shy. He literally came right up onto your lap and tried to grap your food. He was a little terror too. He destroyed the bog role in our toilet and ate my hydrocortisone ointment and Louises toothpaste. He was rescued from the local market and apparently he visits the lodge all the time. I think he knows where to get lots of free, easy food. The lodge was very simple. Built on stilts and made entirely of wood, it had only a shower and toilet and beds, but we got fed very well. We visited a family of monkeys that live by the river and they were not shy too, but they were great and it was amazing when they came down from
the trees and held my hand! It was a bit of a magic moment for me; actually holding wild monkeys in their own home rather than peering through some metal cage where they are crammed in. We saw many birds some beautiful, some very ugly, but all as interesting as each other. When you're in the rainforest you truly appreciate how wild and savage the place it. It is a ruthless environment where everything fights for itself; even the plants are fighting each other desperately for daylight. There are taranchula nests everywhere. Poisonous red ants that crawl over the tree trunks which I got stung by them twice and it bloody hurt! Worse than a bee or wasp sting, but luckily the pain soon subsides. It is very dark in the interior even at midday. The heat is unbelievable. Completely relentless and there is no shelter from it, even in the shade. We were going to spend 2 days camping wild in the jungle, but we changed it to 1 because it was seriously tough work. Louise got bitten terribly by mosquitos. She counted over 100 on her legs alone. I was a bit more fortunate. I think I was
the starter for them and Louise was the main course! They were driving her mental. You can't wash out there because there are pirhanas and caymans in the river so you stink too and the noise the animals and birds make is deafening so sleep is minimal, but we were glad we did do it. I did swim down river later where it was safe, though I was still a shit scared of a massive cayman joining me in there; they can grow meters long and are apparently more vicous than their crocodile or alligator cousins! We went out in the middle of the night in a canoo into a swamp to find caymans and catch fish. We got both! Gary caught a young cayman and I was so scared that it would wrestle out and bite me so I held it a bit too hard around the neck and Gary told me I was choking it to death! It was soooo cool to hold it though. I don't think I have ever had that much adrenaline pumping round me! I tried to spear some fish, but failed miserably. Fortunately Gary had a keener eye and much better coordination than
me so we had fried fish and some pirahnas that Louise and I had caught earlier. The air was full of fire flies and it was like a scene from some fairytale, it was absolutley beautiful and managed to distract from the mosquitos biting briefly. After 5 days of amazing activities, some exhausting, we were very ready to return to Iquitos and got back on the canoo and got to Nauta a couple of hours later after seeing more pink and grey dolphins and got (nearly) our last look at the Amazon river. I said I had loved that river since I was a school boy, but that relationships is over! After nearly 2 very intimate months with the river, to be honest, I had had enough of it! I will never forget it though. It's a bit like ice cream; you love the stuff, but after eating nothing but it, you sack it off! I can't believe I have just compared the greatest river in the world to ice cream! We spent a couple of lazy days in Iquitos. We went to a lagoon to sunbathe, but the heat was so intense we lasted about 20 minuites in it!
On our last day we visited an area of town called Belen; it's nickname is the Peruvian Venice and it couldn't be a more inappropriate nickname. It was a vast slum built on the river, very dirty and smelly and definately housed the poorest and most desperate people I have ever seen, but wonderfully happy people and I have never seen so many smiling people, but it was kind of beautiful place in a weird way. In high water season all the houses float. We caught our flight the next day and just after we took off I had my final view of the Amazon river reflecting the dying, evening sun as it wended its way into the vast greeness for it's enourmous trip towards the Atlantic Ocean. I was flying in the opposite direction to the biggest ocean in the world and an ocean I had never seen before; THE PACIFIC!
There are more photos below