Published: October 18th 2008October 1st 2008
Motor Taxis heaven
They don't beep at least!
is the Spanish for what we call in english the Jungle. One for the rock fans...
After one day in Lima, we boarded Star Peru flight to Iquitos
, gateway to the Northern Peruvian selva. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road - only by plane and boat. I (Laurent here) slightly regretted not making it by boat but clearly, the 8 days and many changes that it would have required would not have been possible with our heavy schedule. (Yes, still have deadlines to meet - in this case it was to be in Cusco for the Inca trail on the 8th October...)
The plane ride already gave us a sign of things to come, with only green underneath when looking through the windows and snaking rivers. Once landed, the journey from the airport to our hotel offered us an unusual sight: hardly any cars around at all, yet, all the roads, streets congested with Motor-taxis. Makes sense if you think about it: very difficult to get cars to Iquitos whereas, as I learned later, there is a factory making the motor-taxis in Iquitos itself. Also - bliss - no
Also the beginning of hassle.. The taxi driver after dropping us at our hostel insisted that he had a good friend with good deal to stay in the jungle. Despite us declining and going to our room for a well deserved nap, guess who was down in the hotel lobby one hour later when we emerged: taxi driver and the friend! The first couple of days, while we were looking for an operator to stay in the selva, it was constant hassle. Some blatant lies too and even a motor-taxi following us for 5 blocks and half an hour ro persuade us to go to another of his "friend"'s place. Obviously, everyone appears to be on commission, hence the constant hassling. Eventually, we gave in for a company that was recommended on the guide, only to be given more exaggeration/lies and general bullshit. Time to call it a day. Next day, we decided to get organised: we selected 3 companies that sounded promising and visited them direct - motor-taxi assisted. Finally, we settled for Muyuna Lodge
. We really like the honesty of the owner who told us how things are with no bullsh*t! This is the only
lodge in Iquitos not paying commission and taking booking direct which was a breath of fresh air! Also, the Muyuna lodge is situated on Rio Yanayacu
a small tributary of the Amazon, about 120km upstream from Iquitos and after researching it, we found out that downstream, it is necessary to travel pretty far in order to see any decent wildlife due to over-tourism.
The next day departure in speedboat for the three hour ride to Muyuna gave us a first insight on what life on the river is like. It is quite busy on the Amazon river - the motorway to travel about there - and we saw many boats from small wood canoes with people paddling to steam engine boats, huge barges carrying every thinkable type of goods and passenger boats with hammocks hanging all over the desk for people to lie in. Midway, it was time for a pee-pee break and the boat shored to a floating bar on the river. M discovered that toilet meant two planks for the feet and the poo-filled river in the middle where to perform the job! Obviously, the amazon can take it. Going to the bar for L to buy
an Inka Cola, an old man kept on talking to M in a language completely bizarre and pointing insistantly to M to pick up his toddler! We found out afterwards that Amazon people speak only spanish, no bizarre dialect, but so fast and with such an accent that even Peruvians struggle hard to understand them! About 2.5h down the trip, the boat veered and entered Rio Yanayacu. October is the end of the dry season and rivers are at their lowest point therefore, at times, manoeuvering the speedboat on the river was a tricky affair on very narrow river and shallow waters. Whenever encountering a canoe, our driver had to quickly kill the speed as the ripple would have sunk the canoe. Those canoes have water pretty much level with the top of the canoe!
Arrival at the lodge, we certainly weren't disappointed! The lodge is built on stilts as the river level rises of almost +3 meters during the rainy season, all in wood, no electricity and each hut is basically an open room with no windows (but mosquito net all around) and two hammocks on the balcony! Our dedicated guide, Cliver, spoke some english but we managed
No predator this one, so poisonous, it kills whatever touches it!
in spanish without a problem and his enthusiasm was really great! Muyuna employs mostly staff from the neighbouring "village" (300m upstream on Yanayacu), San Juan
, and Cliver was born there hence a great local knowledge of fauna & flora. Really, a top guy!
Our first activity was a walk in the Selva from the lodge: here we are fully dressed, booted and mosquito-repellent covered and Cliver instructs us to stay in the path, follow him and touch nothing. Everything is potentially dangerous there and where locals are immune or at least less sensitive to most dangers, gringos are "like babies" there. Almost to prove the point our first flora encounter is with a tree (I believe a Duroia Hirsuta) which lives in symbiosis with an ant species that secretes formic acids in all trees. Since the D.Hirsuta has hollow trunks and branches, and resists the acid, it allows this tree to survive and grow with the ants killing all other trees within a certain radius. In return, this ant obtains many nest sites where it can thrive. The ants also have a very painful and quite dangerous bite that can be fatal. Cliver recalled that time where a 6
month baby was bitten once by one of those and spent the next 2 weeks on the verge of death... L was therefore not so impressed when finding one of those small devil crawling under his t-shirt later during the hike! A quick brush, no time for it to bite, phhhheeeeeuuuuwwwww......
All precautions where however thrown out of the window when we heard the distinctive Howler Monkey scream. With great enthousiasm, here is Clever starting running in a straight line through the Selva in the direction of the scream summoning us to follow him. Bit scary but we managed eventually after a 15 min chase to approach them and see them from a distance - no photos though :-(. In the process, L lost a boot in mud (but recovered it) and M got severe mosquitoe bites on her back, due to being ordered to remove red shirt to approach the monkeys. Worth it though we figured, they are rare animals to see! We also managed to see Pigmy marmosets (photo here) and many other medicinal plants. The Selva, unsurprisingly I guess, offers a plant for each ailment! From tummy ache, to mosquito repellent, etc.. We were also shown
an hallucinogenic creeper used by local Shamans in ceremonies. No chance of finding this one in English muddy fields though!
The rest of the 3 days followed the same pattern: about 4 slots of activity a day, typically starting by a boat ride down the river early morning (6am) for bird watching and activity such as Selva walks, fishing, canoe ride, etc.. Obviously, we were so tired after each that we HAD to spend a while in the hammock reading while listening to the deafening sound of the Jungle ;-). At night, the sound would almost keep you awake with nocturnal animals coming out to live. Frogs were noisy and the whole experience was... strange. But amazing! Adding to the atmosphere were the many kerosene lamps lighting our rooms and the lodge paths.
Other highlights: finding pink dolphins in the amazon and swimming near (not with) them, fishing and eating piranhas, watching sunset on the lake, M courageously putting her hand next to a tarantula for photo purposes, our guide lifting a baby caïman out of the water and into the boat (bit concerned about its welfare...), paddling on a canoe to find the GIANT Victoria Amazonica water
Swimming in the Amazon
"Near" the pink dolphins.
lilies on a lake, etc..
A word on San Juan, the village next door. On the last day, we walked with our guide through the Selva to San Juan for a visit to the village. It was very interesting in many ways. The village is basically about 30 families living in as many wooden huts on stilts. Recently, the Peruvian government had a bout of financing generators and installing an electrical network in amazonian villages. San Juan got their installation this year and the generator produces electricity for a few hours every night. The people live by the river and mostly from the river. During the day, men are on their boat fishing to eat or to go and sell their catch to Iquitos. The women are left running the village, taking care of the children, the animals, goats, pigs, chicken running freely around the huts, etc.. Surprisingly, there were loads of domestic dogs, for the purposes of frightening away jaguars when the waters reach up to the houses. Good gringos as we are, we did not come empty handed but had brought numerous paper pads and set of crayons to give to the children. Our guide, who knows
every one in the village (he lived there from birth until a couple of years ago) rallied them and lined them up for us to distribute "our gift". Difficult to know how the gesture was taken really, but we assume it couldn't be harmful and some children seemed truly delighted.
On the main village square - a lawn which doubles as the village football stadium (sunday friendly games are very common between local villages and San Juan is currently second in the local league), we stopped at the local 'bar' to try the local firewater. Good for tummy, headaches, etc.. according to Cliver. Not that great a taste though. Further on is the "jail" where people commiting petty crimes are enclosed for the night when ruled necessary by the elders: a small brick shed slightly lower than human height for maximum punishment. Cliver assured us though that serious crimes were reported and handled by the official authority, this system was "a "problem", hinting that "petty crimes" (beating up wifes, fights between men, drunkeness, etc..) weren't a rare affair. Trying in our pidgin spanish to speak further to him, he told us that chances of education in villages such as
Catch of the day - Piranha
Never thoughs I would have a "trophy" photo like that (slightly ashamed)
San Juan are pretty much non-existent. We felt resentment towards a peruvian government not providing any kind of free education system. Prospects are gloomy in the village and it drives numerous families away. It was the case for Cliver whom has left the village for Iquitos with his wife to be able to provide and pay for education for his 4 children (he was our age)...
Eventually, at the end of our 4 day stay, we headed back home with a VERY chaotic speedboat ride on the amazon. Made it to Iquitos (wet and traumatised about lack of life-jackets), where we spent 2 more days doing basically nothing. We ruled out the popular Belen market as its main attraction is to wander in a boat amongst the floating stalls which is only possible during the rain season...
I, L speaking here, really liked Iquitos. There is a buzz to this rubber-boom city which is really special and life there seems simpler, happier. Probably more than in most places in Peru. The Selva lived to all my expectations and I can't wait to go back there in Bolivia!
But back on the road for the long awaited Inca
Lozz & Caiman
Guide pulled it right out of the water!
Trail and Cuzco. Keep reading!
There are more photos below