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Published: July 28th 2019
Greetings from the Amazon jungle! Wow, it feels so amazing to be able to write that! I am currently in a city called Iquitos, and with nearly half a million inhabitants it is the world’s largest city unreachable by road. The only way in or out is by river or by air, and since the former takes about five to seven days by riverboat from the nearest roaded settlement, Yurimaguas, I chose the latter. On Thursday morning, I took a taxi to the airport and flew LATAM airlines the one-and-a-half hour flight to here, and what an amazing few days I’ve had here exploring the jungle!
The adventure kind of started at the airport, however – not really an adventure, though, I’d say. The hotel I was staying in booked for me a “taxi” to the airport, although it seemed in the end the driver wasn’t really an official taxi driver. The police stopped us as we went into the airport, and the taxi driver told me to pretend I don’t speak Spanish, and that he and I were friends. I was happy to go with the former, as I’d also read somewhere more officially that when
Lima to Iquitos Flight
Amazon River Tributary
dealing with the police, it is best to speak only in English – good advice I’d say. I wasn’t at all comfortable lying to the police that we were friends, though. One of the policemen spoke with me and was filming me on his phone, asking me questions in Spanish – it was sooooo difficult to pretend I didn’t understand him! He asked me whether I paid the guy to take me to the airport, and how much I paid him. I politely said “English?” a few times. Eventually he brought along a co-worker who did speak some kind of English, and I answered him truthfully that I paid my hotel 55 soles for the guy to take me to the airport. The “taxi driver” seemed disappointed that I said that, but as I explained to him when the police left us for a moment: “hombre, I’m not telling lies”. I was then told I could take my bags and walk to the airport, leaving the police to deal with the “driver” - it seemed that he was in trouble. The whole thing lasted only five minutes or so, but I found it nerveracking. I had to remind myself that
it wasn’t me who did anything wrong, and I did feel sorry for the “driver”. But in the end, it’s really good to see the police taking a no-nonsense attitude towards the informal economy here. I’ve seen this in a number of places so far, and it is probably one of the main reasons why the country has developed so quickly over recent years. Policemen are also paid well here, more than teachers apparently, which I’m sure is also another good point in favour of the country’s development.
After this, I breezed through check-in and customs, and thoroughly enjoyed my window seat on the flight up and out of Lima’s dense cloud, over the stunning and snow-capped peaks of the Andes mountains, and across the endless sea of green below that is the Amazon jungle – amazing! I was also bumped up a class on my LATAM flight, and flew in their “ejecutivo” seats at the front, with a whole row of three seats to myself – nice!
Upon landing at Iquitos airport, Peru seemed to become much more third-world and much more chaotic. As I left the airport, I was confronted by a mob of around twenty
or so tuk-tuk drivers yelling at me and asking me to go with them. I tried through the sea of yobs to see the hotel taxi that I’d booked to pick me up, but couldn’t find any sign with my name on. I ducked back into the building again, and upon not being able to find any form of tourist information desk, I ended up in the police post there asking them very politely if they could please phone my hotel to find out what happened. They were soooo friendly and helpful, it was really refreshing. Whilst sitting in their office, they were going through some formal procedures with a lady who seemed to have been illegally smuggling a caiman head out of the airport – quite a surreal sight really! The police lady on duty phoned my hotel, and I was eventually taken by a taxi driver to my hotel, only to learn that it was in fact my own fault as I had not emailed the hotel with the details of my flight as they’d asked for. My bad, I felt rather sheepish! But the hotel is absolutely stunning, and I’m so pleased to have chosen to stay
Lima to Iquitos Flight
Flying over dusty and cloudy Lima. The city's main waterway, the Rio Rimac, is visible here.
This is the Casa Morey, a former rubber baron’s palatial mansion which has been renovated, restored and converted into a boutique hotel. I am currently writing this one in the hotel’s Amazonian library, a huge room filled with old books on the Amazon, amazing jungle antiques and furniture, and stacks of old travelling cases they used to travel with in the past. It is like stepping back a century. Iquitos was originally founded in 1757 as a Jesuit mission, one of the numerous which set foot into the Amazon region during colonial times to spread Christianity here. The city really took off though during the short, 30-year rubber boom which began at the end of the 19th
century and lasted until the First World War. As industrial Europe’s demand for rubber grew, great wealth was made by a number of a rubber barons stationed in Iquitos and around, as they used the cheap (often slave) labour of the local Indian people to harvest the liquid of the local rubber trees growing naturally in the forest. Whilst here they built palatial and grandiose houses, many of which remain today, including one of the more famous ones belonging to this
certain rubber baron Luis F Morey, built in 1910. What a real treat it is to stay here!
My first evening in Iquitos involved a visit to the very nearby Ayapua riverboat, now housing the Historical Ships Museum. Built in 1906, it was one of the many riverboats which transported rubber from around here, shipped all the way down the Amazon river to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean, and then across to Europe. The riverboat now houses fascinating exhibits, pictures and information from the rubber boom days, and darker stories about the ill-treatment of the local Amazonian tribal people made to work to tap the rubber. The rubber boom ended as quickly as it began, when a certain Englishman working for Kew Gardens in London, Sir Henry Wickham, smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds out of the Amazon region in 1876. These were nurtured and used to form the original rubber plantations in British colonies in south-east Asia, which became infinitely more productive than the form of rubber tapping in the Amazon whereby rubber trees were simply tapped in situ as they grew naturally, rather than being specifically grown for the purpose on large plantations. And within the blink
of an eye, the rubber boom in the Amazon region ended, and the rubber barons and wealth left with it. Iquitos then experienced a second boom in the 1960s, as oil was discovered in the region, and is now a fairly modern and prosperous, if rather ramshackle, city today as a centre of tourism. There is still no road connection though, and I find it incredible to be here because of that!
After my visit to the amazing museum, I enjoyed a visit to the nearby “Casa de Fierro”, or Iron House, designed by none other than Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame in 1860, and shipped here piece by piece in 1890, such was the wealth and importance of this town in its boom days. This was followed by a sunset walk along the city’s “Malecon”, a short promenade walk along the left bank of the Amazon river, before I settled into my hotel and room for the evening.
I have since spent three days and two nights in the amazing Amazon jungle itself, and although a bit hot and sticky, I have really enjoyed my time there! I had booked myself into a three day, two
night, eco-lodge tour, and on Friday morning was picked up at my hotel by my guide Ricardo, and met with the other members of my tour group – a lovely, calm relaxed American-Peruvian family currently living in Honduras, and a nice Russian lady living in America and her ten-year-old son.
We first walked through a very local Amazonian market, observing locally caught fish for sale, and some really big, fat and juicy maggots which are a local delicacy, particularly skewered on a kebab-style stick. We then took a slow motor boat down the Amazon river for an hour, towards our jungle lodge. This was really special, and in all my years of travel, was in fact the first time I have seen and travelled on the Amazon river! It is vast already at this point, and it still has several thousand kilometres left before it enters the sea. In fact, as the Amazon river leaves Peru and enters Brazil, it already has a greater discharge than any other river in the world, and as it enters the ocean at its mouth in Brazil, will have multiplied this discharge by five! It is 4000 miles long, and drains a river
basin of 6.4 million square miles (the Nile, longest river in the world, is incidentally 4132 miles long, yet “only” drains an area of 1.3 million square miles; for comparative purposes, the Thames is a tiny 215 miles long and drains a mere 5,000 square miles). The river is huge, and although its river basin covers the countries of Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the river proper itself only flows through two: Peru and Brazil. Hence, I feel my visit here to be very special, and definitely a highlight of my travelling career.
An hour later, the boat moored a few metres up one of the river’s tributaries, and we walked a further ten minutes through a very small, local stilt-hutted village, along muddy paths covered with planks to walk on, to arrive at our jungle lodge for the following two nights. Although I wouldn’t say I paid a meagre price for the tour, the lodgings were very very basic. I was actually not too impressed, particularly as my room shared a roof with a room nextdoor, with a large gap above the wall between the two. There was practically no privacy at all in
terms of sound, and you get to know the bathroom routine of your nextdoor neighbour quite intimately. I understand that this was the Amazon, but I wasn’t happy considering the price I’d paid. Ah well, it was only this that was the downside to the whole trip, the rest of it was just amazing!
Upon arrival, we were given a matter of minutes before we began our first jungle hike, just to explore the surrounding jungle area. It was amazing to be walking and hiking through the Amazon rainforest, after seeing it so many times on TV and in documentaries, and also after teaching about it for many years as a Geography teacher. Highlights of the hike were termite mounds built up trees, “rocket trees”, whose above-ground root system resembled a rocket taking off, and the sheer amount of spikes, prickles and sticky things everywhere. It was evident that everything in the jungle is there to survive, and to protect itself against everything else. Many trees had huge, very sharp spikes growing out of their barks, to prevent wildlife climbing up, whilst even some of the large leaves had spikes growing out from underneath. We made our way through
some pretty muddy, slippery areas, and I was one of the only ones in the group who didn’t fall over at some point. After returning to the lodge for a delicious lunch (the food there was really amazing, as it has been throughout my journey in Peru so far), we were then given another five minutes or so to prepare for the next excursion – they really packed the tours in! This time we got back into the boat and drove upstream to try to see some pink river dolphins. We were not in luck however, although the rest of the group did get to see them yesterday morning after a 5am start – I chose to say in bed and relax a bit instead as our guide told us it was merely a birdwatching tour. I’m not too disappointed that I didn’t get to see them as I had at least rested well for the busy day ahead, and apparently it was impossible to take photos of them as they breached for a split-second only in completely random parts of the water. We then boated it further downstream to visit “La Isla de los Monos”, Monkey Island, a monkey
rehabilitation centre. During the boat ride, the guide squashed a horsefly which had attached itself to my left leg, and I noticed a leech which was on my right one – arrrghhh! The guide also took this off for me, fortunately ensuring that its biters that had been inside my flesh also came out with it… The monkeys on the island were very inquisitive, playful and friendly, and we got to see tamarind, woolly, saki, titi and a baby howler monkey – all very cute! We then returned to camp for a night walk just after the sun set, looking in particular for tarantulas. We actually did find one in a nest, and I was able to take a very blurry photo of it before it crawled in deep as the afore-mentioned spoilt brat got far too close too quickly and scared it away! We also saw a frog, scorpion, leeches, various insects, and many other types of spiders, included one that actually jumped at us and scared the life out of us all! After this, it was dinner and then bed, before the electricity was cut off at 9pm and it became absolutely pitch black – you couldn’t see
Casa Morey, Iquitos
Reception and lobby
your hand in front of your face! Fortunately I’d brought my headtorch, which was also very useful for the night walk. The sounds of the jungle really came alive then, and it was really very soothing to hear the various sounds coming from all around. It was a very busy but very enjoyable first day.
Yesterday was also full of amazing activities, with fortunately a little more down time between. As mentioned, I chose to forego the 5am wake-up call to go birdwatching (they actually didn’t mention the dolphins, I may have thought differently if I thought we were going to look for them again), but I did have a leisurely lie-in after a rather restless first night in the jungle – it was tricky to sleep in such a different environment! After breakfast, we took a boat upstream to a nearby Amazonian tribal village, which although had local Amazonian people of the Yagua tribe there, felt rather touristy and a bit fake. There were many Peruvian tourists, and apparently the tribal people had been moved there from another part of the Peruvian Amazon for the purpose of tourism. We were also invited as we left Iquitos to bring
gifts for them, in the form of wrapped biscuits and cakes, but handing them out when we got there felt awful – they snatched at them and argued/fought amongst themselves to get them, like throwing seeds to pigeons. It felt very very uncomfortable, and I mentioned this to our guide. They performed a song and a dance for us, inviting the tourists to join in – I sat it out. There were also some baby sloths, which were truly adorable, and are as slow-moving and smiley-faced as they appear in documentaries (and Zootropolis!). After learning that the people had killed the babies’ mothers for food though, and that they’ll probably do the same as these babies grow older, I didn’t quite appreciate that either. But then again, who am I, a materialistic westerner, to complain…? I did enjoy their dart-blowing demonstration though, and when invited to have a go myself, I got a bullseye on their target on my second go, receiving a round of applause from everyone. Perhaps I was an Amazonian in a past life…?! I also bought some fantastic souvenirs, namely a small bow and arrow, and a wooden dart blowing pipe complete with darts (not poisoned,
Incidentally, the story goes that when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived in the Amazon, led by Francisco de Orellano in 1541, they encountered local tribesmen wearing grass skirts, similar to the ones these local people were wearing for the tourists, who fought and attacked them. The Spanish thought that they were women, due to their skirts, and thus called the people “Amazon”, after the legendary Greek warrior women from the island of Lesvos. The name has since stuck, for the people, region, and its main river.
After our visit to the local tribal village, I think came the highlight of my foray into the jungle – we went piranha fishing!! Out of the seven of us, only two of us managed to catch a piranha, and I was one of them – I was so pleased with this! The piranha is truly a ferocious-looking fish, and our guide was able to show us its teeth once I’d fished it out of the water. We were using the simple rod and line method, with pieces of raw beef attached to the fish hook. One of the other members of our group caught two piranhas and two sardines
(she was a natural!), whilst another guy caught a baby catfish. We put the catfish back, and took the three piranhas and two sardines back to camp to be cooked up at dinner! I took a photo of them in their cooked state, but due to my propensity for sometimes not feeling too well after eating fish, I chose not to eat them – apparently they were delicious though! I also have a motto whereby I don’t tend to eat something which can potentially eat me, it just doesn’t feel right!
After lunch we had a welcome bit of downtime, before taking a short canoe ride across a nearby brook, passing the very same spot we went piranha-fishing in a very low, dugout canoe, to visit the local village community of San Filipe. This was another highlight of the trip, as a few other people mentioned too. The Russian mother and her son had left by then, and we accompanied a friendly travelling group from California, for this visit. We took in a fish pool where the locals rear fish called paiche, or Arapaima (a huge fish regularly featured on Jeremy Wade’s “River Monsters” TV programme), and glimpsed them
a few times as we fed them dog biscuits. We then visited a nearby sugar cane distillery, sampling a number of local Amazonian alcoholic drinks made with ingredients including passion fruit and ginger. These were delicious, but after already having bought three small bottles of pisco to carry along with me on my journey, I resisted the temptation of buying something there. After this we visited a lovely butterfly farm, where after learning how butterflies grow and develop, and how they rear them there, we each were given our very own home-reared butterfly to release into the wild. This was really a truly magical experience, and I really enjoyed watching my little white fella which had known only the inside of a plastic container all of its hitherto life, flutter off into the distant forest – beautiful!
After this, it was back to our jungle lodge for a final delicious dinner, and a much better night’s sleep now that I had gotten used to sleeping in the jungle. It was actually really quite cold in the early morning, and I ended up having to use my travel towel and room towel as an extra layer on top of my
thin sheet to keep warm and be able to go back to sleep.
This morning, we bade a fond farewell to the rustic camp, and to each other, as we took a speed boat this time back to town, and went our separate ways. The American-Peruvian family were off on a four-day, three-night jungle camp adventure, whilst the Californian group were flying to Cuzco. I checked myself back once more into the delightful Casa Morey in town, and got another delightful room this time on the second floor (I have now been given my room since beginning this blog entry, and have moved from the antique library to my huge, air-conditioned, white-sheeted room overlooking the calm pool in the hotel’s inner courtyard). After two nights in the jungle, this is sheer bliss, and I’m really looking forward to just chilling for the rest of the day and evening, before settling in for an air-conditioned night and continuing my journey once more tomorrow.
I have really enjoyed my adventurous foray into the Amazon jungle these last few days, it has been an amazing contrast to my first few days in the Peruvian coastal desert. Tomorrow I fly back to
Ayapua riverboat, Amazon river
Lima for two days, staying in a different part of the city this time, a well-to-do area on a small peninsula called La Punta, jutting out to the north-west of the city and officially in the municipal area of Callao. I was looking for a different experience of Lima when I booked these two nights. After this, I fly up north to Ecuador, and spend two nights in the country’s economic centre and largest city, Guayaquil, where I plan to write up my next one in a few days’ time.
So, until then, thank you very much for reading, I’m continuing to have an amazing time on my South American adventure 2019!
All the best.
PS I unfortunately have not encountered any talking bears whilst in the Peruvian jungle. In fact, there are apparently no bears at all in the Peruvian Amazon jungle. Somebody should have told this to Mr Bond (not James)…
Tot: 1.94s; Tpl: 0.075s; cc: 16; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0278s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb