The Peruvian Amazon

Our Amazon adventure actually began in Cusco. Having learned our lesson from the stressful cab ride to the airport in Sucre, we allowed plenty of time for our flight to Iquitos, via Lima. Iquitos is one of the Peruvian entry points to the Amazon. We even made the mistake of thinking we had arrived at the airport too early, but upon entering the terminal and seeing the line for check-in, we realised that you can never be too early for a flight’s check-in in Latin America.

For an early morning flight, the line was long and very slow. After standing for a while, we started to pick up on a few disgruntled passengers and realised the delay to check-in was due to an earlier flight being cancelled. People were lining up to organise a new flight, but they spent more time complaining to the staff, rather than them just getting on with it.

After what felt like an age, we finally made it to the counter. We were a bit worried that our flight would be over-booked because of the earlier flight’s cancellation but everything seemed okay. That is until we walked away from the counter and I double checked out boarding passes. Our flight time was an hour later than what it should have been. LATAM felt like this wasn’t worth mentioning and provided us with no explanation. This meant that we only had an hour between our connecting flight from Lima to Iquitos. I didn’t think this was enough time and went up to another staff member to double check. She said it would be fine and it probably would have been if our flight also wasn’t delayed another 45 minutes. Cusco airport really needs to work on their timeliness. The delay meant that we missed our connecting flight. Luckily, when we went to the LATAM counter in Lima we got a super helpful attendant. When we explained the situation, she asked if Cusco gave any reason for the delay. We said no and when she looked in their system, it also gave no reason for the delay. Luckily, we were able to get on the next flight later that evening. We just got to spend a few additional hours in the Lima International Airport, which isn’t too bad an airport.

Once we arrived in Iquitos, the weather was something we had not experienced since Australia – it was hot and humid, even at 8pm. I was a shock to the system after the alpine regions we had been in for the past month. Our Amazon tour didn’t start until the next morning so we ventured out to find food.

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to get going. Which is a good thing because our guide turned up half-hour earlier than expected. After a last-minute pack, we were introduced to Edwin our guide and out the door. The first part of the adventure was a tuk tuk ride to the pier. It has been a while since I’ve been in a tuk tuk and I feel like the drivers in Iquitos take a lot of risks. But we made it to the pier in one piece.

When we started walking to the pier, we went through a local market. Edwin stopped at a stall with a big bucket at the front. We looked in the bucket and it was filled with fat stumpy grubs. Turns out, the locals skewer and grill them. It was a little early in the day for grilled grub so we passed. There was a long, skinny motorised boat waiting for us so we hopped on and we were on our way to the ecolodge. It was basic, or rustic, but it was mosquito proof and the bed was comfy.

After lunch (which was surprisingly good), we explored the jungle just behind the lodge. Within 10 metres, you were in the dense jungle and no idea what direction to go to get back to the lodge. Edwin showed us a few different plants that contained water, in case we ever got lost. Mind you, I wouldn’t be able to identify the plants again. There was so much fauna and flora so close to the lodge. It was amazing.

We ventured into the jungle again after dinner and it was a completely different experience. Armed with a head torch, we saw some very large spiders, centipedes and millipedes. There was even a poisonous frog that Edwin placed on our heads. Again, we realised that we would be hopeless cases if Edwin ever decided to leave us in the jungle.

The next morning, we took a short boat ride to Monkey Island. We walked through crops of yams in our search for monkeys. We saw capuchin monkeys, pygmy marmosets, squirrel monkeys and so many more! They were all swinging through the trees. Other than our guide Edwin, Dave was the next best spotter for monkeys. He has eagle eyes.

Our hike ended at a small clearing where we saw another group of tourists. Edwin had mentioned something about holding a sloth and I honestly thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t. This was a wild sloth that lived in the area that had become accustomed to human interaction. He was an adult sloth and I think getting to hold him was the most exciting thing of the whole trip (so far). The two other women in our group didn’t really want to hold him so Dave and I took turns. There was also a python and tortoise roaming around but the sloth had my full attention. They are just the greatest creatures.

After this, we went piranha fishing. It is an interesting technique as you have a rod with fishing line, no reel and you either use chicken or fish as bait. The way you cast is flicking the line into the water and quickly flicking it out of the water. The idea is the piranha quickly bites onto the bait and before it can bite through you pull it up into the boat. Edwin and our boat driver were much better at it than any of us. Although I did almost pull a piranha in – as I was bringing it up to the edge of the boat, it let go.

Dave did catch one but as he was pulling it out, the force of the flick brought the line towards me, where the piranha let go and proceeded to hit me in the chest. Ultimately, Dave threw the piranha at me. I was unharmed, but not amused. Especially after Edwin had caught one and put his machete between the piranha’s teeth. The sound of the teeth crunching down on the knife made it sound like it was metal on metal. Edwin did also offer us the chance to go swimming in the Amazon, but we passed after seeing this display.

The next morning we were up at sunrise to take a boat ride to where the pink river dolphins can be found. There were no promises but Edwin was optimistic that we would find them. We got to the spot and Edwin started to drive the boat in circles. Apparently the dolphins like the waves. And he was right, they started to jump over the waves. I know they are called Pink Dolphins but I didn’t expect how pink they would be.

Later that morning, we were taken to a local tribe. This tribe was originally from deeper within the jungle, but the need for income has driven them closer to the cities in a bid to both generate income and to educate tourists on their customs. We ended up dancing with them and I was taken by the hand by the chief and led around the circle. Dave joked that I might now be married to him but wouldn’t know. We both also got to use a blow dart gun and both hit the target!

The day ended with us going on another hike but a bit further afield than just behind our lodge. We were warned not to touch any branches of any trees. Something which is a bit hard when the branches overhang the path. But we had good motivation to steer clear – there were ants that lived in the jungle which, if they stung you, you weren’t in for a good time. Horrible pain and fever. By the sounds of it, I did not want to encounter these ants.

Being careful to avoid the branches, we saw ancient figs and centuries-old trees. We were also fortunate enough to see howler monkeys swinging through the trees. We were told about the jungle telephone. You grab a stick and whack the roots of the old figs. The sound just carried through the jungle. A good tip to know if we ever did wander off and find ourselves lost.

On the final morning, we went to the local village to try their moonshine or locally made sugar cane rum. We were given a demonstration of how it is made (we also got to give the press a go) and then we were given tastings of all the flavoured rums on offer. There were about 10. After all the tastings, we bought a passionfruit flavoured one. It was incredibly delicious. This is also where I got to hold a baby sloth. It was apparently the rum maker’s child’s pet. The kid was a bit rough with the sloth but it seemed perfectly happy. I wanted to take the sloth home with me but I felt like it would be frowned upon by Australian customs.

Another boat ride and we were on our way back to civilisation. Well almost. We got to Iquitos airport and it was an interesting experience. We encountered the same slow-moving lines and complaining patrons but it was also accompanied by the sound of a rooster’s crow. The first time I heard it I thought the airport was just near roosters (the chickens and roosters are very free-range in Latin America). But it got louder and louder, turns out they were being checked in for the flight. Roosters on a flight is not something I expected to see and I don’t think I will see it again anytime soon.

BONUS Sloths 🙂

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