Lima & the Amazon
06.12.2013 30 °C
Hola from the continent of the Amazon, Machu Picchu & the tango; where guinea pig is a regular feature on the menu and the rubbish collection trucks play monotone music in the streets! Yep, we're in South America and will be for the next four months. We've set up this blog so that those who are interested can follow our trip and see what mischief we're getting up to...!
Our first stop was Lima, where we spent a few days enjoying the sun (defying the guidebooks that tell you Lima is permanently shrouded in cloud!) and sampling local delights like Ceviche and Pisco Sours.
We enjoyed Lima but found it not dissimilar to many other big cities - old part, new part, commercial part and bohemian-esque part (very much enjoyed the latter). So after 3 days, we were ready to leave and fly to Iquitos, and wow what a shock! Iquitos could not be more different to the fairly westernised Lima, with its heat and humidity that hit you the minute you step off the plane, mosquitos the size of a fingernail and motor taxis (like a cross between a motorbike and a tuktuk) and dust everywhere it really felt like our 'travelling' experience had properly started.
Iquitos is Peru's gateway city to the Amazon, and this was the reason for our visit. We had booked a 4 day, 3 night Amazon jungle trip to leave the following day so the day we arrived was predominantly spent preparing for that trip. We were advised by the hostel that we needed to take plenty of long sleeved tops and long trousers to the jungle and that these could be purchased nice and cheaply at the local market, to which the receptionist from the hostel kindly agreed to accompany us. The market was an experience, particularly the section they call the 'witches market' which sells all manner of lotions and potions used by shamen and in other 'witchcraft' ceremonies (apparently the people in Iquitos believe very strongly in witchcraft and whenever they get sick, they believe it is witchcraft at play rather than an ailment of some sort). In any event we soon found the 'fashion' part of the market for our supplies, well I say fashion but that seems over generous to describe any of the wares offered to us! I just about managed to talk the hostel girl out of insisting I buy a faded pink long sleeved tshirt with a huge Minnie Mouse on the front that looked like a 7yr olds cast off, but Shaun didn't do quite so well and ended up with a nice set of 'chavvy' black and fluorescent yellow trakkie bottoms by that famous brand 'Alvin's', much to my great amusement! Too embarrassed to embrace my own set of "Trakkie b's" I opted to undertake the essential travelling purchase instead - crazy patterned travellers pants from one of the local village peoples stalls (much to Shaun's amusement!).
Anyway, the next day we got up bright and early (5am) to start our trip to the Amazon with the other members of our group - 2 girls and 3 boys coincidentally all from Perth, Australia. The first part of the journey was a 4 hour boat ride to a town called Requina, where we met our guides Katoo and Jose. The second part of the journey was another 4 hours by boat to reach the Tapiche Reserve where we would be staying. This would have been great, except both boats were uncovered and only about 40minutes in it started to rain. Not just a little drizzle, oh no, full on tropical monsoon style rain. Add travelling at around 40mph into that rain into the mix and you probably still can't imagine how wet we got! They kept having to stop the boats to bail water out of the back as they were filling up so quickly too! All quite an experience to say the least! (Mum I can hear you chuntering about the effect of this on my chest infection but I promise you I am all recovered! :-))
Anyway, after what definitely felt like the longest few hours of our lives, we finally arrived at the reserve complete with numb bums! The reserve is a 12km stretch of river and rainforest owned by Katoo himself, who is an avid conservationist and bought the area in order to help protect it and to help the communities who live in it. He grew up in the Brazilian Rainforest, in a tribal community there, before leaving and becoming an environmental lawyer and conservationist, so he is pretty knowledgeable. At the reserve he has built a lodge which is pretty amazing- it even has running water and showers! Sleeping is done in the 'hammock' house, which we were both pretty excited about until Katoo pointed out the resident tarantula who also lives there (much to my delight!). To cheer me up though, Katoo also pointed out that the lodges light shades matched my travellers pants I had just bought!! He told us that they were 'Ayahuasca pants' - clothing generally worn by travellers looking to take part in a shamen ritual where you basically get high and hallucinate for a few days. You will be glad to know Katoo said it was all a load of Peruvian nonsense and just a fancy way to make getting high sound cool, so we did not partake...
Anyway, having survived the first night with Charlotte (apparently the name of our new furry friend!) we headed off at 6am the next morning to do our first jungle trek. The group was split in two and we were with the two Aussie girls and Katoo (machete in hand for slashing a path through the jungle!). Katoo was so interesting and able to tell us loads about the different plants and bugs - for example we saw a Cashapona 'walking palm' tree that has its roots above ground and moves up to 6m a year, we tried the mouldy bottom of a fungi that acts as, and taste like, a natural paracetamol and found a bug that produces cyanide when it feels under threat.
Even more excitingly though we soon spotted a huge group of monkeys swinging their way through the trees above us! They were funny looking monkeys with really furry bodies but completely bald heads and bright red faces. Katoo smugly informed us that these were called English monkeys, although he didn't elaborate as to why!! Later on we saw a couple of pretty scary (and deadly) snakes, one of which was a green pit viper that was easily over 2m long! To this day, we have no idea how Katoo spotted it because it was so well camouflaged as a vine of a tree!
Unfortunately, the days animal viewing was cut a little short by another monsoon-esque downpour in which we all got absolutely soaked, again! Whilst we tried to do 'the jungle thing' and shelter under massive trees, the rain was so heavy it made little difference. While Katoo was quite happy for us to continue traipsing around in the rain (to be honest it had kind of gotten to the stage where we were so soaked, we couldn't possibly get any more wet so it didn't really make much difference) it seemed that the animals had all done the sensible thing and gone looking for shelter so we headed back. That night, the rain continued and the problem with this was that all the bugs (most notably spiders!) seemed to be seeking shelter too, in our hammock house! I think it's fair to say I had what I would describe as a minor panic attack at the prospect of sleeping with a spider as large as my hand just above the head of my hammock! This was immediately obvious to all when I nearly started crying at the prospect of sleeping with it about a foot from my head. Katoo however, said it was ok and calmly clapped his hands near it and made it crawl up the post so it was now about 4 feet from my head. Much more comforting!?!?
Following a fairly sleepless night filled with scary spider dreams, we were again up at 5am to start day two. Today Shaun and I were being taken on a private tour of the reserve's lagoon by the other guide José and his uncle (Tio). We were all shuddering as we put on our cold, still-wet-from-the-day-before-clothes, not that it mattered much as the minute we left the lodge the heavens opened again! We therefore spent the first hour and a half sheltering from the rain in an abandoned hut trying to make stilted conversation with our non-English speaking guide! José was great but our limited Spanish skills were certainly put to the test!
Eventually we resigned ourselves to walking in the rain again as it didn't seem to be passing so we headed out into the monsoon and the jungle. It was close to a 2 hour walk to the lagoon (through many swampy flooded areas following the rain) but on the way we saw another big group of 'English' monkeys as well as a Harpy Eagle (large eagle that eats monkeys! I know!) and José found a jaguar skull (*shudder*). When we arrived at the lagoon, amazingly the rain stopped and the sun started to come out making for a glorious afternoon of bird and Cayman spotting in our little canoe, paddled by Jose and Tio. After a slightly worrying start (the boat engine had no petrol and we had just walked for 2 hours to get there) we finally got out on the water - José, our own little Tarzan, lopped down a tree with his machete and manufactured a set or oars for the boat! Amazing! Lunch was a highlight as the plan had been to catch and cook some Piranha's but when we (royal 'we' for me) failed to catch any, we ended up sharing one can of tuna fish (hilariously called Fanny!) between the four of us!! Anyway by the end of the afternoon we had seen two Cayman really close up as well as plenty of pink river dolphins and some cool birds like Macaws and Hawks. We then watched a glorious sunset on the lagoon before setting off back to the lodge.
The walk back was done at much greater speed than the walk there given that the evening was drawing in (in fact the second half of the walk was done in the dark, save for our head torches, which was an experience!) but we still managed to see some squirrel monkeys, a huge marsupial creature and another scary looking snake. We even had to swing over a small tributary on a jungle vine to get back across, which was interesting in the pitch dark, but great fun! When we finally got back to our boat, we had a magical journey back down the river to the lodge under the stars. Fabulous. Absolutely exhausted, there were no issues about spiders when going to sleep. Shaun had such fun in his hammock, he now wants one at home!
The following day we headed back to Iquitos, luckily having a rain-free journey this time! Overall we had a fantastic time in the Amazon, our guides were awesome and the one thing that can be said for the weather (and the bugs!) is it certainly made it feel like a very authentic Rainforest experience!
Link to Amazon video: