Travel: Iquitos and the Amazon [Part Two]

This blog is part two of two. See part one here, with a visit to Iquitos’ Shaman’s market and floating village.

At the rainforest lodge, three hours out of Iquitos by motorboat, my nostrils are in a rapturous state of detox. The rich, damp, earthy smells of the rainforest replace the clug and choke of the city. Hundreds of unique noises from insects, birds and mammals create a singular buzz of sound that becomes an enchanting white noise.

We spend the first afternoon spotting pink river dolphins, who aren´t shy, always appearing in pairs. That night we ease into jungle life, sleeping at the lodge under heavy-duty mosquito nets. Those buggers are the size of flying rice grains here, and they hurt.

rained-in

lodging

The next morning, with guides Falcon and Eduardo, aka ‘El Catalan’ (kingfisher), and French backpacker Morgaine, we take off in our canoe in search of a camping spot. In a clearing by the water, Falcon pulls down ten metre-long vines, which he strips and cuts into lengths, tying between two trees to use as the frame on which to hang our mosquito nets.

With a hammock inside the net, suspended between two trees, it´s feels surprisingly secure. Add a couple of sticks to hang your rubber boots over, plus plastic sheeting on four branches to keep off the rain and you´ve got a pretty decent night´s sleep.

Beds made, Falcon leads us further into the jungle to explore by moonlight. Walking in the pitch dark, you become a blockade for the monstrous flying things that travel at night, like moths the size of hands, which hit your face with disconcerting regularity.

Once we get used to the traffic, we spot caiman; the Quetzal; Guatemala’s national bird that had eluded us in Central America; a gigantic bloated frog the size of my head; countless fiendish insects. My boyfriend even caught sight of an ocelot just two metres from us.

iguana

Then, hammock time. In the trees above us, night monkeys have frenetic conversations until dawn. Occasionally, an unidentified and probably enormous and man-eating creature sinks below the water metres from my net.

‘El Catalan’ is up before all of us to cook omelettes and heat coffee on the log fire. Inconceivably, I have escaped the mosquitos, at least for the first night in the wild, thanks to actually-illegal-in-Peru-strength deet. After breakfast, Falcon leads us further into the forest to explore in the daylight. The insects seem less bolshy this morning, but maybe that’s because I can see them coming.

We drink from the vine of a tree that is said to cure cancer (apols, I forget the name), hunt hallucinogenic mushrooms and learn about the flora of the rainforest. Frogs have lain spawn in our footprints from last night. A thick, two-metre long snake that looks to me like a boa skids off through the bush to get away from us. Falcon tells us it is highly dangerous (poisonous) and if we had seen it during the night, it would have gone for us.

piranhaA spot of piranha fishing in the afternoon is pleasingly fruitful. I catch five. A nervy experience, given that I am terrified of fish, teeth or otherwise (not dead fish, yum yum). Even so, I am tenacious in my effort to ‘win’ the fishing. Feeling a bite, I whip in my line, hitting my boyfriend in the face with a live piranha, which then vaults, and starts swimming up and down the inch of water at the bottom of the boat, to the concern of neither guide. We eat what we catch for lunch. Piranha meat is surprisingly bland.

As evening sets in, we all take to the canoe to explore coppices deeper in the rainforest and rich with plant life and animals. We come close to three-toed sloths, tamarin and squirrel monkeys, tree rats, and marmosets. Toucans, macaws, and kingfishers fly endlessly overhead. A giant stick insects joins our boat, plus an enormous spider which Falcon flips into the water, saying “Aah! Muy peligroso.” As the sun sets, fisherman bats with three-foot wingspans appear, skimming the water next to our boat.

spider-attack

On our final morning in the rainforest, the fat, wallowey rain that we’ve had for a short time every day holds off, so that as planned we can swim with the pink river dolphins, where the water from the coffee-coloured Amazon meets the cola-black water from the Rio Negro. Again, terrifying: fish; opaque water; angry dolphins?

The local indigenous community is scared of the river dolphins, and kill them if they swim close to their houses. They call them ‘bufeos’; ‘bu’ being the noise they make and ‘feo’ being Spanish for ‘ugly’.

buffeos

There are many legends in the Peruvian Amazon about bufeos eating children, or hunting menstruating women and raping them, creating hideous halfling people with ugly white skin. I was told that sometimes on birth certificates single mothers write ‘bufeo’ under ‘Father’.

Nonetheless, we survived sharing their water, and a couple of bufeos even got quite close. I am so glad I swallowed my fears and jumped in.

amazon-sunset

Back in Iquitos, we return to our hostel and start planning our route out of the Amazon. It’s a two day wait for a boat to Yurimaguas, the first town with a road outside the Amazon. Two days later, and we’re on El Bruno, a cargo ship that takes three days up river. We spend the days swinging in our hammocks, reading and awaiting the dinner bell.

blazing-hammocks

Occasionally the ship stops to deliver supplies to villages on the river banks and kids board selling ice-creams, tamales and fried fish. We spend our evenings watching brilliant sunsets that burn the entire horizon red and orange, and later, gazing at the stars on top of the ship. The Milky Way looks close enough to run my fingers through.

Photos: Alan Chant // alanchant.com // @bonchant

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