Iquitos: Into the Jungle

Once we reached Iquitos we teamed up with the French couple from our cargo boat adventures to get a good price on a jungle tour. We woke up early, 6 am, to meet up at the travel agency office. On the way to the agency, we treated ourselves with the first non-instant morning coffee in a long time. This was an excellent start to the day especially when paired with street cart fresh-squeezed orange juice and breakfast sandwiches (bread, egg and cheese, with an optional mystery meat).

At the travel agency we repacked our bags so that we wouldn’t be lugging all our belongings around the jungle. We packed up one bag to have all the laptops and locked the zippers to stay in the travel agency's storage room. I then realized that the key for the lock was in the bag I just locked… I asked if the guys at the tour office had any bolt cutters. The guy at the tour agency said hold on and ran off into the street. A few minutes later he brought a friend back who, using a hammer and bolt jarred the lock open in a matter of seconds without doing any damage or making it look like the lock had been tampered with at all. So much for safety. It's funny that we were trying to lock the bag to keep our luggage safe and the guy we were keeping it with unlocked the bag for us. On the plus side I now know how to undo luggage locks without breaking them. On the down side, beware. Locks do not keep people out.

So we left from the tour agency in Iquitos to head back to Nauta which is where most of the jungle tours began. At Nauta we waited for two hours perusing the market waiting for other travelers.

Port in Nauta, Peru

We then got onto a small boat with a very small two stroke engine and began our journey to where Maranon river and Ucayail river meet to make up the Amazon river. Right where this river meets we stopped for a while and watched two different types of dolphins, one pink in color and very small and the other gray with a very large nose/snout. Our home base was located up one of the tiny tributaries that fed the Amazon and brought us much deeper into the forest.

We saw many butterflies along the way: black, red, orange and piercing yellow, light pastel blue and black and yellow striped. They would swarm the bank of the river and fly back and forth in front of our tiny boat. Once at home base, we stopped for lunch then headed back out and down smaller rivers for a few hours of animal watching on an even tinier boat. We observed woodpeckers, eagles, hawks, lots of smaller birds, parakeets and butterflies, but the highlight of the boat trip was a tiny monkey no more than 4 inches long. It survived on only tree sap. It was maybe slightly bigger than the size of my hand if it was outstretched. The little bitty monkeys are sold as babies as pets at the specialty market in Belen, which is an area in Iquitos. We didn't have enough time to visit this market, but if you ever go to Iquitos make sure you save time for this.

Several hours after seeing the tiny monkey our tour guides spotted a sloth 60 or so feet up in a tree. It was really high up and pretty hard to see. We stopped the boat and the guy got out with his machete and started chomping away through the brush and told us to stay in boat. We thought he was clearing a path for us so that we could get a better look. The boat driver got out after a path was cleared and a few minutes later we saw him climbing the tree. Apparently our guide and boat driver were capturing the sloth out of the giant tree so we could see one up close. SAFETY FIRST! We objected and said it was okay to leave it in its habitat. It felt so inhumane, but apparently we weren't firm enough. He really wanted to help us see a sloth and thought it would make us happy to see one up close.

The sloth was not a fan of the retrieval idea. It latched on to every branch and vine the boat driver passed as we cringed watching from the sidelines. The guide then threw up a coiled vine which the driver in the huge tree caught then let the sloth latch onto. He then lowered the sloth down below himself and let the sloth grab back onto the vines of the tree. Next the driver started coming down the tree herding the sloth towards the ground. They eventually got it down and brought it to a small tree near us and we got to pet it and take pictures. It should be said that, while it shouldn’t have been done, it was one heck of a show. You could tell that these men really grew up in the jungle the way he scaled the highest tree in sight for miles without the blink of an eye. Of note: if you get scratched by the sloth it will leave one heck of a rash, and they are softer than they appear, but not cuddle with soft. Second note: We felt terrible about disrupting the sloth’s natural state, but we weren’t going to pass up this photo op. Third note: Emily accidentally deleted over 400 pictures from the jungle. Travel fail and huge disappointment. So that's why there aren't as many pictures in this post.

We continued down the river as we approached late afternoon and entered a huge lake just as the sun was setting. It was peaceful and beautiful and if it weren't for the other two tourists, tour guide and boat driver, I would have felt like I was in the scene from the note book when Noah and Annie are on the river in the rain (from Emily’s notes.) On the shores of this lake near a giant matrimonial tree is where our guides pitched camp. Camp consisted of hammocks with tarps over the top and mosquito nets around each hammock. Our bags went inside the mosquito net under the hammocks. This place actually reminded me a lot of Louisiana on the bayou. It wasn’t at all like the jungle and rainforest of Costa Rica, which is what we were expecting out of the Amazon.

After camp was set up the guides made us spaghetti over the fire and we went out on the boat at night for Cayman (alligator) watching. The guide would shine his light at the edge of the water and look for a reflection off the Cayman’s eyes. He found one in the marsh and we stopped the boat and he just jumped out to go get it for us. No surprise given his earlier sloth retrieval. It was then that we realized how shallow this little lake was since he was only calf deep. He caught a baby one and brought it to us. Emily got to hold it and she had to hold the tail and the head pretty tight so it wouldn't bite or wriggle out of her control and take a bite out of her. More incredible pictures lost.

Wilson, Our Iquitos Jungle Tour Guide holding a Cayman

While Emily was holding on to the Cayman a dragon fly flew into her face freaking her out, almost resulting in her letting go.

Next came spear fishing. The guide prowled along the banks of the lake and the little islands looking for fish with a little flashlight. He caught all kinds of fish, the biggest of which was about a 3 kilo catfish. He just stood on the front edge of the boat out of nowhere, and chucked the spear down into the water. Initially the spear started to swim away but he caught it with a paddle and in came our breakfast for the next morning.

After our late night lake adventures we headed back for the night to our campsite. By this point we were all very tired of the swarms of mosquitos, but the night wasn’t over yet. When you got in the mosquito net, you had to first crouch in the bottom and kill anything that had gotten in when you threw your bag in earlier or climbed in for the night. We had spiders, a cockroach, about five monster mosquitos and few other bugs to kill. All four of us were taking no chances and even if the bug didn’t look harmful it was whole sale slaughter. All we could see was our own hammock tents but we could all hear the others inside their own battles slashing and hitting these creatures.

The next day we woke up early to walk through jungle in our big rubber rain boots through lots of mud (they didn’t have boots big enough for me so I had to squeeze in my toes). We saw lots of fauna, three huge monkeys that jumped very far from tree tops, medical plants, drank water from a vine, night monkeys, crazy blue and yellow wasp, and spiders. We spent all morning and then again all night while it was dark. Emily and I even put tarantulas on our heads at night time. I would say the highlight of the forest was really just walking through the jungle and seeing how the land and plants changed from area to area. There was so much life packed into such a small area that we explored.

In between our morning and evening rain forest exploration we got to feed monkeys along the river and swim in the Amazon with wild dolphins. Monkeys were up first and we brought bananas. We were slightly nervous about this because we had to fight off monkeys on the beach in Costa Rica. They actually unzipped our bags and stole our lunch, so we weren’t quite sure how bringing food for the monkeys was going to go. These monkeys were also most certainly not afraid to get close.

To our surprise, the monkeys were much MUCH nicer than in Costa Rica and even let us pet them while they ate our banana peace offerings. Martina was the head monkey in charge and she gladly took as many bananas as we had to give.

When it was time to swim in the Amazon, we got within 50 yards of the dolphins and even belted out the dolphin noise that is supposed to make them come closer to you, but they were not having any of our gringo nonsense. It was mostly just a fun time swimming in the same water as dolphins, piranhas, alligators, and giant snakes! Don’t worry, the anacondas stay on the bottom of the river during the day. I do think it got me sick for the next several days though. Not the cleanest water in the world. After the river we walked upon a sandy beach and watched the sunset.

Here a few pictures from our lodge and cabin. Notice the huge mosquito net around even our bed! (From Emily: Yes, Jesse requested that these pictures be taken and posted.)

With our last day came fishing, I caught about seven sardines all about 5-7 inches long, and two different types of piranhas. Emily caught one sardine and the French couple caught several sardines, piranhas and two catfish. The funny part being the French girl, Emilia, caught the two biggest fish and she didn’t even want to catch anything, whereas Emily wanted to catch fish the most and only got one. In Emily’s enthusiasm she almost caught all members of the boat whipping her hook out of the water and lost two four fish by pulling the line out of the water so violently that they jumped back in the lake. If you ask her what happened, she would say she was practicing sustainable catch and release fishing. Lunch was pan fried fish we caught, and it tasted so much better knowing we were the ones that caught the little buggers.

All in all the jungle was an experience. It was a nice break to travel with someone other than just me and Emily for a somewhat extended period of time for some adult companionship. When we thought about the Amazon prior to visiting, we had grand ideas that would surpass what we saw in the jungle of Costa Rica, but the Peruvian Jungle was just different.

Bonus: Emilia and Roman, our French friends sent us some pictures since we lost a lot of ours, and are sending more. Enjoy!

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