June 28 - July 5, 2013
Hola, and welcome to the jungle!
Where to start? So much to tell about here! I got into the city of Iquitos early afternoon on the 28th. Iquitos is the biggest city in South America, if not the world, that cannot be reached by car. You either have to fly (which I did) or spend days upon days on a boat. I had read about different hostels online and chose this one (Green Track) based on their good reviews especially about their Amazon trekking trip. I had been emailing with the girl that helps run the hostel and plan the trips over the last couple of days and pretty much set it all up besides a departure date. Upon arriving I found out that we would be leaving bright and early the next morning and met the two others I would be going with (Seppo - Finland and Lisbeth - Danish/Australian). The owner of the hostel also owns the reserve we would be going to some 400km south of Iquitos.
After being fitted for rubber boots to the knee and getting my things ready for the 4 days and 3 nights we would spend in the jungle I went out to eat with Seppo, Lisbeth and a few others that they had been hanging out with.
We got up early to ride in a car for 2 1/2 hours to another small city where we would board the boat for the next 6 hours. Well those 6 hours turned into 10, and this is a bare bone type of boat, no frills, no comfort, and no protection from the elements! We had stopped for lunch at a little village along the river and again later on for a bathroom/snack break. A man at the 2nd village knocked coconuts out of a tree and chopped the tops off with a machete for us to drink. Unfortunately, it started to downpour at this point, as it does in the rainforest, so we were stuck for the time being.
Our boat captain got tired of waiting and decided that we needed to push on at that point and get back on the river. By this time it was already after 8pm, dark, and still somewhat raining. Not exactly ideal conditions for navigating the Amazon! The rain did finally let up during the next 5 hours, but the current was strong and working against us. Eventually half of the sky cleared and had the most amazing display of stars on one half and lightening in the distance on the other. Quite the beautiful light show from nature! Using the strongest headlamp of the group and the amazing navigational skills of our native captain we finally arrived to the reserve around 1am. Our bags were soaked, as was everything in them, so we laid our stuff out to dry and climbed into our hammocks wearing whatever we had on to finally go to bed.
Our first day in the jungle was spent hiking. There was a sort of trail that you could tell had been used, but for the most part our guide Victor slashed our way through the jungle with his machete. We came across a crazy variety of animals and bugs. Tons of different birds, monkeys, spiders (eek!). We even got growled at by a jaguar! Anyone that knows me knows that I DO NOT like spiders and they often cause me to break out in what has been known as "the spider dance". This dance made a few appearances over our days in the jungle. Twice for ridiculously sized spiders, once for a 5 inch long grasshopper that landed on my shoulder, and once for a cockroach that appeared during breakfast. It was just too early for that sort of thing!
The hiking itself was nice but you had to watch where you were stepping at all times to avoid stepping into knee deep or higher mud or getting vines twisted around your feet and tripping. Despite being one of the hottest and definitely the most humid places I have ever been I was covered from head to toe. Hat, long sleeves, pants, and knee high boots plus 100% deet still did not keep the mosquitoes away. One of the few things that helped was one of the natural remedies Victor told us about from the jungle. He cut open a small spot in a termite mound, stuck his hand in and rubbed the termites all over himself. They smell like wood which masks your human scent. Once again, anyone that knows me would not think I would ever do something like this, but I was desperate! By the end of the 1st day on my left knee alone at had more bites than I could count in Spanish (I’m up to 39; I always forget the word for 40).
Another night in the hammocks and another night of convincing myself to not think of all the spiders I know are around me. The next day we were back and forth between a small dugout canoe and hiking through the jungle. We spent the morning heading up a creek to a lagoon where a family of pink river dolphins live. We also saw more birds and monkeys, as well as caimans (like a crocodile). Later that morning we fished for piranhas using sticks with fishing line and a hook. All you had to do was dip you line with bait in the water and they would start biting, the trick was to actually hook them and not just give them a free meal. I ended up catching three myself and one other kind of fish. We took our catch to the riverside and grilled them up for lunch. FYI – piranha actually tastes good.
Around sunset we heard the howler monkeys settling in for the night. They howl to claim their nightly territory and are so loud! Victor was able to track them and we got to watch them up close. Very cool! By the 3rd night I was really enjoying sleeping in the hammocks!
We left just after sunrise the next morning to make our way back. Since the current was working with us this time our journey was considerably shorter. We also switched to a local ferry type boat once we reached the first main village. While this was more comfortable physically, they blasted religious, Spanish music videos the whole time – one even featuring Tina Turner, who knew!?
Upon arriving back at the hostel and after MUCH needed showers and getting out clothes sorted out for laundry we had a quick dinner before passing out for the night. The next day began 2 full days of protesting in the city. From what I could gather it was about government corruption. Pretty much everything was shut down and the streets were filled with glass and garbage making it impossible for anyone to drive, so no taxis. Luckily, we found a laundry place that was “closed” but still took our stuff and even delivered it back to our hostel when it was finished. Other than that, Lisbeth and I either hung around the hostel or walked up and hung around Karma Café that was one of the few places still open since the owner is French. Good food and fresh fruit smoothies! Yum!
Despite donating tons of blood to the mosquitoes, itching like crazy, and being stuck in a city in protest, it was an unforgettable adventure. Thank you Green Track!!
OH, how could I forget?! While at Karma Café, we were reading a local newspaper (or looking over what I could get from it) and it turns out Harrison Ford was also in Iquitos during this time! I was in the Amazon with Indiana Jones!!!!