Starting in the highlands of Arequippa, Peru at 5000m and entering Brazil only 200m or so above sea level this giant leviathon of water represents the biggest body of freshwater in the world – 7000km long, 65km wide at it’s widest and 100m at its greatest depth!
We spent a week on a tiny fraction of it and can still only marvel at its full blown might as it winds and twists across the south American continent.
The main jump off point to trips on the Amazon river is Iquitos; a crazy town of close to 800 000 people in the middle nowhere which you can only get to by boat up the Amazon or by plane. Jungle expeditions mostly happen downriver from here towards the Brazilian Amazon. Things are a bit different and far more isolated upriver. Our lodge was in the latter location. Established and run by a local, Peruvian couple, 13 years ago, Muyuna Lodge is 140km upstream from Iquitos reachable only by river. It’s a 3 hour speedboat ride into paradise.
Shortly after leaving the bustling port of Iquitos its clear that you are either on the ocean or a massive, massive dam……….not a river! The Amazon waters are a definitively different brown colour to the rivers that lead into it around Iquitos which are a darker inky colour. The former attributed to the massive currents generated by such a body of water as it churns up the river basin.
We see the occasional small, palm thatched huts of the local river-side villages which get fewer and fewer as we proceed upstream. Finally we branch off the main channel, take a few more twists and turns along some tributaries and arrive at the lodge firmly nestled deep in the Jungle.
It’s high flood season and this year is exceptional with the largest river flood seen in 20 years. This only affected our overall experience of the Jungle in as much as we never saw the jungle floor in our 5 days :):)!
The lodge is constructed very Eco-Friendly with all the chalets (20) made from local wood and roofs from palm leaves. No hot water, much to the girls distress 🙂 All the staff are locals from Iquitos and exceptionally friendly and the food wonderfully plentiful and tasty.
To the jungle encounter; 5 days and 4 nights of jungle immersion. Due to the high water there is no walking so we are effectively doing jungle ‘game drives’ in either a small outboard or in canoes. Our guide, Cesa, is a local fellow full of traditional stories and local knowledge. At one point it became clear that visiting the jungle without a spotter is a waste of time – his ability to spot things and find creatures is phenomenal. He could spot a sloth in the highest branches, track monkeys, see birds we could not see until we were on top of them, interpret sounds that we merely attribute to jungle noise etc etc…….rather embarrassing for salted African game spotters :):)!
Spotting is a big issue in the jungle. Every cubic meter of jungle (in this you must include the water mass) is jam packed with biomass. Every leaf has something on it be it a spider, an insect (grasshopper, ant, 6-legged gogga), fungus, saprophyte, symbiont or other. Every bug has a defensive or offensive strategy going to wipe out its neighbour. The water is rich in minerals, fish and silt, the latter loosened up our bellies just to remind us we are in the jungle!
Every tree or vine seems to have either toxic, medicinal or construction properties.
Cesa is constantly casting his eye everywhere guarding against nasties like snakes, wasp nests and fire-ant trees, he does so with skill while we stare blankly at this overwhelming environment and just realising how susceptible we are to the jungle without our saws and mills.
We are not great ornithologists, but during the week we saw almost 10 species of bird that we have never seen or even heard of! During one of the evening boat trips our guide hand-caught a baby camon (crocodile!) about 2 foot long. This was to be the first in a long series of land/water animals that we had again never heard of let alone seen! Cath will talk about our Amazon animal encounters a bit later.
Bar the first night when it was raining, we went out every night for a river trip. One night Doug and I went out with Cesa on our own in a canoe; the girls had had enough of spiders and things falling onto their canoe during the day!
The jungle in the day is spooky enough, try it at night……. There is a cacophony of noise that envelops your auditory sense, an eery luminescence from fire flies, spider’s eyes reflecting from the torchlight assaulting your visual sense and a tactile awareness everytime a branch brushes across your face or body.
After 5 minutes we are totally disoriented and may as well have been 100 kms from nowhere. We got back to the lodge an hour later with our senses on fire and minds in awe of the experience.
Everyone has a soft spot for dolphins. On the last day we boat out to the main channel to a spot known to be the home of a pod of pink dolphins. Again, a species we are only distantly aware of. These are fresh water dolphins who by sexual maturity have a completely pink skin! Cath, Doug and I braved the amazon waters to swim with these creatures. Ok, we did not get close, but viewing them from the boat was amazing! Graceful creatures breaching and cruising these murky waters – but pink!
We have to mention the piranha fishing; as much as it hurts – Cath caught 5, Doug 1 and Pat and me none. In my defence, my hook was so blunt that I could not even drive the point of it into my finger!
These guys are really small, but one look at those teeth will explain why they are so feared!
We had an incredible time and these are just some of the wonderful things that we experienced. What made it even more special was being able to share it with family.