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Iquitos, the heart of the Amazon

Posted by on November 4, 2017

Dios mio! (oh my god in Spanish!)

The Readders has only gone and made it to the jungle…the actual AMAZON jungle!! This is totally a dream come true and I have utterly loved it. I was in heaven!

I felt like I was David Attenborough or Steve Backshaw haha. I loved getting out and exploring and especially pretending I was filming for my own wildlife doc haha. ‘Readdy for the wild’ or ‘Readdy to bug hunt’ haha.

Iquitos oozed excitement, bugs, wildlife, adventure…the LOT. Even the journey over here was an adventure in itself. Let me explain…

Planes and river boats

So the actual plane trip is only a few hours but because I’m on a backpackers budget, I opted for the ‘long weight’ at the airport (kind of annoying because there’s not much to do at Lima airport apart from eat!). My first flight (Cusco to Lima) took off at 8am and my 2nd flight landed in Iquitos at 8:40pm! I felt shattered when I’d finally arrived at the teenie tiny airport of Iquitos and it wasn’t over yet!

When the doors of the plane finally opened, in uniform fashion, everyone followed each other out one by one. The heat and humidity hit me as soon as I reached the doorway as if to give me confirmation that I was definitely in the jungle. I stood and looked out for a second and smiled thinking ‘Iquitos! I’m here baby!’ Then, as if by magic, my hair began to frizz up like Worzel Gummage once more as if to remind me just how much it hates the humidity haha but I so didn’t care!

I grabbed my luggage and stepped outside looking for my pick up. Oh my god, the taxi guys are really pushy here! They literally get right in your face. Thankfully my contact was there waiting for me and rescued me from my taxi attackers!

“Hi I’m Almaz. We have a long way to the lodge. First we take a mototaxi. By the way, it might rain!” Almaz, (who’s name reminded me of some kind of medicinal oil), a kind faced, short man helped me with my bags and loaded it onto what looked like a half motorbike, half tuktuk haha. I was expecting the rain to come too for I knew it was the start of the rainy season.

I felt like I was in Thailand once more…well, in some kind of familiar unfamiliar! The same crazy road system where everyone just goes for it, similar funny smells, and a ton of stray dogs (uh oh) mooching about and eating out of bins and any other lil scraps they could sniff out.

But everything seemed way poorer here. Homes looked very basic – wooden huts with hardly anything in them (from what I could see through the passing windows). And the doors and roofs were all made from corrugated metal.

I could see children playing football in the alleyways (yes, even at the late hour it was by then hah), women cooking street food, men walking around with their t-shirts rolled up above their bellies trying to keep cool and small bars with broken, flashing neon lights brimming with nightly drinkers.

And street names were actually sprayed onto old rubber tyres haha.  I thought that was pretty cool. Good way of making use out of an old tyre hey.

“Uh oh” I said out loud…”lluvia!” (which means rain). Yep, the rain trickled down as if to give us a warning of what was to come. The trickle then turned into a monsoon ugh. Welcome to the jungle haha.

The mototaxi then swung off the main road and turned down a dark and narrow, very bumpy and very muddy road. We were being thrown all over the place in the little mototaxi, so much so that I actually bumped my head on the surrounding frame! Puddles sounded deep and full and I could feel tiny sprays flicking up and landing on my bottom lip. ‘Ewww. Just don’t lick your lips Helen!’

Yay, a tiny light glimmered in the distance. ‘Finally, this must be the end of this horrendous road!’ I thought. We’d stopped at the edge of a river and I could see our next mode of transport was a long and narrow boat. Thankfully it had some kind of plastic top for a roof which was a nice relief. Almaz and 2 other men helped to load my gear onto the boat and with that, one man pulled a cable to start the engine (in the same fashion you’d fire up an old lawn mower or chainsaw).

A few minutes into the boat journey, I was becomming overwhelmed with the fact that I was actually in Iquitos and here having another adventure. Feeling as bold as Indiana Jones, a horrible thought came over me and my inner chat started waffling at me. ‘Hang on. What the hell Helen?! This is the scene right now…It’s absolutely chucking with rain, it’s pitch black oh and you’re on a boat with 3 strange men going to god knows where!’ Ok, I was becomming a little scared now. How did I end up in this situation? I literally had to put all my trust in these guys right now! I couldn’t exactly jump off if I got into any trouble….er Piranhas, cayman!! Gulp. I just had to sit there, trust and endure the ride.

The boat journey felt like it was taking forever. Especially as we were slowing down at each part of the river that narrowed. Almaz was sitting at the front and every now and then, he’d switch on his beast of a torch which seemed to light up the whole of the river ahead…it was almost like he had the moon inside that contraption hah! I thought it was so we didn’t crash into the side of the river bank but oh no…it was to make sure we weren’t bumping into any cayman or other boats I guess, but I knew I’d rather bump into a fellow boat than a killing machine haha.

Phew, we finally slid up part of the bank and ‘parked’ the boat. The rain was still coming down heavy and had no signs of slowing. “Ok, put these on”. Almaz handed me a pair of huge wellies. “Oh, ok. Thanks”. Whilst I slipped them on, the men were busy wrapping my gear into clear plastic bags so that nothing got wet. The wellies felt huge but I just had a feeling I was going to be grateful for them. “Ok. Are you good to walk in the rain? It will be 20 minutes to the next boat”. Almaz looked at me as if waiting for my consent. ‘Next boat?!’ I thought. Wow, this is some journey! “Of course. It’s part of the adventure right!” I replied. All I could think about was getting into bed so the sooner we got on our way the better.

Woah! It was SO muddy. And yes, I was truly grateful for the use of my baggy wellies. Thankfully, I remembered I had put my headtorch in my coat pocket so I popped that on straight away. (Thank you clever past self haha!) Even though my laptop was wrapped in a clear plastic bag, I’d wrapped it under my coat and hugged it with all my life! I was slipping and sliding all over the place and nearly fell a few times. Each step into the beige coloured mud seemed to ‘suck’ a baggy welly down deep like quick sand but it was thick and strong. It was like there were ‘hands’ under the mudd trying to pull you in so it was quite tiring pulling your foot back out, especially with baggy wellies which almost stayed behind leaving my foot fancy free…oh god, can you imagine if my foot had come clean out and planted a sock straight back down into the mudd eww haha!

I glanced up every now and then from my concentration to see nothing but trees either side of us. My mind started racing again ‘Erm…don’t Jaguars live here? And what happens if we see a venomous snake?’ Even though it was scary, it was exhilarating and I kind of wanted something to happen too! Suddenly we passed a family who must have been walking home. They were all bare footed, squelching and splashing through the puddles as they walked! ‘Wow, jungle folk’ I thought. They must be so used to all this.

We finally reached another river point where our 2nd boat was waiting but this one had no roof. Almaz and another man pulled out 2 silver pots from their backpacks and got busy scooping up rain water from the bottom of the boat. ‘Hey ho’ I thought as I sat down on a wet bench and watched, still hugging my laptop from under my coat. ‘Hang on, tell me that’s just the rain water and not a leaky boat!?’ Shhh Helen! By now you can imagine my socks and smalls were damp and I was incredibly tired. Finally we got moving and all I could think about was being warm, dry oh and that the boat really didn’t have a hole in it that could cause us to sink making us fine meals for cayman and piranhas!

“Here we are Helen” Almaz parked the boat and helped me onto the shore. Almaz and his mate then showed me to my lodge and put my stuff down. There was a huge leak on one side but the bed was dry which was all I cared about right then. “See you in the morning for breakfast”. “Ok, thanks Almaz. Good night”.

Almaz and his pal then left me to it. I immediately pulled out my PJ’s and got ready for bed. It was small lodge and literally all the space was taken up by the huge double bed. There was also a small bathroom and shower in the next room which I was grateful for (as I’ve been used to sharing such amenities with fellow travellers). But it was perfect for me.

I had a quick nose about for bugs to see what kind of cool beasties I’d be sharing with. I spotted 2 massive brown spiders up in the rafters! I was marvelling at them with my headtorch when suddenly, something black swooped out of nowhere and gobbled one of the spiders up! ‘WOAH’ what was that?! I watched for a while to see if it would swoop again and eat the other one. SWOOSH….right in front of me! ‘There it is again’ It was a huge bat! Cool, he can eat all the mozzies haha.

Tiredness washed over me again and reminded me to get to bed. I crawled under my mozzie net and lay there in the darkness for a while happily listening to the heavy rain and the nightly bugs chorus. ‘Ah jungle noises, how I’ve missed you!’ I grinned to myself. I could also hear gentle tones of what sounded like columbian, salsa beats in the distance. I was in my happy place and with that, drifted off.

Jurassic Park

So the first full day I pretty much just chilled. When I woke up, I realised just how close my hut was to the river and what a view! I stepped outside and literally thought I was IN jurassic park! Tall trees, banana trees, trees I don’t even know the name of surrounded me. I could see an array of foreign flowers in pinks, whites, oranges and reds. Chickens were roaming the grounds pecking away at bugs….oh yes bugs…let’s have a look!

‘ this a bullet ant?’ No it couldn’t be. Ants of all varieties were everywhere! Black ants that I knew weren’t Army ants but what were they? They were long, skinny and at least an inch long yielding huge piercing mandibles! Well I certainly didn’t want to get bitten by them! I know some ants can squirt acid so I didn’t want to aggravate any haha. Actually, on the keys to my hut, there was a cool keyring. It looked like a block of amber but it was clear and frozen inside was the biggest, fattest ant I’d ever seen…yes, this HAD to be a bullet ant. I really wanted to see one for real.

The other ants that freely roamed were leaf cutter ants. It was fun watching them marching in their production lines and carrying pieces of leaves or parts of flowers they’d cut off. I could easily point out the soldier ants and strewth they were big too and again, definitely didn’t want to be bitten by one of those either.

Over breakfast of black coffee and banana pancakes, I asked Almaz if the keyring was indeed that of a bullet ant. “Ahh ci ci. They are everywhere here”. “Wow! I really want to see one!” Almaz laughed and said he’d been bitten by one before and hoped to never ever experience that again haha. You know the bite from a single bullet ant delivers 24hrs of pain right and there’s nothing you can do about it! You may develop a fever too and some people need to go to hospital so I knew I had to be careful out there. I was in the jungle after all!

Almaz gave me a list of all the jungle tours available and immediately I signed up for them all. I knew I would want to do and see the lot! Once in a lifetime chance hey.

My first trip was arranged for the very next morning, an amazon jungle trek and oh boy I couldn’t wait!

Late afternoon, the rains started again and it continued to pour down for the rest of the day, ALL night oh and right up until the very next morning in fact. Typical.

Now Iquitos has a high risk of malaria and although my hut came with a mozzie net, I was taking no chances! I’d brought my own mozzie net that I shelled out £50 on so thought I may as well make use of it. Again, being resourceful, I had to do a bit of a blue peter job on it but successfully hung my net up INSIDE the other mozzie net. Standing back and admiring my work, I knew I was going to sleep easy! 😉

In the evening, I was back in my hut and listening to the wonderful jungle chorus once more. On the bathroom door I spotted a cool green frog with pale green eyes! “Ah hey lil dude” I welcomed my unannounced guest as I knew he’d eat the mozzies which actually, I hadn’t seen many of. Maybe because of the rains or the fact that my jungle friend was gobbling them all haha.

Eventually laying inside my net within a net (haha!), I tried to sleep but I felt like a kid on christmas eve! I wished the night away so I could get up and go on my jungle trek! I could not wait.

Amazon jungle trek

Ugh, so it rained ALL night and was still raining when I stepped out for breakfast. I wondered if my trek might be cancelled but alas no, ‘Yessss’ I thought. There was no way I’d let this rain get in the way. Almaz suggested I wear the wellies incase the rain caused any flooding.

Heading out with Almaz and his pal Walter, we set off. Dios mio, the rain was heavy and just like my trek to the lodge that first night, the ground had become a mass of sliding beige mud and huge puddles that looked like mini ponds but I didn’t care a hoot! It was quite fun splashing through the puddles in my wellies actually, it’s funny how wellies give you that sense of joy.

I was thinking the rain would put the mozzies off but actually no! The mozzies were really bad especially in areas where there was more water. Thankfully I had my deet with me so I slapped a load of that on and shared it with the guys who were also suffering. Still, the mozzies bit my butt through my trews, yeouch!

Trudging along, I couldn’t stop looking around. Again, it was like being in jurassic park. Everything was green! There was SO much green, I loved it. “Wait, can you hear that? Monkies!” Almaz stopped and looked upwards. “Oh cute!” I screeched. I could see a pack of tiny little black monkies swinging admist the trees and playing. They scarpered once they’d spotted us gorping at them. ‘Wow’ I was so happy to have seen them.

“So Helen, today we want to show you the Lupuna Tree. It is the biggest tree, you’ll ever see”. Almaz promised it was a sight worthy of trekking in the rain for. I was curious to see it! My mind shot back to pretending I was filming a nature doc ‘Readdy to hunt for the infamous Lupuna tree’ hehe.

“Hey Almaz…don’t you have wild Jaguar roaming free here?” I curiously but nerously asked. “Yes, we do”. “What?! And do you carry a gun incase we see one and are attacked?” “Nope” “So…what do you do?” I was kinda scared at this point haha! With that, Almaz looked at me and moved his arms about as though he was doing kung fu! “What!!” I kinda laughed but wasn’t too sure if he was being serious haha. “It’s ok, we have machetes for emergency”. “Ok ok”. Wow, we really ARE in the jungle here.

Walking along, I loved hearing Almaz and Walter cutting new or overgrown paths with their machetes. I really felt as though I was following the footsteps of David Attenborough looking for a new patch of forest to film.

Moving on, Almaz pointed out medicinal trees and plants of the jungle. It was so interesting to see what people out here would use if they had a cut or a bite or rash etc. It’s amazing to think that everything I walked past, had some kind of use, some kind of importance to the local people. Nothing goes to waste.

“Oh no!” Almaz stopped in his tracks and glared at Walter. Looking ahead, I could see our route was completely flooded. “But we have wellies Almaz!” I cheekily responded. “Yes, but it might be deep”. With that Almaz took his wellies and socks off, rolled up his trews and slowly stepped in to ‘test’ the water. Oh boy, it was deep! The water was well over his knees. Almaz came back over to me and ushered me to get on his back. “Um, ok!” Hang on, I’m much taller than these guys and yet they still had to piggy back my arse over the floods haha! They should consider making wellies in height size ya know hah.

Piggy back 3Well, he was a gent and carried me over the flood all the way to the shallowest part. Walter was laughing and taking photos which no doubt ended up on his facebook page haha. We trudged on and came to another flooded part of the jungle. Again, Almaz was a gent and carried me through the deepest parts.

After hours of treking, we’d finally reached our stop point, yep, at the breath taking ‘Lupuna Tree’. “WOW!! It’s ginormous” It really was a spectacular sight to see and was definitely worth it. The trunk can reach 33 feet across if that helps to give you an idea!

“This tree is home to much wildlife” Almaz pointed at the roots. These roots were so large that I could literally step inside them. Hey and guess what? I just happened to have my head torch in my pocket so I thought I’d have an explore. I shone my torch inside the roots and woah, I could see all sorts! It was fascinating. I saw lizards, tree frogs and also a bundle of bats hanging upside down chilling out! I also spotted a giant forest floor millipede crawling in for cover. It really highlighted just how much this tree was needed and I loved seeing how much this tree is depended on by nature. I couldn’t help but ponder at just how much life this tree supported the further up I looked. My day was well and truly made.

By the time we walked back, the floods seemed to have almost disappeared! Almaz looked pleased that he didn’t have to carry me again haha. We passed a few homes in San Pedro and Almaz ran into one of the nearby shops to pick something up. Waiting for him, I went off to take a few pics. Some sweet kiddies came out and were just staring at me! One of the kids smiled at me and then went and got his pet parrots just to show me. That was so cute.

Phew, back at the lodge, we rested for a few hours before Walter took me out on a canoe ride. “Helen, we go fishing for piranha’s” Walter then ushered me to the boat and we sailed out. “Piranha!! WOW” I was so excited to see one.

Walter plonked the boat in the middle of the river and handed me a long wooden rod with a wiggly worm on the end of it. I copied him! Walter spoke less english than Almaz but we didn’t need to speak whilst fishing hey. It reminded me of when my dad took me out when I was a lil kid. And guess what…sadly no piranhas were caught but I did catch quite a few catfish!

The sun started to go down and we both sat and watched a beautiful sunset and called it a day. We rowed back to the lodge and gave Almaz our catch of the day so he could cook us up our tea. Yep, we ate the fish we caught! Talk about fresh.

“Helen, tomorrow we go Iquitos city” Almaz seemed very well organised. “Ok cool”. “Then we go to Belen market. Belen market is a dangerous place and tourists must have a guide there”. “Oh really. But it’s ok because you’ll be there right?” I’d heard Iquitos was quite a busy town and one in which you had to have your wits about you but I wasn’t worried. Almaz explained that he’d arranged for me to meet a guide at the market, someone he knew and trusted so I felt like I was in good hands.

After our fish dinner, I went off to bed and looked forward to seeing what the city of Iquitos would be like.

The City of Iquitos

Yay, it wasn’t raining! And oh my goodness it was a scorcher of a day. I felt super sick though but wasn’t going to let that stop me. I knew it was my anti malarials anyways, I’d forgotten just how sick they can make you feel.

Almaz and I scooted off straight after breakfast. We took the boat out (which was the only way to get out of San Pedro) and then took a ride on a local bus heading towards Iquitos.

I was looking forward to seeing some civilisation! I wondered what the town would be like, the people, what was I going to see? I was a little worried as to what I was going to be exposed to on the market stalls. I remembered Thailands market had all sorts from crazy food (including bugs) to live animals that you could buy as pets including squirrels and monkies. I had my strong stomach on that day (well, apart from feeling sicky hah!).

I loved peering out the side of the bus! People on the bus were too busy staring at me but I didn’t care, I was too caught up in seeing all I could from out the window. I tell you what though, one thing hands down…I am taller than most people here. I couldn’t even fit my legs into the seating area haha, I had to sit sideways, so funny.

 My word, these people out here are so opportunistic! Each time the bus would stop at traffic lights, street entertainers would come out of nowhere and do something like juggling, card tricks or dance in front of the traffic. They’d then walk through the maze of motortaxis with an upturned hat trying to collect tips haha, brilliant.

But if it wasn’t street entertainers trying to get your dosh, you’d have street food sellers jump on board and try get you to buy a corn dog, pineapple juice or icecreams etc. Amazing! Street food was everywhere. It was mainly snake fruit, oranges or pineapples.

Oh and there were so many little side shops selling gasoline, hay or beer. All your needs in one place right?!

Hey and get this. Remember I said how peoples homes looked pretty poor being made out of wood with corrugated steel doors and roofs? Well, the nicest buildings here are….BANKS! Of course! Beautiful, strong buildings made purely of glass. Funny how it goes.

“Helen, first up, I want to show you a Manatee breeding centre”. “Ok great!” I don’t think I’d ever seen a manatee before. So we pulled up at the Manatee centre and had a good look round. The staff explained how manatees are endgangered and a lot of them end up killed because local people are afraid of them when the truth is, they are the most friendly, harmless creatures out there!

I met a whole bunch of tourists walking round too which was nice. Some folk were from America and actually, I met an english couple from Amersham of all places hah.

They had other cutie animals there too that had been rescued incluing baby otters, snakes, caymen, turtles and monkies. It was sad to see but I also knew they’d be released at some point. I made a healthy donation and then headed out to meet Almaz who was waiting out the front. Time to see Iquitos!

Woah, the nearer the city we got, the more bedlam it became. Hey and one thing I noticed…there are no cars in Iquitos, well, the odd few but it’s mainly mototaxi’s. “Almaz…how come there are no cars?” I asked. “Yes, it’s policy here to only have motortaxis”. How strange. I liked that though. I guess it also meant there is more opportunity for folk to have jobs too because they could always become a motortaxi driver hey!

The motortaxi stopped close to the market where I met Carlos who was waiting for us. Almaz introduced us and then took off in the motortaxi. ‘Um, ok’ I thought to myself. It took me a while to warm to Carlos and he could sense I was wary of him! “It’s ok. I am well known around these parts. I am a local guide. I will look after you”.

Carlos was pretty good actually. He took me around and made sure I was ok the whole way round the market. Carlos explained that if I wasn’t with him, I could have been robbed! ‘What the actual!!’ “Yes, if you have your camera out and I wasn’t here, you probably would have it taken from you by now!” ‘Omg!’ I clung onto my camera even tighter after he said that! The funny thing was, an Irishman cycled past and shouted back over his shoulder “They’ll steal your camera missy. Don’t even trust the guy you’re with!” “Bloody ell!” I turned and looked at Carlos who actually looked really embarrassed. I think the Irish dude didn’t realise he was my guide (perhaps!). But all was fine and nothing happened!

Carlos took me round the higher and lower parts of the market which both had different stock, some local produce from Iquitos itself and some imported from other parts of Peru. Some stalls had items items on them that I had been preparing myself to see…the things that would shock! And it was still very shocking. I saw cayman meat for sale. There was a whole cayman laid out on a stall minus it’s head! I guess someone already bought that part!

Other stalls displayed hacked up turtles, sea turtles apparently. Unbelievable! It was utterly heart breaking, especially as I had been at the other end, doing the very work that was helping to protect these beautiful creatures (and the one thing I was lucky enough to avoid seeing on the beaches) and here they were, all in pieces on the stalls right in front of me. Another stall was busy selling the turtles eggs! An old man was seated enjoying some kind of turtle egg meal. I really wanted to wollop him over the head with something and tell him to wake up. I pointed it out to Carlos and said how sad it was but he didn’t understand. It’s their way of life here I guess but they badly need educating!

Oh boy, the stalls were offering all kinds of weird and wacky things. You could easily buy yourself some Anaconda skin or how bout some Anaconda blood? No? Ok how about an Anaconda’s head? All to do with black magic apparently. Some weird voodoo shit going on there which I didn’t indulge in learning more about! Oh and there was also a large stall covered in unravelled pigs intestines! ‘Hmm, I’ll have a pound of your finest please!’ Ughhh, some people eat the weirdest things.

I could also see rows of fish, fresh or salted of all varieties laid out for all to see…including the flies, oh and the vultures! There were vultures everywhere! There must have been a vulture sitting on the top of each and every market stall cover, peering down just waiting for their chance to swoop down and grab itself a tasty piece of stinky fish! And you can imagine the smell on a very hot and sticky day.

The other gross thing I saw where huge, live whichetty grubs wriggling around in bowls on the floor. Yep, I said live! You could order yourself a bowl of witchetty grub soup or how about a tasty whichetty grub kebab? It was like something out of ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ except I should be saying ‘I’m a traveller, get me out of here!’ haha.

The nicer stalls were the fruit stalls. Rows and rows of plantain bananas (which look exactly like bananas except they are HUGE). Plantains need to be cooked to be enjoyed. There were so many fruits I could not name which is another fav thing of mine when you travel…to see things with fresh eyes, the things you’ve never seen before :)

Then we hit the medicine stalls and my word, it all looked like a bunch of twigs and stalks to me but there were plants, parts of trees, sap and flowers that treated almost any type of ailment you could think of! “People come from far and wide for these medicines” Carlos was trying to educate me with what everything did and what was used for what but I couldn’t keep up. Cancer cures, hair loss treatments, impotence miracle workers…you name it, they had something for it.

It was fascinating all the same. I also saw the infamous ayausacha vine that a lot of tourists come out here to drink. It’s a spiritual plant that’s said to heal your physical body as well as your spiritual self. It’s also a strong natural psychedelic that also contains DMT which is a hallucinogenic which gives you visions. I know a lot about it because so many people do it here and usually (not all the time) when I meet a new traveller I get the “Have you done aya yet?” Haha.

So after the market tour, Carlos walked me around the town. It certainly was a mix of ‘poor meets slightly modern’. I think the tourist trade helps them a lot however, it was low season when I went and I could barely see any tourists! So of course, I was being stared at from every corner but you soon get used to it.

Some of the side streets looked like proper shanty towns. Stray dogs wondered each alley, litter was scattered about and the roads, well, they were non existent, more like muddy puddled pot holes. But I actually liked that. I love seeing exactly how the world is, no fronts, what you see is what you get. It’s a great reminder of just how privileged some of us folk back home really are.

After the city tour, I was reunited with Almaz and he took me for lunch. A nice big portion of catfish with rice all washed down with a Peruvian beer (Cervaza).

On a full tummy, I started to slip into my usual after dinner food coma whilst sitting on the bus (and boat) back to the lodge. I pretty much went to bed when I got back too, for I knew the next day was going to be another fun but long one :)

National Geographic explorer

Strewth, it felt even hotter today so I made sure to slap on a load of factor 50 suncream for my lily whites haha.

I rushed up to brekkie so I could scoff my morning pancakes as quickly as I could so that we could hurry up and get out exploring! I was uber excited because I knew today I’d be meeting some native amazon tribes! How lucky!

First up, we took the boat to visit to Pilpintuwasi Animal orphanage and Butterfly Centre. It was rather amusing actually because (without sounding like a big head), I could almost identify every butterfly that fluttered on past. Amoungst a few other tourists, I was shown around by a guide (a volunteer from America), who gave us facts and interesting insights into the life and life cycle of butterflies. I didn’t let on that I had also been a guide in a nature and butterfly garden hehe. I tell you what though, I felt I knew more than him hehe!

We were then introduced to the other residents of the centre. Sloths, monkies, birds, Ocelots and a majestically gorgeous Jaguar. The animals had either been mistreated or abandoned or even kept as pets! It was hard to see but it was also easier knowing the animals were no longer in pain or being harmed etc.

After, Almaz took me on a boat ride along the Nanay River so we could try and spot some pink dolphins but sadly, no joy. Oh well, what’s meant to be is meant to be. I was just still so overwhelmed and so happy to be in the amazon itself. Always being grateful.

We continued on our boat journey. Next stop – TRIBES!

The boat slowed as we approached the home of the tribes. In the distance, I could see a huge hill and O.M.G, standing on the top of this hill, I could see a man wearing all manner of beads and feathers…oh and to his side, he was was clutching onto what looked like a huge spear! My eyes widened and jaw dropped a little as I wondered if that was the chief waiting to either blow dart us or greet us haha!

The boat came to a natural holt next to a floating platform. Almaz being the gent, would hop out first and then help me out…not that I needed it of course. I looked up to see a steep set of rickety, wooden planks embedded into the side of this muddy hill. Oh but the tribe dude had disappeared! Maybe he went off to put us a brew on haha.

We walked through some of the jungle soon reaching the tribes village. I could see straw hut buildings that seemed to be arranged in a circular fashion. Right in the centre was a huge straw building which looked like this could have been the community hall of the tribes perhaps? This was the building we were headed for.

WOW! Inside I was greeted by men, women and children wearing beautiful feathered and beaded clothing. Yes they seemed half naked but all their vitals were covered haha. The men were all proudly wearing some kind of trophy necklace. Teeth or claws were drapsed around their necks as if to announce a status of some kind. And actually, the men were wearing skirts of some sort. I guess you’d call it a loin cloth, you know, the kind that tarzan wears haha.

I felt utterly excited, but also rather stunned and overwhelmed to be in their company! What an experience. I literally felt as though I was there recording for a National Geographic documentary (I wish) hah.

All of a sudden, I was ushered to take a seat. Plonking my butt down on a wooden bench, they all began dancing for me. Wow! I quickly got the GoPro out so I could film some of their traditional tribal dance but I was soon pulled up to dance with the women. It felt amazing and what a chance of a lifetime to be there in that moment sharing space with ACTUAL tribes!

After we danced, I got the opportunity to mingle with them all. Conversing wasn’t easy though as they spoke Spanish of course which I’m still completely rubbish at haha. But between Almaz and I, we managed to piece a chat together.

The tribes told me told me how much they love their lifestyle and how the jungle provides them with all they need. They have an abundance of food and materials. They even told me how much they love to eat piranhas, cayman and Paiche. Oh and also the leaf cutter ants! ‘Omg, so it’s true, they really do eat the soldier leaf cutter ants in the amazon’ My inner chat reminded me that’s exactly what I was telling tourists at the Butterfly place in Costa Rica and here I was, meeting some of the tribes of the amazon that actually DO eat them, wow!

I didn’t want to leave, I loved being around them, it was so special. We even all sat together and went through the photos on my camera. They were pointing and laughing at a lot of them haha. It felt incredible to share a moment like that with them, to sit there and not even need the language. To just enjoy their company felt like a blessing to me.

The time with them flew. Before I left, I was sure to buy a bunch of handmade bracelets and keyrings from them before Almaz ushered me back to the boat.

Ugh, I wanted to spend more time with them. They were the most warm and loving people you could ever meet. They had no qwarms, no expectations and certainly no judgements. What a refreshing and seemingly ‘untouched’ community they were. It was wonderful to gain a glimspe into what I’d class as the ‘real world’, a real world away from TV, commercials, designer labels, cars, exterior expectations and anything else material and false.

I am so grateful for this experience. It’s certainly one that I will never, ever, EVER forget.

I rode in the boat in complete silence. I was trying to comprehend what just happened! I think I smiled all the way to our next stop…lunch!

At the end of the day, Almaz and I caught a boat taxi back to the lodge. That was quite commical as we were joined by half a dozen locals. Little Amazonian kids were pretty much staring at me all the way back haha. Oh boy, and one of the women had a live chicken with her and it clearly wasn’t going to be a pet the way she was handling it, poor thing.

Finally, we reached the lodge. Later that evening, I took myself off to bed and lay there still feeling exhilirated over the days events. Just wow, wow, wow!

Thank you world! What a beautiful place you are.

Amazing Amazon

Phew, another scorcher of a morning. I felt so lucky because the weather report showed storms and heavy rain everyday but here I am, getting a nice lil tan on heh 😉

Today Almaz and I took a motortaxi to Nanay where we caught a boat to Barrio Florido. Almaz wanted me to see caymans and piranhas, oh yeh!

I can’t remember the name of the place we visited now but we went basically went to a huge park of somekind. Inside, they had cayman, piranhas, turtles and these HUGE amazon fish called Paiche. We were allowed to feed them all too which was awesome. Dropping lil chunks of meat into the piranhas was cool! The water suddenly became alive with hungry, thrashing piranhas. You could only get the occasional glimpse of their scaly red bodies as they popped up for a brief moment to snatch a meal. I certainly didn’t wanna fall in haha.

And the paiche, oh my god, they can reach up to 7 feet long! Again, we fed them too. They’d all come to the surface waiting for you to drop the food into their wide gaping mouths. Scary looking things they are. I was betting that if I fell in, they’d be sure to take an arm off! Their jaws seemed that strong.

Leaving the cayman farm, we took a motortaxi to a ‘look out’ so we could climb up and see the expanse of the amazon from above. And wow, what an incredible view. Now I truly felt I was looking at a still from a travel mag like ‘Lonely planet’. I stood and glared out for a while and again, that overwhelming sense of ‘You did it Hels! You’ve made it to the Amazon itself’.

Almaz then took me to see another animal rescue centre. To be honest, I do find these places hard to visit. I know these centres are doing all the good they can, but I can’t help getting upset learning about the poor histories of these wonderful creatures. It actually makes me sick to the stomach that people out there can mistreat and cause harm to such beautiful beings.

I felt quite emotional at this place (again, can’t remember the name of the centre oops). Some of the monkies rushed over to greet me and one of them actually reached through the wire fence of her enclosure and placed her hand in mine!! I just couldn’t believe it. And how human she felt. I welled up because I felt utter sadness but also a certain sense of joy too at the fact that she was reaching out to me and we were connecting.

Afterwards, a member of staff took me through to meet their rescued 2 toed sloths. As soon as I stepped into their enclosure, a sloth was pulled off his tree and placed in my arms! I was shocked actually because I didn’t think we could touch them, especially as they’d been rescued, that’s probably the last thing this poor lil sloth wanted to do was to hug me hah. But immediately, the lil sloth wrapped his arms around me as if I was his tree post hahah. I fell in love there and then. What a beautiful moment. I did feel ever so guilty though because I had heard stories of sloths being taken from their habitats to live in enclosures to be used just for tourist selfies. For something that was beautiful, I couldn’t help feeling that I should have been admiring from afar? But the little fella seemed ok. Eventually, he must have realised that I wasn’t his tree afterall and he started looking around. I guided him back to his tree and helped him to climb back onto it. Oh my word, it took him forever the cutie hahah.

Again, I saw Ocelots and Jaguars that had been saved from an awful ordeal and then brought here to become rehabilated enough to be released back into the wild. I left hoping that all the animals I saw wouldn’t have to wait long.

Time to chill

Well. My last day in the Amazon! I did not want to leave AT all. The jungle is definitely where my soul is at it’s happiest, right in the heart of nature itself.

I didn’t do a great deal apart from pack this day. Almaz did come over to my hut and asked if I wanted to go out in the dug out canoe….’Errrr yesssss, course I do!’ I thought haha. “Hell yeh Almaz. But do you think it will rain today?” The sky did look grey and the day seemed to have a fresher feel which was almost a relief. “Maybe later, but now is ok”. “Ok great”.

I walked over to Almaz where I could see him getting the canoe ready. He was busy scooping water out from the bottom of the canoe with his metal bowl! And by the way, this thing looked TINY! It was super small and narrow, I was actually wondering how I’d fit in this thing. So now, I was thinking ‘Hang on, I’m probably as tall as this thing is long AND there’s a hole in it. Do ALL his boats and canoes have holes in them?!’ Hahaha. How commical. It got even funnier though because Almaz was going to captain it. God, I was hoping to go off exploring on my own. I’d spent the whole week in this guys shadow and he still insisted on ‘escorting’ me around. He clearly hadn’t worked out that I had a free spirited and adventurous nature but then again, I was grateful for the fact that he was just looking after me. I guess, if the leaky boat did sink, he’d be in trouble for my drowning haha.

So anyways, we BOTH managed to get into this tiny toy like canoe and gently paddled away from the lodge. I daren’t budge because every lil move was felt by the canoe and it would gently rock, gulp! I was just a lil nervous for falling in and being gobbled by piranhas or have my arm bitten off by a 7 foot paiche hahaha. Then guess what….we’d travelled quite a distance from the lodge and it started raining and by raining, it was another monsoon arghhhh! Almaz had to empty the canoe extra quick haha, all I could hear behind me were the desperate sounds of his metal bowl clanking on the wood each time he scooped. I burst out laughing with pure joy that I was in this situation….I was in the jungle after all, my dream place and I was just SO happy to be there.

Later in the afternoon, it came for me to make my way back to Iquitos airport where this beautiful jungle adventure began. I felt so sad saying goodbye to Almaz at the airport purely because I wasn’t going to be staying in Iquitos anymore :(

“Oh wait, Helen, before you go…” Almaz then reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to my hut, you know, the one with the bullet ant. I watched as he unhooked the keyring. “Here you go. I want you to have this”. Awwww wow! I felt really touched by that actually. He’d clearly gotten a feel for my love of bugs and insects if not my independance haha. Bless him. “Thank you Almaz, for everything!” And with that, we parted ways.

Wow, what an adventure this has been. Iquitos, you have been amazing! A true wonder to have experienced. I am SO grateful and feeling so blessed to have seen another crazy beautiful part of this wonderful world.

Hmm so what next? Manu jungle…I hear you calling ma name baby 😉

Stay in my backpack to find out 😀 Much love x

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