The trip starts, as do most trips out of the Lima Jorge Chavez airport, with a 4:00 a.m. flight from Lima to Iquitos. We have no idea why so many flights leave at absurdly late or early hours but we have yet to get a decent night's sleep before heading off on any of our adventures. We hear that some airports restrict flight times to early morning and evening to avoid the vulture traffic and the possibility of one of these lovely birds - very common in Peru - finding itself tangled in a jet engine. Not sure if that's true but it's a good story. The airport is at least a customer friendly place in that all services are open round the clock - you can buy magazines, food, drinks and souvenirs round the clock - Starbucks included!
Anyway - we arrived in Iquitos early in the morning and did a quick tour around this Amazon port city. Iquitos has the distinction of being the largest city in the world not connected by roads to the outside world. The nearest roads that connect to the rest of the country are almost 500 miles away in Pucallpa - a long boat trip for the agricultural products that come from the region and for the fuel and other supplies that come in from the rest of Peru. We spent only a short time in the city so it would be unfair to criticize but we were not as impressed as we have been in other Peruvian colonial cities. We did, of course, encounter traffic. Moto-taxis abound, even in the early morning hours.
After gathering up other travelers heading into the jungle we headed down to the wharf to board the Amazon Queen - our transportation to our jungle lodge.
The two-hour, 25 mile trip down river to our lodge was an opportunity to nap and see life along this amazing jungle river. From Iquitos it continues another 2,200 miles to its mouth where it exits into the Atlantic via Brazil. Commerce, fishing and village life abound - here are crops coming upriver for consumption and distribution:
Homes along the river are perched on top of poles that are hopefully high enough to protect the home from the highest water level. This year's rainy season has been relatively heavy so the water level is high. However, we have seen markers along the river that indicate that the Amazon in this region could rise yet another 10 feet or so.
The river is incredibly wide but we are told that this is a reasonably narrow stretch. Closer to the mouth of the Amazon it is not possible to see from one side to the other.
And finally we arrive at Ceiba Tops - the "jungle light" option we chose as our lodging.
There are a number of eco-lodges in the rain forest regions of Peru. Most of them provide the visitor with the opportunity to truly experience the jungle sights and sounds - no electricity, no windows, mosquito netting protecting the beds and kerosene lanterns lighting the way. We opted for the lodge that has air conditioning, hot showers and just a few more creature comforts.
Among the luxuries of Ceiba Tops is the pool and jacuzzi
The local tapir kind of liked these attractions as well....
This the view from just outside our motel room onto the Amazon. Richard and I stood here at night and saw the brightest, most dazzling display of stars that we have ever seen. When you are literally hundreds of miles from light pollution the sky is incredible.
Activities from a jungle lodge include:
1. Hikes through the Jungle
One of the more interesting palm trees in the jungle is the "walking palm". Note the root structure - this tree will send out new roots and "walk" toward a spot to maximize its sun exposure.
The largest tree in the area is Ceiba tree whose top we could not actually see or get into the photo - take it from me, it is quite large and impressive.
The photos do not include the mosquitoes but be advised - if you come to the jungle you are advised to bring ample supplies of Deet loaded mosquito repellent. Alternatively you can hang with one of these well camouflaged frogs who will no doubt consume the bugs.
2. A Visit to the Jungle Canopy
One of the side trips available to gutsy travelers is the visit to the jungle canopy. Scientists have discovered that there is a very different level of diversity of plants and animals high up in the jungle canopy and, with the help of the local lodge operator, constructed a canopy walk high up in the jungle. This canopy walk is a series of 14 hanging bridges and towers that range from 10' to 130' above the jungle floor. Being intrepid folk we joined the group for a trip down an Amazon tributary to the research station.
This is one of the bridges - probably at about 60' above the ground. The construction is no doubt safe but the bridges have a tendency to sway in the wind and we did our tour on a breezy day. Richard and I both discovered that we feel a bit of terror in a swaying, 1' wide bridge that appears more unstable than we would have liked. One warning we had received prior to starting the walk was to make sure we had thoroughly washed all of the Deet off our hands as the chemical can deteriorate the roping that holds the hikers inside the bridge. With the general lack of compliance with rules in Peru I was just a little suspicious about previous hikers having thoroughly cleaned up.
But we reached the top and enjoyed the view. The dense and varied growth is really quite impressive.
Having reached the top the bridges begin to descend - from tower to tower until we again reach the safety of the ground.
The grin on my face while still on the walkway is not joy - it is sheer terror. Note the high fashion hiking outfit.
3. Relaxing at the Ceiba Tops Lodge
Fortunately there was plenty of time for hanging around to relax and read in the hammock hut at the lodge.
Richard's reading session was a little less tranquil as one of the local birds took a liking to him and decided that he wanted to visit and lay claim to the chair.
The bird won out.
Meals are provided at the lodge and we found them to be quite good. Here we are enjoying cocktails before dinner in the lodge bar.
Entertainment also included some local teenagers doing dances that were supposed to be traditional. This being the Amazon of course, one had to include a dance with some local snake type - yes this is a real snake!
4. A Visit to Monkey Island
Our favorite side trip was to Monkey Island - a local refuge for injured, orphaned or abandoned monkeys. There are a dozen species that inhabit the island and they have little fear of man. So we had an opportunity to see them up close and visit and view. Following are pictures of a number of the monkeys we met - up close and personal. There were dozens in residence so this is only a small sampling.
Our first sighting was this little fellow who came to greet the boat.
We then wandered around and met more....
Some danced in delight at our visit...
Some just nibbled on food...
Richard made a new friend.....
This one started out timid..
And then became playful...
5. Trips along the Amazon River
Each day included a trip to somewhere along the Amazon and its tributaries. Along the way we continually passed profuse greenery inter mixed with houses that are probably on the river bank in dry season and actually in the river during and just after the wet season.
Bird life is also pretty active on the Amazon but tough to catch on film. In this particular section we came across a flock of egrets feeding along the river,
and soaring high up into the trees to escape the 2-legged visitors.
Another activity is piranha fishing. The guide provided the exotic fishing pole (a branch with fishing line and a hook tied on) and some beef for bait and we proceeded to do what most fisherfolks do - wait for a long time and catch nothing. At least it was a pretty spot and reasonably mosquito-free.
We encountered this fellow - a local breed of anteater - along the way scratching about for food.
Giant lily pads tended by a local woman.
Her son was more into snakes than lily pads - check out the bite on this guy!
Another local village - a bit more inland but still prepared for rising waters that may come.
The local domesticated beasts. Chickens are raised and allowed to proliferate until an occasion arises for a feast at which time they sacrifice themselves for the cause.
As you may have noticed most of the roofs are made from local plants. Here are some roofing materials left in the sun to fully dry before they are used to replace deteriorating materials.
The larger town in this particular area is - interestingly - called Indiana. It's a local market, place for festivals and center for the moto taxis.
Another city shot...
We headed off for a tour around this area by moto taxi and had to stop for gas. Gas is sold in very small quantities and the spirit of recycling is clearly alive here. Who knew that a soda bottle could double as a spare gas can?
A tour of Spanish visitors were coming by boat today so the moto taxis were all heading off to the wharf to get some business.
And finally, what trip would be complete without a trip to the local shaman and tips about roots and medicines and other remedies.