Between Caimans and Anacondas, a trip to the Amazonas

We flew to the world’s biggest “inaccessible by road”-city: Iquitos, in northern Peru. Located in the middle of the Amazon’s rainforest, it would be the launching base of our Amazonas Tour.
For once we had decided to opt not for the cheapest option but for the tour that looked the best and the most environment-respectful (we’d heard of tours throwing plastic bottles to dolphins so they would play with them). We put on some massive rain boots and started our 4-day expedition with Amazon Explorers by driving two hours to a little town (Nauta) deeper in the rainforest, had a little tour of the locals market (where they were selling turtle eggs for snacks and exotic fruits such as Cuma Cuma…) and took a boat for an extra three hours on one of the Amazon’s affluents. Once we had left the busier waters behind us, pink and grey dolphins starting popping out of the water here and there (Rebekka was overly excited because she had dreamed to see some since childhood). Well, we have to admit that they are actually pretty ugly… We eventually got to the village of Buenos Aires, 221 souls living in two-dozen houses on stilts, where we met our local guide, Grober. A cook also joined to complete our little team (one boat driver, one guide, one local guide and one local cook – that’s a hell of a team for only the two of us!).

We did our first three little excursions close to Buenos Aires, once to find cute fluffy Tarantulas (after dawn, and yes, they were actually cute!), an an even fluffier butterfly caterpillar that looked like a kids’ toy but that is actually extremely painful and fever inducing when you touch it. We also heard a concerto of thousands of giant frogs that sounded like a band of snoring grumpy old guys. Grober stopped by a huge termite nest, scratched its surface a little and held his hand on the nest. A few seconds later his hand was covered in little red insects running around in fury. He then rubbed his hands together, crushing the insects, and smiled at us with the words “mosquito repellent”. We tried it as well but it didn’t stop us from getting bitten later by those tourist-hungry mosquitoes.

During our morning excursion, we saw high up in a tree a sloth (that moved even less than Quentin when he’s staring at the vitrine of a sweets shop), and learned about medicinal trees and “prehistorical birds”, also called shansho and camungo. We would hear more mystical and cool names in the next days – all of which our short-term memory would soon after forget again.

We had spent the first night in one of the village’s wooden houses, but the next two nights were in the middle of the forest where we had to build our little camp. Over the next days we did several little excursions, had lunch and dinner on the boat, and woke up to the singing of birds and the howling of monkeys (that sound more like something between the syphon of a emptying sink and the growling of Quentin’s hungry stomach).

At night, we took a little canoe and went looking for caimans. Helped by the natural light from the moon, we scrutinized the water, seeking some orange eyes reflecting the lights of our headlamps. Grober had told us that some caimans could reach 12m of length and could be quite aggressive so we didn’t feel very safe at first, but most Caimans would flee once we got closer to them. Suddenly, Grober dashed his hand in the opaque brown water and pulled out a baby caiman. All excited, we could both hold the tiny thing in our hands before finding a good spot to release it. Quentin was a bit sad as he felt he had finally gotten his own baby dragon.

IMG_5515The sadness was short-lived as Grober stumbled upon another animal of the Amazonas: a huge anaconda digesting in the water! Grober was like a kid with a new toy, and grabbed the beast by the tail, pulling it out of its hideout while laughing out loud. We first felt sorry for disturbing the creature in digestions mode (which is sacred for us), but after some pictures Grober released it and the Anaconda made its way back to the water as if nothing had happened.

The next morning: rebelotte! Grober pulled out a huge anaconda from a pack of branches and held it up in triumph before putting it back where he had found it. He was very excited for us, repeating that we were extremely lucky to see two in such a short time.
Some other excursions brought us to the middle of the forest where Grober showed us different medicinal plants, giant trees, and even some lianas that provide drinking water (unia de gato). We discovered the Yarina, a fruit that holds pockets of water that slowly turns to jelly (tasting a bit like coconut milk) and ends as a stone-like fruit that is then called marvil de las Amazonas and carved into jewelries. During each expedition, Grober went out of his way to find monkeys, birds, bats, giant frogs, etc. He was always excited to show us everything the forest has to offer. It was also impressive how he managed to imitate all the sounds of the rainforest. We didn’t even know it was possible to hear such sounds from a human!

The last afternoon, we spent three hours finishing from our tiny canoe, catching piranhas that we fried for dinner (it tastes better than it looks, but there’s definitely not much meat on them!).

On the fourth day, we rode down the river with the canoe as the jungle slowly woke up to the first rays of sun. A few hours later, the rest of the team picked us up and we continued to Grober’s village for lunch: a fried piece of meat that stank incredibly bad. We didn’t understand what kind of meat it was, but apparently a big rodent from the jungle. Even the cook didn’t feel like eating it…
We then went a bit further on the river and cut down two trees with the machete. We then peeled off some special tree skins and pulled off the inner layer in what felt like leather bands that we used to tie up the wood logs together. Finally we had it: our survival raft! It could only hold one of us but we paddled a bit around and ended up doing some raft surfing on the Amazon!

It was a fun way to end our trip to the world’s biggest rainforest. Next, we’re taking altitude again, to the city of Cuzco, the former Inka Capital!

 

Some names of animals and plants that we encountered in the forest:

  • Paiche – one of the world’s biggest river fish
  • Oso perezoso – sloth
  • Mono pichico – Tamarin monkey
  • Coto – howling monkey
  • Murciélago – Huge bat
  • Capiwara – Big rodent
  • Mamavieja ave – “Prehistorical” birds
  • Arbol lopuna – giant trees
  • Aya huma – stinky “fermented” fruit that monkey get drunk on
  • Machimango – tree skin we used as a belt (feels like leather)
  • Aguahe fruit: a hard, heavy fruit that looks like a brown egg covered in scales. Our guide’s main job was to collect those in the forest. It can be used for body oil and soap, and in juices.

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