Sunday, September 26, 2010

Motorbike City and Amazon Amazingness.

We flew into Iquitos into low hanging clouds. Still, as we neared the tarmac the forest appeared and went on as far as the eye could see. Thrilled hardly describes how it felt to have a dream I´ve had since childhood (many a class project on the Amazon and the perils of deforestation) suddenly being realised.

La Casa Fitzcarraldo. Dope as pool area.
 Iquitos´ nickname is "motorbike city" and it is more than apt. The roads of this dirty, unaesthetically pleasing city of 1 million are jammed with motorbikes and mototaxis, scarcely anything else. It´s organised chaos and really frickin noisy. Once you get over the jarring-ness of it all it´s kinda fun and wild. There´s a sense of anything goes. We had, on a whim, decided to stay three nights at La Casa Fitzcarraldo seduced by the back story of it being the house where Werner Herzog filmed and organised his film "Fitzcarraldo" and by the photos of the pool. It was quite a ways from downtown which we quickly realised was a really good thing. It´s an oasis. Run by the affable Walter, one of the films producers, it has a bar, restaurant, aforementioned pool, hammocks everywhere, resident cat, dog and ocelots. Bliss. We met some super nice people including Canadians Paul and Mark -  helicopter pilot and helicopter engineer respectively - and a bunch of people involved in the running of the annual Great Amazon River Raft Race. Who wants to do this with us one day? Turns out we really needed these three days to get accustomed to the humidity of the Amazon. Shit was hot! But we had no idea how hot it was going to become...

Speeding up the Yanayacu River to Muyuna Lodge
 Deep in the Jungle. Day One. We had booked a 5 day, 4 night jungle adventure with Muyuna Lodge which is situated on the Yanuyacu River, a tributary of the Amazon, 140 kms from Iquitos. It was a four hour boat ride to the lodge and being the dry season it took some slick manouevering to get the tin outrigger up the narrow channels. We all piled off at 2 in the afternoon drenched in sweat. An hour later, having had barely any time to drink in our wicked mosquito proof, be-hammocked bungalow, we were already off on our first excursion - an hours hike to a lake. On the way we were pointed out various birds, the highlight was seeing the Hoatzin birds, although from somewhat far away. They´re referred to as "prehistoric birds" I think because of their crazy hairdos and the creepy way the young birds have claws on their wings to help them crawl away from predators. Stoked for having binoculars! Once at the lake it was time for a spot of sunset pirahna fishing, no big deal. There was eight of us all of whom caught a fish or tow, ´cept D and I! All we could muster were an undersize fish each that were quickly tossed back. Turns out we´re not natural fish murderers. Score!
As the lodge doesn´t run on electricity, as soon as night falls the lodge is lit up by kerosene lanterns which lends a rustic air to the place. All meals were buffet style and you could buy beer. Essentials sorted. We had maybe an hour to enjoy dinner before all the guides came around to inform their groups of the night excursions. No rest for the Amzon adventurer! Oscio - our stoic, built like a shit brickhouse guide - took us on the tarantula walk. At this point all I wanted to do was melt into a hammock and take in the jungly sounds so a little grumbly I set out. I mean, tarantulas, yech. We saw about 4 or 5, from a safe distance. Thank god we weren´t made to hold them or any of that chessy get close to nature business. I´m sure it´s the last thing the spiders want. Muyuna is the kind of place that is all about observing the creatures of the Amazon from a respectful, non-intrusive distance. The night walk got a whole lot better when the first of many fireflies appeared. I´m sure they´re actually fairies. Back in our bungalow it was fitting that what should be chilling on the netting above our bed but a bloody great tarantula. Sweet dreams!
F**king big spider
Deep in the Jungle. Day Two. Breakfast is served at 7am which gives you plenty of time in the early morning to take in the morning chorus from the birds. Our activity today was a 6 hour hike deep into the jungle to see what we could see. Now 6 hours in a temperate climate, no worries. In this humidity, hell on earth. By now, we had relaised that our guide was actual really under the weather and not at his best. We did get to see the smallest monkeys in the world, pygmy marmosets. Brain exploded. Too. Much. Cuteness. Heard a bunch of parokeets, saw lots butterflies, marvelled at the genius of leaf cutter ants. Day wasn´t a total loss. Best part or worst, depending how you look at it, was Darren sinking waist deep into the boggy mud. He took it positively and soldiered on, squelching all the way. By the time the 5th hour rolled around we were dying to get back and take showers, get in the hammock and have a nap. Best cold showers ever. Our night time excursion was a boat trip to look for caiman. Saw a tree boa, no caiman. Not to gutted by that gotta day. Back at 830 everyone just falls into bed, the humidity no hindrance to well needed rest. Special note - met our first New Zealanders of our trip and no shit, this guy recognised me and turns out he went to uni with Megan. NZ is THAT small folks.
Right after the incident with the mud and the bog.
Deep in the Jungle. Day Three. Breakfast was going to be out on the boat as we were setting off early in search of river dolphins. Saw our first sloth on the way - amazing! Sat on the boat munching jam sammies and plantain chips watching the occasional breach of a dolphin. Not spectacular byt it´s pretty crazy to see dolphins in a river. We cruised around an island to see if we could find some dolphon friends to swim with. Mission unsuccessful it did not hamper a bunch of us jumping joyfully in the brown water. We´ve swum in the Amazon. Cool. Back at the lodge at 11am we had 4 glorious hours to relax and have lunch before our next activity. We had a new guide as Oscio had to return to Iquitos for medical attention, poor dude. Cliver was his name and he took us on a canoe trip. We were dropped off up the river and we took a couple hours paddling back to the Lodge. This was far and away our favourite activity. No boat engines, barely any exertion. Just us, the river, and the jungle and all it´s creation. We saw sloths, trees dripping with vines and finally, high over us flew two blue and gold macaws. I had pretty much given up on seeing any big parrots as it being the dry season there´s just not enough fruit around to lure them to these parts. I was overjoyed. Adter dinner we got in the canoe again, this time for a spot of stealth caiman hunting. Again, without the engine noise we could take in all the sounds and Cliver would patiently tell us what each bird was and even found us an owl to freak out with our torches shining in his face. Dudes, the sounds of the Amazon are sublime. Movies don´t do it justice. Back to the caiman hunt. So the canoe is nosing into the reeds, Cliver is balancing on the tip making caiman noises, they´re grunting back, I´m freaking out imagining these bloody things (which we had learnt can grow up to 7 metres long!!) jumping into the canoe, Darren´s raring for a photo. It´s gone, I´m relieved, back to enjoying fireflies and the woeful call of the common potoo thank you very much.
Joyful Amazon swimming.
Deep in the Jungle. Day Four. Cliver took us on a civilised 3 hour hike to find monkeys. And find them we did. Squirrel monkeys, dusky titi monkeys, capuchin monkeys. Don´t expect any photos cos they´te out of there as qucik as you spot them. Also saw  a bunch of beautiful birds and we drank from a jungle vine the purest water you ever did drink. After a blissful break out of the heat of the day we hopped into the boat for a boat expedition up the river to spot sloths (three), monkeys (lots) and birds (lots and lots). We chugged to the nearby lake for the sunset and watcheda group of squirrel monkeys gambolling through the trees. The sunset was spectacular and when we turned around to head back to the lodge the eastern sky was alight with lightening. The evening activity was another futile boat trip to find caiman. It´s amzing how fast the days went by being so filled up with activities!
Umm yeah....
...the Amazon is beautiful.
Monkey in the distance.
Deep in the Jungle. Day Five. Our last day. Cliver took us on another 3 hour hike, this time to find different kinds of monkeys. We found em - noisy night monkeys, a mum, dad and baby peering down at us with their doleful eyes. Came across a turtle and spotted more capuchins. Back at the lodge we had to pack up and enjoy our last meal. We had met some really nice people including a couple frm Costa Rica who have given us their info and are expecting us for a visit in a few weeks! A guy from Kamloops was stoked upon hearing we were heading to Costa Rica and gave us a couple pages of tips and got me really excited. "Do you like animals? Then you´ll love it there. You´ll see more there than you have here".
Tomorrow we´re off to the desert oasis of Huacachina for some sand boarding, wine touring, dune buggying good times before we leave Peru for Costa Rica. Love to you all, D & A xo

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