May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In the Jungle; the Amazon Headwaters

First I want to put down some half-baked thoughts about this 13-year-old boy, Negrito, who impressed me so, and why I don’t know a lot of kids in the US like him.  Negrito stepped in for another older boy who was assisting our guide and running the boat motor that kept flooding.  Negrito was super at-ease with everything he did from walking along the skinny gunwales carrying a heavy motor with a 10 foot extension for the propeller, to sighting wildlife and whistling their tunes, to working that fickle motor without a glitch and with the power to start it on the first pull each time.  He followed us in the pitch dark with a machete, deferred questions to the head guide and took initiative to help me see something with my untrained eyes.  He played soccer barefoot in the slippery mud and fetched the ball in the piranha-infested water.  I watched how the children were and weren’t allowed to do things: littlest cross-eyed Gary was constantly roped in when he picked up a machete or started bothering the tourists, there was a 3-year-old who dipped and swung her canoe paddle as elegantly as did her mother, young teens jumped in the water throughout the day, one child in the shallows had a thin inner tube and his dad was teaching him to swim.  I couldn’t help translating this scene into what it would look like if it were in the US: boats would be made out of fiberglass or metal instead of local materials, we would be wearing floatation devices (we can’t say they are life preservers because of legal reasons), they would make sure we were wearing protective gear while fishing, fog the place with insecticides to keep the mosquitos from giving us diseases, no swimming because of the caiman and piranhas, and Negrito would be so protected that he wouldn’t be able to do many of the things he does. That said, here’s the trip into Iquitos:
Every Sunday Parade
January 28-29—Arriving to the chaos of taxi drivers wanting a fare outside the airport got us a ride into town via a motorcycle rickshaw, but we found out that the hostel Les booked was by the airport!  We decided town was better and were dropped at a nice cheap ($10 each a night each person, cool shower, but it's warm out) place called La Casona by the central square.  


The scene
Iquitos Parade
We met our hostess Daniela and she introduced us to parts of the town (markets, espresso, eateries) on the map and called a guy she recommended for a jungle trip.  We went to see Alex of “Ecological Jungle Trips,” who impressed us with the package of 4 days and 3 nights on the river upstream of the amazon. 
 After this, and on the way to visit the central market for some juice, we were “touted” by everyone and their uncle for a trip with their company.  We sat down with 5 agencies: one who moved from site to site in the jungle each day for a circular tour, one trapped animals so we could see them up close, one seemed more expensive than the others but otherwise, they all seemed to be basically the same.  Alex kept checking in with us as we walked by and finally said that he has a couple going in the morning, and because he already has two fares, we could go for S500 each instead of S600 (about $180 USD).  We really liked his approach, so that sealed the deal. on the Yarapa River in the park Pacaya Samiria by the village of Libertad. 
Typical River Home
We mutilated the juicy mangos over the bathroom sink and finished off the pita and peanut butter from our supplies, then packed the small packs for the trip.
January 30—Alex picked us up right at 5:45 and we picked up the German couple at the Flying Dog Hotel earlier than they thought.  They had hired a shaman to take them through the famous ayahuasca ceremony, where you drink the liquid, purge your body and soul, and receive inner visions to answer questions.  Jose, the shaman, was in the car too.  We slept on and off on the way to Nauta, where they were having a demonstration to oust a lawyer or politician who wasn’t doing anything for the city and was corrupt.  The driver wouldn’t go further, so we climbed into a motor-taxi while the others walked, then leap-frogged to the town. 
These feet know the earth
A small group of people with signs broke bottles along the route while chanting and beating a drum.  We sat at a restaurant waiting for the group to pass, and listened to the sad mad who hated his life because the woman who lived with him screamed at him all the time.  We ordered breakfast at a small restaurant.  The vegetarians got pieces of hot dog in their eggs; they took them back.  Soon we were at another man’s house waiting as they exchanged a motor, bought gas for the boat and loaded supplies.  
Leaving for the jungle

 The river was huge, with so many whirlpools and eddies right in the middle.  In a kayak, I would be pretty nervous, but these guys know the river like their own homes.  We slept a lot on the way to the lodge, though I fought to keep my eyes on the birds and flora.
We arrived (what is that smell that is like dog poo? …and the dirt is the same color as poo!) with lunch coming as we unpacked into our mosquito netted bedrooms.  There was a French man who came in from the river to share lunch before he left.  He rushed to jump into the river to rinse off the sweat and cool down the massive collection of bites he had on his back that looked like a big red burn.  I wondered to myself if I’d want to do the same on our last day here. 
Les in his gumboots

We were given black gum boots for our trips and were told to don our long pants and shirts and to bring a poncho, water, binoculars, sunscreen and repellant. 
Black water makes a nice reflection
“15 minutes” departure time turned into an hour (But there were the pygmy monkeys right there by our front door!), and we were on our way down the river to see the flora and fauna of the selva.  Here is a short list of what we saw while we were in the jungle: Trueb’s Cochtan, Smoky Jungle and Glass Frogs, Spectacled Caiman, Great Egret, Yellow Billed Turn, Horned Screamer, Herons, Cocois, Turkey and Black Vultures, Eagle Hawk (or was it a Hawk Eagle?) Yellow Headed Parrot, Greater Ani, Ringed King Fisher, Chestnut-Eared Aracari (Toucan), Plum Throated Cotinga (My Favorite Bird! It was peacock blue/green.), Masked Crimson Tanager, Oropendola, Red Capped Cardinal, Yellow rumped cacique (LOVED their varied songs, much like a tropical Cat Bird), Fer-de-Lance Snake, many Iguanas, Brown Throated Sloth, Squirrel Monkey, Noisy Night Monkey, Huacari (Howler?) Monkey, Pygmy Marmoset (teeny tiny monkey), Pink River Dolphin, Mouse Opossum (looks like a bat without wings), Termites, Cicadas (some of them sound normal and others sound like a high metallic circle-your-finger-around-a-wine-glass sound), Leaf Cutter Ants, Isula Ant (fire ant that could give you a fever after 3 bites).  Also there were so many plants that are used for poison for darts, curing cancer, arthritis, diabetes (cat’s claw), malaria, diarrhea (rubber tree sap), canoes, wood for floors, to knock on to call for help, and to make roofs.  
 I spotted a line in the water that turned out to be a lizard crossing the river. The jungle has everything one needs to live.  By this time I was helping the mosquitos to live.  Despite my best efforts to use DEET repellant and cover myself with clothes, they feed voraciously.  I don’t know why I don’t see any bites on the Peruvians.  Maybe they become immune after several years of this. 
I LOVED seeing the dolphin in the river!  They swam in groups of 2-4-6 and blew air like those in the ocean.  They were about 2 meters long.
Folks crashed into their beds after the river viewing trip and Falcon, our guide announced we’d leave again in about 1.5 hours.  He canceled this one because he was trying to communicate with his wife about his sick son.  Instead we watched the neighborhood kids gather and play some awesome soccer.  I was very impressed with the little goalie of about 12 years who caught nearly every ball, demonstrated great concentration, daring and quickness.  There was to be no night trip for Les and me while the others participate in their ritual, as Alex had said.  Falcon slipped off to the town at night to call his wife and doctor after dinner (or party with the guys). 
Belen Market Hallucinogen
Our compatriots from Germany, Claudia and Marcel, were surprised that dinner was not an option because of the ritual.  A little disappointed with that, they got ready and entered the room with the shaman and the smoky-tasting concoction while all the lights in the place were blown out and everyone remained very, very quiet.  I felt awake from all the napping this morning and sat, lay in hammock, and stood out on the dock for a long while listening to the night sounds and watching the moon in the water, calculating which way is west.  After a while, Jose appeared in the bushes purging loudly.  I was surprised, as I had expected he would be taking care of the others rather than partaking.  Later, he whistled and sang and chanted in the dark.  
January 31—The next morning, Falcon did not wake us at 6:30.  We were up and waiting for him.  But he didn’t come until breakfast.  Our comrades were feeling nauseated, but ok.  They were disappointed that they didn’t purge or feel much of anything from the ceremony.  Jose had left around 4AM, so they couldn’t ask him questions.   
Water from Cat's Claw vine
View looking back
We went out after breakfast up the river for a hike where we received an education about useful plants.  One cures cancer, he says.  I’d like to send it to my friend Ruble in California! He cut some cat’s claw for us to take with us.  There were enormous trees with buttress-y roots where you could hit the bottom and send out a signal for 5 K.  It is used if someone needs help.  The anthill that spanned more than 15 feet in diameter and about 2-3 feet tall impressed us.  All through the jungle were these leaf-cutting aunts, all day AND all night.  They even latched on to our gumboots.  Falcon had one bite his finger, and it sliced right through his outer skin.  We saw jungle’s version of fire ants is that would give you a fever after 3 bites.  Who knows if a whole bunch of them got you!  He showed us sap from a tree that could be a coagulant if you were bleeding, and another (rubber) to take if you had diarrhea, which Les was starting to get.  All the while, we whipped the mosquitoes into frenzy.  There was no escape.  I was happy to get back onto the river where the wind kept them at bay. 
Baby Caiman
Caiman Able

That night we went for a night canoe to a lake.  Here, the rivers start in the lakes and spill.  We went into a waterway and pushed and shoved and couldn’t get through because the river lettuce was so dense, but the place was magical.  The most unusual frog sounds along with lightning bugs put me into a fantasyland (watch the video).  We went back for a smaller canoe and added another assistant, then up a different way to look for the vicious caiman.  At one point all three guys got out to push, filling their gumboots and grunting and laughing.  Then falcon asked that we get out so they could bring the canoe closer to the lake.  It was shallow enough for us, and soon we were paddling around looking at green glass frogs and yes, a baby caiman, whom we passed from person to person.
Misty Morning
February 1—Les and Marcel were feeling a little sick, and Claudia was overwhelmed with mosquitos biting her, so I was the only one to go on the pre-breakfast ride.  The mist all around with the sun trying to burn through made a whole other world.  Birds were sounding all up and down the river, including roosters.  We saw the sloth coming down from the very top of the tallest tree, the oropendola nests hung like heavy balls in nets and dolphins rounded their backs as we paddled through. 

Sifting Yucca Root (smells like dog poo)
Drying yucca grains from the root
Back at the home, I grew curious about what the family was doing around a big black bag and a sieve made out of reeds.  I realized that the smell of dog poo was actually yucca that has been harvested and soaking for a while.  Now it was time to make it into flour.  We took the expanded roots, broke them up and massaged them through the holes of the large sieve until the grains (and worms) all fell into the container.  Arnoonho, the man of the house, built a fire, drove posts to put his big oiled tray on top of and stirred these grains to dry them until they were hard (4-5 hours!).  He kept referring to it as “tapioca.”
Libertad Village Artisan
School is often flooded in the village
 After breakfast we went on another trip to see dolphin and visit the nearby village.  They asked if we wanted to swim in the same water as dolphin.  Are there piranha?  Yes.  Then no way!  They looked as if we said something silly.  We saw their school that was surrounded by water—their soccer field was submerged.  The ladies ran to the sidewalk with their things to sell: jewelry (one necklace made from the vertebrae of a snake), bowls with images carved into them and likenesses of frogs out of straw.  We felt badly that they rushed to set out all their stuff when we didn’t have any money.
Caught me a little catfish (threw him back)

Dough fish bait and poles
After lunch, we went out fishing.  They cut some green sticks, attached fishing line to them, put wire on the end and then attached a fish hook.  That was it.  They mixed flour and water together to make bait that we rolled into balls and put on our hooks.  We fished amongst the trees in the flooded areas under a place where squirrel monkeys catapulted themselves from tree to tree.  Marcel caught the first one.  They turned that catfish into bait, and then we were piranha fishing!  One took my bait but not much else happened, so we moved to a new spot.  Eventually we moved to a place right next to the village and caught tons of small fish including rare blue inedible catfish.   
Laundry off the dock
My backpack got wet, so I used this opportunity to clean it in the river off the dock where we swam because a Powerbar had exploded and melted into one of the inner pockets.  I tossed the pieces of Powerbar into the river under the nearby trees and began scrubbing the pack and all the bags and things that were still useful but covered with the gook.  Something bumping the bag I was cleaning surprised me. It was round with orange markings so I recognized it as a PIRANHA!  Whoa.  THIS is why they clean their laundry in buckets on the dock rather than simply in the water. 
There's a snake in there: Fer-de-Lance!
After dinner we went looking for monkeys, frogs and snakes, as per our request. I saw another line in the water that turned out to be a snake.  Falcon followed it to the other side and found a Fer-de-Lance wrapped around some underbrush.  It is the 2nd most deadly snake in the jungle after the Bushmaster.  Les wanted to see a snake since we got to Iquitos.  Yeay! Success!  We went on as darkness fell, and pulled up to the shore where we went on a pretty long night hike.  I loved how it sounded and the slow pace while we looked all around for wildlife.  We saw a huge black baby Smoky Jungle Frog, and a Mouse Opossum as well as some big spiders, ants and other bugs.
Falcon in the rain.  No worries

Nauta Port
February 2—Our last day on the water took us out on the river in the gentle (female) rain. Another sloth went (quickly for him) down the tree, big black howler monkeys swung and made the limbs weighty on their landings. Peruvians here don’t mind getting wet.  They swim in their skirts and soccer cleats.  They let the rain fall and dry out while wearing their clothes.  No umbrellas for these folks, though it rains and rains.  On this last day, I did want to jump in the river like the French guy, but instead I packed my smelly things into a bag, watched the guys drink a foul-tasting tea meant to help their bowels, and soon we were onto the tributary and off to the Amazon, back to Iquitos.
That night I went to go get money from a bank, and on my way I met this guy with an English accent who I thought wanted me to help translate for him.  He spoke no Spanish and he needed to get to a hospital as he had just broken his finger.  I said, “Why don’t you take one of these motor taxis?” He said he didn’t have any money and could I help him out with it.  <DING> (I had read about this dude on line!) I said, “Hey!  YOU’re the ‘Scammer!’  You’ve been telling this story to a lot of people.”  “I don’t know what you’re talking about” he said, and he disappeared.


Feb 3-7—Between Les and I getting sick and better, we have been lying low in town.  I’ve been able to catch up on some email, plan a little for our near future, clean files to give my computer a little facelift and eat some nice meals.  I’ve found a place that makes avocado shakes that feel great going through.  
Belen: they sell everything!  What is it?

Tubes of medicine and spices
One day we went to the notorious Belen market, where they say not to wear even your watch because it will disappear (sure enough the small, rolled up bill in my pocket disappeared, but not the map in the same pocket).  I wish I could’ve taken some photos (here are some from on line).  It was fascinating to see all the things for sale that I had never seen before: black fish with big sucker mouths, giant leaves to cook things in, tons of oils, spices and who-knows-what in little blown up plastic bags, clothing and shoes;
Belen market illegal contraband spider monkey baby
and I heard that you can get illegal animals and ayahuasca (the potion for the rituals that cleanses you and gives you visions and insights into your life) there.   
Belen houses into the water
We stood at the edge of the subdivision of Belen, a slum of buildings that float on balsa wood bases so that they rise and fall with the swelling of the river. 
Belen market garbage
On the way, I stubbed my toe on a dead rat, vultures were taking apart something that looked like a dog, dogs pranced around proudly with hooves and fresh bones, touts were staring at us in a strange way, hoping that we would pay them to take us on a boat ride through Belen for 20 minutes.  Garbage covered the water and the mud under the buildings; I don’t know how deep it was.  I think about how the earth could handle our garbage when it was all organic and when humans were much fewer in numbers.

Dragon Blood!
Square with clouds
Back at the main square, waiting for the next rain, we bought postcards and Dragon Blood that was to help us with wounds and stomach issues.  Oh boy!
February 8—Our last day in Iquitos we went to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm an animal rescue site.  It was a happy surprise, as I was expecting something more flashy and touristy.  After a mototaxi ride to Padre Cocha Village and hiring a boat to take us up river, we began our 15-minute walk to the center.  The village street was a sidewalk big enough for a motorcycle taxi, and we asked someone if we were on the right track.  The man Eugene turned out to be a guide on the same river where we stayed in the jungle and a best friend of Falcon.  Small world!  We walked together and beat the drum that would bring someone from the center to greet us. 
START: Butterflies in enclosure lay eggs
Are they good eggs? See if caterpillars emerge or parasites.
Caterpillars grow and eat host plant
Collecting. This chrysalis looks like gold
Butterflies emerge.  This one is VERY blue on inside.

A woman named Gudrun from Austria who started the center about 15 years ago (lived here 40 years) became our tour guide.  She is very frustrated with the government for not giving her permissions to take in some animals to heal them or to release animals that are ready; she suspects they are arbitrary because of her residence status or because she won’t bribe them.  She reminds me of the modern day Dian Fossey: extremely passionate about keeping animals alive and well in their natural state, livid with those who are poaching and those who are creating a market for those poachers, willing to stick it out for the animals’ sake even when she doesn’t get cooperation from the government.  She even admitted that tourists get in the way of her work, just like Dian.  I learned and saw so much in just a little space!  Did you know that butterflies don’t weave a cocoon, but instead they go liquid inside their bodies, create the cocoon inside and pop off the skin when it’s ready? …that parasites lay eggs inside butterfly eggs and larvae?  …that in the wild only 1 of 100 eggs will become a butterfly?  …that the only way to tell a male is to squeeze the abdomen to see if the little claws for mating come out?  We saw butterflies that make an electric cracking sound when excited, others who will attack a butterfly on fruit and rip their wings, one who imitates the eyes of an owl, one who’s wings are transparent, and another who’s scales are not flat and so it gives bright blue iridescent flashes.  We saw crazy looking caterpillars: one I could only recognize as one and not a dead leaf after she touched it an it moved, another with vicious looking spikes, but when we felt them they were soft, another with crazy cubic patterns on it’s back, some that clustered together and many in process of becoming a butterfly.  One chrysalis turned out as shiny as gold paint on plastic.  Her job seems outrageously time-consuming: bring in eggs from the butterfly enclosure net, put in jars to disinfect and see if they produce good caterpillars, clean cages, bring in fresh food, collect cocoons and put on a board, collect hatched butterflies and release into net, and do it again. 
...and start again.  Return "OWL EYES!" to enclosure to mate and lay eggs
 That said, she also harbors several animals who were brought to her to rescue.  Some are animals that people think they are rescuing by buying them from the sellers at the market, but are really just creating a demand for poaching.  Some people bought and gave them food that kills them and didn’t know where to go with them.  Some come injured.
Saki Monkey
 These include a jaguar, ocelot, a variety of birds (Les loved to hear imitated human laughs and, “hola,” come out of their beaks), a jungle raccoon of sorts, turtles, an anteater, two-toed sloth, something that looked like a muskrat/guinea pig/hedgehog, squirrel, saki and pygmy marmoset (she got these as babies and two could cling easily to her thumb) monkeys in cages and a raft of red faced Uacari monkeys in the trees who would come down and preen her, hang onto her and love her up.  They may be endangered soon.
Squirrel Monkey Reading the Notice We Gave Him

Jungle Racoon

Gudrun is faced with difficult questions about release, human contact, animals not getting along, keeping the caged ones engaged, how to make enough money to keep things afloat and many more.  She takes volunteers!

Two-Toed Sloth

Macaws so bright

The red in their faces is blood under the skin!



  1. Hi Nice to meet you.

    I`m Alex weill And Diego weill, from the Amazon Jungle Peru.

    Thanks you, for you time With Us.We had a great time.

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    Ecological Jungle Trips - Iquitos- Peru


  2. Hola Muy Buenos Dias

    Lo saludad Diego y Alex Weill desde Iquitos,Peru

    Queremos invitarles a conocer esta impresionante zona del Peru, Navegando el majestuoso rió Amazonas y explorando la Impresionante Reserva Nacional Pacaya Samiria.

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    The Amazon wildllfie jungle, Is Waiitng for you, All the best
    We Speak English too.