Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Final Day in Iquitos

The day we left Peru we did not fly out until the evening, so there was still one final day to enjoy. After luxuriating in our wonderful hotel room and breakfast buffet, i set out to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and animal rescue. To get there i took a 4 Sole tuk tuk ride from the hotel to Bella Vista-Nanay, a nearby town along a tributary of the Amazon. It had started to rain, so when i was dropped off at the muddy market along the river, i waited out the rain at a floating cafe and watched the boats depart.

I then found a boat heading to Padre Cocha, the village where my destination was located. I had been told that a boat would cost 20-30 Soles, but the going rate seemed to be 3, which suited me just fine. I got on a  simple boat with a thatched roof and run by a rickety motor. I was the only tourist on the boat which was mostly filled with locals and items going to or from market. The trip wasn't very long, but suddenly seemed to take forever when water began entering the boat and a couple of people had to pitch in, bailing water with buckets. This made me nervous, but we were always swimming distance from shore and i just tried to put giant Amazonian fish out of my mind. No one else seemed too concerned.

We arrived and i landed in the village.  There were no signs, but the place wasn't very big, so i just started walking, figuring that i would find a sign at some point.  I walked past the simple houses, which were not on stilts, due to the village being elevated somewhat from the river. It was a pretty, sleepy little place and the few people i asked about the butterfly farm seemed to have no idea what i walk talking about, despite my passable spanish and excellent butterfly charades.

Finally, i saw a sign, or rather, a series of signs, leading me along an increasingly tropical and beautiful jungle path.

The farm raises rare butterflies and takes in and rehabilitates animals that have been rescued from abuse and smuggling (and in one case, a monkey who had been trained to work as a pickpocket in the city). Some of the animals will be released into the wild someday and others are no longer able to live on their own. There were butterflies at various stages of growth, monkeys, an ocelot, jaguar, birds, a python, and other creatures. Many of their stories were sad, but it was a nice day trip from Iquitos and it was great to see such rare animals.

I headed back by boat to Bella Vista-Nanay (this time suffering not a near sinking but an engine that regularly cut out and left us adrift), where i spent sometime at the market, ogling the giant grubs being grilled up for snacks (and being thankful of my vegetarianism).

We flew out that night, from Iquitos to Lima, Lima to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Vancouver. We even got upgraded to business class on one leg of the trip. The business class seats were entirely unbooked i guess and in some weird, racist airline policy, the only white people on the flight got bumped up. One couple, with a white woman and her Mexican partner, found that only she was offered an upgrade. I can't support the policy, but i did not decline the upgrade. I'd never pay for first or business class, but it really is better.
I wish i didn't know that.

And that was it for Peru. I am happy with the trip. I did everything i wanted to do and didn't feel rushed. There is always more to see, but i am happy with our choices. I think i am done with South America for a while, but this was a great trip. Home now and time to start daydreaming about the next destination.
dale raven north

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Village in the Peruvian Amazon

Our third and final day at the Tahuayo Lodge in the Amazon was only a half day, as we were scheduled to go back to Iquitos by boat in the afternoon. After breakfast we took a boat downriver to a nearby village, nicknamed Los Chinos, for reasons i couldn't really determine. The village was simple. Huts with thatched palm roofs and many sitting on stilts were located around a central field along the river and on the edge of the forrest. The houses were very simple and were open at the sides. Few had walls, or had only half walls.

One man invited us into his home. It had a single room which served as living room, kitchen, etc. and then a separate area as a bedroom for him and his family.  It was very simple and completely open. on the fire freshly caught river fish were grilling.

Most houses did not appear to have electricity, but some central, shared buildings had wires and satellite dishes and there was a public phone outside under a palm shelter on a wooden stand.

We spoke with (through our guide) a woman who was picking tropical fruit which could be used as both a medicine and a pigment.

Then it started to rain, gently at first and i naively said it was not a problem. Then it became a torrential, tropical downpour so heavy that it was blinding. We took shelter under an outdoor but covered area  where a couple of women were cooking lunch for the whole school of kids. They had a fire going and were making fish, rice, and spaghetti. We warmed and dried ourselves by the fire (a smell, as it turned out, we would wear for the rest of the trip) and then pitched in helping with lunch. It was a marvellous way to wait out the rain until it was time to head out on the boat.

We said good bye to the lodge and sped back to Iquitos in the rain (this time taking half the time as it had to get there). We returned to the Casa Morey hotel where we found we had been upgraded. Our previous room was huge and more than adequate, but this room was so grand that we simply giggled upon entering. It was easily bigger than the main floor of Betty-Lou's house and was many times bigger than my apartment. It had three big beds, 20 foot ceilings, and giant french door type windows that opened up with views of the Amazon and the city. There was a sitting room and a giant bathroom with an antique tub, and outside was another sitting area looking down on the pool. The hot shower was the best thing i could have imagined.

We went out for dinner, but other than that we stayed in, enjoying the wonders of hot water, air-conditioning and bug-free sleeping. It was a perfectly pleasant way to spend our last night in Peru.

The Peruvian Amazon

Day two in the Peruvian Amazon began early - before dawn - so i could go on a bird watching trip. Full disclosure: i hate birdwatching. It's super boring in my opinion, but this was to be from a small boat on the Amazon, which sounded better than my last experience, which was standing in a wooden tower with binoculars.

The boat ride was lovely. The air was wonderful and the scenery was spectacular in the morning light. And yeah, we saw birds. It was a nice trip though i still am not excited by spotting a scarlet tanager, or whatever, high in a tree.

We returned to the lodge for breakfast, followed by a jungle walk that three of us and two guides went on. We walked for a couple hours, sometimes on pseudo paths and sometimes cutting our way through the trees with a machete. In some areas we were sucked into mid-calf-deep mud and in others we walked precariously along slippery logs. It was fun. 

We did see some wildlife: a tree rat, some monkeys, a lizard, a millipede, and more frogs.

After our hike we relaxed at the lodge for a couple of hours, which of course meant that i lounged in a chair by the river with a couple of cigars. Then a group of us and several guides went out on a boat in search of the Amazonian pink dolphin. I was huge cynic setting out on this boat ride: sure, what were the chances that we would see the rare pink dolphin? Not bloody likely, but it's nice to go on the boat. We set out and we saw a sloth high in a tree, a ton more birds, and some sleeping bats.  The scenery was pretty. We traveled past some villages where people were visible along the shore, bathing and doing laundry, and the air was pleasant with the breeze from the boat.

And then, we saw them. Unexpectedly, slivers of bright pink started to appear around the boat. At least two and maybe four pink dolphins. It was quite exciting. I have no pictures to prove it because it was impossible to know when and where they would surface and the one picture i have where one is visible is so blurry that it looks like a grainy loch ness monster photo from the 1920s. But we saw them and it was pretty cool.

We opted out of a nighttime activity and Betty-Lou and i stayed in the lodge that night to play some cards before killing a hoard of cockroaches and going to bed. It was a very full day.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Return to the Jungle

We were picked up from our hotel in Iquitos by tuk tuk and taken to a boat dock along the Amazon. This would be my second trip to Amazon, the first having been in 2010 in Ecuador. It was a great experience and one i was happy to repeat, feeling like last time i had conquered my fears of daringness and nuclear-sized spiders.

The boat sped us along the brown river until it got narrower and the vegetation closed in, and then, finally about 4 hours later arriving at the Tahyayo Lodge.  It was a welcoming sight, with its thatched roofs peeking out between the trees.

The lodge had common areas: a dining room, a hammock room, and a games room, and the rest was private cabins, some with washrooms and showers and some without.  Everything was high on stilts to accommodate the rainy season when the river rises as much as 15 feet.  The hammock room was the best, as it had lovely views over the river and a tree full of nests of particularly active and boisterous black and yellow birds.

Our room was cozy and had beds protected by mosquito nets, and a bathroom, which had a few too many cockroaches for my liking. The while thing was made of jungle trees so it was enclosed, but still allowed in all of the steamy jungle air and wonderful (and at times frightening) sounds.

Everyone or group who was there got their own guide and we had ours: Tito.  That first night, after dinner, we went on a nightie walk in the jungle. This is an activity i enjoy immensely, despite finding it terrifying. I'm not afraid of animals, but i hate the dark and the jungle at night is pitch black. Having a flashlight makes it manageable but no less scary. We walked for a while. We didn't see too much: a tarantula, a couple of large frogs, and a giant leech (like over 12 inches long). The sounds of the nocturnal creatures were eerie. Finally we packed it in when it began to rain. Back at the cabin, Betty-Lou killed the visible cockroaches and we searched our beds by flashlight before tucking our mosquito nets in around us and settling in for a spotty sleep in the heat and humidity.

It's far from comfortable, but it is an adventure.

The Belen Market, Iquitos

I never do this, but i am writing this post from Vancouver.  I wrote my last post on the Peru trip in Peru the day before we went into the internet-free Amazon and then i was so sick the one day we had back in civilization before heading back that i didn't feel like writing anything.  So as i write this i am am nestled in a leather chair, with a cigar, back in Vancouver.  But for now...back to Peru...

The morning before we went from Iquitos back into the jungle i went to the Belen market. I had tried to go the previous day but by the time i got there it was packing up.  The next morning however i had no such problems. Belen is an area in Iquitos, partly made up of a floating village and partly made up of the sprawling market. It is unquestionably a poor neighbourhood and much of what i had read about the market before leaving for Peru was that it was too dangerous to visit alone.  Of course i have heard that before and i know enough not to listen to such advice (which is usually just borne out of irrational fears and racism).

The market (a short walk from the main part of the river boardwalk) was intimidating on first arrival, only because the entrance is thresholded by a large pile of garbage and ankle deep mud. Oh well, i wasn't clean anyway. Once inside, the market is a sensory experience, with all of the sights, smells and sounds of a jungle market (including raw meat and fish sitting for hours in the hot sun).  Sure, there are the usual fruits and vegetables, plus those of the tropical variety. Then there are sacks of peppers, spices, grains, and flours. Women sit at booths and on the drier parts of the ground, selling their wares while wrangling their children.

Then there were fish - so many varieties and many so large, fresh from the amazon - being sold raw and being grilled over barrels for eating.

There were tables of outdoor, makeshift eateries, mostly with rice, fish, chicken and eggs. Then there was the butchery section, where the ground was slippery with blood and water and i was almost hit in the head with a half a dead hog being carried down a narrow aisle. I wanted to and did take pictures, but so as to not appear like a judgmental douchebag, i smiled at all of the women and tried out my spanish on them, identifying various body parts and smiling with approval before snapping pictures.  I did see some large alligators getting butchered, but didn't feel right taking a picture.

Then there were the aisles selling Amazonian medical remedies for everything from diabetes to impotence, depression to cancer.  The remedies themselves consisted of brown powders to incense to bottles of amber liquid filled with vegetable and animal parts.  There were also skulls and bones and feathers for sale and various parts of endangered creatures. Fancy a jaguar pelt? You could buy one for $40. I didn't buy anything like that, but i did pick up some small cigars, which were allegedly rolled of locally grown tobacco.

I could have wandered around there all day, but  i had to be back at the hotel to get picked up to go into the jungle, so i slowly found my way out of the merchant maze and walked back down the boardwalk to the hotel. If i had more time i would have taken a canoe tour through the floating village, but the schedule did not allow it and the jungle awaited.