This was unlike any of my other adventures. Fireflies dot the jungle, painting the trees with stars. Howling monkeys chant in the distance and the jungle forms a sonic landscape of strange and wonderful sounds. Down, below the mysterious surface of the water, lurks piranhas, caimans and pink dolphins. At about 700,000 sq. km, containing over 50 per cent of the worlds rainforest and some of the weirdest and rarest flora and fauna on the planet, it remains one of the most unexplored and understudied regions of the world. Welcome to the Amazon jungle surrounding Iquitos, Peru.
Day 1 – Buenos Aires of the Amazon
After travelling on a Peruvian tuk-tuk from Iquitos, we arrived at the edge of the infamous amazon river. We loaded up our little riverboat with supplies and began motoring along on the Amazon River. As if the river was a vein providing life, I watched attentively as we saw locals living by the riverside in small, delicately hand-crafted villages.
However, what surprised me most was the sheer size and width of the Amazon River. I learned that during the wet season, the river can reach 190 kilometres in width!
As we went deeper into the jungle surrounding Iquitos, it got so thick, it was like a wall, only penetrable on foot, with a machete. Now, it doesn’t surprise me that the Amazon has been left largely unexplored.
As we got close to our destination we saw pink dolphins swimming near our boat and toucans flying over the ever-increasing vast jungle. It felt like a scene out of Tarzan.
Sleeping in a local village
Our first night was in a small local village by the riverside called ‘Buenos Aires’. We wandered around the village and we’re lucky enough to see a local soccer game and chat with the locals. Always with big smiles on their faces and a sense of warmth. I quickly grew fond of the people in Buenos Aires.
Walking through the Peruvian Amazon at night
As night fell, the sounds of the animals grew louder and the trees sprung with reinvigorated life. Fireflies blend with the starry sky, only separable by their distinctive orange colour and flashing. Along our walk, we observed a bullet ant.
Consequently, it has one of the most painful stings of any insect and is appropriately named because people say it feels like being shot. For the Satere-Mawe tribe, the bullet ants act as a ritual. In fact, when a boy becomes a man he must suffer the sting of the bullet ant for 10 minutes with his hands in a glove full of them. And these ants were all around us, crawling around our feet (lucky we had gumboots).
Day 2 – Camping in the jungle of Iquitos, Peru
An average morning in the jungle
First, woken by a traditional amazonian breakfast of rice, chicken and jungle spaghetti we were ready for another day in the amazon. We took a swim in the morning and played with the local kids.
Then, we jumped in our boat and travelled further into the jungle. From now on, there were no more villages. Just us and the animals.
I have to say, some of my favourite moments from this trip was just sitting on the top of the boat, with my hands stretched out, feet in the water and my mind and soul enveloped and opened by this strange, magnificent place. Watching toucans fly over you, monkeys playing in the trees, pink dolphins gliding past and sloths lounging around on tree branches, certainly makes you feel apart of this place.
We arrived at our camp for the night (unknown place in the rainforest). We set up our tents and headed off for a hike through the jungle with our tour guide and his trusty machete bearing, jungle wielding friend.
The walking palm
Our tour guide explained to us how all the different plants work and their names, but the thing I remember most is the ‘walking palm’. Basically, when the tree is shaded by other trees or the soil isn’t rich enough the walking palm slowly creates new trunks and the other roots slowly erode. Allowing it (notably extremely slowly) to move up to 20 meters in its lifetime.
Sleeping in the jungle
After eating dinner on the boat and chatting to our tour guide we rested our curious heads in our tents. With nothing more than a tarp and a mosquito net, we could hear the Amazon breathing with life. Every stick break, monkey swing, snake slither. At one point, I heard a loud, animalistic scream and upon waking, my tour guide told me it was an anaconda attacking its prey. I still don’t know if it was true or if he was joking…
Day 3 – Saying ‘adios’ to the locals
After our peaceful, animal soundtracked night in the jungle of Iquitos Peru, we headed out early on the canoe to fish for piranhas. Just casually, you know…fishing for piranhas.
We found a quiet spot and using a stick with a little line on it and some chicken we started fishing. Pretty quickly our tour guide caught a piranha and then everyone starting catching them. It wasn’t very difficult. I guess they’re pretty vicious. They’re very tough though, it was hard to kill them even with a knife. Apparently, they’re not too dangerous unless you have a cut or some blood on you. They’re still scary though especially considering that we were in a tiny, handmade, wooden canoe.
Unfortunately, this was our last day. We travelled back to the village of Buenos Aires (from the first night). I bought some beer from the local (and only) shop and shared it with the locals. It was fascinating chatting with them about their life. They told me they are very content with what they have and the jungle provides them with everything they need. They did, however, express interest in learning English so there children could have more opportunities (perhaps I will come back).
I was sad to leave this place and these people. In only 3 days, it has taken a piece of my heart and captured my curiosity like nothing has before. With many mysteries to uncover, unexplored places to go and strange animals to see, the jungle surrounding Iquitos, Peru will be seeing me again.