I’ve just arrived from 8 days in the Amazon Jungle, a most amazing and terrifying experience.
We started our adventure in Iquitos, a city of 300,000 people that is incredibly remote, and where I felt very outside of my comfort zone. Iquitos is a 3rd world city, mostly because there are no connecting roads to it and the outside world. All things come by boat from Brazil… on a very long trip up the Amazon River.
In the whole time I was there, I saw only 10 cars. Everyone travels in motocars which is a motor bike, usually a Honda, with a carriage. They’re noisy, smelly and open air, and it’s generally accepted that people can rob you very easily from them. Despite us needing to take at least 15 trips on these things, I couldn’t get used to it. I feared for my life with each trip. Each trip costs between 1 or 3 nuevos solas. Denoted like S/1, with no dollar sign, this is about AU$0.40.
All the roads are one way in the inner ciudad, and there appears to be no road rules. Motocars and motor bikes park anywhere. They’re often 3 to a lane, with lots of beeping and overtaking. You’re painfully close to other people, there’s rubbish all over the streets, and potholes that could swallow most smart cars. It’s amazing, but there are no accidents.
Most people in Iquitos like in houses which have roofs thatched with a palm leaf, or extremely rusted corrugated iron. In perspective, Iquitos is on Latitiude 2, Cairns is on Latitude 17. So we’re close to the equator, and its stinking hot. Most people have no electricity, so no refrigeration, and no air conditioning. Sleeping is difficult. As a result, nobody spends time in their houses during the day, they’re outside trying to make money.
They sell all sorts of weird things, lots of jugo (juice) in all sorts of flavours, plantain cooked lots of ways, assorted fruits and cooked goodies. There are people everywhere, and they cross the road wherever, chickens and dogs run everywhere. Bananas line the sides of some streets, and every now and then there is corn kernels drying on the footpaths.
We left Iquitos on a fast motorboat, with a 150HP engine. The horse power is very important to Iquitians, they often refer to the strength of the motor with pride. This started a 2.5h boat ride to our lodge, Tahuayo Lodge. I became very well acquainted with the two men sitting next to me, Steven from Boston, who informed me it snowed the day he left, and Michael from Chicago who is the Director of Tahuayo’s Amazon Research Centre. He’s a very famous primatologist and has extensively studied juvenile primates.
The lodge was exactly like you might imagine a jungle lodge to be… lots of little huts with thatched roofs, all joined together by a series of crickety boardwalks. They’re on high stilts because the Amazon floods, and the waters rise dramatically peaking in March – much like our wet season at home.
Coral and I had one of the newer lodges built, this had two hammocks, a king sized bed, two single beds and a bathroom. All the beds are four posters, and have fine mosquito nets which is both romantic and absolutely necessary in the jungle. The toilets were flush and very modern, however we were told the lodge sewerage system doesn’t handle toilet paper very well, so there’s a bin next to the toilet for such deposits. It’s very strange to get used to this. In addition, the toilet bowl fills up really high with water, so high in fact if you’re wiping without thought, you may accidentally dunk your hand in the toilet water. The shower only has one tap, the cold water tap. Coral didn’t have a proper wash the whole time she was there, but since I didn’t have a change of clothes we didn’t notice each other’s stinkiness.
Every day we had three meals, which were basic but always adequate. We ate lots of weird Amazonian things like Yuca, which is like a sweet potato with less sweetness. It’s closest to our cassava and they have it with almost every meal. They’re keen on white meat, mostly chicken and fish, and lunch is a huge affair with soup, mains and dessert.
Other interesting food we ate was plantain cooked every which way; fried slices dusted with salt, boiled till soft, cut in half and fried slowly until spoogy, deep fried as chips. We see plantain at home too, it’s the big ass bananas that never go yellow, they’re cooked green. They’re sometimes called cooking bananas. Sweet bananas don’t play as big a role here, everyone grows and trades in plantain.
There were 3 activites every day, these were usually on the river in a motorboat or a canoe, or hiking through the jungle. The locations varied each time.
My favourite by far where the river activities because the wildlife spotting was far superior to the hiking experiences.
Hiking was also a pain because the walls of mosquitoes are thicker than you possibly could imagine. There are 100s swarming around you constantly, and the DEET insect repellent only works for about 30 mins while you’re sweating up a storm. It’s 35C, 80% humidity and no wind – so not sweating is impossible. There are so many interesting plants in the jungle, and the occasional insect, snake or frog that pops up. However everytime you stop the mosquitos land and bite, so you need to keep moving.
I unfortunately discovered I’m allergic to DEET. My skin turns bright red about 3 mins after I apply, and then starts to burn. I know when it’s wearing off because I get relief from the burn.
… to be continued.