We went on a 4 day cruise up the Amazon river, an unforgettable experience. We were picked up at 7AM from our hotel in Iquitos, and after a 2 hour bus journey to Nauta, boarded a skiff at the pier to reach our boat, the La Amatista.
During the bus ride, we saw houses and banana plantations, interspersed with dense trees and vegetation.
Houses en route
Trees and vegetation
When we reached Nauta, we saw tree-lined streets where the tops of trees had been trimmed into animal and bird shapes.
In Nauta, there was a brief 5 minute stop at the local market while we waited for our Naturalist Guide Juan Carlos. There were plenty of food stalls and some general stores and a pharmacy.
On boarding the La Amatista, we were introduced to the two naturalists who would be our guides, Juan Carlos and Hulbert, and a few of the crew members whom we would be interacting with frequently during the course of the next few days, including Edgar our waiter and Bloomer the barman. Juan Carlos(JC for short) also gave some information about the boat itself. It is a wooden river boat with a Spanish Galleon design, made out of fallen, not felled, timber, with creature comforts such as air conditioning in all the cabins and the dining room and lecture room, hot showers, and a well-equipped bar.
He also explained the procedure for evacuation in the event of an emergency, and gave us some practical tips on surviving in the jungle heat, preventing spider or snake bites and dealing with the mosquitoes (sun block, insect repellent, sunglasses, a hat, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers, hiking boots or gumboots on jungle walks). He mentioned that we should avoid white or black clothing as that attracted mosquitoes and flies. Another interesting tip was for keeping our cameras and binoculars ready for use at all times without fogging – keep them in the bathroom and have the exhaust fan running at all times.
After a delicious lunch, we retired to our rooms for a relaxing siesta.
The Dining Room
A briefing in the lecture room was organized at 3.30PM, during which we were given an introduction to the Amazon River and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The Amazon is the second longest river in the world, with the maximum discharge of water. The Amazon rainforest with its abundant and diverse flora and fauna is what makes this area fascinating to explore. We were given a brief outline of our itinerary over the next few days and the kind of plants and animals we might encounter.
Amit wanted to know when we would see a Jaguar or an Anaconda, but JC explained that it was unlikely, as there are few of them in a vast area, and they are not easy to locate. He did promise to try his best!
First jungle walk – we wore gumboots, but they were hot and uncomfortable, and since it did not rain, we subsequently wore hiking boots
A pattern was set for the days ahead – our wakeup call consisted of Edgar gently strumming his guitar down the corridors, a bell was rung for mealtimes, briefings and excursions, there were daily jungle walks, night excursions and interactions with the natives.
One of the day walks was to a lagoon, where our guides searched for an anaconda by precariously balancing on tree branches staring hard at the waters below – no luck, unfortunately.
At the lagoon – while JC diligently hunted for signs of an Anaconda, Amit decided to test how sharp his machete was!
We met with a local healer(Shaman), who shared some of his knowledge regarding the medicinal plants in the area. He also gave us a berry to chew on and spit out – it left a tingling sensation on the tongue for the next five minutes – he uses it to reduce pain, possibly by a counter irritant mechanism of action.
The healer demonstrating the medicinal uses of plants
Otilia, the matriarch of a local village, taught us how to prepare Patarashka – a local wrapped fish preparation. Fish pieces along with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and coriander, were wrapped in maranta leaves and cooked over wood coals. In fifteen minutes, it was ready to eat – delicious!
A hunter from Otilia’s tribe demonstrated the use of a poison dart blowpipe(without the poison, of course)
We also had an interaction with the children of another village, there were a few songs and dances and stationary, games and clothing that the passengers had collected were distributed among the children. We learned the children’s names – one was named Darwin!
A song and dance routine with the children
The evenings were filled with musical entertainment provided by our talented crew.
The talented musicians
A few passengers swam near the Dolphins one afternoon. We also went fishing for Piranha. There are several varieties of these fish, most of them not a threat to humans – we caught four red-bellied Piranha, they are one of the few which are dangerous for us. Two of them literally flew off the hooks and landed in the boat, flopping all over while the guide yelled at us to watch out as they might bite our feet – don’t know if he was just joking. We all decided not to take a chance and jumped around the boat, trying to avoid the fish, thankfully it was a very steady skiff not in any danger of capsizing, or we might have managed to present a very tasty meal to the rest of the Piranha school members waiting in the water below. We also caught a few catfish. When I say ‘we’, I mean the other people on the boat, as JC insisted that it was a team effort. I personally managed to catch a very large………twig. Sadly, I was not allowed to keep it as a souvenir of my first attempt at fishing, and had to throw it back in the water. But I did feed a number of fish with the bait that just mysteriously disappeared off the hook!
In the course of our regretfully short time in the Amazon rainforest, our guides showed us several interesting species of flora and fauna, some with medicinal properties, some poisonous, some breathtakingly beautiful.
Among the flora – we saw a Cat’s claw, an immune modulator, Dragon’s blood tree, with blood red resin, the iodine tree with brownish resin believed to have antiseptic properties, several varieties of Ficus including one big great grandfather tree which had parasitized and was slowly digesting three palm trees, a cannonball fruit tree with poisonous fruits, a rubber tree and many more.
Dragon’s blood tree
Cannonball fruit tree
The Big One
We spotted three toed sloths(one with a baby),
the endangered and aggressive black caiman,
a red-tailed Boa constrictor – not very large, but quite irritated and eager to bite,
tarantulas, poisonous frogs, a lizard who was quite comfortable on JC’s cap, toads
and monkeys, including the smallest pygmy marmoset monkey
Our major success was with bird spotting – we saw so many that we lost count, but my favourites were the macaws – yellow and blue, red and green, so beautiful through the binoculars but perched so high in the trees that our cameras were unable to capture them in all their glory. At one stage, a whole flock whirled overhead for about half a minute, I developed a crick in my neck trying to follow their flight path. One of the ladies with us forgot she had pushed her sunglasses up over her head to get a closer look, and leaned so far back that they fell into the water. No chance of finding them unfortunately in the deep and murky waters of the Amazon.
Red and green macaws
Yellow and blue macaws
I was also impressed by the majestic hawks – the great black hawk, and the black-collared hawk with reddish-brown plumage. There were also many different types of kingfishers, woodpeckers, parakeets and herons.
Great Black Hawk
Black collared hawk in flight
A very unusual bird that we spotted was the hoatzin, a pheasant-like bird with a small blue face and a spiky crest. The chicks have claws on their wings, and the bird is considered by some to be a link with the Archaeopteryx of the dinosaur era. It is vegetarian, with a digestive system similar to a cow, and is sometimes called ‘the flying cow’.
The atmosphere was stifling hot, humid and energy sapping, reminding us time and again that though we were here on our luxurious air-conditioned boat, this was the ultimate jungle, the great Amazon rainforest.
We found an Indian connection – saw large lilies in a village pond. According to JC, the seeds had originally been brought from India, but these lilies have now adapted and become endemic to the Amazon.
While we were watching all the other birds and animals, pods of pink dolphins lazily swam around us, but they surfaced for just brief periods and I was unable to get a picture.
On our last evening, we visited the confluence, where the Maranon and Ucayali rivers join to form the might Amazon. The sky was cloudy, backlit by flashes of lightning. We watched the sun setting slowly, the sky changing colours, as the guides explained the course of the river, from its source in the Andes to the ocean, and narrated the history of the first Spanish incursion. It was difficult to believe that so much bloodshed had occurred along these deceptively quiet shores.
We returned to the ship for a farewell dinner, where there were formal introductions to all the crew, received our certificates of participation, and showed our appreciation for the efforts of the crew and the naturalists by handing in our feedback forms and envelopes. A few final songs were sung and we retired for the night, to wake up for an early breakfast and transfer to Nauta and then Iquitos.
La Amatista at night
In Nauta, we encountered a young boy with a three-toed sloth casually clinging to his neck – his pet. We marveled at the fact that we had trudged through the jungle, struggled through muddy overgrown tracks to get excited at the glimpse of this creature up in a tree, and here he was, right in the middle of the city. This was actually the first time that I managed to get a clear look at the sloth’s face. Still, there was a certain charm to seeing the sloth in its natural habitat in the wild.
Then it was time to get on the bus back to Iquitos, in time to check in for our flight to Cusco via Lima.
A few final glimpses of Iquitos –
Our Amazon adventure had lived up to our expectations. Our only regret – no anaconda or jaguar sighting. We might return someday…………….