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June 10th

Today, we flew to the City of Iquitos.  This is smack on the Amazon River.  Fantastic!  And like usual, getting there was half the fun.  Arriving at the airport for our flight to Iquitos, we found it a challenge to buy tickets.  We had intended to purchase our tickets with a credit card, but the vendor was out of credit slips.  When we tried to pay in Peruvian Soles, they wanted only American dollars.  Not really wanting to use up our stash of dollars on airline tickets, we insisted on paying in Soles.  Then Kim had to run around the airport looking for an ATM to get money.  Then the ticket seller wanted to charge us a commission to change our Soles back into US Dollars.  After arguing back and forth, we paid in Soles and didn't pay the commission!.  Fun!  

The airports here are all similar.  Inside, they are organized while outside on the sidewalks it is total bedlam.  Taxi drivers shout out their fare and jostle to get close enough for us to chose them and their services.  When we arrived in Iquitos, taxi drivers swarmed us but two tourist police came to our rescue and helped us select a driver to get us into town.  Even though gas prices are comparable to those found in the United States, taxis are dirt cheap.  One or two dollars would get us across town.

Iquitos is actually a small city, with a population of nearly 400,000.  Our main form of transport around the city was via small motorcycle rickshaws called motocarros.  For $.50 or $1.00 we could travel anywhere in town. iquitos_Eiffle.jpg (29089 bytes)

One of the recommendations we received from the SAE was to visit the local tourist office for up-to-date information on jungle lodges.  The office has been revamped to provide useful information to travelers.  In the past the office served mainly as an advertising office for the lodges without actually providing valid info.  The new manager had photo books on the lodges, information on prices and even comment books where travelers had recorded good and/or bad experiences.

After reviewing the info, we selected a 3 day, 2 night trip at the Muyuna River Lodge, located 120 km (74 miles) up the Amazon River.  We even arranged to take part in a "cleansing" ceremony performed by a shaman. muyuna.jpg (40140 bytes)

On our first day, we took a 3 hour boat ride up the Amazon to the Yanayacu tributary.  The word Yanayacu means ""black water".  The term refers to the dark clear water that is created by the tannins from all the organic matter in the water.  The tributaries are much clearer than the Amazon River itself.

The lodge had eight bungalows made in typical jungle style.  The bungalows were built on stilts, 7 feet high so that they are above the annual high water level reached during the rainy season.  The roofs are thatched and are made by piling layers of palm leaves on top of themselves until a water proof layer has been built.  Other than having private bathrooms, our main luxury was that the rooms were totally enclosed with screening to keep the bugs out.  All the bungalows were connected to the dining room by means of raised walkways.  When the water is high, it comes up to the floors.

We arrived just in time for lunch and were served wonderful river catfish raised by one of the local families.  After lunch we went down the Yanayacu to a small lake that is created when the Amazon floods during the "wet" season.  We had arrived about three weeks into the "dry" season and the water level had already dropped more than 10 feet.  During the wet season, so much water comes out of the mountains that the level of the Amazon River rises up so far that the flow literally dams up the tributaries and the water backs up forming lakes in their place.

Along the way to the lake, we were treated to seeing Squirrel Monkeys playing in the trees and we caught a quick glimpse of a rare pink river dolphin.  When we got to the lake, we found a quiet spot to fish for, you guessed it, Piranha!

Piranha are small, meat eating fish.  As bait we used raw cut up pieces of chicken and fish.  The piranha are quick but Don caught two and I caught one.  That's the first fish I've ever caught!  We had them for dinner that night, um, um good. Piranha_kims.jpg (29276 bytes)

After a night in our cabin listening to the night animal sounds, we rose at sunrise for a bird watching trip.  We saw lots and lots of birds.  Parrots, toucans, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, terns, vultures and an interesting bird called a horned screamer.  This bird had horns coming out of the top of its wings and it really does scream.  You can hear it a long way away.  A lot of the birds were located by their songs. Our guide Luis, was very knowledgeable and was able to locate and identify a large variety of birds.

After breakfast and a rest, swinging in the hammocks on the porch of our cabin, we went on a nature walk in the jungle.  Luis pointed out all kinds of medicinal plants and edible fruits.  He also showed us what trees are used by the native people to build their homes, thatch their roofs, make charcoal (from a tree called appropriately enough, the firewood tree) and make household items.  We also saw some beautiful butterflies, including the huge blue Morpho.

lily.jpg (23650 bytes) After lunch and another swing in our hammocks, we went downriver to see the giant Victoria Amazonica Lily pads.  These plants grow up to 6 feet across and can hold up to 70 lbs of weight.  They get beautiful purple flowers during the day, and when the moths come out in the evening, the flowers close up with the moths inside and turn white.  In the morning the flowers reopen to release the moths so that they can pollinate other lilies.

After seeing the lily pads, we went to where the Yanayacu meets the Amazon.  At the junction of the 2 rivers small gray dolphins play.  They like the abundance of food that comes down the tributaries so they stay in the area.  The dolphins are only 4 - 5 feet long and have gray backs and pink bellies.  We saw 5 dolphins and one of them even jumped completely out of the water while we watched.  It was very exciting to see them.

That evening we took the boat out with large lights to find caimans.  These are alligator-like reptiles that are nocturnal.  Luis used his light to spot the red glowing eyes and the boatman was able to bring the boat right up to the light-blinded caiman so that Luis could grab him and bring him into the boat.  The caiman was two feet long and had two sets of eyelids to protect his eyes in the water.  He also had the ability to completely close off his throat so that he wouldn't swallow water. After getting a good look at him, we released him safely back into the water.

On our last day at the lodge we visited the local village of San Juan de Yanayacu.  One of the local people had caught a boa constrictor that morning and wanted to show it to us.  It was about 5 feet long and was curled around the man's arm.  He handed it to Don to hold.  They had also found a baby sloth that they planned on releasing in a safe area.  Boy was that cute!

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We then visited with the students and the teacher at the school.  When we arrived, the kids were playing their equivalent of "duck, duck, goose" only they called it "perro, perro, gato" (dog, dog, cat!).  The school is a one-room building with 4 chalkboards and about 40 desks.  All the primary school-aged children sit in the room divided into four grade groups.  The teacher writes a lesson on each board and goes from group to group teaching the lesson for that grade.  There was also a kindergarten for ages 3-5.  There weren't very many school supplies available, so the teachers were very creative in using local items like leaves and bark for art projects.

Peru has mandatory education for primary aged students, with about 95% of the students attending.  Secondary school is not mandatory and only about 40% attend secondary or high school.

After lunch it was time to return back down the Amazon to Iquitos.  Good-bye to the jungle

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On our last day in Iquitos we toured an area called Belen.  Although this area is a shantytown, during the high water season the water makes the place look like the "Venice of the Amazon".  We hired a canoe to tour the "canals".  Some of the homes are actually floating on rafts.  The area even has electricity.  Imagine living on a raft while still having electricity. 

In the central market, there is a side street where vendors sell herbal remedies made from jungle products.  We saw piles of bark, plants, bottles of elixirs and even anaconda snakeskins and animal pelts.

For our final dinner, we took a motocarro across town where we ate at a restaurant built on stilts over the river.  We shared a 3 lb river fish and split a large beer for only US $7.00!  A truly great way to end our Amazon adventure.
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