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The Amazon Basin

Picture Pages:  Map of area  |  Amazon River  |  Main Street-Iquitos  |  Cruising theAmazon  |  Explorama Lodge  |  Lilly pads & birds  |  Local Folks  |  Jungle walk  |  Yagua Village  |  Piranha fishing  | Canoe trip  |  Yanamona Clinic  |  Local Residence  |  Canopy Walkway  Assorted Animals  |  School & villageSunset  |  Indiana Town  |  River taxi & barge

Sections on this page:   World of waterExplorama Lodge  |  Hiking  |  Jungle Walk  |  Black Water Lake & Piranha Fishing   |  The Yanamono Clinic  |   Local School and Village  |  Night on the Amazon  |  Bushmaster Trail  |  Canopy Walkway   |  Return Boat Trip

A home of diversity
Amazonia is home to myriad species of plants and animals. In some areas 250 different species of tree can be found in just one hectare, and about 500 species of orchid live in the basin. Mammals, though elusive and not often seen, abound, from pink river dolphins to three-toed sloth. Amazonia is also one of the world's greatest bird habitats, and in some regions more than 500 species can be found in just a few square miles, often in mixed flocks of 100 or so, representing as many as 25 species.
It is a place of great mystery, not "discovered" until 1500, by the Spanish explorer Vicente Yáñez Pinzón. 

A world of water
The Amazon is a great many things. It is the world's second longest river, and carries the highest volume of water in the world. More than 500 tributaries feed its flow, and it drains over 2,300,000 square miles of land, more than a third of the continent. It is a massive jungle, covering large parts of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is mountain streams flowing down from cool Andean cloud forests. It is a remote, wild, seemingly inaccessible place, but it is one of the longest navigable natural waterways in the world, with ocean-going vessels able to sail all the way to Iquitos, putting them closer to the Paceific Ocean than to the Atlantic.

Explorama Lodge
At Iquitos, we boarded our river boat to take us the first 50 miles downstream to the Explorama Lodge.  We stayed one night then went another 50 miles down to the Napo River then up the Napo to the Sucusari River.  Then it was only a short ride to the Explornapo Lodge for three more nights.  

We were delivered by boat directly to the lodge because it was high-water season; in the dry months, we were told, it is a fifteen-minute walk in from the river. We were greeted at the Bar Tahuampa ("The Swamp") by a nice young man with a tray of what turned out to be glasses filled with sugarcane rum and Inca Kola. This latter is a bubble-gum-flavored, yellow, syrupy soft drink endemic to Peru, not very palatable by itself (at least to gringos) but quite seductive when diluted with the locally made rum.

Our rooms were all connected by thatch-roofed walkways. The rooms had no doorknobs, locks, or latches, but they did have hooks on the outside to hold the door shut when you were out and hooks inside to hold it shut when you were in. There was a kerosene lantern in each room, more lanterns sat on small shelves built into the hallway walls, and little metal lamps that looked like miniature smudge pots lined the pathways. Each room had two beds, each securely enclosed by a mosquito net, as well as a couple of hooks, towels and hangers, a small set of shelves for clothes and gear, and a table with a basin and big pitcher of wash water. After washing, we were instructed just to toss the water out the back window, which had neither glass nor screen, just a waist-high wall with a curtain above--totally open to the jungle.

In a separate shower hut, each shower was an enclosure with walls of wild cane, which resembles bamboo, with a bench along one side and a big flat showerhead from which poured a limitless quantity of cool water. The latrines had dirt floors, comfortable seats, and none of the smell I recalled from my camping days. The atmosphere of the whole place was rustic but quite comfortable.

We took either walking trips or boat rides a couple times each day to visit interesting areas.  One early morning boat ride it was raining and we had to turn back when the Napo River had some big waves.  I thought it was fun!

The jungle paths were red clay mud, ankle-deep in many places, though stepping-logs had been laid out along some of the path. We weren't even out of the camp yet when I felt first one, then another, then a flurry of tiny but intense stings around my ankles. "Fire ants!" They were tiny and red and ferocious, but fortunately they could be brushed off and squished and didn't seem to inflict any lasting damage. Still, it was my first lesson in jungle walking: look before you put any body part anywhere, including standing still!

Ants abound in rain forests. Besides the fire ants, we saw army ants, busy columns of red ants three-eighths of an inch long, bustling rapidly across our path in perpetual motion, disappearing into the jungle on their unknown missions. And there were parasol (leafcutter) ants, small black critters carrying pieces of leaves over their heads, ferrying them in a fire-brigade line back to their nest, where they pile them up and cultivate an edible (for them) fungus. Also big termit mounds were easily found.

Huge, iridescent blue morpho butterflies floated through the air, as well as smaller ones of assorted colors and shapes, many of them brilliantly hued, others transparent as glass.  The bird-watchers went nuts--there was such variety.

And of course the plants were spectacular. There were spathiphyllums and gingers and podocarpuses and pothos and philodendrons and bananas and heliconias, and plants I recognized but couldn't recall the names of, and others I didn't even recognize. There were mahogany trees and ceiba trees and ficus trees with huge draped buttress roots. Some were crosshatched with scars where the local people had cut them for the sap, which they drink as a cure for intestinal parasites.

Jungle Walk
In the afternoon, we again went for a long jungle walk. At Napo, the forest floor had more humus, with lots of fallen leaves. If you didn't look up into the canopy and didn't try to actually identify the plants, it could almost have passed for a temperate forest. Almost!  Luis, our guide for the trip pointed out many medicinal plants. There was one that he said is used for birth control. For this purpose, he explained, the sap is mixed with rum (an indispensable ingredient in many brujo brews) and sugar and left to ferment for three months. A woman drinks one shot glass of the concoction each morning before breakfast, for two weeks beginning just after her menses, and she becomes sterile, without any change in her menstrual periods.  We went to a site where a brujo (a shaman, or medicine man) raised medicinal plants.  Unfortunately, the brujo was not there.

We also saw a slender tree with a white surface that was a fungus, like the chalky coating on Brie cheese, that fluoresces at night after rain. And we saw trees whose sap was reported to stop diarrhea, cure constipation, poison the intestinal parasites endemic to this place, and combat anemia--more amazing by the minute.

After dinner that night, we went out in an open boat. The sides were low, with board seats along the top edge (don't lean back!). The variety and general weirdness of the Amazonian fauna (and flora, too) is astonishing.

The next day, we arose before dawn to go bird-watching. For me it was also an excuse for a dawn boat ride. It was a beautiful time to be out, with steam rising off the river's surface, local people moving about and fishing, and their cooking fires sending up trails of fragrant smoke.

Black Water Lake & Piranha Fishing
After our breakfast we went up a small tributary of the Napo until we reached an oxbow lake with black water. It was really eerie to see the brown river water then abruptly see the black water.  There were amazonia water lilies, four feet across, and birds and bats clinging to the underside of a fallen tree. The bats looked like bits of dried mud until, startled by our approach, they took flight.  We also went piranha fishing using raw bloody meat as bait.  Our guide caught a few fish, but the boatman caught about 10 fish within 15 minutes.  Others on the boat caught about 5 piranha between them.  The secret to catching piranhas, we discovered, is to have a long line (because they hover near the bottom) and to splash the water with the end of your pole so they think something has fallen in.  The piranha fish were cooked that evening and shared with all.

The Yanamono Clinic
By midday, the sun was fully out, and the insects were buzzing by. The afternoon's activities were a walk along the shore to visit to the The Yanamono ClinicThe Clinic provides affordable, much-needed medical care.  The local school works with this program to provide vaccinations, vitamins, dental care, and regular access to the clinic's services.  It was started in 1995 by Dr. Linnea Smith (from Wisconsin) who came in 1990 on the same Amazon trip that we were doing.  We continued our walk to visit a ribereño (river people) home. The people here seemed to enjoy the attention and smiled shyly for us to photograph them. We were offered some fresh cooked catfish and some cooked root that tasted really good.

Local School and Village
In the afternoon, we went back on the Napo River to visit a small village and local school.  We had a wonderful time interacting with the children and walking around the village.

Night on the Amazon
That night after dark we motored up the Sucusari River.  After going upstream, we turned off the motor and drifted silently. At least we were silent. The forest was filled with the sounds of katydids and frogs and birds and the occasional splash of something sliding off a log into the murky water. It was magical, we all agreed.  We saw kingfish birds, 2 pit vipor snakes, and some monkeys in the trees.

Bushmaster Trail
The next morning we walked the "Bushmaster," the most arduous of the lodge's jungle trails. By midmorning the temperature rose to ninety degrees, with humidity so high that it felt as though we were walking through mist. Our guide explained that the bushmaster is a snake in the rattlesnake family: up to twelve feet long, highly poisonous, and much feared. The trail is so named because of the many snakes encountered while it was being cut. Fortunately, we saw no snakes and returned safely home for a rest before lunch.

Canopy Walkway
We then hiked to the Amazon Center for Education and Environmental Research with the associated canopy walkway, a series of 11 suspension bridges, longest 70 meters, and 118 feet up in the treetops.   One can get an overall view of the rainforest from the treetops.  We also saw many birds - macaw, white hawk, toucan - and a colony of monkeys.

Return Boat Trip
Our boat trip back to Iquitos took about 4 hours with a rest stop by the town of Indiana.  We actually went into air-conditioned guest rooms of the Ceiba Explorama Inn.  We couldn't believe the lush accommodations.  If we knew this place existed, it would have been hard for most of us to go further into the jungle and "rough it" as we did.  So it's good we did not see this place until the end of our trip to the Amazon.

We then flew back to Lima to do laundry and try to get the jungle smell out of our clothes and off our bodies.

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