I confess, I have a classic case of the travel bug. There is no antidote. I understand the consequences of being infected, with no plans of taming only tolerating this disorder.
As I reflect on my time spent in the Amazon, although short, it was the source of many peculiar stories often packed with surprises. Our family-oriented expedition lasted five nights with plenty of exciting explorations. I was a wee bit apprehensive about travelling into the depths of Amazonia, but energized by the excitement this quest might offer.
We flew into Iquitos, the largest metropolis in the Peruvian Amazon and drove ninety minutes to Nauta, where a riverboat named the Delfin awaited us. My family and I were fortunate to float down the second largest river in the world on an incredible riverboat equipped with the luxuries of a hotel. The idea of being in a secluded and serene setting while venturing into the untamed and natural world was an adrenaline rush.
As the Delfin glided down the mirror-like jungle waterways, I was restless and ready to meet the Ribereños, an indigenous community who call the Amazon River basin home. Flora and fauna were abundant and time seemed to stand still. My senses were on stimulation overload, as we ventured into Peru’s vast Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve; home to sloths and owl monkeys, pink dolphins, scarlet macaws, crocodiles, river turtles, and giant anacondas. The wild scene was complemented by superb birdwatching.
On the first night of our voyage, the Captain explained the mythical status of the Amazon, its power within nature, and the spiritual world. “This is extremely important to the native people. A realm they claim to get closer to by utilizing plants that contain certain hallucinogens. One of the most important persons to many indigenous groups is the Shaman. This individual holds knowledge of local plants and animals, and is believed to communicate with the spirit world,” While we consumed a delectable local fish steamed with coconut milk, rice and beans. I was elated to learn I would be blessed by an introduction to a real-life Shaman the following day. Even if it was a tourist tactic, I was thrilled.
To explore the aboriginal communities and interact with locals was easily one of my favorite experiences on this trip. I observed and valued how both traditional and modern elements are integrated into their lives. They live in simple but well-kept wooden homes with thatched roofs, elevated on stilts in case the rising river waters come up over the bank. The river is their lifeblood and their respected nemesis being the source of many dangers.
Watching the women, I could identify with their tasks of taking care of the children, cooking, gathering yucca, and other plants with which their ancestral medicine was created. The men, communally referred to as “forest guardians” cut trees to make canoes. They float the Amazon selling their crops and trade. Young children join their fathers at an early age to learn how to navigate the reaches of the Amazon.
One of my heartfelt highlights from this village visit was when I encountered a group of giggling girls sitting near the bank of the river watching their mothers do laundry. They were around six years old and exuded pure joy. As this magical moment was captured on my camera, I turned the screen to show them their image. Each squealed with delight and ran off. I left the village with a full heart. It was transformative to watch a civilization exist on whatever food can be obtained by hunting, gathering, and farming for one’s family. As we returned to our boat, I noticed our crew embodied the same characteristics of the villagers, a genuine contentment and solace in their surroundings. I was hoping the mythical spirit of the Amazon would infiltrate our weary family as well.
On day three, we elevated to the towering treetops of the Amazon Rainforest, hosting the longest canopy walkways in the world. There were suspended bridges which spread between 14 of the area’s largest trees. We were walking within historic plants, native animals and paused many times. The pause was a welcome respite due to the heat . . . . I am sure our guide, Juan Luis, stopped so frequently to make sure we did not need any of the native plants used for heat stroke! After our canopy walk, as we made our way back to the Delfin, pink dolphins were spotted. Suddenly they were real. It took me by surprise. They truly exist. These miniature river dolphins glided through the murky waters as their pale-pink skin and bottleneck noses bobbed up and down next to our skiff. Juan Luis stated they were endemic to South America and live primarily in the river basins. This Amazonia adventure continued to amaze me.
On day four, I somehow managed to contract an airborne water bacteria, which put me down for the last two days of the trip. Nonetheless, adrenaline-charged stories continued to flood in. Both my eleven and twelve-year-old at the time were ecstatic to express their know-how to catch a piranha saga. The fishing guide, named Ra, gave them each a bamboo stick with a string and basic hook attached. The lure was a simple piece of raw red meat. A quick lesson in Piranha 101: float the flesh just above the water, once they bite – yank! The boys and my husband ate their bounty for dinner that evening. My oldest quipped, “It tasted like oily fish.” Thank goodness, I was on a ginger ale and white rice diet that day.
Later, a nighttime hunt for nocturnal animals took place. The story goes that Juan Luis spotted a dwarf Caimen crocodile and retrieved it by hand to show the boys. My husband was not sure who was more terrified the boys or the crocodile. After my skittish schoolboys calmed down, the crocodile was released and swam away from their skiff.
The next morning, the boys and my husband took a long hike to the giant lily pads. As they recapped at lunch, the guided tour was worth the mounds of mud on their shoes. They laughed at the exceptionally slow pace of the hike due to the thickness of the undergrowth and the rough terrain. I think at least one shoe was left in the mud, as my husband walked back to the boat with an odd tilt to his gait. “The Lily pads were unbelievable. I wanted to float on one,” my youngest shared. These oversized floating leafs looked quite enchanting from the pictures they showed me and it seemed it was worth the loss of one Nike shoe.
My intestinal cure did not come from the tree sap tasting from the previous day on our jungle trail walk. The wise Captain indicated it was finally time for me to take Cipro, a strong antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body. He had the drug delivered via skiff to our remote area and it zapped the bacteria in my body almost immediately. Modern medicine prevailed, even there in the jungle on one of the most dangerous rivers in the world. I told the crew, the cure must have been aided by their successful effort to get me to try the Amazon cure of drinking a liquid-like substance dripping from a local tree to solve my gastrointestinal matters. This oozing, gumwood texture sap I noticed had a hint of cinnamon. It was exhilarating eating a completely foreign white substance oozing out between the bark of the tree in the Amazon, especially because afterward, I was able to sit on something other than a latrine for the first time in days.
I see life as a constant adventure and the Amazon did not disappoint, it simply added to my passion for continued exploration. I repetitively pinch (and sometimes scratch) myself remembering the time spent in the largest tropical rainforest with my disorders, the travel bug being permanent while the other was dissipating.
First Published On Pink Pangea on May 24th 2016