Travel Journal

Adrift in the Amazon

We're home now, feeling comfortable amidst familiar things again, but there is one more chapter in our adventure to record. We planned our last week to be settled in one place in order to begin to wind down from the hectic pace of the trip. The Amazonian jungle seemed to be the right place to do this, so we set off from Lake Titicaca to Iquitos, which involved an hour taxi ride and 2 two hour flights.

Iquitos, known as the capitol of the Peruvian Amazon, is situated on the banks of the Amazon River in north-east Peru near the Brazilian border. It is also the largest city (pop. 500,00) in the world which cannot be reached by road (access by boat or plane only) and is a hub of the culture, customs, food, and commerce of the Amazonian peoples. We were whisked from the airport to our hotel in the dark, catches glimpses of a grimy, chaotic frontier-style town. After checking in, we took a moto-taxi to the promenade along the river where we were told it was safe for tourists. We ate a simple Peruvian dinner while watching the locals enjoying some kind of impromptu play being performed. The whole scene had a carnival-like atmosphere to it, with vendors selling balloons and candy floss.

The next day we loaded onto the boat for a 3 hour ride to Tahuayo Lodge, our home for 5 nights. Enroute we passed simple thatched-roofed homes and small villages, with people going about their daily lives and many stopping to wave. We headed up the Tahuayo River and arrived a the rustic main lodge just in time for lunch. The rooms are built on stilts (flood prevention) and our deluxe room was at the back and had its own bathroom.

The program at the lodge is set up to follow individual itineraries. Each group of guests is assigned a guide for the entire stay. He/she will organize what is requested, making suggestions and adaptations as needed. We spent 2 days on animal-spotting boat excursions, jungle hikes, night walks/canoe exploration, searching for poison dart frogs in Frog Valley (day trip) and a trip to the local village and school to drop off our donated books, spending time with the children and touring the village. We packed up and moved on the 3rd day to the affiliated Amazon Research Center for a more rustic and natural experience within the Reserve Lands (more wildlife and hiking). A few of the animals we searched for and found: sloths, squirrel monkeys, saki monkeys, hoitzin birds, caymans, tarantulas, striated heron, bats, pit vipers, pygmy marmosets, crested toads, yellow macaws, lizards, hawks, owl monkeys...and more! We easily fell into the rhythm of the jungle and 5 days went by all too fast.

On our departure day, we loaded onto the boat to make the 3 hour trip back to Iquitos and a flight to Lima that evening. About 30 minutes out, our boat engine suddenly stopped working. The driver tried in vain to get it going to no avail. We were drifting down the Tahuayo River (thankfully in the right direction!) and with no means, or so we thought, of reporting our dilemma to anyone. The occasional small dugout canoe would come by loaded with people but there was nothing they could do. Most of the villages nearby did not have phone service and the lodge itself could only be reached by email. Then one of the other passengers pulled out a satellite phone he had brought for emergencies. Our guide was able to call the main hotel in Iquitos to get them to email the Lodge for help. Then we waited....all the time drifting silently down the river (even saw a sloth). We had no idea when our call for help would be picked up, but about 45 minutes later we heard the road of an engine and the second transport boat comes around the bend. All is good...a quick exchange of passengers and luggage and we're on our way! We make it to Iquitos and the airport with time to spare, and with the memory of drifting in the Amazon forever in our minds.