My eyes were bleary after the two-ish hour flight from Lima, but more so from the 3am alarm earlier in the day. I had just landed in Iquitos, Peru with my family – husband Tim, 11-year-old daughter Taylor, and 9-year-old son Wyatt. Along with my family, I was on a two-month sabbatical in Ecuador and Peru. I grabbed my backpack from the plane’s overhead compartment, hoisted my carry-on over my shoulder, and shuffled off the plane, onto the tarmac, and through the airport.
Iquitos, Surrounded by Water
Iquitos is the gateway to Peru’s Amazon and, as it’s surrounded wholly by water, is only accessible by plane or boat. It happens to be the largest city in the road that’s not reachable via road. My family and I were picked up at the airport by our Amazonia Expeditions guide, Lander, and ushered into a waiting van. For about half an hour, my eyes were glued to the window as the van drove through the bustling streets of Iquitos; I soaked up the city’s frenetic energy. Soon enough, the van stopped outside Amazonia Expeditions’ office. I carried my bags into the front hallway and helped my kids with their backpacks.
Following my second breakfast (the first being about 4am at the Lima airport), I followed Lander out the back of the office and down steep steps to the Itaya River, with my family behind me. Tim, the kids, and I grabbed life vests and clambered onto a skinny boat that would take us deep into the Amazon. Twenty minutes into our boat ride, and I laid eyes on the Amazon River. It was so big and so wide – just majestic! As the boat motored along the Amazon, I saw more and more debris – like logs and branches and parts of bushes. Our boat driver did his best to avoid this debris, but sometimes couldn’t see it all. There were times when he’d have to stop the boat, lift up the motor, shake out the debris, and then get going again.
Some four hours later, the boat slowed and I glimpsed the Tahuayo Lodge, our home for the next several days. The Lodge, an eco-lodge, is situated at a bend along the Tahuayo River, a tributary off the Amazon River. I exited the boat and bam!, instantly felt the heat and humidity hit me hard. With my family in front, I climbed up the Lodge’s front steps and entered the main dining room. There, we were greeted by two Lodge employees who handed us camu drinks. Mmm, delicious! Camu camu is a fruit found in the Amazon – it looks like a cherry – and it is really sour (I know – I tried some; a camu camu fruit is also packed with 30x the Vitamin C found in an orange). But squeeze it and add some sugar, and you have a fabulous drink.
Lander then showed us around the Lodge and took us to our room/hut, which had two stories (what they call a matrimonial bed on the first story and two twin beds on the second). The entire Lodge is built on stilts, because during the high-water season, the water rises very high and floods the area. My family visited in February, during the low-water season.
Despite having had two breakfasts, I was hungry again, so was thankful to put down the bags and walk to the dining hall for lunch. Following lunch, I changed into pants, doused my kids with bug spray, and then met Lander for a hike. Along the hike, I saw super cool animals: owl monkey, squirrel monkey, bartender rat, macaw, nun bird, and an oropendola – a bird that makes a lovely sound like a raindrop hitting a puddle. And, despite all that bug spray, I also got eaten alive by mosquitoes on our hike (in random places, too – ears, fingers, eyebrows!). The mosquitoes were everywhere, and they clearly knew I was fresh meat.
At one point during the hike, Lander used his machete to crack open a nut. He held the nut in the palm of his hand, and out crawled a white grub. “Anyone want to eat this?” Lander asked. “It’s edible for humans.” Wyatt jumped at the opportunity. He put the grub in his mouth and chewed it, then spit it out. Tim gamely tried a grub, too, and managed to swallow it. Meanwhile, Taylor and I did not accept the challenge; there would be no grubs for us. Back at the Lodge following our hike, the four of us clinked Inka Cola drinks and compared our many, many mosquito bites.
Another day during our stay in the Amazon, Lander took our family to “Frog Valley,” an area that poison dart frogs love to call home. I loved the motorboat ride over to Frog Valley, and dubbed it ‘air conditioning.’ Anytime I was in a boat, I felt released from the hot, sticky air of the rainforest. About an hour into this particular boat ride, the rain came. All of us in that boat got absolutely soaked. The rain let up enough for us to cart our supplies off the boat and up a muddy embankment to a small shelter. And then the rain started again. After waiting 15 minutes to see if it would cease, Lander suggested we hike anyway, and since we were all still wet, what harm was more rain? Taylor and Wyatt followed Lander, I followed Taylor and Wyatt, and Tim followed me. I hiked and hiked, all the while looking for poison dart frogs – and hoping I wouldn’t run into a bushmaster. But luck wasn’t on our side and eventually the kids got hungry. Our party turned around and made our way back to the shelter, where we set about cooking lunch. Packing up after lunch, I had just about resigned myself to the fact that we weren’t going to see a poison dart frog when I heard Lander cry, “Everyone, come here! Poison dart frog!” We raced through the bushes and found Lander, and he pointed out the teeny, tiny, colorful poison dart frog. It was so, so cool. The frog stayed still long enough for us to snap some photos. Mission accomplished at Frog Valley.
Amazon Research Center
I swam a lot in the Amazon, mostly because it was one of my kids’ favorite activities while we were there. Lander knew all the best swimming spots. There was an afternoon when, after spotting pink and gray river dolphins from our boat, Lander took us to a lake to swim. The water in the lake was hot in places and warm in others, and also black and acidic (tannic acid, as a result of leaves and other organic matter getting into the water). I was only a little tentative about what else might be swimming with me in the dark, dark water; more so, I felt completely free in the water – nothing around but green trees, blue sky, dark water, and birds flying here and there.
My family swam several more times at the ARC, the Amazon Research Center – an up-river sister lodge to Tahuayo Lodge and a long-term conservation initiative nestled within a national conservation reserve. In fact, as soon as we arrived at the ARC after boating from the Tahuayo Lodge, my kids begged to go swimming. We changed into swimsuits and jumped from the dock into the water. The cool water felt so refreshing, and by this point, I was used to the tannic acid. Thirty minutes after our swim, I was walking to the ARC’s hammock room when I saw Pelancho, one of the ARC staffers. He locked eyes with me, motioned toward the water, and said, “Caiman!” I followed him down the steps and onto the dock, and sure enough, there was a caiman on the other side of the boats…right near where we had been swimming. I learned later from Lander that this was a “friendly caiman,” and one that liked to hang out in front of the ARC. You can bet I had my eyes open for that caiman every other time we got in the water.
I was lucky to see so many more amazing animals and plants while spending time at the ARC. On hikes, Lander pointed out an iodine tree, an açai tree, tapir tracks, fire ants, and bullet ants. I saw, too, a ton of termite nests, and learned from Lander that you can place your hands on a termite nest, let the termites crawl over you, then crush them on your body, and use the termite paste as mosquito repellent. (I was so tempted to try!)
I saw an anteater, an emerald tree boa, a sloth, a yellow-footed tortoise, white-moustached tamarins, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, the common potoo bird, and tons of other birds. While boating one day, Lander spotted two pygmy marmosets playing on a tree. How he spotted the smallest monkey in the world on an almost hidden-from-the-river-tree, I have no idea, but we sure benefitted from his eyes. Our boat driver cut the engine and paddled over to the river banks. I followed Tim and the kids out of the boat, walked into the brush, and stood in awe. I watched these amazing little monkeys run up and down the tree for a while, and then, when I couldn’t take the mosquitoes eating my legs anymore, climbed back into the boat.
My time in the Amazon was magical; it was life-changing. The Amazon tested me in ways I’ve never been tested. I have never been so hot or uncomfortable ever. I’ve also never experienced such incredible, magnificent nature in my life either. Although we visited so many fabulous places on the two-month sabbatical, for me, the Amazon was my favorite by far.
Amazon Family Time
Lander called the Amazon the “lungs of the world,” and the entire time I was there, I couldn’t stop thinking about that phrase. Where I stayed, along the Tahuayo River, the Amazon was peaceful and calm. It was both quiet and noisy, but the noise came from nature. I was completely disconnected, too; there was no internet access during our eight-day stay. My family learned a ton – about the region, about animals and plants and water, and about ourselves.
On the day I left the Amazon to return to Iquitos, I said a special thank you to Sachamama, “Earth Mother,” for she had shown us the beauty and the wonder of this most captivating and fascinating place.
Tim, the kids, and I are back home in Southern California now, but our family still talks about our time in the Amazon at least once a week. I’d love to go back some day and see Lander again and maybe a giant river otter or anaconda – but I’ll for sure take stronger mosquito repellent.
When you go:
Amazonia Expeditions: www.perujungle.com
Written by: Sarah Middleton
Sarah is a working mom of two in Southern California. She enjoys running, reading, and lots of adventure time with her family. Contact her at: email@example.com
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