Dec 23rd 2014, 08:00 hours, we landed in Iquitos, 4 degrees south of equator- the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. Ajay and Arnab, Sreeja and me.....the four of us. We collected our backpacks and made our way to the parking lot. We were greeted by Carlos our driver from the Muyuna Amazon Lodge.
The city centre was a hive of activity, alive with people, market stalls, street salesmen and amidst all, there was the occasional modern office building.
After a short briefing at the Muyuna Lodge office, we collected our rain boots and water bottles and hopped aboard the motor boat and cast off into the muddy waters of the mighty Amazon River.
We watched the shore slip by; passed the confluence of Maranon and Ucayali rivers, considered to be the point where Amazon River begins, and flows down the Amazon into the rain forest. After an hour and half, the boat stopped for a fifteen-minute break at small town.
The Selva,or as the Peruvian Amazon is called, weaves through the rainforest, with over 1000 tributaries flowing into it. After a three-hour boat ride from Iquitos, we reached the Muyuna Lodge located on the bank of Inayako River, a tributary of Amazon river.
Nestled deep within the shady confines of Loreto reserve, the lodge would be our home for the next four days. The bungalows were cozy, intimate and provided a just- out- the- front -door access to the enveloping lushness of the wilderness. It was indeed secluded with no cell network, Wi-Fi or TV and the dining area lit up by a few 40 watt bulbs, glowing feebly with generator run electricity until 10 PM. The hot humid weather created a haze that rested heavily on the rainforest and the river. Black clouds rolled in later in the afternoon, bringing in rain and lightning. Once the downpour stopped and after a quick dinner, we set out with our guide Julio in a boat to get a glimpse of the nocturnal life on the river.
As our flashlights reflected off the trees, lianas crisscrossed every level of the rainforest, creating a network of narrow roads travelled by all manner of monkeys, reptiles and insects. Frogs and insects were chirping along with the perpetual hum of cicadas. High above, the call of Potoo- eerily similar to a human- whistle followed us, and just as we turned Julio spotted a Potoo (an owl like bird) on top of a branch.We sat peering into the darkness in search of nocturnal creatures.
All of a sudden a flock of fishing bats crisscrossed over our head and while we were busy covering our heads and ducking to stay clear of the bats, Julio put his hands in the water and fished out a baby Caiman (crocodilian reptile). Voila!! We had the closest view of a spectacled baby Caiman about 18 inches in length. It had a bony ridge between its eyes, which made it look like as if it was wearing a pair of spectacles. The eyes with vertical pupils were positioned high on Caiman’s head allowing it to see above the water while the rest of the body remained submerged.Julio released the caiman in the river and it immediately vanished in the abundance of water lettuce. Finally, we decided to call it a day and headed back to our lodge.
We woke up to the tune of a hundred different Amazonian noises!
Julio called us out and we boarded a skiff that took us deep into the mangrove forest.
We were soon out hiking in the forest. Beneath my feet the moss and the leaves were as thick and lush as any carpet .Hundreds of sounds blended together –caw-caws, parrots, parakeets, monkeys, insects, humming birds, all declaring their inarticulate existence in one undifferentiated shriek. I closed my eyes and stood dumbstruck; It was so noisy! At times the jungle was silent as it was dark, and at other times it was cacophonous.
Amazon is the home to the deadliest vipers in the world, but we were more freaked out by the bugs. Never had I seen so many insects. There were hundreds of those tiny creatures in all shapes and colours flying around us. They buzzed and hummed around our eyes and bit any bare part possible.
Poor Sreeja’s face was swollen with bug bites as she was not willing to wear the head nets. Under the shadowy maze of tree trunks, we saw a large tarantula crawling out of its silk-lined burrows.
The forest floor was full of colourful fungi that grew out of deadwood; colourful bromeliads that peeped out of thick vines.
Flowers the size of my head blossomed full beneath the trees; sunlight was scarce this close to the jungle’s floor; the trees spread their roots above the ground in great fan-shaped buttresses draped in moss. After a three hour hike we felt our nerves and will sapping.We quickened our pace, our ears filled with sounds, clothes smelling of the jungle and finally we were back at the boat. We had our breakfast on the boat. The Mangrove trees lined the moist river estuary, with their roots jutting out of the thick river silt.
As we paddled down the river, we spotted a pair of white collared hawks ,a three toed sloth hung upside down from the branch, the russet backed Oropendolas were busy picking small tree branches to weave their nest , a black and white hawk- eagle perched on top of the tree waiting for its favourite prey – the squirrel and the monkey, a gorgeous great Egret groomed its plumage to improve its looks, the king vulture with the appealing colour of its head and eyes sat on its favourite spot – the luminous surface of the tree tops . I had brought a camera but it did not help much, as I needed a zoom lens to capture such special moments.
In the afternoon we paddled along the dense foliage along the banks and the expansive horizon of the cloud forest. Sreeja was very excited this time as we were out with fishing lines and hooks. Using small pieces of meat as bait, we trolled the line behind, almost immediately the line jerked and hand over hand Sreeja pulled in a small Piranha. In the end we caught six fishes between the four of us.
On our way back Julio pointed at some prehistoric birds- The Hoatzin, a strange bird with prehistoric appearance, which is considered one of the oldest bird species on earth.
Day 3, Dec 25th, we went hiking in the morning through the forest.
The jungle remained unbroken, thick and foreboded. A mother monkey and two infants broke apart at our approach and disappeared into the trees and branches. We could hear the motions of branches and the rustling of leaves. Mixed herd of spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and squirrel monkeys, pigmy marmoset moved forward through the tree tops terrified but strangely in silence. Probably the fearsome black and chestnut eagle had attacked them. It was warm and the sky above us was festooned with small clouds. We walked back to the lodge and had our breakfast. It was time to take a skiff ride to see the macaws. We spotted two blue and yellow macaws fighting for space on the branch over the Itaya River.
In the afternoon, we visited a neighbouring village – Tansiyako.
Our guide, Julio had met his wife in this village. The villagers displayed some handicraft, handmade jewelries for sale. The local boys played a competitive game of soccer. It was interesting to observe the rain harvesting techniques used by the villagers..
Darkness arrived suddenly. Julio took us out for a short hike from the lodge before the Christmas dinner. The mosquitos were a voracious airborne scourge, yet we were out with our flash lights, boots and head nets. Suddenly Julio spotted a snake –Fer-de-Lance in the wild and a little later two huge glowing” bull frogs.
While I was trying my best to focus with my camera, Arnab freaked and kept pulling me back and away.
After an hour we were back to the dining room for the Christmas dinner, a meal of chicken, salad, rice, plantain, fried piranha. There were visitors from all over the world and everyone was happy to be in the company of his fellow adventurer.
Dec 26th was our last day in the cloud forest. After our morning tea we took a skiff ride for an hour.
On the way, our guide pulled the skiff 50 feet into the river foliage, to show us the amazing giant lily pads which had sharp spines on their underside to stop aquatic animals from eating them.
The first harbingers of excitement were the pink and grey dolphins. The guide then steered the skiff to a point where the river was wide and the water was clearer, it was time for us to take a dip in the river.
The river meandered in infinite oxbows, forks and loops as winded its way through the jungle.Just then we spotted a green Iguana lurking on the tree branches. Iguanas can grow to be 6.6 feet (2 m) long.
Back at the lodge we had a quick lunch and it was time to bid goodbye.
I saw a hummingbird flying backwards. The jungle was indeed magical! I could not turn around and go back. Every sound, every glimpse will remain an unique memory etched in the corner of my mind! Amazonia is and will remain a Phenomena!!
Written byDebjani Mukherjee
A successful Management Professional with a Swiss Multinational – Panalpina Inc for over 19 years with varied experiences covering India , Central Asia , Middle East , West Africa and North America . She specializes in large project supply chain deliverables for oil and gas and energy segments. Married, mother of a 10 year old daughter and lives in Ontario Canada. She loves nature, enjoys adventure trips and expeditions, playing golf ,reading books and writing on her blog debzizhere.blogspot.com