Southern Comfort - My Trip on the Amazon

I couldn't believe it--my fourth day on the Amazon! Dawn was misty and cold--two things I never expected to encounter, but then, I never expected to encounter most of what I was seeing on this trip. I had joined a small group in the Miami airport for the once-per-week direct flight to Iquitos, Peru, gateway to the upper Amazon. Now, standing on the top deck of our ship, the Explorer, I marveled at the simplicity and comfort with which I was visiting this legendary place. Certainly, I had over-packed (as usual). The insects were tolerable and a bathing suit, tee-shirt, and sneakers were winning out over the fancy paraphernalia I had purchased in a frenzy before departing the States. I erred by choosing to ignore the valuable advice offered on my tour company's web page.

My days were filled with leisurely choices: a brisk 2-hour hike in the jungle? How about a run up one of the forested tributaries in an outboard to look for macaws and monkeys? Or a bit of piranha fishing over the side? The cook has bait in the galley. And there's always the nap--a pure pleasure here in the soporific, oxygen-rich, rainforest air. The crew, a happy bunch, seem to labor endlessly at cleaning the boat and producing meals. Another unexpected delight: great food! I am beginning to think I'll actually gain weight before this trip is over. Lots of fresh fish, fruits, and local specialties such as manioc (better than french fries!).

Evenings bring still more options, usually in the form of a night hike with flashlights in the rainforest, or a slow cruise in the outboards in search of caimans, potoos, owls, and other nocturnal creatures. The rainforest night-walks are a dream---they remind me of diving on a reef at night, with surprises like beautiful flowers, sleeping butterflies, bizarre katydids, and comical frogs at every turn. I can well understand why so many photographs are being taken.

Yesterday, we left the Amazon and entered a small tributary, pausing to watch the spectacular assemblages of wading birds. To my utter delight, the area suddenly filled with pink river dolphins, whose graceful breaches made for an unforgettable sight. We stopped at a village later on and swapped items we had brought with us for handicrafts. The place seemed like a zoo, there were so many wild animal pets: monkeys, a sloth , peccaries, macaws, and tortoises. I am struck by the cheerfulness of everyone who lives along the river. There seems to be a perpetual symphony of giggles. Everyone sure seems glad to see us.

Our guide, an American with a lifetime of experience in the Amazon, and his Peruvian counterpart, an outstanding local woodsman, are clearly at- home in this place. They seem to know just about every plant or animal, how it calls, where it lives, or what it does. Because I am well-versed in natural history, I am particularly grateful for the light touch: nobody is lecturing and information is offered tactfully....just what I want. Their comments, my own knowledge, and the excellent guide books in the ship's library are more than adequate. I am learning so much..... soaking up knowledge effortlessly in this marvelous new place.

I feel a bit like Huck Finn as the boat takes one mesmerizing river bend after another. The Amazon is full of life, both human and animal. Fascinating rafts and dugouts loaded with jungle produce pass us. Noisy explosions of canary-winged parakeets bolt from their trees. Pungent odors of flowering orchids and campfires waft across our deck. Lazy iguanas, fat and basking, stare down from their perches high in the trees. I think I could perhaps live on this boat. I marvel at the disappearance of all that worried me prior to fact, I can scarcely recall my telephone number! I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, "Relaxing is doing something different." He'll get no argument from me.

The week has ended; it has flown by, yet I feel I've been away for months. Docking at Iquitos is exciting, and we all feel a bit like cowboys riding into town after a cattle drive. The mood, like the town, is festive, and plans are laid for dinner and an evening on the town. We're just as excited to explore this riverside town as we were the jungle. We must look like gypsies as we clamber off the boat, blowguns, baskets, beaded necklaces, and related mementos in tow. I reflect on my time on this magic trip: I have formed several close friendships with my fellow travelers, and I am extremely fond of the guides and crew, all of whom have helped us cheerfully and expertly as we awkwardly explored and questioned everything.

I've seen things--peacock bass, giant lily pads, parrots, monkeys, and orchids--that I've only read about or seen in zoos. I fished and caught piranhas, then swam safely in the same area! I poked about by flashlight in the forest at night, losing my fear and reveling in the thrill of discovery. I sat out beneath the silvery light of Venus and listened to the spectacled owls. I'm not the same person that got off that plane 7 days ago. The guides have let me become, briefly, part of their world. My challenge now is to find more free time so I can return to the Amazon; I have a lot more learning and exploring to do. I could spend a lifetime in this rainforest.


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