Anytime I mention this trip, people think I’m talking about Amazon.com. I didn’t go to Amazon. I didn’t work at Amazon. But I highly recommend visiting The Amazon.
As soon as you exit the airport, you will be bombarded with taxi drivers. But these aren’t regular taxis. Because of Iquitos’ isolated location, you won’t see many cars. Instead, the streets are filled with mototaxies—basically a motorcycle converted to carry passengers.
Along the drive into the city center, you can see the remnants of the rubber boom. Elaborate architecture lines the streets, much of which is in disrepair due to the humid climate. I don’t get why Eiffel thought it was a good idea to build with iron in the rainforest.
Using Iquitos as our base, we wandered around the city center, looking for a way to get into the rainforest. We found a tourism office with a lodge about four hours down river. The lodge arranged all transport and set us up with a guide, Esteban.
Before getting on the boat, Esteban wanted to stop and get some “Inca pancake” (yuca cracker) which he proceeded to nibble on over the next three days.
During the trip, the weather went from sun to rain to sun to rain, over and over. We saw small villages along the banks, rice paddies, and river dolphins. Esteban began to tell us stories of his tribe.
An absolute downpour began the very moment we arrived at the shore of the lodge. We trekked up the banks to the lodge, comprised of several stilted buildings connected by elevated walkways.
The lodge is located within a village of about 20 or 30 people, some of whom maintain the lodge. They also provided us with food. I (regretfully) said I eat fish, so I ended up eating fried catfish at every meal. I really dislike catfish. But they also kept serving me a delicious chonta (hearts of palm) salad like I had never seen. I could eat that forever.
Esteban asks us, “What do you want to do today?” We answer, “Canoe.” So Esteban finds someone in the village with a canoe, we grab another guy and head into the tributaries for the day. On our way to the canoe, we are walking though the forest and Estaban is stopping every 10 feet to tell us about a plant.
“This one...you dry it, you smoke it, you getting high.”
“This one...here...you take six leaf, you chew it, you getting high.”
“This one...you take the leaf, you hit your hand with it, you feel better. For arthritis.”
“Here, this...you boil the stems eight hours, you getting high.”
Once on the water, we visited a family to buy chicken rice wrapped in palm leaves, we stopped at another home to get some chicha, we took a break to fish, and then built a fire to cook the fish along with some plantains.
While we saw monkeys, birds, and other wildlife in the forest, Estaban wanted to show us some up close. He says there are a lot of unregulated “zoos” where people keep animals to make some money, but this one only takes injured animals to rehabilitate. Once healthy, they are freed, but many just tend to hang around due to getting free food.
Esteban has a brother. The two only had enough money for one to go to college. They flipped a coin. Esteban’s brother got it. His brother went into pharmaceuticals and Esteban guides groups, like chemists and biologists, looking for compounds and cures in the rainforest. His father was his tribe’s shaman. He captured his wife from another tribe. His tribe was wiped out by cannibals. He’s very good at telling ghost stories.