It’s already our last day in the Amazon jungle, the time passes much too quickly. Today we are going to the Peruvian Amazon, we just have to cross the Amazon River. If you missed the previous episodes, read first the 1st part, the 2nd and the 3rd part
Note: travel books contain a lot of spoilers and photos. If you’re going there soon and you’re only interested in practical information, you should know that we have published this practical guide to the Amazon on the blog (you’ll find our agency’s contact details, advice and detailed budget)
Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diary
DAY 4: Discovery of the Peruvian Amazon
Sometimes I can be a little obsessive, especially about dolphins. Where there are dolphins, I am willing to travel hundreds of km to see them (proof here, here, here and there), without having the guarantee to meet them (success rate quite low for the moment).
Since we have seen the pink dolphins but have not yet had the opportunity to see the grey dolphins, I still don’t give up, no! As soon as we take a boat to go somewhere, I look everywhere and try to spot a dolphin.
Today, we take a bigger boat with 5 other tourists from the same agency to go to Peru, on the island San Antonio de Cacao. While everyone is in relax mode (including the guides), who is scanning the waters? It’s me!!! And they did not disappoint me! They were well there <3 By showing the dolphins to the other tourists, I did not expect that we stop to observe them, but the captain, Esteban, super nice, stopped the boat and gave us a good 10 minutes with them (there are about 3 dolphins circling around us).
My long waits and patience have been amply rewarded, see for yourself. I hope to be able to edit it and show it to you on video one day, but the camera is shaking a lot because it is filming by itself. I think it’s the grey dolphins because they jump much higher and their wings are more triangular vs. pink dolphins. The gray ones appear when the water is a little warmer, and the pink ones when the water is cold.
I’m really happy, that’s it, we can finish the tour now lol 😀
Another big surprise
Before going into the jungle, we make a small detour to see the cassava fields and the guide tells us that a small surprise awaits us.
Hmm…. what can be more surprising than dolphins? Lazy dolphins (sloth in English and perezoso in Spanish)! Nader, as usual, spots everything. He sees two of them, while with the zooms of our cameras, phones, we can hardly see them. Where are they? Where?
This is the difference between someone who spends their whole life in nature vs. those who spend their life in front of a computer screen.
Here is the beast, with a baby in his arms too ! In the morning, they are nestled super high in the trees and a few hours later, come down lower. We can also see them on the ground, they come to drink in the river and can float effortlessly thanks to their waterproof hair. Cabbage.pi.nou !!! The species we see here has 3 fingers (another species has 2 fingers).
The village of San Antonio de Cacao
We arrive at the village and see a huge orange macaw, eating palm fruits. It is wild and has the habit of stealing food. One day, people got fed up and tried to chase it away with fire – which burnt its feather in the back. In recovery, he still cannot fly as he used to – so the villagers have to take care of him. His name is Luis, understands Spanish, is starting to speak Spanish too – and is super happy that he is being taken care of. Just say “paws” to him and he lands on your hand. I’m melting…
We are welcomed by Raymondo, 75 years old, the first villager to settle here. Before, the village was much further away, but the current of the Amazon River flooded the old village. Raymondo came here first, and half of the village joined him, the others went elsewhere, to Brazil, Colombia…. With the help of the government, they were able to re-equip the village, get some solar panels, and build houses that can last 20 years.
We are in Peru and the main resources of the villagers are: fishing, agriculture and tourism. Because of the flow of the Amazon, they can only ensure agriculture 7 months a year, the rest of the year the water rises very high. They are very proud to announce that they expect 2000 tourists this year, against 1500 last year. And all the revenue from the tourists will be used to finance a common project for the village (toilets, or a generator), they will be able to vote for this project by the end of the year.
The houses are all on stilts, allowing to avoid snakes, vipers… but also to protect themselves from floods. The seeds are also kept high.
The small herb garden is a joy, I have never tasted aromatic herbs so good, with such a bewitching smell. You can buy some directly from them, since they also bring them to Leticia and Puerto Narino to sell them.
The passion for soccer is even evident here: there is a huge soccer field with grandstands and freshly mowed grass and they even have an inter-village championship. We also met a team coming back from a match in dugout canoe (with the jersey that goes well) ahahhaa
Peruvian primary forest
We cross a small bridge before going into the jungle. This small channel is linked to another village, a few days by boat and with the Amazon. Many snakes and lamartins come here in winter when the water rises. An anaconda has taken up residence here. If someone loses a chicken, it is surely because of him. The anaconda isn’t venomous, but it bites to catch its prey and then rolls it up. Raymondo saw the anaconda kill a small caiman (crocodile).
Same instructions as usual: don’t touch the trees, and cover your arms. Raymondo leads the way, machete in hand, to cut the leaves and branches that obstruct the passage.
We look with amusement at the little leaves that move on the path: thousands of ants are at work. They have to move twice a year: there are termites on the ground and others on the trees. When the water rises, they have to take refuge high up. The inhabitants use the abandoned termites as fertilizer.
Birds love to eat this type of snails… and humans too, apparently it’s good for stomach aches.
There are lots of such trees in the forest and if someone gets lost, they can hit the trunk to make noise. In reality, this technique doesn’t work too much, yesterday our guide Nader thought that we had got lost (we had spent too much time with the shaman), he also hit the trunk to call us, but with the rain, we didn’t hear anything.
Oh little spider, it’s been a long time. This type of spider is super mimi, it dances to attract females, it often hangs next to big tree trunks.
This is the first time we are in a primary forest – the forests explored so far in Colombia are secondary forests. As a result the trees are much larger.
The villagers take care of the path, it is very easy to walk (even if there is always mud, you have to come with boots).
There is a lot of macho Palo in this forest. When a branch dries, the tip gets rounded and it looks like a penis, hence the name: palo = stick. Macho = male. It is used to build houses because it gives good wood.
The tree below is used to curemalaria. In case of malaria, it is necessary to make a juice from it and only drink it until it is completely cured. Raymondo had malaria and said he was cured in 30 days. He could eat dry, nonfat food and drink only the juice made from this tree. Every day he had an attack for 2-3 hours, but the rest of the time he could walk normally. This natural method takes more time than modern methods, where you can heal in only 2-3 days (intravenous treatment). My father contracted malaria in Vietnam and it is very treatable.
This tree is used to prepare this delicious drink called chuchuwasa. It gives energy, vitality, according to him, because of that he is in excellent health at 75 years old. It’s excellent for women who have just given birth. In the village of Puerto Narino, you will find a small house selling chuchuwasa in a small bottle of whisky for 10 000COP, it’s delicious, even me (who never drinks), I’m a fan!
Chuchuwasa has anti-rheumatic, tonic and aphrodisiac effects.
The bark heals bruises, hernias and bone fractures.
A liquor is prepared with the inner part of the bark diluted in alcohol, brandy or liquor.
We are walking when Nadia, our translator, gives a shout, puts a hand on my shoulder and suddenly stops. I look everywhere, thinking it’s a snake. But she tells me later that a poisonous insect landed on my shirt and she protected me without thinking – when the insect could have attacked her. The bite of this insect burns the skin, besides Raymondo still has a mark of its bite on his hand. There are plants to heal, but the bite itself is very painful. Thank you Nadia, she saved me !!!
We keep walking and something huge moves the plants. Our guide stops sharply, one hand on the machete. This “thing” crosses the path and he tells us with relief that it is just an iguana. Iguanas in South America are huge and very very beautiful, by the way I have a picture of them on San Andrés Island here. Too bad he is so shy.
The highlight of the visit is this 350 year old tree with incredible roots. It is 65 meters wide and 65 meters high. There are other trees of this type, but it is the only one to have such wide roots. The others prefer to grow, while this one prefers to “eat” 😀
Raymondo spends 45 minutes telling us the nonsense that this tree does. According to him, it shelters a mischievous spirit who likes to transform himself into someone we know, to take us into the forest and leave us there. In 2017, while a group of village children were playing near this tree, a girl got lost. And after hours of searching, the villagers found her crying: according to her, a friend of hers lured her into the forest and abandoned her there. The friend in question says it wasn’t her. So who was it if not the spirit of the tree? It is said that a volunteer from our agency also got lost in this forest 4 times while walking alone, even though the path is all marked out.
As a result, every day, before the tourists arrive, the villagers come to ask the tree to spare the tourists, so that no one gets lost.
These beliefs are in line with Vietnamese beliefs. In Vietnam, it is also believed that as soon as an animal or a tree lives too long, it has a certain power – good or bad. Its spirit (because everything has a spirit, whether it is a tree, a stone or an animal) becomes powerful and it can transform itself into a human and do a lot of stupid things. It takes a shaman to talk to him and calm him down.
We pass in front of another beautiful tree, with vines capable of supporting the weight of one (or more) person. It isn’t Tarzan who can, when you don’t have strength in your arms like me, the fall is inevitable.
We pass in front of a too quiet pool and the guide shows us a hole where an electric eel lives. It is capable of sending electric discharges sufficient to paralyze a horse or kill a human. I am fooled by its name (eel) and expect something ridiculous. When the guide manages to get it out with the help of a stick, I jump out screaming – which makes everyone laugh – because it’s much bigger than in my imagination (twice the size of JB’s arm)
After this long and rewarding walk, we have lunch at Raymondo. His wife Maria cooks divinely well. Luis, the macaw, comes to beg for food, without success.
We can find some bones collected in the forest.
Raymondo also shows us the incense he uses to ward off snakes. He says he uses them if he has to sleep in the jungle. And what he fears the most aren’t spiders, but vipers that have the same color as the earth and can “stand up” and attack.
We leave this small charming village with regrets, the walk is very interesting because we do not see the same trees and plants as yesterday at the shaman’s house.
Esteban, our captain, proudly shows a dozen of big fish that he was able to catch with a small basic rod. He looks so happy that we wonder why 🙂 doesn’t he fish every day?
While getting in the boat, I notice something moving in the water, it’s a snake swimming, its head out of the water (since a few days, I’m very good at spotting animals in the water). Esteban answers me that it’s not an anaconda, so everything is fine. We are sailing quietly, when the two local guides died laughing behind Esteban and seem to make fun of him. We will understand later that the fish that he had fished hard, escaped because of a badly closed bag. The poor guy, he looks terribly sad and disappointed:( we sympathize since we also spent hours yesterday to fish 3 small fishes, it’s hard to see them going away just like that.
The other 4 tourists leave and return to Leticia, while we continue our program (we paid 100,000COP/person extra to extend our stay for an extra night). The afternoon program is very light, but it’s still fun.
We first go to the viewpoint of the village of Puerto Narino (5000COP the entrance, included in our tour). This viewpoint is also equipped with a loudspeaker in case there are announcements to make to the whole village. It is by taking a little height that we realize that indeed, we are in the middle of the Amazon.
Cabanas del Friar
On the way to the harbor, a dog tries to attack me from behind. I didn’t even see him, I just felt his open mouth coming very close to my leg, then he barks. What a fright! No bite to report fortunately. After reflection, it seems to me that he is rather attracted by the strap of my bag which hangs down and tries to catch him. This story will traumatize me for a few hours.
Then, we are supposed to go swimming at the beach between Peru and Colombia, but Nader wastes a lot of time buying gas for his boat…
We zap the beach and go directly to the Cabanas del Friar, recommended by Lonely Planet. It is a hostel made up of very simple huts, where you can interact with all kinds of animals: monkeys, macaws, dogs and cats. All the animals are free, they stay here because they are fed and stroked.
This hostel is accessible on foot from the city center, but also by boat. They also have a kind of shuttle and lend kayaks to the guests (who want to go dolphin watching). It can be a good option for independent travelers who aren’t too s hy (I will develop this part below)
Our first encounter was with very small monkeys, which are barely bigger than my little hands. They are really too beautiful!
Then we see another species of monkeys, more playful and bigger
We are given a banana and they fight to come and eat out of our hands. Here is a picture that sums up expectation vs. reality.
- Expectation: everyone eats quietly in joy and happiness.
- Reality: the first monkey bites the 2nd monkey who is eating – who bites the tourist’s hand. The tourist cries out in pain. Here we go.
We meet two blue macaws, dirty beasts – who have fun flying close to the tourists’ faces and biting our feet for free. On the other hand, when they both fly away and open their big wings, going down towards the Amazon, what an extraordinary spectacle! But they are bad anyway, beauty does not justify everything, I do not like them. Na!
José, a red macaw, on the contrary, is a sweetheart and loves scratching too much. And Aleja (??), another monkey player, is really too cute. However, he tries to open the doors, enter the huts and searches everywhere. Be careful because monkeys are very interested in cell phones, cameras etc. and are super fast, they will jump on you at any time.
Spending 45 minutes here is more than enough time for me, I’m quite shy and if I have to go to the shared bathrooms and see a monkey jumping on my head in the middle of the night, or one of those macaws flying close to my face – it’s beyond my strength. Not to mention the path leading from this hostel to the village, full of dogs that become territorial in the evening.
After the almost dog bite this afternoon, the almost venomous insect bite, I am as if traumatized.
But Nature always has a few surprise projects in mind. When we come back to the village, a very beautiful, very clean, very cute dog accompanies us to our hotel, looking at me with eyes full of love, as if to tell me “you see, not all dogs are bad” <3 <3 Thanks little love !
Our adventure in the Amazon ends here, thank you for following us and see you soon for new travel diaries.
Part 2: Practical Tips
To reread all our travel diaries in Amazonia, it is here.
Our practical guide (including the name of our agency, as well as some suggestions for independent travelers, rates…) is available here.