Welcome to Muyuna Lodge
At 9am my ride from Muyuna arrived to ferry me down to the port, though I was the only gringo from Iquitos leaving that day we were giving some of the locals and lift as well as taking supplies to the lodge. I'd also been told when I'd booked that I would be meeting up with other people at the lodge when I got there. I decided to make the most of the boat journey (which would take about two hours) to catch up on some journal writing and also absorb the sights and sounds of life on the Amazon. As we left the port and got into the main channel I marvelled at the size of some the bigger boats that must travel to Perus borders, most of which were around 3 storeys high, I wandered if they were big enough to surf behind like those crazy American surfers do behind the oil tankers in the gulf of Mexico.
Home sweet home for the next 4 days
In contrast were some of the more simple wooden long boats that acted like water taxis between Iquitos and the villages ferrying people and essential supplies.
Around Eleven thirty, we finally arrived at the lodge, 140 kilometers upriver from Iquitos on the banks of the Yanayacu river. I was expecting Muyuna to be pretty good but the simplicity of the place and it's setting blew me away. I was greeted with a warm welcome by the manageress Emily and was told they were just finishing cleaning my bungalow. I waited in the main dining area and was told to help myself to fresh fruit and purified water. This main cabin had tables arranged for lunch and an additional seating area where you could relax and read, play board games as well as hammocks and a fussball table on the veranda.
My room - with enough space for about 6 people, depending how greedy you were about sharing those nice big double beds!
I got to check into my bungalow just as everyone was arriving back from their mornings activities. I flopped onto my huge double bed (one of three in the room) and took stock of my surroundings; my own little balcony with two hammocks, a little welcome chocolate in my pillow and a fully kitted out bathroom, albeit with a cold shower but who cares in that heat? The lodges Eco
credentials were on display in the free toiletries provided, all of which were organically made from natural ingredients (this was one of the reasons that attracted me here in the first place). Any little doubts were washed away, I was so glad I'd booked to come here.
Soon the bell rang for lunch and I went tuck into the impressive range (and quantity) of food and meet the other guests and my guide for the next four days, Larissa.
A flippin' huge moth...yep I'm definitely in the jungle
After lunch Larissa explained what we'd be doing for the afternoon and to meet back in the dining area at 3pm (it's too hot and humid to go out in the peak heat of the day). After a few hours relaxing in my hammock I got geared up to meet Larissa, the other members of our group (two English couples and a Russian lady) as well as another guide. We set off on one of the boats down one of the
tributaries where we had to battle through dense plants in the water causing the boats engine to smoke and splutter as well carved our way through. I got my first glimpse of a sloth from the boat but as the water at this time of year is so low I got my best view through Larissa's binoculars, and we also saw squirrel monkeys as well as lots of different and beautiful birds.
Another local resident
Battle though we did then it was time to start hiking through the rain forest in search of animals. Foolishly I'd decided to wear my board shorts and chosen to rely on my mosquito spray to protect the section of exposed flesh between my boardies and my wading boots - big mistake! The mozzies as I would soon learn are big, mean and hungry for new flesh! Stumbling through the steamy jungle we saw huge trees, Anaconda vines(?), climbed over and through muddy swamp, streams and spiky undergrowth(you have to be careful what you grab hold of in the
jungle as I found out rather painfully) with the highlight of the hike getting to see a family of Owl monkeys nestled in the bow of a tree, these little guys are so named because of the white rings of fur they have around their eyes that make them look like owls.
Personally I think they should be called Grandad monkeys because I reckon their
little white eyebrows make them look like old men! Muddy and sweaty we made our way back to the boat and then the lodge for a shower and a rest before dinner.
After dinner we went on a night cruise down the river and I got my first taste of being hit by suicidal fish leaping out of the water and into the boat, such a weird feeling ! The cruise yielded more interesting wild life, Nocturnal Herons, Giant Amazon rats, Pink-Toed tarantulas and Caiman, which the guides located by the reflection of their eyes in our searchlight. When the guides had found one the boat was manouvered closer and then with a quick hand in the water and a splash out they pulled a Caiman, albeit a small one (these things can get up to 2-3m in length) but it's jaws could still take your finger off.
Think this is an Anaconda vine or something like that.
After a short educational chat on some Caiman facts and trivia the little guy got released into the water and we set back off for the lodge. It was going to be a pretty early start the next day so after a quick cuppa I went to hit the hay, asking Larissa to knock on my door in the morning to make sure I was up. I crawled into my huge bed and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle - heaven!
An early start it was but it was so worth it as the jungle is a hive of activity in the early morning before the heat of the day kicks in. We set off on the boat with our guides Larissa and Moises (Moises was my soon-to-be-friend Amanda's guide and I'd get to see Amanda again later on in my trip in Sydney) and marvelled at the magical sight of the morning mist hanging in the air, it was almost like it was anchored to the bank the way the tendrils of mist vanished into the undergrowth.
On our way to the dock for a night cruise
As our boat broke the silence hundreds of Egrets and Cormorants broke into flight filling the air with a sea of white. As we travelled to our destination of one of the nearby lakes we saw several Scarlet Macaws fly over head. We cut the motor when we reached the lake and were then treated to some further education on the amazing ecosytem the is the Amazon rainforest; we learned how even the butt-ugly Turkey Vultures have their own highly important role, by cleaning the forest by eating any dead animals, how birds and fish rely heavily on insects as a source of food and how sloths and beetles cohabitate, the sloths cover themselves in algae so that they can float along the river camouflaged (and also I think the algae stops them from getting sun burnt) and the beetles feed on the algae.
A giant Amazon rat, uuurgh!
After our interesting lesson were then treated to a pinic breakfast on the boat, I adore picnics and I think this must go down as one of the best ever, how often do you get to say you had a pinic in the Amazon? We then headed off to where we were going to trek through the jungle in search of the elusive Huatsin bird and giant lily pads. It was a hard slog through the undergrowth and Larissa and Moises had to hack out new trails with their machetes and repairing make-shift bridges as we went along. Moises and Larissa obviously knew where there were certain areas where we might get to see a Huatsin, although we were going to be lucky if we did as these elusive and shy birds are also endangered, Moises tryed calling out to the jungle imitating the call of the Huatsin and sure enough we got a reply.
Now we just had to move with absolute stealth to get closer in order to the birds and not scare them off. And sneak up on them we did, though we couldn't get too close as they were perched high in the trees and so had to make do looking through binoculars for the best view of their bright feathers and heads that reminded me of a peacock's. We stayed for a while admiring the birds until the flew off and then went on in search of giant lily pads, squelching onwards in our gum boots. In wet season the lily pads are easier to reach as the water is much higher and the guides can get the boats deeper into the jungle but now with the water lower we couldn't get through as the plants would simply choke the engine. The bridge that would allow us to get right up close to the huge lily pads was out of action and beyond repair so Moises ingeniously created a ladder so we could climb up a tree to get a better view.
A pink-toed tarantula
It was then time to head back to the boat and back to the lodge for lunch. After yet another feast for lunch I went to take a shower to try and cool down from the sticky trek earlier, it was then I discovered that I'd be ravaged by Mosquitoes, I'd been totally covered up this time though in long trousers and shirt but the little swines had bitten me through my clothes and only the area where my rucksack had been was bite free. I looked like I had a case of the chicken pox and wanted nothing more than stand with my back to a tree and scratch myself up and down it like a bear!
After lunch I had to say my goodbyes to Amanda who unfortunately was leaving to carry on with her adventure, but as I bid goodbye to this cool Aussie chick I knew we'd meet up again in Oz.
Amanda with one of the crazy suicidal fish that kept hurling themselves into the boat!
The afternoon was going to be a much more pleasant affair than the mornings hike as we were going out on the boat dolphin spotting for pink and grey dolphins. Dolphins are some of my most favourite creatures on the planet and I fulfilled a life long dream five years ago when I got to swim with about 750 wild Dusky Dolphins off the East coast of New Zealand, now I was going to have that opportunity again, this time in the Amazon river. As soon as we hit the mouth of the Yanayacu where it meets the Amazon we struck gold and got to see a small pod frolicking in the water. The pink variety is a little different in their appearance to what you'd usually expect a dolphin to look like; they have more of a hump to their backs, longer snouts and have a higher forehead, this is because they used to be salt water dwellers originally but became trapped inland as the geography changed and so adapted to their new habitat.
Can you see the bats asleep on the tree?
Some of the local tribes believe that they are magical creatures, to some tribes they are sacred and to others bad luck, all of this superstition has helped leave them mostly untouched by man but now they are threatened by fishing, pollution and hydroelectric dams. They have a beautiful salmon pink colour to them which completely camouflages them with the murky water of the Amazon, but it's hard to believe that such a beautiful and highly intelligent creature could soon disappear. We did laps around a section of the river as they, and potentially a few other pods seemed to playing with us, blowing water out of their blow holes and raising their heads out of the water to what seemed to be them glancing our way. We got to learn how to follow their paths under water by watching the trail of bubbles and even engaged one in a race, though it easily out powered our small boat.
A misty Amazon morning
I was enjoying this all too much and totally forgot to get in the water and go for a swim and soon we had to head back.
Later that evening it was time to go on another boat trip, there were more encounters with yet more suicidal fish, though there seemed to be more of a larger variety of fish in the water that night and I was none to enamoured about having one of them land in my lap! We went Caiman hunting again and the owl was still sitting in the same spot where we'd seen him the night before. The highlight of the trip was getting to see a snake draped over one of the branches of a tree that over hung the water - I was quite glad he seemed to be snoozing and stayed where he was though as the boat got right underneath it!
The next morning was another early start but this time there was no lazying around as we were off canoeing, yipee! I quite enjoyed being out on the water as it meant flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts (and no gum boots and ravenous mozzies!) but the obvious downside was that you were generally further away from the wildlife.
It was an enjoyable (if a bit of hard work as my fellow tourist didn't seem to feel like doing much paddling which left Larissa and I all the work) trip as got to see Tamarind monkeys swinging through the trees and as we had no motor it meant we could get that little bit closer to the edge of the river without scaring them off. I also got to see my best view of a sloth (again through the binoculars) who I could so clearly that I see the different coloured patches of fur and watch it ran its fingers through its fur preening itself, I'd love to be able to see what up close as they're supposed to exhibit a bit of a drunken grin!
After lunch and the departure of the other (icy) member of our group it was just Larissa and me for the rest of the afternoon and I asked her if we could do the same hike that Amanda had done with Moises the afternoon I'd first arrived that started from behind the lodge.
The Huatsin takes flight
The hike gave Larissa and I a chance to really get to know each other and I found out she had a young daughter who lived with her mother in Iquitos who she only got to see at weekends, which she said she found tough (as would every mother I expect). One of the reasons I'd wanted to do this hike was that Amanda had said they'd encountered quite a bit of wildlife, including a few different kinds of monkeys that they got to see a little closer up. It was looking like I wasn't going to have the same kind of luck as we could hear the monkeys swinging through the trees and found remnants of the fruit that had eaten but they seemed to be playing hide and seek and winning. It was close to the end of the trek when Larissa gave the signal to be quite and we tip toed over to a tree she was pointing to, low and behold there were three Pygmy Marmoset monkeys skittishly running up and down the tree and managed to get close enough to get some great shots (see the photos posted with this blog) as well as get a look at this twitchy little characters who have beedy little reddish pink eyes - awesome! Larissa was thrilled that I'd managed to see something that really did give me the biggest smile on my face.
On one of jungle treks
The night boat ride that evening was the best so far; as we entered one of the lakes one of the guides spotted a Cormorant that had become trapped in a fisherman's net so both he and the our guy who was steering the boat worked to cut the poor thing free. We got an up close and personal view of the little guy before he was set free which was quite special thing to witness. We then went Caiman spotting as usual but this turned out to trump all of the other times we'd encountered so far, not only did the guide get a bigger one than the other guides previously but the boat guy in an act of oneupmanship then proceeded to pull out an absolute whopper, how he didn't have his hand taken off is beyond me - what a pro! I'd also said it would be nice if we could see any of the small frog species that you always see on wildlife programs that are always really brightly coloured.
Larissa and our other guide low and behold with their super keen eye sight managed to spot this bright green and orange little guy who must have been no bigger than a 50p piece sitting amongst a group of water plants - incredible! Just when I thought we couldn't get any luckier after we'd docked the boat and were making our way up the gangway to get back to the lodge we came across a Cane Toad (he was an ugly bugger too) and them a huge beetle and a Tree Frog. I went to bed with a feeling of absolute contentment but also a certain sadness that tomorrow was my last day, I really didn't want to leave this amazing place.
One thing I forgotten to mention is some of the other guests we had at the lodge, a bunch of people who had come to experience an Ayahuasca ceremony, they kind of resembled some kind of cult all walking around dressed in white.
Giant lily pads just out of reach :-(
What I have read about Ayahuasca itself sounds quite interesting but these guys weirded me out a bit and I had visions of Waco happening in the jungle, but they kept themselves to themselves and seemed an nice enough bunch, in an odd kind of way. Each to their own I guess.
Next morning Larissa had asked me what I wanted to do for my last trip to which I asked if we could go out looking fro dolphins again as I actually wanted to go swimming with them this time. Larissa set it up with the other guide and his group, who as it happened were a Belgian couple that I recognised from the bus on the way back from Colca Canyon, and off we went. It didn't take us long to find some playful pink and grey dolphins and these guys were even more playful than the last one's we saw, jumping out of the water and treating us to a show.
Tonnes of fish
It was absolutely baking hot and it didn't take long for everyone to get in the river, trying to block out thoughts of any potential parasites I might pick up by doing this I jumped in holding my breath to avoid swallowing any water. It was the weirdest sensation being in their, the water was fairly warm and the fish get inquisitive and start tickling you so every so often you hear one of us let out a squeal and a giggle as the fish unexpected tickled you. I'm glad I'd heeded Amanda's words and take a dip in the Amazon as think she was right, I'd had regretted if I hadn't had done it. Soon enough it was time to head back (much to my disappointment) and then it was time to get showered, have lunch pack up and get ready to leave. It was with a heavy heart that I boarded the boat with Larissa and Emily but I vowed to return in wet season to get a different experience and hopefully get closer to the animals (they have to get closer to the waters edge in the wet season as food becomes harder to find).
The kids take a ride to visit their friends
A inadvertently fell asleep for part of the journey back but then spent the rest of it talking to Larissa and I arranged to meet her and her daughter later. After Muyuna dropped me off at La Pascana I went and checked into my new room then went for a bit of walk around Iquitos before meeting Larrisa, her daughter, her mom and Lucy back at La Pascana, her daughter is such a cutie and boy did she like to pose for the camera! I even got a hug and kiss from her. Larissa and I said our goodbyes as she was taking her daughter to get ice cream and Lucy and I went off to get dinner at a place called El Zorrito (which means little fox) which I'd had recommended to be by some French guys at the lodge. It was definitely the best meal I ate in Iquitos; it was crammed with locals, a band and very few gringo's.
The heat of the afternoon out on the Amazon
The food was basic but really good and dirt cheap but you got mountains of meat from the delicious grill and got to see all of your food being cooked right in front of you, Lucy and I embarrassingly couldn't finish everything as there was just too much food. It was great to just sit out on tables on the street and amongst the locals with the band providing a great sound track to the meal. We waddled to a new Moroccan themed cafe bar that had become Lucy's favourite hangout while I was away and met the doctors from the UK that were staying at the same place she was. The service was a bit slow and things took a while to arrive but we weren't too bothered and were happy just to relax, soon enough though I was enjoying my refreshing jug of Pisco
I think it had to be hottest night since I'd been there and I pressed the cold judge against my face for relief. After we'd polished off our drinks it was time to head home as we both had reasonably early starts the next day, we said our goodbyes and gave each other hugs, exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch.
I was debating getting up early to try and fit in going to the markets again but decided after three really early mornings I wanted a lie in. After finally getting up and had brekkie at Dawn on The Amazon Cafe (run by an ex-pat American), which serves really good fresh food, then headed back to La Pascana to collect my bag and head to the airport. I was glad that I'd ventured up yo Iquitos as it had been such a brilliant experience and I was sad that my time in Peru was almost at a close but this definitely was one of my most memorable experiences and a fitting way to finish my time in this great country.
A snake sleeping in a tree