s/y Nine of Cups
A Visit to the Amazon
August 2005
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When we visited Peru in 2004, we spent six weeks touring Peru and felt we had really explored the country well except for the Amazonia area. This time
we included the Amazon in our travels. There are NO roads to Iquitos (pop. 400,000), the largest Peruvian city on the Amazon River. The city is
accessible only by river or plane so we opted to fly from Lima. (See Iquitos on the map below.) The plane trip was only two hours long, but crossed
drastically diverse terrain as we traveled from the gray, cool shores of Lima across the brown cordillera, the snow-covered Andes and then watched as
brown, winding rivers cut sharply through dense green jungle and we arrived in steamy Iquitos.
We met the riverboat at the Nanay Dock.
The Heliconia Lodge (right)  was our
jungle "hotel". During high water, the river
rises more than 20 feet to cover this mud
bank. During low water, we climbed the
rough, steep stairs over the mudbanks.
The hotel had limited potable water, cold
showers and electricity only 4-6 hours
each day... sounds like the boat, huh?
We spent only 4 days at the lodge, but
during that time took several forays onto
the river and into the jungle. One morning
was spent in searching for pink dolphins
and fishing for piranha. We spent another
day trekking through the jungle, visiting
local villages and tasting the local
aguadiente (white lightening). We spent an
evening in a canoe, watching the sunset on
the river and listening to night sounds. One
morning, we paddled silently watching the
sun rise and listening to the river wake up.
Several large tributaries converge at Iquitos and feed
the Amazon. This ever-changing river is muddy
brown, vast and surprisingly warm to the touch.
The locals call them bufeo colorado, but we call
them pink dolphins. The color comes not from the
diet like the pink flamingo, but rather we're told
from capillaries close to the surface of the skin, iron
content in the water, water temperature and age of
the animal.  Local legend has it that the pink dolphin
can turn into a handsome man and seduce local
young women thus accounting for a number of
unexplained pregnancies.Too quick for our digital
camera, we borrowed the photo above from the
We've all seen those movies where a cow
falls into the Amazon and five minutes later
only a skelton remains, the flesh picked
clean by piranhas. Huh! Our guide assured
us that piranha only go after blood and red
We were fishing for piranha on the
Amazon one hot, sultry morning when
David landed one of the big suckers (it
weighed in at close to 5 ounces and was
nearly 6 inches long). David disproved the
guide's assurances when the "catch of the
day" took a bite out of his finger. The
guide commented that this was very
irregular behavior since David wasn't
bleeding at the time.
We returned to the lodge in time for lunch
and were served this badly behaved
piranha as our appetizer at which time
David returned the favor...quite tasty!
A man sees a long, sturdy vine hanging
from a tree in the middle of the
jungle...need I say more?
The Amazon at sunrise was beautiful and unworldly, the steam
rising to meet the sun, portending the heat of the day ahead. This
view alone was worth the trip.
Back in Iquitos City, we spent a few more days exploring the
city itself as well as the local villages along the river. The city
itself was LOUD...more mototaxis  and motorcycles per
capita than we'd ever seen or heard. The building above is
the famous Iron House, built by a Rubber Baron during the
rubber boom days of the late 1800's. It was designed by
Gustave Eiffel, constructed in Paris and shipped in pieces to
Iquitos where it was constructed in 1889. It currently houses
some shops and a restaurant.  
These two little waifs were adorable
and turned out to be quite the hams.
They loved being photographed and
posing and  especially loved looking at
themselves on the tiny LCD screen of
the camera.
Marcie and David in a canoe on the Amazon.
Bob (Roberto preferred his "American" name)
was our expert guide and paddler and also the
After reading Lonely Planet and a local tourists' newspaper, The Iquitos News, we made plans to explore some of the little villages along the river. We
found a "collectivo" (water taxi) along the dock that was heading in the direction of Padre Cocha and we climbed aboard with the other 25 people heading
there. On arrival, we met a  young fellow (Jim) who offered to guide us to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and a Bora village.
After confirming that she had been
recently fed, David tries on an anaconda
"boa". Marcie, offered the same
opportunity,  opted to forego the chance
and  just take a photo.
Decked out in headdresses and shell necklaces, we
"cut the rug" with the Boras  doing the "anaconda
dance" (we would have called it "snap the whip").  
We were obviously a bit overdressed
Marcie, flushed with the exhilaration of the dance,
takes a rest and poses with our jungle guide, Jim.
The floating balsa houses of Belen in Iquitos.
Another day was spent exploring Belen, touted as the "Venice of the Amazon". The floating houses of this
barrio (neighborhood) are all  constructed of balsa and rise and fall with level of the river. We wandered
through the maze of streets that led to the river's edge and then found a canoe for hire to paddle us around. It
was fascinating as we watched children playing, people bathing and women washing clothes in the river, midst
the traffic of canoes, water taxis and various other boats.   David's comment as we were returning to Lima:  
"You know, we could have sailed here from the Brazil side! Maybe next time."
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The cathedral located on the main plaza was
ornate and beautiful as always.
Amazon facts:
*World's second longest river
(4,000 miles) and the chief river of
South America
*The Amazon River Basin covers
about 2,700,000 square miles and
includes the world's largest tropical
rain forest. It is considered the
“lungs of the world” since it
produces about 15% of the world’s
*The Amazon rain forest contains a
wider variety of plant and animal life
than any other place in the world.
During 1541 and 1542, a Spaniard,
Francisco de Orellana, led the first
exploration of the river by a European.
During Orellana's journey, his group
was attacked by what appeared to be
giant female Indian warriors. The
Spaniards called their attackers
Amazons, after the female warriors in
Greek mythology. The name was later
given to the river and the nearby area.
The butterflies were fine, but actually it
was the rest of the animals that intrigued
us. It appeared that Gudrud, the
Austrian owner, had become the local
repository for unwanted and hurt
Gudrud astride a pretty docile tapir.
Heliconia, for which the lodge
was named, was abundant in
the surrounding jungle.
One of the remnants of the rubber boom days, these handmade tiles called “azulejos” were imported
from Spain and Portugal and used to adorn the facades of the mansions. At first we had to look hard to
spot them, but soon they seemed to be everywhere
She also had a jaguar, anteaters and a large
assortment of monkeys. It's always a question of
who really is the monkey?
Jim continued to lead us on well worn paths through the jungle and when we heard the distant beat of
drums, we knew we were getting close to the Bora village. It was a tourist presentation, but we were the
only people there, so we enjoyed all of their attention.
I always try to collect something
unique from the areas we visit. Above,
some handmade Shipibo fabric and a
Yagua doll.
Another adventure comes to an end. We flew back to Lima to spend more time with
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