Monday, May 29, 2017

Peru: Amazon River

When I was ten my favorite computer game was Amazon Trail. I paddled down the river fishing for piranhas and snapped photos of capybaras, all the while learning about rubber barons and rosewood oil. In the mid-90s it was my dream to one day travel the Amazon River, but I never thought it would actually happen.

I credit Puhg with everything. While planning Peru, we thought, what the heck, let's go for it. He booked a river tour on a smokin' deal (2 for 1) and THEN we were upgraded to a better boat a day before we left! After bopping around Iquitos, we were connected with our cruise group (of about 35) and taken to our small, luxurious ship. Holy moly. We had a big, beautiful room with a balcony and were served an incredible fresh fish and yucca root lunch. I signed up for a $30 massage to kick off my vacation, and we were given unlimited free drinks! I drank a bunch of snowed fruit juices while Puhg slurped Pisco Sours every day. This was truly one of those once in a lifetime good luck was in our favor experiences.
We spent the next three days taking skiffs through riverbends (sometimes through such thick vegetation our naturalists would have to literally machete through it), into the mouth of where volcanic ash meets water, and to native people's communities. I saw so many new and incredible things--words and photos can't do it justice. (I have said that phrase a lot when recapping this vacation to others.) In between excursions we would return to the boat, take much needed showers, and be stuffed with plantains, fresh avocado, and flans.

My favorite part of the whole trip was the day we ate a small breakfast (wrapped in big palm leaves) on the skiffs and then swam with pink dolphins. The current was strong so only Puhg and I swam out far enough to be near the pinkies. One jumped about ten feet from us. The water was so refreshing and the sun was so warm. My life! Other highlights: a flock of macaws showed their bright bellies to us flying overhead, a bunch of sloths in trees, baby monkeys jumping, a tarantula, mushrooms, anaconda. Simple things amazed me--hundreds of leaf cutter ants across the trail on a hike, our guide teaching us how to heal a tree after cutting it, gigantic lily pads, a cicada as big as a my fist we found in our closet. A giant vibrant sunset our first night, going out into the middle of the jungle and sitting in the frog sounds and snake hisses.
Learning about the Amazon people was so eye-opening. I mean, duh, but I live in a Chicago bubble, and to actually SEE how these simple, happy, tough people live reminded me, for the first and not last time of this trip, how unimportant most of the stuff I worry about is. Our naturalist told us so many stories of how he has seen firsthand the power of nature. Our other guide told us, "There is no stress in the Amazon. No heart attacks. No cancer." I get it.
We went on a canopy walk through a defunct biology base, an empty pool full of bugs. It started to rain. We visited the local healer who blew smoke on us, and although I was a feat for mosquitoes (33 bites in fifteen minutes), I felt something sincere from her ritual.

On our last night's dinner the lights turned off and the kitchen crew started singing. A big chocolate cake made its way to me. I was so shocked, like a birthday girl on television. In the morning, I had my final bowl of quinoa pop and yogurt, we visited a manatee sanctuary, and we were off to Cuzco.

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