Larry & Judi Fenson
Three weeks before we were to depart, we received a message from Amazon Tours that they were canceling the river trip, as we were the only ones who had signed up. As an alternative we considered Tambopata, a highly praised jungle reserve in a different region of the Peruvian Amazon. However, we would have had to modify our frequent flyer reservations (made 8 months earlier). That proved to be impossible at this late date.
Then Judi discovered that a new lodge had been build near the reserve (Pacaya-Samiria Amazon Lodge). Judi talked at length to an agent (Dave) who was quite knowledgeable about the region. It became apparent that the lodge (called the PSAL) would serve as an excellent replacement for our river voyage. The lodge package included transportation from Iquitos to the lodge and back. We were able to keep our original air tickets intact and had only to add a flight on TANS from Iquitos to Tarapoto at the conclusion of our jungle stay.
through Lima is a pain. Flights from the US always seem to arrive and
depart around midnight. Many continuation flights to destinations within
Peru are scheduled for early morning departures. By the time you exit
customs and make your way to a hotel (30-45 minutes from the airport)
you hardly have time to sleep before returning. With afternoon flights
or evening connections, you have to add an unwanted day to your schedule.
Lima is a large city and distances between points of interest can be
substantial. Taxi rides are expensive and time-consuming. For most visitors
to Peru, however, arriving at your final destination is worth the bother.
So it was for us.
Pacaya-Samiria Amazon Lodge
Like most jungle lodges, the PSAL offers fixed but flexible itineraries of different lengths, to be shared with other guests. We had chosen a 5-day 4-night plan with one night camping in the jungle -- hmmmmm. We had the pleasure of sharing our adventure with Aartie and Neel, a couple who currently live and work in New York City. The four of us had the entire lodge to ourselves.
Meals at the lodge were quite good and varied. We had some type of fresh fruit juice every meal. Breakfast was usually eggs, meat and fruit. Lunch and dinner was usually fish or chicken with salad, vegetables, rice or pasta, fried bananas, and dessert. Coffee, tea, water and juice were available all day.
We proceed into the reserve via the Yanayacu River. Yanayacu means black water. The color, produced by the tannic acid formed from tree leaves along the riverbanks, creates a nearly perfect reflective surface. The lime green reflections of the trees and other vegetation lining the shores, especially beautiful in the sunlight, accompany us for much of our river journey. We have barely pulled away from the entrance station when a welcoming party of pink river dolphins surface no more than 50 to 75 ft. away.
later we spot saddle back tamarind monkeys frolicking in the trees and
then squirrel monkeys. By this hour (8:30 am) the temperature has reached
86 degrees but we are cool in the breeze on the boat. Our guide, boat
driver, and park ranger have an amazing ability to spot wildlife.
In addition to birds we see giant river otters, gray and pink river dolphins, iguanas, 3-toed sloths, red howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, caiman, a boa swimming across the river, and turtles.
The dramatic vegetation along the riverbank also vies for our attention. The banks are lined with orchids and bromeliads and many other colorful blossoming plants and trees. The kapok trees with large red pods are especially striking.
Our first stop around noon is at Yarina Village where we have some rudimentary sandwiches and pick up several villagers who will assist in meal and campsite preparations. We arrive at the campsite at 5 PM, unload our gear, drop off our support people, and head on upstream in search of caiman.
By this time the sun is setting and everyone has on long sleeves or jackets. We veer off into a narrow channel that opens into a remarkably beautiful cove filled with water lettuce. The birds have become very active and very noisy as evening approaches. Several varieties of frogs are also dramatically announcing their presence. Dolphins splash nearby. Then a horned screamer comes into view. Now there's an imposing name. Judi snaps some photos of the sunset reflecting on the water. It is clear to all of us that this is a special time of day in a special place. It is not an easy place to reach and getting here requires the support of a number of people, but we suspect few would deny it is worth the effort.
As darkness begins to prevail, we come to a dead stop, cut the motor and look around in silence under the blaze of stars. Oscar points out the Southern Cross. The nightly riverbank symphony is building to a crescendo. We hear the remarkable melody of the xylophone frog and see fireflies in the air and glow worms in vegetation along the banks. We are reluctant to leave but the progressive assault of mosquitoes settles the issue. We use flashlights to hunt for caiman on our way back. We spot the red eyes of at least a dozen and Oscar manages to snatch one about 30 inches long out of the water for us to become acquainted with. We return to a candlelight dinner of soup, salad, pasta with beef medallions and fruit (no caiman).
Two person tents have been set up for us on the raised platform that serves as a park ranger lookout station during the day. Members of our support staff have hung hammocks on the platform and wrap mosquito netting around the hammocks for sleeping. We fall asleep to exotic sounds of the jungle.
The Amazon has a magical quality at dawn. Birds of many species seemingly compete with one another to produce the most dramatic calls with their whistling, rasping, cooing, chirping, warbling, squawking, whipporwilling, tweeting, screeching, hooting and mostly just beautifully melodic singing. Fernando cuts the engine and we float silently for half an hour, transfixed by the sights and sounds. The reflections in the black surface assume a stain glass appearance as the boat ripples the water.
We return to our campsite at 8:30 to a hot breakfast of eggs and coffee, pick up our support people, get all the gear loaded into the boat and head back downstream. The temperature gauge reads 84° but it is cloudy and with the breeze on the river, we all don long sleeves or jackets for the next hour.
route to the lodge, we hit rainsqualls 4 different times. Each time,
Oscar distributes ponchos and we cover up for a few minutes until the
rains stop. We arrive at Yarina village early in the afternoon where
a simple hot lunch is served. Later in the afternoon the sun becomes
brilliant, creating even more spectacular lime green mirror images on
the water -- the most impressive of the trip. We cannot stop snapping
photos. We reach the lodge before dark.
Iquitos is generally not considered a destination per se. It is viewed, rather, as the departure point for jungle lodges and river trips. Yet Iquitos has its own distinctive flavor and a certain amount of charm. The city extends for more than a mile along the Amazon River and a rather elegant walkway (the Malecón) covers most of this length. At the far end is Belén, the poor but picturesque shantytown built on stilts right on the water. Visitors and residents alike stroll along the Malecón toward evening, enjoying the cooler temperatures and the sunset. Vendors set up makeshift food stands and children play sidewalk games. Parents push babies in strollers. Midway along the Malecón and two blocks inland is an old fashioned central plaza. Several hotels and a number of restaurants line the square.
We must add that this tranquility is interrupted by the motocar, the principal mode of transport in Iquitos. Motocars are three wheeled motor bikes configured with cushioned seats for two passengers beneath a decorative canopy. The streets are filled with these mufflerless vehicles that buzz about the town like swarming insects. We find it easy to while away time in Iquitos. Good thing as we end up being marooned here for two additional days due to the strike.
is a very friendly town -- with almost no English spoken; motocars are
used here but, in contrast to Iquitos, they are equipped with mufflers
that greatly reduce their decibel level. The town lies in a verdant
green region 2400 feet above sea level. The favorable climate supports
the growing of a wide variety of products: bananas, yuca, papaya, coconuts,
sugar cane, corn, bread fruit, and rice. Mountains can be seen beyond
That evening we fly to Lima and begin the long international check-in process. This is one airport where the 3-hour check in for international flights is really needed.
Reservations at the Pacaya-Samiria Amazon Lodge can be booked in the US through World Class Travel Services (www.peruperu.com) or on the lodge website www.pacayasamiria.com.pe.