Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trip Report: Amazon Jungle 2012

I've generally made a tradition of spending Thanksgiving out of the country and 2012 wasn't any different. I wanted to get away from it all and do something adventurous. I had my eye on traipsing around the Amazon rainforest but was hesitant to go by myself. I managed to talk a few friends into going with me and so after a couple of months researching the various jungle lodges in Peru, I settled on Muyuna Lodge. I was looking for a place that had plenty of scheduled activities and good food but was ensconced in the jungle and offered rustic accommodations (ie no tv or phone or internet). There's a handful of lodges that match those specifications but Muyuna was the only affordable option. 

We had two full-day layovers on the way to the lodge and we made the most of them by signing up for some tours. 

Our first layover was in Mexico City. We met up with Carlos, a local guide I'd found on Viator and he led us through the city, pointing out the highlights and history as we went along. During our tour of the Aztec ruins, I learned that one of my favorite Mexican dishes - posole- has a dark history. It seems that the Aztecs would celebrate special events with ritual human sacrifice and once the sacrifice was complete, they would cook up the unlucky victim into a tasty stew for all in the community to share in festive joy. When the Spanish came through and subjugated the Aztecs, of course this "special" tradition didn't sit too well with them and their Catholic ethos. Wanting to offer up alternatives, pork was suggested to replace human flesh as the star ingredient. That went over pretty well (it is said that pork tastes very similar to human) and the descendant populations of Aztec/Spanish heritage continued to cook up batches of the stew for special occasions, including the Christian holidays they embraced such as Christmas Eve. So, for my readers in the southwest who enjoy a pot of posole on Christmas Eve, may you enjoy your tasty stew whose origins lie in ritual human sacrifice.

Murals in the Franciscan Order

Metropolitan Cathedral

Aztec Temple Sculpture

Aztec Temple Sculpture


Our second layover was in Lima and this time *I* led our group on the tour of the downtown area. I'd been to Lima a few years before but only while passing through to Cuzco and had not really been out to explore the city so I was pretty happy about getting the chance to do so on this trip. We visited the Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral (which features a rendition of the last supper with guinea pig as the entree on the table), the Government Plaza (where we got the watch the changing of the guard set to some pretty bizarre music), and the San Francisco monastery. We indulged in traditional Peruvian cuisine for lunch and dinner (hello Pisco sours!) and then dropped in for a massage at a parlor that offered excellent Thai services but that also seemed to quietly offer happy ending services as well (of which we did not partake).

 The Palace Guard

Scenes from the Plaza

Scenes from the Plaza



Church Interiors







                                                               Jon and Jenni downtown


Our third day into the trip, we were finally off to the jungle. We flew from Lima to Iquitos (see the map below) and then got into a small boat for the trip south on the Amazon river into the jungle.


Muyuna Lodge is actually on a tributary of the Amazon - the  Yanayacu River (which means "black water" in Quechua). We arrived to the Lodge in the early afternoon and headed off in another boat again almost immediately after dropping of our things in our cabins. This first outing was designated as a bird watching trip and would be the first of many for that purpose. Our guide took us to Lake Sapote and pointed out all the amazing birds. There were parrots, jacanas, kingfishers (lots of kingfishers), herons, and many many other birds, most of which were quite noisy. After that, we made our way to Lake Moena for some sloth watching but no sloths showed up. Our guide was very good at pointing out animals that we would have otherwise never seen. Even now, looking pretty closely at the pics we took that I *know* have animals in the shot, I have trouble finding the creatures. They just blend in so well with the trees and other vegetation. 

                                                               Arrival at Muyana Lodge


Birds Birds Birds








                                                                    Cute Lil Critter


Dinner at the lodge that first evening was fantastic (fresh passion fruit and local fish, among other things) and we spent some time at the table getting to know the other guests. There were probably about 10 people staying at the lodge at the time but three years later the only guests that stand out in my memory are the young man and woman in their twenties who were both pilots for Lufthansa. 

Our second day at the lodge (and all days beyond) looked like this : eat, nature excursion, rest, repeat. In the morning after breakfast we set out in the boat to Lake Casha to look for monkeys and sloths and we were lucky enough to spot some, along with many birds. 


More beautiful birds 




The Birdwatcher




Gigantic Lily Pads


After lunch at the lodge, we went to Lake Purura to for Piranha fishing and were lucky in that too, each bagging a handful of fish. Piranha fishing , woo boy, is that an adventure. We used raw meat - chicken and fish I think - to catch them and they were very feisty. When it rains, the Piranha jump up and out of the water in great gymnastic maneuvers and it just so happens that while we were out it started to rain (it started to rain so many times while we were out on in the boat) and one of those little guys with the ferocious rawr rawr rawr teeth jumped right into our boat and onto Jonathan's lap. That was a sight to see. Jon was startled and jumped a bit of course, but not too much, which was good, because it only takes a little rocking to tip the boat. 


Piranha fishing


Back at the lodge, we relaxed in our cabins and munched on the spectacular buffet of treats my friends Michelle and Paula had brought along - minibar bottles of spirits and sweet snacks of every kind. We spent a good deal of time resting and watching the rain pour before dinner (where we got to dine on the Piranha we'd caught earlier in the day) and then we set off on a nighttime boat ride and hike to meet up with rainforest frogs. I had quite the interesting exchange with our guide in the boat during that evening excursion. I had brought, as had all my friends, Snickers candy onto the boat. I guess we looked quite foolish as the Americans carting around candy bars in the jungle but we were only following orders. We'd done so because it clearly says on the Muyuna Lodge website to bring "Snickers for use on the night boat ride". Midway through our outing, I asked our guide about it when I noticed he kept looking over at the candy, and at first, he just stared at me in reply. Then he said had no idea what I was talking about or why I'd bring chocolate with me. No one else at the lodge but my little group had done so (apparently we were the only ones who read the "what to bring" web page closely). I insisted that the website had specified it and he just shook his head and laughed. He laughed a lot. After a bit more conversation, I found out that snickers is some wacky British term for rubber boots. 


 
Amazon Frog


Jungle Tarantula


Day three in the jungle found me beginning to miss civilization a bit but still enjoying the serenity of the jungle. Our morning excursion was a longer hike in the jungle where we learned some survival techniques from our guide. He taught us how to find the vines that hold water, how to cut them and drink the clean water from them, and how to avoid many of the fatal hazards lurking in the jungle. 


                                                                 Jungle Tree

Creepy Crawlies

Jenni Drinks Vine Water


We spent the afternoon in the small village just down the river from the lodge and had good conversation with the locals. The kids were adorable and tugged at my heart. 


Our last evening at the lodge, we ventured out on another nighttime ride in the canoes to listen to wildlife in the pouring rain. It was very peaceful and a wonderful way to cap off the evening.

The next morning we got up early and took the boat upstream to the Amazon to swim in the mighty river. I was hoping to see an Anaconda but no such luck. What we did see, though, was pretty amazing. There are wild, pink dolphins that live in the Amazon and while shy, they swam close enough to us in the water to give us a chance to really get a great look at them.

As soon as we finished lunch on our last day at the lodge, we packed up our things and the lodge boat driver took us back up the Amazon to Iquitos, where we walked around the city for a bit and did some shopping before heading back to Lima and eventually, the United States. It was a fantastic trip, from beginning to end, and I think getting into the jungle and away from modern life as we know it should be something everyone does at least once.




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