Have you been to the jungle? Cause if you haven’t, you should go. But you should know, it’s pretty much The Forbidden Forest. I’m thinking J.K. based The Forbidden Forest on the Amazon. I swear the tarantulas felt as big as Aragog’s family.
It wasn’t all bright green curly vines and crazy bright birds and snakes. It’s not The Rainforest Cafe, like you might expect. But it was still pretty awesome. It was also terrifying, especially at night. I might not recommend the 30-minute night hike. Zac and I had a safe word for that. (It was cabbage.)
Anyway, we started with 3 days in the city of Iquitos. How pretty is this picture of the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas?
Plaza de Armas – Iquitos
The jungle pretty much butts up to the city of Iquitos. Walk one block away from the Plaza and you will find this:
Marshy Inlet – Iquitos
There are a lot of homeless/stray cats and dogs throughout Peru, but apparently they’re not really considered pets when you get into the deep jungle, which makes sense, because they’re a drain on limited resources. In the jungle, they’re often used as bait for animals and fish! However, this little guy was only a couple of weeks old, and had an owner, but no mama. So cute and so sad. The owner said he didn’t eat anything because his mom disappeared while he was supposed to be breastfeeding. She didn’t think he would survive much longer, but I like to think he bounced back!
Maybe 2 weeks old? Sin mami! Poor guy.
Also, you start to wonder about a town when these are the warning signs posted in your hostel room.
Recommendations – “For Your Safety” in the Hostel…read the last one.
There is so much to say about the jungle, it’s going to be impossible to capture it all. We spent one of our days in Iquitos at Quistococha, which is kind of a reserve/conservatory that protects different species. It’s kind of like a really poorly maintained zoo. All of the animals were in exhibits or cages, but we didn’t see many other people or employees of the conservatory very often. We entered at just the right time, when the dolphin was being fed. Dolphins are great, but apparently the pink & gray dolphins of the Amazon are very aggressive, so watch out.
Quistococha – Dolphin Trainer
We come across this relatively small enclosure that housed 15-20 alligators. WAY too many, if you ask me. But, look at this guy? There’s no way that’s a real alligator. So then we figured that the super-still alligators on the land were fake, and those in the water were real. Why would they do that?
Alligator – real or fake?
We walked away to check out some jaguars and stuff, then passed by and the alligators again and his eyes were closing. Okay, so he’s not fake, just really freaking scary. In that moment, I realized that I am terrified of alligators. I was reading/re-reading the Divergent series during this trip, and I’m certain that if I were Dauntless, these guys would be in my fear landscape. (Is that too many fantasy-fiction novel references for one blog post?)
Alligator – It’s Alive!
There were lots of jungle monkeys and hundreds of turtles and fire ants and snakes and such. But the jungle has this really funny-looking creature. It’s like a gigantic guinea pig. So these two gigantic guinea pigs decided to take a little dip in the pond of their enclosure. That one in the front stayed in the corner away from the alligator, but the second one must have thought the alligator was a log! He swam up to it and tried to climb on top of the alligator’s back!! The alligator shook him off and snapped a little, and the hog-like creature swam to safety.
*UPDATE: My dad, the encyclopedia, just informed me that this creature is the Capybara.
Some sort of Amazon hog (capybara) preparing to hang out with the alligator…
Here we have a monkey. We watched him ESCAPE from his enclosure, with all his monkey friends cheering him on! He tried to get back in, but knocked over the broom he’d used to climb down and ended up escaping into the jungle after chatting to his friends. It was a medium-sized monkey, so we didn’t get too close. I’d have a lot of pent-up anger against humans if I’d been locked in a cage my whole life. We didn’t want him to tear our faces off.
Zac – Quistococha
I’m glad we ended up going to Quistococha because we saw a lot of jungle animals that we wouldn’t get to see in our part of the jungle – including those awesome parrots!
After relaxing as cheaply as possible for a couple of days, we began our 3-day, 2-night jungle tour. And it was awesome.
Day 1: We woke at the muy madrugada hour of 5:00. We packed up a school backpack full of spare clothes, bug spray, and a flashlight, ate a little oatmeal and fruit, met our guide, and left the hostel at 6:00am. We took a 2-hour drive to the city of Nauta, then a 10-minute mototaxi to the port, where we waited for an hour for the guides to get the last supplies, and then about a 2-3-hour boat ride to the Jungle Wolf lodge.
On the Amazon
Our Lodge – Jungle Wolf Expeditions
Meal 1. We were SO HAPPY to have more than just rice! Fried plantains, hearts of palm salad, and catfish. (Lil fuzzy, sorry!)
After a leisurely lunch, we got on the little green boat and spent a few hours on the river, checking out birds and big clans of tiny monkeys. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures of the monkeys because they stayed well hidden in the trees. They were so loud though!
Mama Vieja Hawk (Ancient Mother)
We returned to the lodge for a few more hours to play UNO, read, and apply lots and lots of bug spray before venturing into the jungle at nightfall. We also got to watch our host go dig up a huge yuca (tapioca, cassava, manioc) root for our dinner. I love stuff like that.
Yuca Root! (Tapioca, Manioc, Cassava)
There were SO MANY mosquitos out at night, and we saw lots of horrible critters – poisonous centipedes and caterpillars, spiders, fire ants, a cockroach the size of my palm, and a tarantula the size of a dinner plate. We were both pretty scared, being in The Forbidden Forest and all, which is why halfway through I suggested the safe word in case we were too scared to continue. I spent the entire 30 minutes chattering nervously about various things, and Zac pretty much didn’t say a word. He was a little more scared than I was though because he’s a true city boy. At least I’d lived in the woods for several years as a child so I wasn’t quite as terrified. And also he really really hates spiders.
Female Tarantula – LARGER THAN MY HAND. Way too big.
Afterwards, we returned to the lodge to find this little guy in our bathroom. (And the bathroom was in the bedroom without a door.)
The gigantic spider I trapped for Zac on day 1. Zac was terrified.
When he was fully stretched out on the wall, he was about the size of my hand, including the legs. I was able to trap him in this glass, and we later learned that these types of “house spiders” are apparently not poisonous. If only that were true of the gigantic scorpion we found in our room the next night. Zac got up to go to the bathroom around 2am and shone the flashlight on a massive scorpion, highly poisonous, just hanging on our door, like 3 feet from the bed. After he came out of the bathroom, the scorpion was gone. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.
Day 2: What an exciting evening we had! We rose to the loudest birds ever, around 6:30, and had an omelet and fruit for breakfast. Our food on the trip was pretty good, but they kept serving fluffy white sandwich bread with everything. (Bimbo’s!) Like wonderbread, not toasted or anything. Do people eat that? I was confused by it.
After our breakfast I got to feed a Tapir named Chico! The host of this lodge found a baby Tapir who was injured and close to death. Being an animal lover, he nursed it back to life, gave it a “necklace” (collar), and now leaves breakfast and dinner for him every day. Chico spends the rest of the time wandering through the jungle escaping jaguars and poachers. He has an adventurous life. Also, his nose looks like an anteater or a mini-elephant trunk or something. He was so cool!
Chico! The “pet” Tapir.
The majority of the morning was spent back in the jungle, but it is a much friendlier place by the light of day. We did find a boa constrictor in his hole though, which is hard to see from this picture. For the rest of the 3-hour hike I was repeating, “Oh dread, he’s up to my head,” in my mind.
“I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor, and I don’t like it one bit.”
We learned about medicinal plants, found this super cool fruit called Ivory Fruit, which looks and feels like a hard quartz rock. I took that home for my souvenir. It’s really really hard, and our guide had to slice into it with his machete. Maybe Zac’s Bear Grylls knife is strong enough to peel the outer layer.
Our guide found a “very clean” worm inside of a fruit for us to eat. Apparently it tastes like coconut. We didn’t have the courage to try it though. The Suri worms are very very common for jungle folk to eat, and when cooked, they taste like chicken. This white worm is not quite the same as the chicken-like variety, but is still a common feature of the jungle person’s diet. I’ll settle for a picture.
Edible worm – apparently it tastes like coconut.
Deadly poisonous mushroom.
This strangler ficus is unable to perform photosynthesis – meaning it has to prey on other plants to get nutrients. It strangles palm trees and steals their nutrients, and when they die, it’s roots and branches crawl out in every direction to find other palms to strangle. Pretty insane and really cool.
600 year old tree in the Amazon! Do you like Zac’s machete?
After lunch, we headed back out on the river to view some pink and gray dolphins, but we found ourselves in the midst of a deluge, so we docked at a nearby village – Puerto Miguel – and waited it out. Also, did you know that butterflies like to get high on gas fumes? Cause that’s what this guy was doing around our motor.
Caught a butterfly!
Puerto Miguel is a really cool little village of about 400 people. We hung out at our guide’s friend’s place, which was the most amazing part of our trip. Here’s why:
BABY SLOTH. ON MY BODY. BEST MOMENT EVER.
They had 2 pet sloths. And I got to hold one. This sloth is about 3 years old, and they found it when they were out hunting or gathering in the jungle. Screw monkeys, this thing is AWESOME.
A few days before we arrived, their dog discovered an alligator’s nest, and the owners decided to raise them for a little while in a tub in their home, to make sure they survived the first few months, since they’re becoming endangered. I also held this little guy, who was VERY aggressive for being only a week old!
1 week old alligator!
We headed back to the water to see the pink and gray dolphins, which was pretty cool. They don’t come out of the water very far, so I wasn’t able to snap a picture. The guide told us that they are gray when they are young, but as they age and are exposed to the unique waters of the Amazon, they start to turn pink. So normally around 10 years old, they begin changing from gray to pink. Pretty interesting.
At nightfall, we began a slow boat ride back to the lodge, hoping to see some alligators along the way.
On the river.
We didn’t really know what to expect, but we spent like 45 minutes in the shallows, in pitch black, with 1 flashlight between 4 people, being eaten by mosquitos, while our guides spoke to each other in hushed tones. We were a little scared, since an adult alligator was moving around nearby (we could hear it) and could have easily tipped our boat over. But that didn’t stop our guides! The 17-year-old assistant actually climbed out of the boat several times and then caught a small alligator! It was only about 2 years old, but he could still bite your hand off if you weren’t careful.
2-year old alligator – significantly scarier than the 1-week old.
Time for dinner, sleep, and bedroom scorpions! (ACK)
Day 3: Our final day in the jungle began with breakfast and fishing. We spent a few hours out on the boat fishing for piranhas, which was really really fun. Before we even started, a piranha and a baby catfish both jumped in our boat and flopped around for several minutes, scaring me to bits. I wasn’t very good at the fishing; I’d yank the pole out of the water before the fish was hooked so it would just fly up a few feet and then let go, but I did end up catching two! Zac caught 3 piranhas and 1 baby catfish.
Fishing for Piranhas and he caught a baby catfish!!
TERRIFIED. You can’t see it on my face, but I was.
On the way back, they offered Zac the chance to try and drive the boat. He did it, and at first he did a great job. But he did a lot of overcompensating, and we ended up stuck on the riverbank for a couple of minutes while they tried to pry us loose from the vines and logs. Also, you might note that Zac donated his awesome highly coveted yellow sunglasses to one of our guides.
Zac trying (and sort of failing) to drive the boat.
Me being the semi-aggressive got-something-to-prove feminist thought, “Hey, I can do better than that, and I should show these Machismos that women ARE capable.” And even though they never asked me, I made them let me drive the boat. I’m pleased to report that I didn’t crash into anything, and I would have made my mother proud with my driving skills. ONE SMALL STEP FOR WOMANKIND! Take that, sexism!
Caitlin successfully driving the boat.
Back at the lodge, the host’s son, Romy, and Zac went for a swim in the piranha-infested waters. This kid was awesome.
Zac and Romy
We returned to the lodge for showers and lunch, and headed back to Iquitos for our last 2 days of relaxation. All in all, our trip to Iquitos and the jungle tour were both absolutely amazing! Definitely one of the major highlights of our time in Peru. For those of you wondering how much this crazy adventure cost, I’m including a price breakdown below. Now we’ve got a week in Lima hanging with friends and making final goodbyes before our Adios para siempre Lima, and 2 weeks in Mexico.
Cost of Iquitos + Jungle Tour
- Roundtrip Flights, Lima – Iquitos: $150 each
- Food (5 days in IQT): about $35 for two people (we shopped at the market and the grocery store and cooked at the hostel for almost every meal)
- Accommodations: 40 soles per night, 200 soles for 5 nights: $73 total (2 people)
- Quistococha (bus +entrance): 24 soles – $8.70
- Jungle Tour: 450 soles (150 soles per day) – $165 each + 20 soles tip ($7.25)
So our trip came to about $377 per person for 7 days, including flights, which is pretty good for what we got! When it comes to tipping your guide, I have no idea what the policy is. We pay a lot for our tour, but we just about ran out of money, so all we could tip was 20 soles. I never really know how much to tip down here.