AMAZON – The word alone immediately conjures up images of the exotic, the enigmatic and the adventurous.
All of that is true for anyone fortunate enough to visit this amazing area of South America and one of the world’s largest biospheres so essential for the continuation of life on the planet.
My entry point for my Amazon adventure was the remote ‘wild west’ city of Iquitos in Peru. This jungle city was once a booming rubber town and it is still possible to see the signs of opulence in some of the residences. But, it is the river, the Amazon that controls and determines life in the area these days.
Iquitos is one of the rarest cities in the world – a large city that has no entry road by car with access restricted to either boat or air traffic. Arrival into Iquitos can be confrontational with the signs of burnt-out hulks of drug-runner planes lying beside the runways and the ever-present humidity and bustle of life.
On my last visit to Iquitos I was fortunate to see just how people’s lives in the city and surrounding areas are so at the mercy of the river. Torrential storms and rain had swollen the mighty Amazon to record levels with much of the city under water and with no option other than await the annual dry season when river levels drop considerably.
The Belen Market in Iquitos is a ‘must see’ if you want to get some idea of a ‘locals’ life in this city which, because of its remoteness, comes with a slightly dangerous underbelly.
I was personally escorted through the market by local police acting as ‘security’ for tourists and experienced no issues other than absolute amazement at the range of food – a smorgasbord of food Amazon style … from piranha, to monkey heads, giant snails and much more. This part of the city virtually floats on water when levels are high, making it truly one of the most memorable experiences on any Amazon journey.
So, with an air of expectation and anticipation, I boarded my River Amazon cruise vessel, the MV Arapaima. No five-star multi-decked cruise ship this is, and nor should it be. This is true Amazon cruising with a suitable level of comfort for the Western traveler. With a capacity of only 26 passengers this is how you explore the Amazon’s upper waters from Peru down river to Leticia in Colombia. Yes, that Colombia!
For the next four days the experience builds with cultural and environmental experiences found no where else on earth.
I certainly didn’t expect to find a small but very active sugar cane liquor distillery along the vast banks of the Amazon. If
you’re brave enough take a sip of this local ‘fire water’ and wander around the factory, you’ll be watched eagerly by the local kids cradling baby sloths as replacements for the western kitten or puppy!
We took a side excursion downstream to the mouth of the Napo River and ultimately the village of Pevas situated at the mouth of Palometo Creek. It’s here we have an encounter with the local Wuitoto Indian community including a magical time spent in the small primary school where a group of happy young Amazonian kids sang us local songs. In return they received a lesson in English and how to sing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oy Oy Oy. A truly life changing experience seeing the smiles on these quite primitive peoples’ faces, still living life much as it has always been.
Pevas is also the home for renowned Amazonian artist Francisco Grippa and what a home he has! Constructed in a rambling fashion over many years, the home sits on a hilltop overlooking the town. A visit to the studio to meet the fascinating man and a climb to the observation tower for a stunning view over the Amazon River basin is something to be remembered.
… and so it continued: evening Caiman spotting, fishing underneath the Amazon treetop canopy for piranha, exploring rainforest along virgin trails in search of monkeys and bird life.
Cruising this majestic river as a massive storm approaches, the sky darkening as the mass of cloud sweeps closer, is a sight to see. Being enveloped by wave after wave of torrential rain to be followed by brilliant sunshine is almost impossible to describe. You just have to be there!
The Amazon breathes life in so many ways and is definitely one of the most life changing experiences I have had. The sunrises and the sunsets are glorious and an evening meal on the sun deck prepared from local meats and vegetables is beyond description.
Leticia or is it Santa Rosa or even Tabatinga? Our journey concludes at this city where three countries merge – Peru, Colombia and Brazil. There are few places on earth where within 30 minutes you can be in three different countries.
The Amazon continues to amaze, confound and mystify our world. Under severe pressure, change is certainly coming to this vast area of our planet and so there will never be a better time to experience one of the world’s truly last wild places.
The Amazon – it’s OUT THERE. See it while you can.
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|Greg Clayton has for 40+ years managed retail travel outlets, established a wholesale tour operation in Hawaii, escorted tours to exotic locations, writes travel journalism and even co-hosts his own Cruise & Travel Show on the Gold Coast|