Travels with Lois and Jason
Amazon Rain Forest and the Galapagos Islands
an adventure in contrasts
December 22, 2011 - January 8, 2012
Our Amazon Experience
Click here for our Galapagos Experience
|Diary entry for first morning on the
Amazon: This river is huge.
It is at least a mile across and the water is chocolate brown,
turbulent, and moving fast. Every few minutes a single log or a
raft of logs goes whizzing by.
What comes to mind when you imagine the Amazon River Rain forest?
A river. Lots of rain. A jungle. Strange and exotic
birds and animals. Natives in loin cloths spear fishing. We had
watched videos, done some reading, but nothing prepared us for what we
actually saw, which is extremely challenging to describe.
|We live in Southern
California, essentially a desert where our rainfall
is measured in inches (and we feel lucky to have a foot of rain in a
year). We visited an area of the Amazon River with rainfall
measured in yards (as in 10 yards of rain a year, or 30 feet, or 360
inches). We will try to give this a little perspective.
We went to the "Birthplace Of The Amazon," where the
Maranon Rivers converge near Nauta, Peru. Each of these
over 1000 miles
long and it is another 2400 miles from this point to the Atlantic
Ocean. The Amazon River is the largest river in the world
in terms of volume of water.
The Amazon Basin, or the area of land which feeds the Amazon River (the
green area on the map), is
almost the size of the lower-48 of the United States. The change
in elevation from Nauta to the Atlantic is less than 1000 feet.
That is, imagine an area of land about the size of the United States
that is completely flat, no mountains and some occasional rolling
As shown on the map, we traveled a couple of hundred miles up stream
from Iquitos, Peru to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (a National
Park), exploring some large and some very small tributaries. We
saw the jungle. We saw the exotic birds and animals. We saw
the river. We experienced only two rainy days (out of 8).
We saw the natives in their homes and fishing in the river. But
overwhelming and incomprehensible was to be told over and over again
that the water level had come up about 20 feet already, and had another
10 feet to go. The water lines on the trees verified these
remarks. Everywhere we went we saw villages of stilted houses with the
floors easily ten feet higher than the current water level.
|but water is
And the source of this water? About half comes from the
Andes with its myriad of twenty-thousand foot peaks and glaciers, and
the rest from rainfall. Eight of the world's ten largest
(as measured by volume of water) are tributaries of the Amazon.
How do you comprehend
water in such quantity?
In our short visit during the transition period between high and low
water levels, we had a peek at a world totally adapted to an annual
thirty foot change in water level. Towering trees a hundred feet
above our heads had a canopy full of monkeys, sloughs, and birds.
We knew they were there because our guides told us so (and we
occasionally actually saw and heard them). We saw lots of toucans
and other birds scurrying through the middle level of the trees,
lots of egrets and other waterfowl along the waters
edge, and our guides found snakes and other reptiles hiding in the
water or grasses.
Anaconda -- caught by fisherman
nosed lizard snake
We went out two or three times each day touring on a skiff (motorized
canoe). We encountered log-jams and plant-jams on many outings,
having to turn back or hack our way through on different occasions.
Jungle Boat Ride on a skiff
|Lilly pad jam
We saw black water rivers and brown water rivers. The brown
water rivers originate as snow and ice high in the Andes. As they
cascade to the flat lands, they carry tremendous amounts of silt and
dirt, making the water appear brown. The origin of a black water
river is rain water which has fallen in a forested swamp or
wetland. (Remember there are yards of rain each year and the land
is very flat!) As
the vegetation decays in the water, tannins are leached out
making the water appear black. The points of convergence of these
different rivers (the meeting of the waters) is quite
At one point our skiff ran along the convergence for at least a mile
with brown water on one side of the skiff and black water on the other
brown and black water in tributary
line of black and brown waters
Our guides and native village life
There were four extremely knowledgeable
guides for the 32
passengers. Each was a man who had grown
up in one of the
native villages along the river. The couple we got to know
had similar stories of their transition from native life to educated
tour guide. The Peruvian government sends teachers to the remote
villages for a couple of years as a way of paying back their college
education. For one of our guides, his teacher recognized his
intellect and then encouraged and arranged for him to move to Iquitos
(THE city for the entire region) where he completed his education and
training. Another told us that his father arrived as a teacher
but fell in love with a local girl, married her and then years later
sent him (his son) to Iquitos to continue his education and training.
Our guides explained that the natives lead a very hard life, but no one
in the village goes hungry. There is always fish and cassava
(starchy root) to eat. There was a village every few miles along
all the large waterways. Each village consists of about a dozen
houses, all in a row facing the water. We were told that during
the low water season the villagers plant corn and cassava along the
beach area in front of their houses. At high water they use
canoes to move between houses. We saw fish cages floating in
the river in front of the villages. These cages were net
enclosures where the natives kept extra fish that they caught to keep
it fresh (since there was no electricity or refrigeration).
with the village children
Our hiking experiences
During our visit we were only able to go for two hikes. Both required
the use of rubber boots as water levels were such that the ground was
very soggy. Our guides said that in another couple of weeks we
would not have been able to go on these hikes at all. (On the
other hand, if we had visited six month later, we could not have gone
up any of the small tributaries “ which were consistently more
interesting and beautiful than the larger rivers “ as they
would all be
Our first hike had a couple of shocks: at one point our guide
showed us a swollen area on a downed tree and said this was a termite
nest. He reached down and put his hand in the midst of the nest
and when he lifted his hand out it was swarming with termites.
He said that the termite oils were good mosquito repellents and
proceeded to lick his hand clean. (He said it tasted great and
was also a source of protein.) As we continued hiking our
was looking for a palm nut. He found one and used his machete to
cut it in two. He showed us the seeds inside and was quite
excited as one seed wasn't a plant seed, but
a grub. He
proceeded to pull it out and eat it. He said it was a delicacy
and a source of protein. Needless to say this is something
you need to grow up with and not an acquired taste!
(of only two); forest not yet completely under water
termites -- natural mosquito repellent
found in palm nut (in right hand) -- a local delicacy
Some miscellaneous adventures
|We went fishing and each caught a
piranha. They are a small fish,
from 4 to 8 inches, with a red belly, and nasty bite.
||We saw the Amazon Lilly Pad,
four feet in diameter, and we saw spider webs that were 10 to 12 feet
across with zillions of tiny
(about 1/2 inch) spiders.
Howler Monkey jumped from tree to tree across a stream DIRECTLY over
heads. (Picture taken by one of our shipmates.)
||We went to a manatee rescue
center and got to bottle feed some
manatees. The center does an education program with the natives
when reintroducing these beautiful mammals into the wild to help them
survive. (We also went to a rescue center where they were
breeding turtles and 8 foot
long "lung" fish. When mature, they are reintroduced to areas
where they have been over fished.)
We came to appreciate why there are no large land
animals in the
Amazon: small and nimble are needed to survive where the
vegetation is so dense and the land so swampy. On the other
hand, manatees, pink dolphins, and lung fish all evolved in the
nutrient rich waters of the Amazon.
We went to the floating city of Belen (a suburb of Iquitos) were
everyone lives on floating houses, goes to floating churches and
|Floating house with outhouse on
||Boy on log "boat," house in background
||Washing dishes at a floating
||A street with houses on stilts
This has been an amazing trip. We really didn't know what
expect, and we were definitely not disappointed. The
diversity of the trees and flowers with their many colors including
every possible shade of green, reflected in the still water of a black
stream, or seen across the wide expanse of brown water, against a
backdrop of blue, gray, clear or cloudy sky, was astoundingly
beautiful! Riding in a skiff at six in the morning, hearing the
jungle songs, watching the reflection of the sky in the water, oh what
a wonderful trip!
photo journalist: Lois Frand
You can reach us via email at Jason
April 11, 2012