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Love that dirty water…the Amazon!

Back when I decided where I wanted to spend my semester abroad, I chose to study spanish in Peru partially because of all the different climates (also because I had heard the accent was easier to understand than in, say, Argentina).  I started off my time on my study abroad peru trip here with a trip to Cuzco and the surrounding area, which is in the sierra (the Andes).  Then I came back and have spent most of my time in Lima, in the desert coastal region.  And to top it all off, last weekend I and four friends from the program traveled to Iquitos and the Amazon rainforest!

This trip started, as so many of them do, uncomfortably early in the morning.  It was the weekend of APEC, a global economic conference held in Lima.  We had Thursday and Friday off from school and were advised by Laura to get out of Lima, as it was sure to be a madhouse.  On Friday at 9am we landed in the jungle city of Iquitos, which is inaccessible by road.  Flying in, we could see the beginnings of the rainforest, scattered evidence of deforestation, and the picturesque switchback rivers.

We went on a walking tour of Iquitos, seeing, among other things, a house made of iron that was shipped in a long time ago, a LOT of mototaxis (it´s too hot to drive around in a car!), and the plaza de armas.  Also there was a cool walkway along the side of the city that bordered the river (above).

Then we walked through the street market in Belen, a poorer part of the city.  We tried a strange and sweet fruit that I think is called guava, and passed hundreds of stalls selling meat, vegetables, drinks, spices, and anything else you could imagine.

We spent a relaxing afternoon at the hotel, spent the night, and the next morning we set out in taxis for the 2 hour ride to Nauta, another riverside city.  In Nauta, we immediately boarded a boat and headed to the lodge.

We relaxed on our covered boat and watched the river banks get more and more jungle-y for about 2 hours, and then desembarked at our lodge, on a river that feeds into the Amazon:

We ate lunch, put on boots, and treked around the lodge in the rain for a while.  We met Octavio, our guide, who grew up in the Amazon and can tell you the name of anything in the rainforest in four different languages.  That night, Octavio took us on an amazing hike in the jungle near the lodge.  It was a little bit terrifying, a little bit tiring, and really really fun.  We dodged tree branches, climbed over logs, cowered from the giant moths and small bats that dove at our heads, and saw a lot of cool animals.  Octavio startled a wild chicken that made a noise that to me sounded like the growl of a jaguar, and our preocupation with that animal was a source of amusement to Octavio, who repeatedly told us that they were only found deeper in the jungle.  We did see a lot of really large insects and a bright green tree frog, who didn´t care at all that we came up really close and shined flashlights in his face.

The next morning we went out on the boat early to do some birdwatching (and, it turned out, bat-watching), ate breakfast, and then set out again to fish for pirañas.  Only Octavio caught any; the rest of us agitated the water to imitate a floundering animal, threw in out baited hooks, and jerked the rods like we were supposed to, but came up empty everytime, usually having lost out bait to boot.

After sampling the piraña Octavio caught, we climbed back into the boat and headed downriver to visit the Cocama tribe in their town of Libertad.  We wandered around a little bit, and then went into the small town store, where the women spread out their handicrafts for us to buy.  It was a jungle town like many others, apparently, and was somewhat modernized from all of the tourist business on that part of the river.

After a night boat ride to look for crocodiles (we found a small caiman!  and by we I of course mean Octavio)

and a good night´s sleep in our mosquito nets, we left the lodge for the ride back to Nauta and then Iquitos.  We then went to visit another tribe–the Yajua, who live only about 30 minutes by boat from Iquitos.  Despite the fact that we saw them running to put on traditional grass skirts over their athletic shorts, it was a cool experience to see their community and participate in a small dance ritual.  Also, we all got to try shooting a blow dart gun–it´s hard!  They were very excited to sell us their handicrafts, and to take the bread and candy we brought as gifts.  As we drove away in the boats and looked back to see the young boys pulling off their skirts and running around in basketball shorts we decided that even though our experience was clearly very scripted and touristy, we still learned something–about the Yajua´s old ways of life, and about this new one that we had been a part of.

We returned to Iquitos and said goodbye to Octavio and all the rest of the staff of the travel agency (talk about personal service: there were five people there to see us off for the airport!).

We got back late Monday night, and then jumped right back into regular life, as Tuesday began the last week of classes at the university.  We only have about two weeks left here now–I can´t believe how fast the time went by!

(Thanks to Miriam and Kelley for all the pictures!)

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