Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

What happens in the selva

The last month, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off.  For the past three weekends, I’ve been traveling.  (I have every Friday off, and my Monday classes…well, they aren’t that important :))  My plan coming in to my study abroad experience was to spend most weekends in Lima getting to know the city, and I’ve done that for the most part, but Perú is just so diverse!  There are three regions -costa (coast), sierra (mountains) and selva (rainforest), which have completely different climates and populations with very distinct lifestyles.  It would be a shame to leave without getting outside the capital!

So, the last weekend of October, I traveled with 6 of the girls on my program (girls trip!) to Iquitos, which is in the rainforest region of Perú.  It’s the largest city in the world inaccessible by road, so you’ve either got to take a bus and then a boat for several days, or fly.  We chose the latter in light of not wanting to miss a week of classes.  Although, there is a group of European students who took almost 2 weeks off to go by bus and boat…they’re a wild group.

During the trip, there were several, “OMG, I AM IN THE AMAZON” moments, the first of which occured before the plane even landed.  Check out these views of the river from above:

river from plane 1 river from plane 2 river from plane 3 plane

(Note: you can see the pictures bigger if you click on them :))

We stepped off the plane into a hot and humid climate, which was lovely compared to the grey sky we have every day in Lima!  We had booked a guide with a budget lodge and he picked us up in the tiny Iquitos airport.

view of harbor

Overlooking the harbor in Iquitos.

One of the many paradoxes in Perú: They made us wear lifejackets on the boat ride to the lodge.  The rest of the weekend, the boat didn’t even have lifejackets in it.
 The lodge was wonderful.  It was rustic, no electricity, but they had gas lamps to use at night.  All the rooms were connected by wooden bridges because the area floods during high water season (November through April).  We were there at the end of low water season, and it was still dry.
Best part of the lodge: they had 2 “hammock houses”.  Oh, so wonderful.  We spent every little break lying in the hammocks, sleeping, reading, chatting, doing nothing.
One afternoon, I woke up from a nap and got out of my hammock.  Next to it, there was a cat stretched out, snoozing, and at the top of my hammock, there was a parrot just chilling.  I guess it was so hot that everyone wanted a little siesta (nap) :)  I’ve always kind of had a thing for birds, and took a liking to the parrot, Paco, who seems to live at the lodge off of the bananas that visitors feed him.
When we left the lodge, I went to see Paco one more time, but he refused to get off my shoulder and the staff had to pry him off.  I guess he liked me too :)
 The food was so delicious. We got three meals a day (I mean, we’re in the middle of the rainforest…where else would we get food?)  Fried bananas at almost every meal, yuca, pasta made of palm (though I wasn’t a big fan of that one), and one night we had venison!!  Mmmmmm.
The first day, we went to a…well, I guess you’d call it a farm…with dozens of monkeys.  There were two groups of monkeys here: (1) those who were cute and were having fun jumping off trees onto our shoulders, and (2) Pepe.
Oh, Pepe.  I don’t remember what kind of monkey he was, but the name the monkeys’ caretakers used was, “the monkey who steals” (translation).  The workers seemed to see him as a delinquent child, remarking, “Pepeeeee….” when he harassed a visitor.  All I can say is that we had fun playing with our little primate friends, but after an initial encounter with Pepe, we stayed away.
 (Don’t let the smile on her face mislead you…this girl could be Jane Goodall.)
And one of the less hostile specimens:
Later on, we’re looking at a couple snakes they’ve got there.  (Let me just take a moment to note that this would absolutely-positively-not-ever fly in the States.  The anaconda and boa are just chilling on the ground, basically slithering wherever their little heart guides them.  My friend Kaleigh walked within 2 feet of the snake without realizing it was there….and then jumped when she saw it.  There may have been a few expletives involved.)  So the boa is sitting on a tree branch, and Pepe hops up.  They stare at each other for a while, (meanwhile the boa is hissing, and the caretakers seem to be getting a kick out of this), and then, Pepe-the-maniac-monkey grabs the snake by its tail and starts swinging it around.  (Once again, things that would not fly in the United States.)  We ask one of the workers if this happens often, and he tells us, “Yes, Pepe likes playing with the snake.”  We ask, “But does the snake like playing with Pepe?”  He answers, “Pepe likes playing with the snake.”  Okay.  When we got home, we learned that Pepe has apparently gained a bit of a reputation among tourists in the Amazon.  My director knew who he was, and supposedly he has his own Facebook fan page.
pepe-v-snake-2 pepe-v-snake-3

We were also offered the chance to hold the snake (after Pepe was finished playing, of course).  The guy puts it around my neck, hands me the head and tells me, “Don’t let go of the head.”  Later on, I asked him, “Has anyone ever let go?”  He goes, “Yeah, and the anaconda bit him in the neck, but he was okay.”  Okay, then.

me with snake

Some other sweet animals: a toucan (I’d never seen one before!) and a prehistoric turtle (that is, a species that existed prehistorically).

toucan turtle
Another, “Am I really in the Amazon?” moment:
The group!
After leaving, we went to a small, calm shore, where we swam!  (We swam in the Amazon river!)  I didn’t know that was possible, seeing as there are piranhas, but apparently there are areas in which you can swim.  The river floor was covered with really soft mud, in which my feet sunk down more than a foot….maybe that’s what it’s like to walk on water??  We covered ourselves with mud, just for the heck of it.
On the way back to the lodge, we spotted some pink dolphins, which are unique to the Amazon!  Didn’t get a photo though, they’re quick.
The next day we spent exploring the forest, learning about some of the plant and animal species from our nature-boy-guide, Wilson.  He didn’t really speak any English, but there was a German guy on our tour who didn’t speak Spanish.  So he attempted to translate his explanations.  For one plant, he was explaining that it has a medicinal use for wrinkles (in Spanish, “arrugas”).  He tells the German guy that it helps against “arruges.”  “A” for effort, Wilson.
All types of critters in the selva!
 This is a termite hive.  Wilson put his hand against it for a minute, and then took it away crawling with termites.  He then rubbed his hands together to kill them, and spread the remains over his arms.  Apparently, this is insect repellent!  I declined to try that one.  Though it was neat.
drinking from branch
Wilson took his machete and cut a tree root in two places.  He pulled out the section he’d cut and water came out!  (Though destroying part of the Amazon rainforest in the process…whatever happened to sustainable tourism??)
A big tree.  As you can see.
 Our guide showed us a plant that has a sort of red cream inside when you crack it open, so we put it on our lips.  Obviously.
 Honing my blowgun skills!  It took me 5 tries, but I hit the doll they had set up several meters away!
 As part of our “visit to an indigenous tribe” (which we thought was kind of corny, seeing as the tribe puts on an act for tourists, but the older members of our group were really into it) they painted our faces.  Which I forgot about and smeared by reapplying sunscreen…oops.
 Swinging on a vine.  No big deal.  (It’s okay to be jealous :P)
Our third day, we went fishing for piranha and catfish!
 Trying to catch something….anything.  The fish kept stealing my bait without biting the hook!  Sneaky little things.  After getting 3 of my baits stolen, I gave up.
 Some of the people in our group were luckier!
 Look at those teeth!  Our guide had a scar on his leg from when he fell out of a boat several years back, and a piranha took a chunk out of his leg down to the bone.
Sadly, this is all our whole boat caught.  Combined.
Sunday night, we headed back to the city of Iquitos and said good-bye to half our group, those returning to Lima for Monday classes.  We spent the evening getting to know the city a bit.
Chicha morada is my favorite Peruvian drink, hands down.  It’s made from the chicha corn, various fruits, and cinnamon.  I asked for it to-go…which apparently means a plastic bag.  I had a heck of a time getting it open, and when I did I spilled it on myself.  But not to worry, there was still plenty left to enjoy!
We walked down by the river bank, where there were dozens of vendors just sitting out on the sidewalks with their pots and pans, cooking things to sell.  There were some tables set up where little kids were eating, and though we didn’t do it, we gathered that you can just pay the family a bit and share the meal with them.  There were kids running wild all over and music playing, a fun atmosphere!
Monday we took a combi (which actually wasn’t too hard after asking a few people, considering all the practice we’ve had in Lima!) to a national reserve a few kilometers outside of town.  It had a zoo with incredible animals, though it was sad to see them caged up.
 Caiman.  We did a night canoe right while we were in the rainforest to look for them, but didn’t spot any.
It’s Rafiki!
 Gorgeous jaguar…donated to the zoo from California.  Haha.
After seeing the animals, we went swimming here…though we didn’t have our bathing suits so we went in our clothes and got a lot of stares.  It was so hot and humid, so swimming was a nice treat.
During our days in the city, we stayed in a hostel.  Quadruple room, which we had way too much fun with until a hostel staff knocked on our room to tell us to quiet down.

Tuesday it was back to Lima, but not for long!  Friday I left for Cusco, to volunteer with Sierra Productiva.  Post on that coming soon!

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