Almost as soon as we arrived at the Cumaceba Lodge (the name is a type of rain forest tree), we started doing excursions. The initial activity was just a walk around the area of the lodge to orient ourselves to the grounds and introduce us to some of the wonders of the Amazon Jungle. Our guide, Sergio, was also called Jungle Boy (Nino de la Selva) as he’d grown up in one of the small villages nearby, speaking Quechua (the primary native language of Peru and much of the Andes) until he attended primary school, where he learned Spanish. He was in college before learning English.
Squirrel monkeys live in the tropical forests of Central and South America in the canopy layer. The common squirrel monkey is captured for the pet trade and for medical research but it is not threatened. Two squirrel monkey species are threatened: the Central American squirrel monkey and the black squirrel monkey are listed as vulnerable.
BTW, Miss Baker, an ‘astronaut’ squirrel monkey, rode into space as part of the United States space program, and returned safely.
I’m usually big on research before I travel, but I didn’t do ANY before coming here. I just chose a Travel Agency I’ve booked day tours through in Arequipa, and let them arrange the entire excursion. So, I feel pretty lucky that everything worked out!
I took a 5 day package with the Cumeceba Lodge. It included one night in Iquitos and 4 nights at the Amazon Lodge. After flying to Iquitos, which took most of the first day, I stayed the night in the Garden House in Iquitos. The next morning, I got a walking tour of the city, then was taken to the port where I met the other English speaking members of my group. Together, we took a 1 hour boat ride to the lodge.
There are at least a half dozen lodges you can stay in outside of Iquitos. Mine was probably the most rustic–no internet, no pool, no air conditioning. The only electricity in my room was a weak overhead light, not even a fan (which I really would have liked). We could only charge our electronics twice a day, during 2-hour periods that overlapped with lunch and dinner. But since there was no internet and I didn’t have phone service, that didn’t matter so much. The food was great and very healthy. Meals were (very roughly) at 7:30am, 1pm and 7:30pm. (Time is a fluid concept in all of Latin America.) There was always a serving of meat (usually fire roasted chicken) or fish (fried), baked plantains, boiled yucca, a salad of either spiral cut heart of palm (referred to as jungle spaghetti) or cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes and bread. There were no pastries, only fruit for dessert, usually bananas or papaya. I may have even lost weight!
Other “amenities” included coffee, tea and “cold” (OK, room temperature) filtered water 24 hours a day, a small bar, two decks of hammocks and lots of (very needed) mosquito netting covering the entire top of each cabana. All the windows were screened, patrolled by house geckos that snacked on any bug that landed. One tiny lizard even fell from the mosquito netting ceiling, landing on top of my hand as I brushed my teeth. He narrowly escaped being pushed into my mouth on the handle of my toothbrush!
The housekeeping left something to be desired, however. I finally had to ask for a fresh towel after the third day. It took more than one request to get. Since nothing ever dries in the high humidity, my damp towel was beginning to grow mushrooms. My room was never swept, nor my trash emptied in 5 days. I wouldn’t have minded so much if there’s been a broom around or a bin to dump my trash into, but there simply wasn’t. The water was solar heated, so was only warm starting about mid-morning. For me, this isn’t a big issue, since I’ve often lived with solar heated water. I’ve learned to take a shower before dinner (often my second of the day, depending on the day’s activities), so a morning shower isn’t needed. There was no ice for drinks, but the beer at the bar was cold.
If you come here, bring a flashlight and rain gear. When they offer to rent you mud boots, pay the 10 soles immediately. You’ll need them.
There’s little to do at the lodge, but the guide keeps you busy with excursions after breakfast and another after lunch. Many days we also had excursions before breakfast and after dinner, too. There’s lots to see and do if you have a guide to show you around. My guide was Sergio and he was simply fantastic. Without him, the trip wouldn’t have been interesting at all. He took me fishing for piranha. We had several walks in the jungle and boat rides in a small, stagnant lake to identify plants and animals. We took trips down the Amazon to nearby villages. We saw native Indians and some fish that were almost as long as I am tall. There were lots of caiman and birds. I had three baby monkeys crawl onto me (which I enjoyed) at a rescue center and a tarantula jump onto my stomach (which I did not enjoy). It was an adventure!
Between excursions, I slept. I can’t explain it, but even with the heat and high humidity, I slept very well. In fact, if I wasn’t moving, my body wanted to fall unconscious. The Amazon seems to be the cure for insomnia, at least for me. The environment also–briefly–cured my scaly, dry skin. Arequipa is at an altitude of over 7,000ft with no rain this time of year, typically no cloud cover, and a relative humidity that’s almost always below 20%. The Amazon is near sea level and the relative humidity is almost 100%. It also rained every single day I was there, sometimes for 8-10 hours at a stretch. My dry skin simply sloughed off during my first two showers (both taken within my first 10 hours there). My dry hair also came back to life. Briefly.
It’s nice being a lady of leisure. But it’s also a tad boring. I’ve walked miles here in Arequipa (training for my upcoming Nepal hike) and while it’s a great city, I was getting restless to see something new. One morning it hit me hard. I was missing something really important while I’m here in Peru: The Amazon. I walked to my favorite tourist agency in the Plaza de Armas and rectified that problem. I booked 5 days in the wet, sticky Amazon area, with one night in Iquitos and 4 additional nights in the rustic Cumaceba Lodge. An adventure!
The Amazon has been the stuff of legends for me since childhood. I read that the Amazons were a fierce tribe of women warriors, almost unimaginable in my patriarchal family. While I didn’t see any women wielding bows and arrows, I am convinced that living in the Amazon jungle takes a tremendous amount of strength and ingenuity. I really enjoyed my stay, but it’s safe to say I won’t be building a summer cottage here.
Iquitos, also known as Iquitos City, is the capital city of Peru’s Maynas Province and Loreto Region. It is known as the “capital of the Peruvian Amazon.” The city is located in the Great Plains of the Amazon Basin, at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers. Iquitos is the largest metropolis in the Peruvian Amazon, east of the Andes and the sixth most populous city of Peru. If you want an Amazonian adventure, this is a good place to start. It’s also the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road – it is accessible only by river and air.
While long inhabited by indigenous people, the founding date of the European city is uncertain. Spanish historical documents state that it was set up around 1757, about 200 years following the conquest.
The architecture and historical treasures reflect the colonial and early 20th-century European period, attracting an increased tourist trade in the 21st century after the airport was expanded for international flights. Iquitos is a center of ecological tourism. It has become a major cosmopolitan city with strong roots in the Amazon, featuring a complex history and cuisine, Amazonian landscapes, nightlife, and a growing cultural movement.
In 2012, a quarter of a million tourists started their adventure vacations to the Amazon here. The Historic Center of Iquitos has several structures designated as part of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation: the Cathedral of Iquitos, the Iron House, the Old Hotel Palace, Cohen House, and more than 70 other buildings. Other landmarks are the Plaza de Armas (which I saw); Jiron Prospero, a shopping and historical area; and the lively neighborhood of Belén, often dubbed the “Amazon Venice” for its many waterways (neither of which I saw). The city is also home to the Amazon Library, one of the two most important in Latin America.
Most people travel within the city via bus, motorcycle, or the ubiquitous auto rickshaw (mototaxi, motocarro or motocar). This is a modified motorcycle with a cabin behind supported by two wheels, seating up to three (very thin) people. Transportation to nearby towns often requires a river trip via boat, a pequepeque (Pronounced: PEH kay-PEH kay, an onamonapia–the name is roughly the sound the motor makes).
Tourism is one of the most vital industries in Iquitos, due to its location just off the banks of the Amazon River. The river is often described as “one of the seven natural wonders of the world.” By my count there must be at least a hundred “Natural Wonders of the World.” Must be the New Math? Iquitos receives a considerable amount of foreigners, and has adequate infrastructure to accommodate tourists from all levels, from pricey 5-star hotels to backpacker hostels.
The St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral San Juan Bautista, Catedral Metropolitana de Iquitos) also called Iquitos Cathedral is the main Catholic church, in neo-Gothic style, in the city of Iquitos in Peru. It is located in Iquitos Center at the intersection of Arica and Putumayo streets. The property of the Catholic Church, it was declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation of Peru in 1996, and is considered an urban icon in Iquitos.
Currently, it is the tallest religious temple, also notable for including a crypt–unusual in a place with annual flooding. Construction of the cathedral began in 1911 after the demolition of the ancient temple. It was inaugurated on March 16, 1919, though the tower wasn’t finished until 1924.
I learned to make this Peruvian delicacy at Arthur’s Restaurant during a cooking class with three other teachers. It’s a thick, creamy, spicy chili sauce, with shredded chicken. Ours was atop thick slices of baked potato and garnished with boiled eggs and black olives. Tasty and quite easy to make, this is a staple of Peruvian Cuisine. The yellow aji chilies are probably tough to found outside of South American, so Arthur suggested we substitute a yellow bell pepper and a habanero pepper.
Aji amarillo pepper, a Peruvian yellow chili, which is quite hot, 1
Garlic, 10 grams (5-6 small cloves)
Whole milk, 50ml
Bread crumbs (Traditional Peruvian cooks use fresh, white bread, not dried)
Grated cheese (use a fresh cheese like mozzarella or feta)
Red onion, 1/4
White potato (Yukon Gold work well, but any good baking potato)
Black olives, 2-4
Pecans, 4, roughly chopped
Split and de-seed chili. Chop roughly. Saute with whole garlic cloves until brown in a small amount of vegetable oil. Process until smooth.
Preheat oven 250C. Bake potato 30 minutes or until done. Peel and slice into 3-4 thick rounds. Put on serving plate and keep warm.
Roughly chop onion. Blanch chicken, onions, salt in enough water to cover for 12 minutes or until just cooked. Hard boil egg in the same pot. Save stock. Shred chicken. Discard bones. Take out the egg, remove the shell and cut into 3-4 slices.
Saute pureed chili and garlic paste in a deep pan with a small amount of oil for 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup reserved chicken stock (about 200ml). Mix milk with bread crumbs. Add mixture to pan. Stir and reduce to a thick consistency.
Add grated cheese and shredded chicken. Salt to taste. Heat through. Pour thick chicken mixture onto potato slices in heated serving dish. Garnish with slices of hard boiled egg, chopped pecans, olives. Additional garnish of cilantro and colorful peppers is also attractive, if desired.
Fish fillet, 100 grams (any white fish will do. We used mahi mahi, but also scallops or shrimp are good)
Ginger, 5 grams
Garlic cloves, 5 grams (4 small cloves)
Limes, 2 fresh, whole (room temperatures and roll them on the table before squeezing)
Red Habanero chili, 1 small
Fresh cilantro leave (also called coriander leaves), small bunch
Medium, red onion, 1/4
Medium sweet potato
Dried corn, 50 grams (This is difficult to find. Substitute dried bananas)
Celery, 5 grams
Boil sweet potato, 30 minutes. Peel. Slice into 3-4 rounds. Put into bowl and let cool. Ceviche will be placed on top of this.
Finely chop ginger, garlic together. Place into a bowl and cover with 4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil and mix. Set aside.
Finely chop cilantro. Julianne onion into long, thin strips. Put onion in a small bowl and cover with water.
Cut fish into large cubes. Place into a bowl. (Reserve one piece of fish for the Tiger’s Milk) Add 1.5 grams of salt, chili, cilantro and 3T of oil from the ginger and garlic mixture. Mix and set aside.
Toast the dry corn kernels in a dry pan until they start to brown. Some may even pop. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Tiger’s Milk (Leche de Tigre): In a food processor, mix celery, ginger, garlic, pinch salt, a few pieces of onion, 4 T of onion water, and the piece of raw fish. Process until smooth.
To the fish, squeeze juice of two limes. Stir and allow to “turn white” for about 3 minutes. Add onion slices and Tiger’s Milk. Mix. Top the sweet potato slices with fish mixture. Surround with toasted corn. Garnish with cilantro and peppers.