Our 2nd day in Peru began really, really early! Flight times to and from Iquitos have odd restrictions on them due to the large population of vultures in the Iquitos area. These birds are known to fly around a lot during the day and can fly directly into the jet stream (and you know, that's bad and stuff), so flights are scheduled around the daily habits of the birds. Crazy, right? Our flight to Iquitos left at 4:40am! Yup, you read that right. We needed to check-in around 2:20am, which meant we were all up around 1am. :/
As we're driving back to the airport, we look around and realize that a lot of people still haven't gone to bed from the previous night of partying. Hmph.
Once we got to the airport, we checked in, realized we were all starving and headed to the food court to grab some "breakfast." Jim and MoP opted for coffee and doughnuts from Dunkin Doughnuts, while T-dogg and I saw the McDonald's stand and ran to it. However, since it was 2-ish in the morning, they still weren't serving breakfast. Did that stop us? Nope. We just ordered this and dug in: I can't tell you how good it was. Our food and time schedules were so messed up at this point that the regular rules just didn't apply.
Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to Iquitos. The airport is pretty tiny, with the passengers exiting the plane and then walking a few feet to the baggage claim area. After grabbing our luggage, we met up with our guide, Anselmo, and were transported via bus to the main office of lodge.
It was about a 20 minute ride from the airport to the lodge office in Iquitos. Along the way, Anselmo pointed out various buildings and sights and gave us a history of the town and what it's like today. Iquitos is the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and was known for it's rubber industry in the early 1900's. There are glimpses of that former prosperity in the some of the old buildings that are still standing, but, for the most part, the city seems to struggle financially.
After arriving at the main office, we dropped off our bags, but had about 2 hours to kill before the 4 hour speedboat ride up the Amazon river to our lodge. Anselmo took us to the local market across the street from the office to wander around and get a taste of the local culture.[We found out later that tourists do not usually visit this particular market, which explained why the locals were as interested in us as we were in them. The kids were especially curious; we even had a couple that followed us around for most of the market tour. We'd smile and wave and they'd shyly smile back. So cute.] To say this was an eye-opening experience would be an understatement. One of the first things that struck me was even though the stalls were pretty rustic, the market smelled wonderful and appeared quite clean. There were tables of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as numerous varieties of fish and other delicacies -- all of which smelled fresh and delicious.
The most shocking thing that we saw was fresh caiman being butchered into fillets. Definitely not something you see at the farmer's markert in LA!
On our way out of the market, Anselmo asked us if we were hungry. Um, sure, whatcha got? For 5 soles (the equivalent of less than $2) each couple got a chicken and rice dish with olives and egg wrapped in banana leaves. This was served with a side of fresh onion and peppers mixed with lemon juice that was to be spooned over the rice. Absolutely delicious!
Once our bellies were full, it was time to head back to the office, grab our bags and load up the boat. We were off to the lodge!
To get to the Amazon River, we first had to leave the tributary where Iquitos is located. That first turn onto the Amazon was surreal. It was hard to get my head around that fact, yes, we really were on the Amazon River and headed to an eco-lodge in the rainforest.
En route to the lodge, we made a stop to see the giant lily pads. They are HUGE.
We finally arrived at the lodge around noon, just in time for lunch.
Anselmo quickly briefed us on the policies of the lodge and then we were taken to our rooms to settle in. Yes, the lodge is rustic, but our rooms still had private toilets and showers (albeit cold water only), so it was still a major step up from outright camping in the rainforest. The rustic nature of the lodge also blended in well with the surrounding area.
At the end of lunch, Anselmo asked if we'd be up for a canoe trip in the afternoon. Sure, sounds great! However, I was nervous about whether I'd be able to keep up with the paddling. Um, when he said "canoe trip" that actually translated to "the american tourists sitting in the canoes while the amazon guides paddle them around." Talk about hard work! Each couple had their own canoe, with Anselmo at the helm of one and another guide steering the other. These guys paddled us around for over 3 hours! Unreal.
[Side note: What we didn't know then was that the canoe and motor boat would be our primary mode of transporation while in the jungle. Since it was still the rainy season, the water was high, approximately 20 feet higher than it would be in the dry season. Thus, the trails that people hike in the summer are flooded and we would use the canoes to access the interior of the forest. We were basically cruising around the canopy of the forest. The upside to this, is that the birds, monkeys and other creatures that love to hang out high up in the trees were much closer to us than they would have been in the dry season. We learned to love the sound of the paddle cutting through the water and the sides of the canoe scraping along the sides of the trees.]
That first afternoon out on the water, gliding through the forest was just beautiful and so peaceful. You obviously hear the sounds of the birds and other animals while you're out cruising around, but otherwise it's just this quiet that settles over everything.
The second guide noticed the tell tale sounds of monkey activity and on our way back to the lodge, we took a detour and came upon a troop of the common spider monkey. No pictures as they were very high up in the trees and we were trying to be as quiet as possible so they wouldn't run off. Seeing monkeys in the wild is definitely a major highlight of the trip!
The sun was starting to set during the last part of our trip back to the lodge, which made the trip that much more impressive.
That night, to say we were exhausted would be an understatement. The boys shared a beer before dinner, we had a great meal and then were in bed by 9pm. All of us slept really well, even with the noises of the jungle right there around us. The best part of the night was when it started to rain lightly. And then the skies really opened up and the rain just pounded on the roof of the lodge. Yeah, it woke us all up, but it was such a great sound and the only night that we got to experience it.