Let’s go on a day trip with Dawn on the Amazon. Great idea!
My son Matt and I were sitting around on our patio in front of the Dawn on the Amazon Cafe visiting with three of our friends. One of them says real serious, “What are we doing here? Let’s go on a day trip with Dawn on the Amazon tomorrow.” Everyone chimed in, “Count me in.” “Great Idea.” “I want to go.”
I thought to myself, “Bill, you haven’t been on the river in over three months. Your stressed out. Workin’ too much. Better fix it.” I asked, “You guys need a good guide?”
“Now your talkin’,” they agreed. We decided to meet for breakfast in the morning and start from the Dawn on the Amazon Café.
Ron Hackett is a professional photographer, among other professions. He asked if we could find pink dolphins and birds to photograph. I went through my usual spiel about never guaranteeing we would see specific species, “Because they’re wild. But we’ll do our best.” And of course we did do our best.
Ron’s photos came out professional quality, like you would expect, and he has given me permission to publish them on the Captains Blog. I decided to make two posts. This first article is with my photos, (and a couple of Brian’s), and I will make a special guest blog post to highlight Ron Hackett Photography. I’ll post Ron’s photos in the next article. Stay tuned. I know you will be impressed.
I may be the only professional photographer with only one camera and one lens, (how that came to be is a long story for another time) but I’m not using that as an excuse, just a fact of life. It’s a good camera, a Canon 30D, and a good lens, a Canon 17-85 zoom. I took 230 photos of our day. I really should have only posted half a dozen of the best photos for this article, but instead there are over 40 photos. I want to tell the visual story of our day trip and we saw a lot of interesting scenes.
No photo can compare to the wind blowing through your hair, the sunlight sparkling on the water, the movement of the boat, the sound of a pink dolphin blowing. You have to be there. Join us next time.
I was lucky to get this photo of a young female Pink Dolphin. I wish it was better but you can clearly see the blow hole, the sonar bulb in front and the beak on top of the water as it sounds from right to left. Young females are not as pink as older females and older males are very pink.
Brian really captured the action by snapping this tern diving from pretty high, with it’s head and neck in the water after a fish.
Ok, I’m going to post the rest of my photos and another one by Brian, more or less in chronological order, and use them to tell the story of our day trip with Dawn on the Amazon. If I have your attention, here goes.
Picture yourself with your family and friends, on a boat built of beautiful tropical hardwoods on the Amazon River, keeping cool in the shade, under a traditional thatch roof, stalking pink dolphins, birds, and what ever else we can find that looks interesting to photograph.
“Did you say Amazon River?”
“Yep, I said Amazon River. The largest river in the world.”
“Incredible! I want to go.”
“Come along, let’s get started…”
After breakfast we jumped into four motocarros and raced through the city streets of Iquitos to Bellavista Nanay, where I keep my boats at the Hunting and Fishing Club. One of my river boat pilots, Edson Mariño was already waiting for us with the 60 HP 4 stroke Johnson engine quietly purring when we arrived so we hopped on board and cast off.
We left the flood plane near the entrance of the Hunting and Fishing Club and carefully cruised onto the Nanay River. The first thing my friends noticed was all of the houses were built up on high stilts. “I guess the residents here like to climb ladders.”
“Nope, the water rises and falls between 30 and 40 feet annually. They don’t like fish swimming through their windows.”
The second thing they noticed was the Dawn on the Amazon I is a safe, stable boat with a high ceiling so you can walk around, comfortable chairs to relax in, and a private toilet, bathroom area with soap, towels and toilet paper. An unusual combination on Amazon River boats. I suggested the best place to photograph from was the observation deck in front, which doomed Ron and Brian to a bad sunburn. Matt was already tan. Joe and I stayed in the shade most of the day.
We cruised past Bellavista Nanay, past houses on stilts, the floating gas stations, small boats operating as river taxis, fishermen in dugout canoes, and the change of water color from the Nanay River out onto the mighty muddy Amazon River. No Pink Dolphins or special birds yet. We cruised upstream on the Amazon and pulled into the Itaya River entrance. We saw a few dolphins, but they didn’t co-operate with us on the way in.
Is that a pink dolphin or a man in the river? I claimed my first dolphin photo but Ron has a 300 mm lens and he swore it was a man. Are those logs or toothpicks in the background? Whose the guide around here…?
I like watching the activities at the Iquitos ports as the boats come and go, loading and unloading, mechanics working, cleaning, sandblasting, painting, building, dry docking, launching, fueling, delivering… We never know what we’ll see but if you like boats and ports and manual labor, you are sure to see something fascinating.
Some boats are safer than others, the Zaragoza looks like one of the others, but it’s still floating.
The Edwardo and Henry boats are among the safest of the launchas. They ply the river from Iquitos to Pucallpa, and back, collecting cargo and passengers all along the way.
The logs are Lupuna, for the plywood factory.
The Puerto de Productores is the entry point for most of the bananas and other fruits coming into Iquitos. The top of the stairs next door makes a good place to set up for photography.
It was fun looking back on my home, the Dawn on the Amazon building on the left, and the pre-rubber boom chapel and seminary on the right, from our boat on the river.
I liked seeing where Marmelita and I live and work, with the Dawn on the Amazon Café under the shade awning on the patio in front of the Dawn on the Amazon Building. It was the first time I’ve been in a boat looking ashore since we put up the awnings. It looks good to me. I hate that the juvinile moron drug addicts paint graffiti on the walls below the boulevard. I’m thinking of taking up a collection from all of the street people to help paint those walls. Maybe if they have some small investment, even a couple of soles, they might police themselves and stop the uglification of the one of the quietest, potentialy attractive places near down town Iquitos.
We cruised on to the floating village of Belen. Sometimes my guests have told me Belen mades them sad, that the people are so poor, that there seems to be no opportunity for them, that they live in a slum in unsanitary conditions.
Belen is not a slum. I’ve been all over greater Iquitos and I could show you slums, but I won’t. I want to show you Belen. Belen makes me happy. Notice that most of the people living here are smiling and happy.
Let’s take a closer look. There is economic opportunity. I bought my first boat down here, and the family of boat builders built a new boat every two months. The photo above is of one of many boat builders. Everyone has at least a dugout canoe. Someone creates those canoes, and another entrepreneur carves the paddles.
A fisherman with a net and a dugout canoe and a paddle can catch more fish than his family can eat. The extra fish are sold at the market for a steady supply of soles.
True life in Belen…Look around, there are new peque-peque motors all over Belen. There’s one in the photo above, and the woman wears a nice white dress and the child has a drink purchased from a vendor.
Look at those houses, arranged neat and tidy, floating on balsa logs, all in a row. Did you know the thatch roof keeps the temperature in the house several degrees cooler than a metal roof? This isn’t Miami. We don’t want it to be Miami. There would be no reason to visit here if it was like Miami. This is unique. This is charming. This is the floating village of Belen.
The Titanic. Maybe not an auspicious name, but it’s a funny name. Be patient, I’m going some where with this. Look at the next photo.
The Titanic VII, part of a fleet, based in Belen, built here, hiring locals for the crew, buying fuel, parts, and supplies in Belen.
The woman to the left is plucking a chicken, and the rest of the family are already eating their meal. This seems to be the best place to live in Belen. Is it where the scene in the movie Fitzcarraldo was filmed, when Fitzcarraldo woke up in the morning and played the opera record for the pig and the children? I don’t know. What do you think?
Ooops, not the Titanic, but sunk…logs for the saw mill. The saw mill employees local labor from Belen.
The population of urban Belen, the city, according to the 2007 census was 56,808, with another 10,982 living in the rural area around Belen. It seems safe to say a lot of babies have been born since 2007. Only a small percentage of the total population of Belen live in the floating village area we pass through with our boat. The Belen Market starts at the waters edge and goes many blocks up the bank and slope and clear to the top where it levels out, and probably covers 20 square blocks. The market is an economic engine, employing thousands of local people.
Upstream we saw this work crew moving cement from Belen to a small construction site. More employment, construction, new peque-peque engine, and a good boat.
Our brilliant Spanish-English bi-lingual guide Magaly prepared the delicious picnic lunch. The first course was three types of tropical fruits, a mango, a pepino fruita, and a banana. The main course was a large tamale, accompanied by two types of sauce, and a sandwich of french bread and cheese. It was almost more than I could eat, but I managed to clean my plate.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch upstream of Belen under a bromeliad, with birds chirping, and the current gurggling.
Joe told me, “I’ve been in Iquitos for a month and this is the best day I’ve had. In fact it’s one of my best days ever. I’ll always remember today. As soon as we got on board I changed to shorts and took my shoes off. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I went barefoot. It feels so liberating. Bill, I don’t see how you can do all of this and charge so little money. The boat is a work of art, the chairs are comfortable, we were just served a feast, more than I could eat. I could only eat half of my meal, and that mango was the best I have ever tasted. Everything is so different and interesting, and some of the best part is the company and conversation. Well, maybe the best part was the mango.”
“Thanks Joe, it means a lot to me that you feel that way. I can honestly tell you that no one is enjoying their day more than I am. I’m always the last one to want to turn around, but we have to go back now to give us time to find more pink dolphins. Let’s go find other scenes to photograph…vamanos”
So we turned back toward Belen. This elderly jungle guide, used to a siesta every afternoon, dozed off in my chair. Someone yelled, “What’s that.” I popped awake and said something stupid like “Pink Dolphin.” Then I got woke up enough to see two kingfishers. Ron was trying to get good photos but we were already past them, so Edson turned the boat around again and we stalked the kingfishers. Then we saw two Striated Herons, shy little birds, and we stalked them instead, but mostly just got photos of their backs.
When we got back in Belen the overcast sky broke up, the sun filtered through, the light changed, and I captured some of my best photographs of the day. Even rust turned to gold.
This family scene intrigued me, with the mother in the doorway watching the boy, the dog on the second floor, the man on the third floor doing laundry, and the mystery of what is happening in the shadowed rooms…
Then we came to this floating gay party place, with the guy in the white hat dancing very provocatively, and everyone calling to us to dock there and party with them. Sorry fellows, we have an appointment with a pod of pink dolphins some where up ahead.
I wonder what happened to this church’s front steps. I suspect a boat docked there with too much force. Crashed might be a better word. There is a set of metal stairs on the side of the building where parishioners can canoe or boat up to church.
This is a cute little two pump gas station in Belen floating and shimmering in the nice light.
Colorful scenes are everywhere in Belen. Here, home made carbon, or charcoal, is being unloaded into canoes, among other activities.
Leaving Belen this reflection caught my eye…
Brian took this cool photo of the terns maneuvering for position to perch on the log.
The Don Jose, full of cargo and passengers, with hammocks strung, near the confluence of the Itaya and the Amazon River, beginning a several day voyage up the Amazon and back to Iquitos.
Then we found our pod of Pink Dolphins and observed and photographed them for an hour and a half. Around 5:00pm, we came full circle, joking and laughing at the Dawn on the Amazon Café while sipping creamy cold frappuccinnos through a straw, and feeling great about our day together.
Iquitos is so much more than just the lodges, cruises, rainforest and wildlife. It’s the people, the personalities, the places in, near, and around Iquitos. Come visit us. Don’t spend all of your time at the lodge. Give us an extra day or two to entertain you. Iquitos is a destination in it’s own right. Spend a day or two with me and my crew, learning about the undiscovered side of this charming city surrounded by rivers, difficult to access, but worth the extra effort.
What do you think about all of this? Leave me a comment. Tell me your experience. Share your dream. Thanks.
Let’s go on a day trip with Dawn on the Amazon. Great idea!
Check out Bill Grimes’s Amazon Tour Day Trips page for suggestions to help choose which day trip would be right for you.
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