Guest post by Denny Grimes Lay, March 2014
It all started with a book-The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard, about Teddy Roosevelt’s adventure in the Amazon.
This was chosen by my book discussion group for December. The description of the trip down an unexplored river in the Amazon of Brazil was scary. The challenges of the river rapids, portages and the jungle itself were many and varied. Even though I knew Roosevelt survived, it was an intriguing question of whether they could finish the trip. In addition to the trip, the descriptions of the rain forest was equally intriguing. Such a variety of plants, trees and bugs which I never knew existed piqued my interest in the area.
Christmas approached. In getting out decorations I came across last years xmas letters. You know the kind with lots of details of the years accomplishments. So I stopped and read them again. One was from my nephew, Jim, in Indiana. In it he informed me that his brother Bill was living in Peru and running an Amazon cruise company, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises. He had a web page- www.dawnontheamazon.com
So I went on the internet and looked it up. Pictures of his boats, descriptions of the trips and lots of info about other things to see and do in Iquitos (Northeast Peru). I emailed him telling him who I was and my memories of a Bill Grimes in Indiana and was this the “Bill” in the email address. Several days later I received a reply-yes, he was the Bill I remembered. After bringing me up to date on his family and wife, Marmalita and children, he described his Amazon tour company. I answered and also forwarded his email to my children, his cousins, in Knoxville and Texas.
The holiday came and went and I had on my plate a trip to Plano Texas to see my son, wife and 16 year old twin girls. The summer before I took them on an Alaska cruise and wanted to do another trip this summer. Mom said they had already filled their calendar. So we talked of other things including cousin Bill and the Amazon. Monica remembered that the girls had spring break in March and we thought the Amazon would be a good choice for a trip.
Another thread- At woman’s club literary group one member shared a book by a relative-The Autumn Man by Albert Slugoski. Part of the book described his experiences on the Amazon in Peru. By this time the emails back and forth to Iquitos Peru were numerous-details about hotels, list of things to bring, possible day trips and general info about Iquitos. I related to Bill about Albert and the book. He did indeed know him but had not read the book. He and Albert did talk before we got there.
I flew to Dallas DFW/Plano Wednesday. Sunday we flew to Lima(7 hours) 5 hour layover in the Lima airport (12-5am) 2 hours to Iquitos. There are no roads from Lima to Iquitos and the only way to get there is to fly or by boat up the Amazon. Got off the old fashioned way by ladder, hotel picked us up and drove us to the Hotel. Got breakfast and met Bill there. We were then off to the Dawn on the Amazon offices. There is a large waterfront plaza about 3 blocks long and the office and restaurant were along there, about 3 blocks from the hotel. Picked up our guide and headed for the Belen Market. Transportation in Iquitos is by motokar. It is a motorcycle with a bench on the back and a place behind for parcels, luggage etc. They are everywhere. Lots of them, motorcycles, a few buses and very few cars. Cars and large items have to be brought in by ship up the Amazon from the Atlantic.
Belen Market is awesome. What a display of colors, smells and fruits and veggies I had never seen before. Meats, turtles, fish, jungle meat, love potions, charcoal and large stalks of bananas carried by one man. You could hardly see him for the load he was carrying.
After 12 hours without sleep, I was wiped out and went back to the hotel for a shower and nap. Rest of the group had lunch and visited a herpetarium. In addition to the snakes it had sloths.
Rested I was ready for dinner at Dawn on the Amazon Cafe, Bill and Marmelita’s outdoor restaurant on the plaza with a view of the river. The promenade was filled with people. One girl demonstrating flags let me try. It was harder that it looked. People were friendly and lots of touristy craft shops.
Tuesday- Checked out to the El Dorado Plaza Hotel and picked up by the bus. We were taken to the Selva Viva river boat for our 4 day cruise of the Amazon. The boat consisted of cabins, bathrooms with showers, dining room and shaded upper observation deck for viewing. The Amazon River was enormous. First day was travel on the huge river. Heat got to me so did not take the jungle hike. Long pants, rubber boots (provided by the cruise ship) lots of deet and off they go. Guide carries a machete for clearing the trail. We are warned not to touch anything as some plants and leaves have thorns and could be poisonous. Sunset, dinner, cards and bed.
Wed- The crew tied the boat up near a small group of houses overnight. Chickens are crowing, the fishermen are going out in their canoes. We are having breakfast on the open air covered deck. See birds-grayblue flycatcher with yellow breast, orange tanager, and lots of white winged parakeets, kingfishers and small white herons. There were so many parakeets on one bush that I thought they were flowers.
The hike- we traveled by small boat up a little creek about 15 minutes from the Selva Viva. After a short walk we were in a little settlement area of small huts, chickens and a very friendly parrot. He let us all hold him and he perched on my shoulder for a long time. This area is being reforested by the owners of the Selva Viva. There were also tomatoes plants.
“One does not mess with the sun along the equator: It beats down from straight overhead. Instead of the more forgiving oblique angle in temperate zones. Heat exhaustion comes quickly.” Page 11 “The thief at the end of the world” by Joe Jackson. I certainly experienced this.
Along the river there was a native market where a dozen river people had laid out crafts they had made and were selling. Bought a fan, much needed, and a string bag made of strips of bark shredded and twisted into a twine.
Dusk on the river to see pink dolphins, birds and monkeys. Lovely evening on the river. I am again impressed by the immensity of the Amazon.
Day 3- Early breakfast then out on the river, again in the small boat. Ponchos provided as it was raining and continued to rain the whole morning we were on the river. Lots of birds and then we were fishing for piranas. They were about 4 inches long with small sharp teeth. Wet and cold, back to the boat for dry clothes and hot tea.
Night hike- Morgan found over 30 walking stick bugs. We had boots of course and flashlights as well as out trusty native guide. The walking tree has roots above ground with many sharp points which can be used as a grater. Saw lizards, centipedes, beetle like a ladybug but striped, and a large black fuzzy tarantula.
Day 4- Finally saw monkeys. On deck early in the morning and once I had 3 monkeys in the lens of the binoculars, Black, all Brown and mixed brown. Lots of birds and the sun was shining so we could see the colors.
Feeling sick so did not go explore the town. A van picked us up and we rode back to Iquitos, about 2 hours. Terrain was similar to East TN but of course the plants were different. Poor country. Dinner at Dawn on the Amazon Cafe.
Day 5 in Iquitos. Rode on Bill’s boat, Dawn on the Amazon, to the butterfly farm. In addition to butterflies, there were monkeys (loose), parrots, ocelot, sloth and other animals. Interesting information re butterflies as well as lots of flowers.
Back on boat, with lunch and idled in the river to see the dolphins. I saw them, but could not say I really saw pink ones. Afternoon at the manatee rescue farm. They rescue the babies, take care of them and release them back into the wild when they are three years old.
Dinner at the Amazon Bistro, then ride to the airport. Flight 1 hour late so we only had an hour to make our flight back to Dallas. Had to check our luggage like a carry-on so they confiscated my large sun screen and bug spray. Monica and I blew past the emigration so had to go back to have our passports stamped with an exit visa or we would have been there still. Back in Plano it was 47 degrees so we were all cold. But with lots of memories to keep us warm.
Thoughts on Iquitos Peru
Guest post by Denny Grimes Lay