The Amazon Jungle
The Nazca Desert
AMAZON JUNGLE ADVENTURE
|Our first adventure in Peru
took us to a jungle lodge in the Amazon Basin. We spent three hours traveling
upriver and along the way we were able to see a variety of
the boats that ply the Amazon. Some of them are just for cargo, some
carry passengers, and others are private boats that their owners and
families call home. All were friendly and waved as we went by.
After traveling 75 miles upriver, we arrived at the Yanayacu tributary. The word Yanayacu means "black water" and refers to the dark clear water that is created by the tannins from all the organic matter in the water. The tributaries are much clearer than the Amazon River itself. This is where we would find the Muyuna Amazon River Lodge.
The lodge bungalows are built in typical jungle style. They are on 7 ft. high stilts so that they sit above the annual high water level reached during the rainy season. The roofs are thatched and are made by piling layers of palm leaves on top of each other until a waterproof layer has been built. There are no full walls, just half walls, with windows the rest of the way to the roof. The one "luxury" is the mosquito netting completely enclosing the bungalows. All of the bungalows are connected to a central dining room by means of raised walkways. When the water is high, it comes all the way up to the floors.
After our arrival, we climbed into a dugout canoe and were paddled upstream to a small lake. Along the way we were treated to seeing Squirrel Monkeys playing in the trees and we caught a glimpse of a rare pink river dolphin. When we got to the lake, we found a quiet spot of fish for Ė Piranha!
Piranhas are small, meat eating fish and for bait we used raw cut up pieces of chicken and fish. They are quick but we did catch some and we had them for dinner that night. Um, um good.
After a night in our cabin listening to the nocturnal animal sounds, we rose at sunrise for a bird watching trip. We saw lots of birds including parrots and toucans, but the most interesting bird was a "horned screamer". This bird has horns coming out of the top of its wings and it really does scream. You can hear it from a long way away. We also took a walk through the jungle where our guide pointed out all kinds of medicinal plants and edible fruits. He also showed us what trees are used by the native people to build their homes, thatch their roofs, make charcoal (from a tree called appropriately enough, the firewood tree) and make household items. We also saw some beautiful butterflies, including the huge blue Morpho.
After lunch we went downriver to see the giant Victoria Amazonica lily pads. These are the largest lily pads in the world and they can grow up to 6 feet across and can hold up to 70 lbs. of weight. They have beautiful purple flowers during the day but when the moths come out in the evening, the flowers close up with the moths inside and turn white. In the morning the flowers reopen and release the moths to pollinate other lilies.
After seeing the lily pads, we went further downstream to where the Yanayacu meets the Amazon. At the junction of the two rivers, small gray dolphins play. They like the abundance of food that comes down the tributary so they stay in the area. The dolphins are only 4-5 feet long and have gray backs and pink bellies. It was very exciting to see them up close.
That evening we went out in the boat with large lights to search for caimans. These are alligator-like reptiles that are nocturnal. Our guide used his light to spot a pair of red glowing eyes at the edge of the river and our boatman was able to bring the boat right next to the light-blinded caiman. The guide plucked the two-foot long caiman right out of the river and into the boat. At such close range we were able to see that the caiman has two sets of eyelids to protect his eyes, and that he can completely close off his throat so that he wonít accidentally swallow water. After getting a good look at him, we released him safely back into the water.
The next day we returned to Iquitos, this time flowing swiftly with the current. Our adventure complete, we learned back into our seats to enjoy the ride and to reflect upon all we had seen and experienced.
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EXPLORING THE DESERT PLAINS OF NAZCA
|Ever since I was small, I had
wanted to see the Nazca lines. They had fascinated me for years and now
I was finally going to get my chance to fly over them! Our tour guide
picked us up at 7:30AM and drove us to the airport. Upon arrival we were
informed that the tower wasnít letting any planes take off. "What
do you mean the planes canít fly right now? Itís too hazy? When will
they be able to go up? I only have one day in Nazca!"
Not knowing whether my dream of flying over the Nazca lines was going to come true, I reluctantly agreed to wait until later to return to the airport. Instead, our group took a tour of the area around Nazca. First we visited the Aqueducts Cantallos. 1,500 years ago, the Nazca people built these waterways to irrigate their crops. They are lined with rows of river stones and are about 6 feet deep. Portions of them even run underground. Remarkably, they have withstood the earthquakes and floods that have destroyed more modern structures.
After the aqueducts, we visited the Cemetery of Cauchilla. This was an amazing place. Scattered over a wide area of desert 30km outside of Nazca, are the remains of ancient burials. Dating back to between 1000 and 1300AD, this area was used by the Nazca people to bury their dead. Unfortunately, grave robbers found the tombs and plundered them for whatever they could re-sell on the antiquities black market. Now, bones, skulls, fragments of cloth and pottery shards litter the ground. A walkway meanders through the area allowing visitors to view the devastation and underground displays detail how the tombs may have looked before they were destroyed.
As fascinating as this all was, I still wanted to get in the air! We returned to the airport at about 10:30 to find 3 groups ahead of us. The planes werenít flying yet but we were assured they would be up by 12:30. The only problem was, high winds sometimes come up in the afternoon and the planes canít fly then either!
One of the wonderful things about traveling is the opportunity to meet other travelers. So while we waited, we met twin sisters from Ireland, 3 brothers from the U.S. and a large group from Israel. We exchanged stories and worried about whether we would get to see the lines.
True to their word, the first planes took off at 12:30. After some nail biting, we too were finally in the air at 2:00. A little turbulence notwithstanding, we were off to see the famous Nazca lines.
Between 900BC and 600AD, the Paracas and Nazca people created over 150 drawings on the desert floor. They created birds, fish, trapezoids, lines and other shapes. The amazing thing about these designs is that they cannot be distinguished from the ground. They can only be seen from the air.
Discovered in the 1930ís, the figures have caused much speculation about the people who created them. Only one thing is known for sure. They had to have been great mathematicians to be able to calculate the size of these shapes without being able to see them.
Once airborne, the pilot did his best to let everyone aboard see the figures. He did this by spinning around in tight circles and banking the plane sharply from side to side. It was difficult to maintain equilibrium, but the sight of the lines was so fascinating that soon everyone was oohing and aahing. The 590ft long lizard, the 295ft long monkey with a curled tail and the condor with a 426ft wingspan were incredibly impressive. And then there was the human figure on the side of a hill that has been dubbed the "Astronaut" because of the helmet he appears to be wearing.
Too soon it was time to return to the airport and set our feet back on the ground. The Nazca lines were so impressive and thought provoking, they were everything I expected them to be. And more.