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Adventures in Peru, the Upper Amazon

Motorcarros are common transportation in downtown Iquitos, Peru.
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We arrived in Lima, Peru, on Halloween night and found they have adopted this holiday from the United States. There weren’t many costumes or trick or treaters, but there was much celebrating.

At 2 a.m., traffic downtown was extremely heavy and crowds of people spilled into the streets from bars and casinos. They would continue all night because the next day was All Saint’s Day, a national holiday.

Even in the quieter area around our hotel, cars raced past and young people sang or shouted down the street until after daylight.



Lima is a large city of more than 8 million people and dates back to 1535 when it was founded by Francisco Pizzaro. Homes in the older part of town still have well-preserved wooden lattice balconies extending over the sidewalks. This gave the residents, especially women, a chance to observe street activity in privacy.

Underneath the Church of San Francisco are catacombs where over 25,000 people were buried during the early days of Lima. Many leg bones and skulls remain and are arranged in rows, circles or other designs. Modern burials are done elsewhere.




From Lima we flew over the Andes to the city of Iquitos, located in the Amazonian jungle. It can only be reached by air or boat.

Several large rivers flow down from the Andes and meet near Iquitos to become the Amazon River, 2,300 miles from the ocean.

Iquitos was originally a center for the rubber industry and is now a busy town of 280,000. The heavy traffic is almost all three-wheeled motorcycle taxis – motorcarros – along with regular motor cycles, a few cars and buses. The noise level is very high.

We boarded a 20-passenger covered speedboat for a three-hour, 100-mile trip on the Amazon River and up the tributary Napo River to our lodge. At Iquitos, the Amazon is about two miles wide with a few homes and some villages scattered along the banks. These became fewer as we went deeper into the jungle.

The Amazon will rise 40 or 50 feet during the rainy season, which was just beginning. The river becomes much wider and large areas will be flooded. The wooden buildings and walkways of our lodge were built several feel above the ground.

Individual rooms have three walls at regular height and the fourth wall half way up for better ventilation. There is no ceiling but a palm-thatched roof high above. One night, an owl perched in the rafters and hooted at us as we went to bed inside the mosquito netting.

There is no electricity, but oil lamps light rooms and walkways. A basin and pitcher of water is used for wash-ups, and bottled water for brushing teeth and drinking.

The only way to empty the basin is to throw water out the window into the shrubbery. Very clean pit toilets, with smooth, hard packed dirt floors, are in a separate building. Temperatures of 90 degrees with 97 percent humidity make even cold water showers nice.

The jungle was right outside our window, and during the night there were calls from various wild animals, but we were not able to see them.

Each morning at daylight, several parrots acted as alarm clocks to wake us. Gradually, other birds joined in until it was a large chorus. As the day got very warm, all became quiet again.

Long pants, long sleeves and a big hat were necessary for protection from the sun and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Exposed skin needed to be covered with strong sunscreen and mosquito repellent. The question was, which should be applied first? Either way, we were sticky even before we began sweating.

Small, open boats took us on the river to see freshwater pink dolphins and sloths and iguanas in the trees.

There were also weaver birds with their large hanging nests, toucans, cuckoos, and the unusual hoatzin (watson) birds that look like brownish short-tailed pheasants in trees. Many North American birds migrate there during our winter.

One afternoon we fished for piranha and used very high-tech equipment – bamboo pole, string, hook and fresh meat bait. As soon as a fish nibbles, you must yank quickly. My husband did and went head over heels backward with his piranha on top of him. Their razor sharp teeth and meat diet are legendary.

The Rain Forest Canopy Walkway is suspended 120 feet above the ground and is level with birds, monkeys, and aerial plants.

It is an outstanding view over the top of the dense jungle. At ground level there are fascinating insects and mushrooms of all sizes and colors.

Another morning we went upriver to a village school where the children sang for us, then asked us to sing for them and tell where we lived.

There is a small medical clinic nearby that serves the area, including delivering babies for a $10 fee. They have a doctor part time. The gleaming wooden floors and sterile atmosphere of this jungle clinic impressed us.

We returned to Iquitos by boat, flew back to Lima, then flew to Cuzco, once the capitol of the Inca Empire. Cuzco is at an elevation of 11,444 feet but too close to the equator to ever have snow.

The city combines precise Incan stonework and cobblestone streets with Spanish Colonialism architecture. Adobe bricks are the preferred building material today and more expensive than cement block. Our adobe brick hotel had been a Spanish Colonial home.

People in traditional Andean dress drive llamas down the streets along side people in business suits. The narrow, one way cobbled streets are filled with cars and buses. It was easy to find a place to send e-mail.

The great Incan ruins near Cuszo indicate their high level of civilization. They did not have horses, but an extensive trail system enabled runners on foot to carry messages rapidly throughout the country.

Cuzco had paved streets, running water, and temples filled with gold and silver when the Spanish arrived over 500 years ago.

Next week: Machu Picchu and the Galapagos

Dorothy Peavey lives in Nevada City.


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