When in Peru, fish for piranhas on the Amazon
Peru from the Amazon to the Andes on a two-week tour designed for grandparents and grandchildren – that was the mission.
But it took a year of rescheduling before finally taking the trip and International Exhibitions honored the original arrangements without the “group”: It was just Bennett Berardi, my 8-year-old grandson, myself and our guide. It was fantastic!
Getting to our first destination was long and tiring: 14 hours traveling from Sacramento to Dallas and then on to Lima. A very short time to sleep and then a 7 a.m. flight to Iquitos, an isolated city located on the banks of the Amazon River, 2,300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean in the northern part of Peru.
Then a 50-mile journey by boat following the meandering course of this jungle-lined “river sea” that is more than two miles wide and the main source of transportation of the river people that live here. Upon arrival at the lodge, we were overwhelmed with the beauty of the jungle and the sounds of birds and insects.
The original plan had us staying at the Cieba Tops lodge, which has the comforts of air conditioning and hot showers inside your room. But at the suggestion of our guide, we traveled by boat another 40 miles into the deep jungle and made our home at Expornapo camp.
The thatched roofed structures that make up the camp are built on stilts to keep them about the river at its highest point. Showers and latrines are in separate buildings and everything is connected by covered walkways and is lit at night by kerosene lanterns.
The sounds, scents and sights of the tropical rain forest that surround the camp made it truly a jungle experience. Our rustic but comfortable accommodations proved to be a great jumping off place for the many adventures awaiting us.
Our guide Raul was wonderful, explaining the various species of plant and animals that we encountered. From tapirs to Toucans and sloths, from monkeys to Scarlet Macaws, the wildlife was more than abundant.
Because he only had the two of us, Raul was able to customize the tour to our specific interests. He took us to the village where he was born, and to visit the two-room school house were he attended primary school. We met his brother and it was interesting to experience a typical “river” family and watch it build a 100-foot water taxi with hand tools and a chain saw.
They harvest the wood from their property and mill it with a generator-run saw mill. Raul was the only one of 14 children to go to college and break away from the more primitive lifestyle of his family.
Fishing for Piranha was certainly a highlight of the trip. The small boat slowly advanced into a narrow waterway while our guide chopped at hanging branches with a machete. It was like being in a Tarzan movie.
Then the hook is baited with a piece of meat and before putting it into the water, you splash a stick to get the piranhas’ attention (and make them think it’s some struggling tourist)! During this escapade, it started to rain. (They don’t call it the rain forest for nothin’.)
It poured, we got soaking wet and continued to fish and caught six piranhas. Our clothes were dry by the time we got back to camp and that was one of the many short surprise showers we experienced in the rainforest.
That afternoon, lodge personnel cooked up our piranhas and served them to us for lunch. An added bonus was the “teeth” that had been removed for us to take home. In the evening, a nighttime boat trip upriver that floated silently back to catch a glimpse of some of the nocturnal creatures of the jungle was a peaceful way to end the day.
Even though our net-covered beds were slightly damp from the humidity, they felt like cozy nests and we slept soundly and comfortably.
Other high points of the Amazon portion of the expedition were a trip to a blackwater lake to view the giant Victoria regia water lilies with their impressive seven-foot lily pads, and a visit to the Aceer canopy walkway on the boundary of the Amazon Rainforest Reserve.
A hike through the jungle under the immense trees of the primary forest brings you to a multilevel system of aerial pathways and platforms, which are securely suspended by ropes and cables. This canopy walkway ascends 10 stories and the different levels allow you to really see the various fauna and flora.
It is estimated that 20 million insect species may exist here and 80 percent are as yet unknown to science. The notorious poison dart frogs were hard to spot because they are so small, but we did find them. Over 2,000 epiphytic plants may cling to the branches of a single tree.
The view from the top of the canopy was breathtaking, a great place to rest and reflect on the beauty and wonders of nature.
Before leaving the rainforest, we visited the Yagua village where the indigenous people that inhabit the jungle still hunt with dart guns and use a Shaman as their healer. We were able to try using the long dart guns and have a “treatment” of local herbs and plants.
The Andes portion of the journey was totally different; it almost felt like a separate trip and is a story in itself. The all inclusive tour was an efficient way to see and do a lot in a short amount of time.
For such an unusual adventure, it was well organized and extremely professional. The transportation, accommodations and food were excellent. Our guides were exceptional knowledgeable and we felt very safe and well cared for.
I had no idea that Peru would be so interesting and diverse. I highly recommend going there. I can’t wait to go back!
Louise Ivy lives in Grass Valley.
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