Day 14 – Rewind
I rise knowing that 39 hours from now I will be sinking into my own fluffy bed, in my comfy log cabin, near a major highway in a first world country. It seems impossible and I wish I could just be “beamed up”.
It is still dark over the jungle and the early birds are silhouettes. Pink dolphins are showing up on mass off the side of the ship and are doing back twirls like Flipper.
As we move into the jungle on our last foray, the smell of hydrogen sulphide permeates the air. As the water rises with the wet season, this is a naturally occurring byproduct. I haven’t noticed many odours on this trip so this stands out. We follow a route that is only open during the wet. It allows the locals to have a seasonal short cut to the Ucayali. When the river is in full flood it will reach the white bark on the trees.
A few folks board the kayaks and paddle the marshy waters. I decide that getting in would be fine but getting out would not work for me so I cruise in the skiff instead. Discretion is the better part of valor, but darn!
We move through hundreds of egrets that are rising and falling in waves. They form white clouds and rest tentatively on half submerged branches while cormorants watch and what I call “butterfly birds” (Jacana) rise from the reeds as we pass. When spread, their yellow wings catch the light. At rest they appear somewhat drab with black heads and yellow beaks.
Our last, upclose glimpse of this amazing ecosystem is short. By 11:30 we are on board, packed, ready for lunch and will soon be leaving the Delfin I at the dock in Nauta.
We pass a busy waterfront as we head towards our mooring. Tuk Tuks and motorcyles are zipping through the riverside market up on the high bank. In the boat yard, the tool of choice is the machete. The pace of life struck by the flow of the river is quickly leaving me.
The road to Iquitos is long and hot and more rickety than I remember. Kids sit on the side of the road…and I mean right on the road. I’m not sure why. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps they are waiting for someone or something. It’s just not obvious.
Buses pass us on a blind hill. Rice paddies and swimming holes move by in a blur. Ubiquitous white plastic lawn chairs start showing up the closer we get to Iquitos. About an hour and a half into the journey, we pass through Varellal, one of many small economically poor villages. The main street looks like one long house. Few folks are about. Dogs loll in the heat.
We stop at the “Institucionses Unidas por la Conservacion de la Fauna Amazonica” which is among other things a manatee rehabilitation center. Environmental awareness is a key goal in its work with school children. The importance of recycling and its methods are taught by example in creative child friendly ways. I really liked the talking tree and “flower pot” children.
The manatee project aims to rehabilitate animals that are injured or ill. Those in the main pool are friendly and anxious to eat leaves from our sanitized hands. One named “Anonymous” is particularly friendly and cuddles up to the pool deck in anticipation of a treat. The property is also home to turtles , a macaw and small marmoset monkeys that play like children on the lawn. Nature never ends here.
As we make our way to the park entrance the notion of the cool van seems really nice. It is indeed hot. There is not a breath of wind.
Before long we join a stream of traffic composed of all kinds of vehicles the majority of which are tuk tuks. The streets seem to be coming alive for the end of the day. The temperature is dropping a tad. In the older part of the city we forego a walk in favour of visiting a museum on the malecon. Its exhibit on indigenous people tells me that though I may have seen a lot in my time in Peru, I have hardly scratched the surface of the culture and history. Spears, jungle drums, finely woven cloaks and headpieces decorated with hummingbird and macaw feathers help to distinquish one group from another. The workmanship is exquisite.
Outside, it is still too hot to walk very far so our adventure in the old part of the city is curtailed. Locals wander the Malecon and in the distance the remains of past dreams, ships once functional and vital, rust on the shore with their hull’s vibrant with graffiti. As we turn in the direction of the van, a billboard screams out “Es Nuestro Derecho” – Education is our right! Perhaps change is afoot.
By the time we weave our way through supper hour traffic to the entrance to the soon to be “Best Western” (remember it) the sun is beginning to set with a vivid display of orange and blue. We cross the water to the floating restaurant we had visited when we first came to Iquitos. We just have time for a quick meal and then we take our last trip on the Amazon…in the dark in a boat with no running lights.
It’s not far to the airport but the streets are full and corners bulge with kids in school uniforms. The second session of the day is out. I notice that Christmas tree lights have sprouted over the past week as stores and homes dress for the holidays.
The luggage is off to Miami, we are all off to Lima. The soft tropical evening caresses my face and the roar of jet engines insults my ears. Soon these sensations will be replaced by the kiss of snowflakes and the sound of my furnace.
Our clan begins to disintegrate in Lima. Shirley is off to Machu Picchu before returning to New Zealand. LeeAnn and Dean are off to LAX, and the rest of us are headed for Miami and points beyond but not before Carol and I get randomly selected for a complete security check at the gate. After the swabbing and searching are complete, and we are declared safe, we are allowed to board early. This marks the second time I’ve been “suspicious” when trying to exit Peru. Last time, I lost Doug’s Swiss Army Knife to a very exacting security guard. He was right. I was wrong. Lesson learned!
Next stop Miami.