Welcome to the jungle

It wasn’t in our budget originally, but once we started reading about it, specially from Aneta, our Polish friend who years ago did a similar trip through South America also with a Catalan guy, well we just had to do it, we had to go to the Amazon.

The most popular destination is Iquitos, but we heard a lot of crap about it, that’s packed with tourists and the prices are incredibly expensive. So with that in mind, we focused on Lagunas, what seemed to be a great alternative. Much much cheaper, basically you get the same prices as in Iquitos, but in Peruvian Soles, not USD, and much less people.

Peruselva, also known as Huayruro Tours, the agency Aneta took years ago was still running so we decided to go pay them a visit see what they had to offer. We read in many places that the price per person per day was around 120 soles. When we sat down at their office in Yurimaguas, it all sounded incredible, till the point where the guy said it’d be 165 soles per person. Considering that the whole adventure was out of our budget even taking 120, well, 165 was just much too much. Kasia initiated the negotiations, and basically we told the guy we knew of a couple who did the same tour couple of months ago and they paid 120, and well, after a while we managed to get it down to 130. The thing the guy told us we’d have to give up on was choosing what we’d want to eat. We didn’t give a crap about that, as long as they fed us something, no problemo. The thing with this agency and the initial price is that they sell private tours, meaning we’d get a guide and a cook just for the two of us, and a canoe for us and that we could kind of tell the guide where we’d like to go and see, so that we wouldn’t be in a group tour but rather in our own personalized tour.

With the deal closed we went to the harbor to check the boats going from Yurimaguas to Lagunas. There are two options, a fast boat and a slow boat. We read a lot about how cool it is to go with the slow boat, and how everyone going with it would buy a hammock and hang it in the boat and enjoy the views for the almost 12 hours the journey lasts.

But I had couple of questions. First, why did everyone buy a damn hammock if the trip is during the day? The boat leaves around 7 am and is arriving at 7 pm. I mean, you are not sleeping there unless something happens, in which case I guess not having a hammock wouldn’t be your main concern. But more than that is the price difference. For the slow boat they asked me for 30 soles (this doesn’t include the hammock), and for the fast boat, which makes the same trip (same views) it was 40 soles, and it takes 6 hours. Considering this, plus the fact that the slow boats don’t leave everyday but rather whenever they are full, well, we took the fast boat.

The guy from the agency was at the harbor the morning we left, he took a picture of us to send it to a guy in Lagunas so that he’d know who to pick up.

The ride was OK, but one thing that after almost 5 months in Peru I can’t get used to is people throwing their trash in the streets, and here through the windows of the boat straight into the river. Diapers, plastic bags, plates, forks, anything would end up flying through the windows.

What almost made our journey a living hell was this little man.

The sword wasn’t even his, but he got addicted to it the very moment he touched it. The problem with the damn sword was the annoying noise it made every time the kid would move it. If the kid that was the actual owner of that damn toy wouldn’t have claimed it back, this damn little monster would have spent every minute of the 6 hours playing with that sword. I considered few times throwing him out of the window.

Homicidal instincts aside, we made it safe and sound to Lagunas. Miguel, the president of the agency was waiting for us. We’d be entering the natural reserve together with 4 more people, quite an international group. Debbora and Thomas from Germany and Marla and her mom Margaret from Australia.

After the arrival, Miguel paid for a mototaxi to take us to a very nice hostel, where to our surprise it turned out to have electricity and what’s more impressive, wifi. Those luxuries came only from 5 pm till midnight, but still, we didn’t expect that. The night there was 40 soles for both. If you’d like you can go to another hostel, cheaper, but we decided to stay there.

Lagunas is a tiny town, organized around one main street. Not much to do or see here.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the agency office and after that got in a mototaxi that took us to the entrance to the Pacaya Samiria natural reserve.

It was raining a tiny bit, so we were worried that’d be the weather for the next days, but luckily the water didn’t take long to disappear.

To our surprise, the other couples had a guide and a cook, and we only got a guide. I guess that had to do with the 130 per day instead of the 165 but as we’d find out later that wasn’t a problem at all. Jeffrey was our guide and he was amazing.

And so it begun, we got our asses inside the canoe trying not to make it flip and it was on! These damn things are incredibly stable when you don’t make a move, but the tiniest little shake makes it all dance like flubber.

I really wanted to see a sloth (“lazy bear” as I called them before learning their real name, thanks Marla!), that would make it all worthwhile. As it turned out, the wet season, in which we were, is the best one to see them, so it looked promising. During this season the water raises like crazy and so there are plenty of shortcuts the guides can take through the jungle, as everything is flooded.

During the dry season the way is much longer as they have to follow the river. It’s cool to take these shortcuts, cause the feeling of passing so close to the trees and looking up and just seeing green feels pretty amazing, but it also pisses you off that they are cutting the way so much, cause that also reduces the chances of seeing animals. Luckily for us, we saw plenty and didn’t have any complains.

Most of the birds we saw they’d fly away pretty fast the moment we came close to them. But that was not the case with this black eagle. It just stayed there, took a look at us, probably deemed us as not really a threat and didn’t move even an inch. It was pretty damn scary.

A bird we were really happy to see, and hear, was the woodpecker. It has some seriously crazy yellow eyes that thing.

The really big vultures,  with their wings wide open to dry them. With the amount of death there’s in the jungle these guys don’t starve.

We saw couple of iguanas, both were having a nap when we spotted them.

So yep, as I said we were really lucky and it didn’t take long for my wish to become true. Our guide, Jeffery, who had some sort of gift that he could spot every single animal a mile away, pointed to a tree in the distance and told us that there was a sloth. At that moment not Kasia nor myself didn’t see crap. All we saw was the tree. Now same as Jeffrey was gifted with eagle eyes, he was not as gifted when it comes to describing and giving us hints to see the animals. Many times he’d say something like: It’s there, in the branch next to the green leaves. Oh well then, don’t say anymore, we’ll spot it right away, thanks Jeff!

But finally we saw it, it wasn’t as clear as I’d wanted it, but there it was. Jeffrey knew how to call any living thing in the jungle, and he started whistling. Apparently, that was the call the female does to let the male know she is ready for the action. So if the one that’s on the tree it’s a male, he’ll get his ass down as fast as his incredibly slowly moves allow him to, and if it’s a female she’ll come down to protect her territory.

But this first one we saw didn’t react to the whistle, basically stayed there without moving.

Good luck wanted it, it didn’t take long for us to spot another one. This time was much easier to see it cause it was at the top of a tree that was almost without any leaves. And this one did react to the call. It was just too much fun to watch that little thing go down, sooooooo slowly, it was as if it was pulling a prank on us, but no, that’s just how they move. I asked Jeffrey if these things get hunt a lot and he said that ooooooh yep, like crazy. Hawks seem to enjoy a nice sloth for dinner, and they got it so damn easy.

Keeping our luck levels high, before reaching our first stop we also got to see a toucan. We missed this beautiful animal in Colombia and wanted to see one since.

Our lunch took place in this amazing little cabin. The spot was just incredible. Here we learnt that toucans can be quite a dick. There are other birds who build their nests as a little cave with the entrance on the bottom. Well, as it turns out, a toucan meal would include those other birds eggs. We actually witnessed some toucans getting their lunch too.

A nice surprise was a little fella that felt on Marla’s boat. This incredible leaf insect. Kasia fell in love with it. The amount of detail was just impressive, that thing really is a leaf.

So what was in the menu?? Freshly fished piranha and catfish. Piranha’s teeth were quite scary indeed.

During lunch we all discovered something quite funny. As the guy from the Yurimaguas office told us, these are private tours, which meant not just a canoe per each group, but also that everyone had their own plates, forks, knives, glasses, everything! A guide even had a knitted table cloth! In the middle of the jungle, what you cannot miss ever is to take with you your best table cloth. So when the first two plates landed on the table, we all said to the rest to go on, but finally it was Kasia and me who sat down in front of the food. And immediately the cook traveling with Marla and Margaret took the plates and said that those weren’t for us, and she placed them in front of them. We all ate the same food, but beware of touching what “belonged” to someone else! That was nuts.

After this great meal, this time with the right plates and forks, we kept moving towards the place where we’d spend the first night.

It was a pretty damn nice place. I expected to sleep in the floor, just with a mosquito net over us but damn, this place actually had rooms with beds! And on top of that, a generator provided electricity during the night, and there were even sockets, where I could have plugged my camera, but well, I didn’t expect to find this in the middle of the jungle.

When we arrived there, I asked Jeffrey if it was safe to take a bath in the river. Yes, I mean the one where he pulled out a piranha a couple of hours ago, that river. He said that sure thing, that there was no danger. I was not fully convinced, but how many times can you take a bath in the amazon jungle? I just hoped the answer would be more than once.

Finally it was me and the German guys who decided to give it a try and see if piranhas or any other creature felt like having a taste of the human meat.

Luckily it all went well, the water felt amazing, and a thing that surprised us was that the stream was quite strong. Swimming upstream wasn’t easy at all and when you’d stop, just by floating the stream would take you down pretty fast. Later we saw Jeffrey going to the showers and I asked him why didn’t he take a bath in the river instead. He said that he never got into the water cause he can’t see what’s approaching him from under. Aha, nice you tell us that now.

Later in the evening, we asked if a night swim was an option, but then Jeffery told us that better not cause electric fish swim here at night and just a little touch of those things can get you unconscious and you would drawn. So yep, the night bath was cancelled pretty fast.

Next morning we woke up to find what we thought would be our first monkey. Margaret spot it in a tree a bit far away. It was light brown and it sure did look like a monkey to all of us. But all of a sudden, the light brown monkey jumped from the tree and started flying, so we all went like “Damn!!! our first flying monkey!!”. It was a hawk, a very monkey-ish hawk. And we all needed lenses.

After spotting this magic creature mother nature shared with us, we got back to our canoes and started going down the river.

We passed through lake Galicia, which is supposed to be incredibly deep. During the dry season here is where you can spot sea cows. But as Jeffrey said, it’s not as many tourists think it is, cause these animals can hold their breath for over an hour and they only come up to the surface for few seconds, and during this brief moment they only stick their “pipes” outside the water and down again for an hour or so. So he told us that these are not the most entertaining animals to see.

Jeffrey told us we would then go see maaaany many birds. Not far from the lake we came across these fellas:

It was full of them, the noise they made was incredibly loud and the colors they had were really nice and shiny.

After these birds, I already forgot their name, we made a stop to eat a little snack. While doing so I was looking far to the river and there it was, a river dolphin, a freaking river dolphin came to say hi. I was extremely amazed, but the guides didn’t seem to share my excitement and so the canoes didn’t move till we all finished eating our fruits.

After that we became dolphin hunters. Jeffrey would whistle a call and the little dolphins would come up to breath. They were grey river dolphins. To spot the rose dolphins you have to go even more down the river. But grey dolphins or any kind of dolphin were just too good for us. We spent shit load of time trying to snap a good pic or a nice video, It’s tricky cause you never know where they will show up. But anyway it was an incredible experience to see these beautiful animals.

We then headed towards the spot where we’d all have lunch, and for us it would also be our house for the night. Now this looked much more like the place I expected we’d spend our nights. No electricity, a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. Perfect.

We all decided to go for a bath before having lunch, and once in the water came the big surprise. The river dolphins came to swim with us, they were really damn close, you could see them perfectly, it was simply an incredibly special moment. You know, that day you took a bath with river dolphins in the amazon. Nobody had gopros cameras or any of these stuff, so no videos or pics were taken, but I’m pretty sure we’ll all remember that day for a long time.

So after lunch we all went to the canoes but we’d come back to this shelter and the rest of the group would go down the river to another one, as they took a longer tour. We said bye for now to these great people, with whom I’m really glad we shared this time.

The afternoon was monkey time. We saw them just hanging on trees and some playing together, throwing each other down. Some are tiny small and some scary big. Jeffrey said the biggest he’d seen was as big as him. So yes, we just sat on the canoe and enjoyed the nature around us, simple and so beautiful.

Coming back to the shelter, we first went to set up the net so that we’d have something to eat for breakfast.

After that Jeffrey asked me if I wanted to row back to the shelter. Well hell yes I did. It’s pretty damn hard sometimes, but after a while I got the hang of it and really enjoyed it. I turned back to see how the passengers where doing, and I realized Jeffrey was wearing a life vest. During all the previous days I had wondered why there was only one vest in the canoe, and nobody was wearing it. Well I guess he was keeping it for the emergency situation. We laughed pretty hard at his confidence on my rowing abilities.

Back at the shelter, that night during the meal we shared with Jeffrey he told us plenty of the stories he has to share. One thing he had told us about already during the day trips was about the Chullachaqui, the spirit that lives in the jungle. As he said, this spirit can take any shape, but normally it would appear looking like a human. As Jeffrey said, the key to know if that in front of you is the Chullachaqui is to ask him to remove his shoes. The spirit has a tiny little right foot and the left one is a ball. The noise it makes in the jungle is to hit the big flat tree roots, the ones like this one:

It also can whistle at you or call you by name, or some times, just to play, it may throw you little pieces of wood. Jeffrey really believes in the Chullachaqui, and he told us he had seen in many times. We weren’t as lucky, and the spirit didn’t show up while we were there.

Another thing he told us that night was about the different types of what we would call anaconda, but that in the jungle they differentiate between anaconda and boa.

He told us there are 3 different types in the jungle. 2 aquatic and one terrestrial. He told us about the most feared one, called black boa, an aquatic snake that can get pretty damn big. The story about this snake is that it can swallow your entire body just in a second. It is said that when there’s a storm with thunder and lightning and you are in the water, that’s the sign that the snake is coming after you, and the same if the water level starts raising quickly. Jeffrey told us about a time it happened to him that he was going in the canoe with two Swiss tourists and all of a sudden it started raining really hard, thunders and lightning lit the sky, and so he thought that this was it, he was going to be hunt by the black boa. So he stopped rowing and started to cross himself and asking god for forgiveness. The tourists, who were a bit crazy, asked Jeffrey if it was the end of the world, and immediately after both stood up in the canoe and started screaming “It’s the end of the world!!”. Luckily for all, no boa was around, and another guide, older, that saw Jeffrey’s canoe, came to pick them up and help them move away from the place.

Now those 2 Swiss guys had few screws loose, but I couldn’t help it but think what if I had been in that canoe, what if the only guy you can trust to save your ass in the jungle starts to cross himself and ask god for forgiveness? I’d murder the bastard, I’d be scared as fuck but so pissed I’d be like “you wanna meet your god? There, let me help ya!”. It was funny cause when he told us the story he was laughing his ass out about what happened.

Another story he told us was also when he was with some tourists and they saw a crocodile in the middle of a lake with her cubs. Jeffrey had a fish in the canoe, and he decided to throw it to the animal, hitting it in the face. As a response, the crocodile opened her mouth to show the intruders she was not to be messed with. Jeffrey got the message and started rowing away. He left the animal on his back, so he asked the tourists if they could see it. They said that no that it wasn’t where it was, and at some moment Jeffrey told them they could stop looking cause he found it. The tourists said they couldn’t see it, and Jeffrey said, well, it’s right here next to the canoe. The fear that got into them, Jeffrey included, raised levels impossible to measure. Luckily, as Jeffrey said, it looked like the animal just wanted to make sure they left far enough from her cubs.

Back to the snakes, Jeffrey told us that in the jungle, what they call anaconda is the terrestrial one. He said it’s so big that it can’t move and so it finds a place where to stay for all its life. So big it is that even trees grow on top of its body, which ends up all covered with soil. Only its head remains free so that it can hunt.

Jeffrey also told us about a way you can get someone killed without even touching that person. There’s a tree called, the shaman tree, that has thorns on its bark. It is believed that if you take anything from the person you want dead, it could be a hair, any item that person owns, anything without that person noticing, and you take it to the tree, cut a piece of its bark and place the object there, the person will start feeling bad that very night and through the next seven days will get worse and worse, the stomach gets bigger and bigger until the seventh day it explodes and the person dies. Wonderful right?

I loved all these stories, he told us some more and we all shared a very nice meal.

After dinner, Jeffrey told us we’d go out in the canoe to try and see crocodiles. A night trip in the jungle to spot crocodiles? Sounds like fun!

The sounds in the jungle during the night are amazing, a beautiful cacophony where it all mixes up, it’s really impressive. The thing with going during the night to see crocodiles is cause it’s much easier to spot them. And how is that? Well that’s cause during the night their eyes shine like red bulbs. It’s incredibly easy to see them, they are so shiny even I could see them without a problem. It was hard to see something more than the eyes and part of the head, but once we spotted quite a big fella. And to our surprise Jeffrey started rowing right towards the thing. I was kind of petrified cause I could see that it wasn’t a tiny small crocodile, I didn’t move, and all of a sudden the animal just got under the water making quite a splash. It was quite of a relief. Jeffrey turned back to face us and while laughing said “it was biiig”. Right it was damn it, so why did we almost hit it? And he said that there’s no problem, that they get scared and leave. The only one we saw close enough to take a pic was a tiny one. Jeffrey spent quite some time trying to catch it with his hands, he said that little animal made him feel like a newbie, cause after I can’t remember how many attempts he couldn’t grab it.

It was funny cause we had spent all day chasing dolphins, getting extremely excited every time one of those little animals showed up, and now during the night, when we were looking for crocodiles and we were quite tense cause we couldn’t see much, in one moment a dolphin came up to breath so close to the boat, we got pretty scared. We were like, not now you freaking dolphin!

Another really cool thing we got to see during the night was a hummingbird sleeping. As we were told already in Colombia, these animals fall in a sort of coma while they rest. Their eyes are still wide open but they are rigid as stick. Pretty amazing. It was really nice to go out on the canoe during night time, another amazing experience.

And we also spotted a yellow frog. This one segregates poison through its skin, so touching it may bring you quite a bad moment.

The third day was monkey day, it’s not that we didn’t see any the days before, but no comparison. I can’t remember all the different names Jeffrey told us, but we did see many different speies. They were all amazing.

This one, though it’s hard to see it in the picture, was carrying a little baby, you can spot a third hand between the mother’s hands.

The third was also the day we went for a walk inland, though it was a short one cause the water level was too high and after around 30-40 minutes the path was covered with water. It was nice to walk a bit though, seeing the amazing trees and its crazy big roots. It was also muddy as hell, and sometimes it was hard to move, Kasia almost lost one of her boots.

Found couple of medicinal trees and Jeffrey explained us their use and if we didn’t see a puma, at least Jeffrey found a paw print.

That day we came back to sleep in the “hostel” we slept the first night. On the way back we had one of the highlights of the trip. River wolves, as they call them. A group of 5 or 6 with their little babies was coming our way. They got pretty nervous and started making this crazy loud noises, raising almost their entire bodies out of the water. It was amazing, but then I looked at Jeffrey and he had stopped rowing and almost had his head between his knees. We were like, are we good here Jeffrey? Apparently these animals are incredibly aggressive. I guess the fact that crocodiles are in their diet tells everything about their lovely character.

The last day we basically made it back to the entrance of the park the same way we came 2 days before. We were lucky to see some monkeys, a huge spider Jeffrey called passenger, cause apparently jumps on the boats to be taken to some other place, a kind of free Uber for spiders.

With spiders this big it’s not weird to find spider nets as big as this one:

Once a monkey came really close, and Jeffrey tried to give some fruit to him. He would come really close, stay put, think about it twice and move away. Jeffrey followed him for a while, and after few failed attempts, we saw the monkey grabbing some little ball and throwing it to us. Jeffrey started laughing his ass out and rowing really hard at the same time. When I asked him what was going on, he told me the damn monkey just threw a wasps nest to us. That little bastard definitely knew how to get rid of unwanted tourists.

But the best of the best was waiting for us. It couldn’t be any other thing than a sloth. It was so close you could spot every detail of it, no need for a big zoom in the camera. It was hanging upside down, eating some leaves. Incredibly chill, every move he made was as slow as it could possibly be. When standing there he’d stop eating and put his head up a bit to check on the visitors. He didn’t care much and continued with the meal. This creatures are just amazing, and smaller than I thought. Jeffrey said he could get it down. I was like, what you mean? He said some tourists want to hug them, so he could get his machete, cut the tree, make it fall and just hand it over to me. Now that was a bit much too much, so I asked him not to do it, it was more than enough to be able to see it so close.

And so that was the perfect end to our really incredible jungle adventure. It’s not the cheapest thing to do, but it’s worth every penny.

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