A Trip Into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve
By Gart van Gennip
Using a reliable travel agent, a friend of my friends in Lima; really paid off on this trip. She put me in touch with Ricardo Arbildo, a licensed jungle guide who runs Green Travels, a small tour company in Iquitos. I decided to go on a jungle excursion by myself, without any other tourists, a wise decision.
Ricardo turned out to be a reliable, knowledgeable guide, who spoke excellent English. He took care of the organization of my excursion, including a boat with a crew of three, food and beverages, transportation to Nauta and all the equipment and supplies we needed. His advice regarding adequate preparation was very helpful.
I really had no idea what to expect and soon found out that the virgin rainforest is not a theme park. I was grateful for the long-sleeved shirts, the long pants and the rubber boots we bought, not to mention the insect repellent. Money well spent!
Ricardo picked me up at nine and soon we were on our way to Nauta, a small town 100 kilometres (about 65 miles) from Iquitos. I was surprised at the excellent quality of the road. It only took two hours to get there.
In Nauta, our boat with supplies was waiting at the junction of the Marañon and Ucuyali Rivers, the birthplace of the Amazon. After a short stroll across the market, we were ready to leave. A four-hour boat trip up the Marañon River took us into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.
By nightfall, we stopped at a small village called Arequipa, with about 70 inhabitants. Wherever I walked, a small group of children followed me. They didn’t speak, but just stared and laughed at everything I said.
By 7.00 PM it was pitch-dark. There was no moon and there were no clouds, so the conditions for a night canoe trip were excellent. The light of billions of stars proved to be sufficient to light our way. The Milky Way was draped across the sky like an enormous, brilliant, white cloud. The only other time I was able to see a starry night like that was in… Peru! That was during my hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
With our flashlights we discovered a number of animals by lighting up their eyes. This included a young female white caiman, several birds and even a pair of mating dragon flies!
There were several more night time canoe trips, day trips and jungle walks, searching for the local wildlife to enjoy the view of river dolphins, turtles, flocks of parrots, monkeys, and even a young tapir swimming across the river.
When I was thirsty, my guide cut down a piece of a giant vine and held it up straight. Much to my surprise, even though it looked like a solid piece of wood, water started to run out. And it kept coming! I could have taken a shower! The water was clear and tasted fresh. Delicious! If you ever get lost in the jungle, this vine might prove to be a real lifesaver.
We went fishing for piranhas, which was so easy it was like taking candy from a baby! A little piece of chicken on a hook and the piranhas all but seemed to fight over which would finally take the bait. In a short while we caught ourselves that night’s dinner.
I was most impressed with some of the fish we ran across, not in the river, but in the jungle! A four-foot electric eel in a mud pool, for instance, or a couple of pre-historic looking fish that actually walked on their fins! Considering how many fish there are in these rivers, it is hardly surprising that some of them decide to walk instead of swim. Evolution at work!
Ricardo’s crew did an outstanding job. They worked hard, took care of our belongings, set up camp in the jungle and cooked three meals a day. We slept in tents and under the open sky, protected by our mosquito nets, taking in the unspoiled air and the sounds of the jungle.
It was hot and humid. My clothes stuck to my skin like wet filthy rags. Clouds of mosquitoes seemed to follow me around, waiting for me to stand still for a moment, so they could get their share of that sweet gringo blood. They stung me through my pants and shirts. The repellent I had brought was a cream, not a lotion, and was not water (read: sweat!) proof. Only the canoe trips brought some relief, as the mosquitoes preferred to stay under the canopy.
So I learned that the jungle can be a brutal place and anyone with ideas about living in the wilderness and surviving on what the forest has to offer should probably think twice. But the excitement of being there in the beauty of the rainforest, among the awesome birds, animals, reptiles and insects you come across, with the call of the howler monkey, the horned screamer, the hoatzin, and the sight of pink river dolphins coming to the surface of the black waters to breathe, away from any evidence of the industrialized world, made the discomforts worthwhile.
Not once did I feel afraid. Not even when I was taking a bath in the river and a fish decided to nibble at my upper arm. Nor when we went searching for tarantulas and instead came across a scorpion on a tree, which jumped when we shone our lights on it. Not even when my guide was startled by the Jurassic Park sounding groan of a monster-sized caiman coming from the forest.
We stayed in the rainforest for five days and four nights. Though I was relieved to get away from the mosquitoes, this trip turned out to be a life changing experience for me. I returned to Iquitos the following year and I still live there now.
A Trip Into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve
Gart van Gennip is also the publisher of the Virtual Community of Ikitos.com
Read other articles written by Gart. Click the links below…
Other links you might find interesting about Pacaya Samiria Reserve;
A great photo gallery about Pacaya Samiria National Reserve