And yes, the little hole-in-the-wall did prove quite interesting. It was an art school, not exactly a museum, but did have a small gallery at the front, with about a half dozen objects. The people seemed puzzled but proud that we were interested, and one man proceeded to show us around. He was one of the teachers, and brought us to his studio, where a couple of young students, teenagers, were working.
One of them showed us his whole portfolio, probably thirty pieces, and as we began to move on, he came over and shyly, gave us one of his pieces as a gift.The same teacher led us to a couple of other studios. In one there were perhaps eight students, all at easels painting the same object. It was a sculpted woman’s face, in different angles and facets. That’s what the lesson seemed to be about. They all seemed pleased to see us.
Later in the day, we headed to the Belen district, of great renown. If you read foreign visitors’ comments, you’ll read ones that say beware, stay away, and others that say it’s one of the most interesting places they’ve ever been. I’d side on the second but also with a precaution to pay attention to your surroundings.Belen was certainly intriguing. It’s a poor neighborhood on the water. Some of the houses are on stilts, the others on light wood that floats them when the river is high. The upper part of Belen is a market, teeming with products and people, and small enterprises. Oddly, there were a number of one room dental clinics, none of which I’d relish using. We walked around the market, which had many kinds of fish, all fresh, leaving us wondering what the merchants did at the end of the day with what didn’t sell. We saw, sadly, huge turtle shells, on their backs with the meat exposed. Most intriguing were the buckets of live grubs, with ones skewered and cooked on the table above them.
Several young men approached us, with the ubiquitous greeting in English followed by a little chat, then the offer to guide us through the neighborhood. We declined the first few offers, but then let the third or fourth guy show us his boat, “ no obligation.” We had intended to take a boat through the neighborhood, but not until a later day. Of course, his low key attitude got through to us and before long we were in his boat. I have to say it was well worth it. He was a good guide and a friendly person, with enough English skills for us to understand each other well.
Marlon took us up river and back, for about an hour, looking at numerous houses, with many people out washing clothes, and others fishing. There were a few floating churches and a couple of floating gas stations. He also pointed out the numerous “floating toilets,” rudimentary stuctures with a scant piece of tarp or board for a modicum of privacy. The toilets emptied, of course, right into the river.
Marlon eventually brought us to his own house, where we met his wife, two young children, and his father. There was a small living room, where his father was watching tv, a kitchen, and a bedroom. There was a separate remarkably well equipped, with at least a dozen shiny pots hanging on the wall, as well as utensils like a spatula and slotted spoon. The parents and children slept on the wooden floor, laying blankets down at night and draping mosquito netting over them.
Although this may have been part of Marlon’s shtick, I was really taken by seeing where he lived and meeting his family. At the end of our tour, he asked if we were on “waasup? Or “tripadvisor?” We asked “facebook” and he nodded. We promised to give him a good review . I asked if he got customers every day, and he said no, some days one or more, some days none. We gave him more than the price he’d asked for.
We are now at the Tayhuanu Lodge, upriver from Iquitos about four hours, three hours past Tamashiyacu where Carolina’s family lives. She and Franz have stayed in Iquitos to visit more with the family. They went out to Tamashiyacu yesterday, and will go once more tomorrow before leaving for Lima. Unfortunately, Carolina has been sick, with a fever, for several days. Yesterday, they had a nurse come to the house and give her some kind of shot. Whatever the medication is, it has made her feel a lot better. Tito, Gina and Renzo came back to Iquitos with them and are staying a couple of days.
Our first night here, after several hours travel by boat, we had dinner and then went, with a few other guests, on a boat ride. Our guides are adept at spotting things, and a couple of times said they saw caimans, or at least their red eyes, lurking in the swampy edge of the river. I believed them, and wanted to believe I saw them, but wasn’t at all sure.
We each have our own guide, assigned when we arrived. If it’s a family they have one for the group, if it’s a single traveller, she has one for herself. Our guide is Melisa, one of two female guides. She’s been working at the lodge for three years, is originally from a village eight hours up the river from Iquitos, in the opposite direction.
Every day the guides consult with the travelers about what they want to do. Yesterday, we went for a “short” walk in the jungle behind the lodge. I had said about a half hour would be good. Two hours later we arrived back at the lodge. It wasn’t hard going, although Melisa had a machete that she occasionally used, to remove thorn ridden branches from the path, or slice open a fruit to show us what was inside.
The jungle, at least here, is not densely overgrown as I would have expected. Granted, these are fairly well used paths, but even off of them, it’s pretty penetrable. Loring commented that it wasn’t any more overgrown than on our wooded land in Maine.
We heard and saw many birds, and Melisa could identify all of them, even the ones I couldn’t spot. We heard some sounds of monkeys, not verbalizing, but the sounds of them moving from limb to limb. It’s not that common to spot monkeys here, although another group did see a troop of 14 a couple of days ago. It’s more common to see them at the research station, where we are headed tomorrow for a couple of days, so maybe we’ll be lucky and see some there. One’s guide is assigned to you for the whole trip, so Melisa will accompany us there.
Yesterday afternoon we boated upriver to where pink river dolphins are often spotted. Along the way we saw a multitude of birds, herons, hawks, vultures, a number of other species whose names I can’t remember.
Shortly after our arrival at the dolphin spot we saw one breach, and then several more. I wasn’t sure if it was the same or multiple dolphins; Loring was sure it was at least two. He went for a swim off the boat, and strangely, the dolphin(s) seemed to be frolicking around him, coming closer than they had to the boat. Melisa had told us a folk legend about a dolphin that turned into a pink skinned man (like us) and joined a woman to live on land. I was pretty sure the dolphins we saw were looking to mate with Loring.
Last night we had decided to stay at the lodge, while others were planning to go on excursions.But around dinnertime, the sky opened with torrential rains, and the others were glad they hadn’t ventured out.
I spent some of the evening talking to Dolly Beaver, Paul’s wife.She runs the lodge, and has also created a non-profit organization calledAngels of the Amazon. They have supported health clinics and schools in the area. A portion of the cost of our trips goes to supporting the organization.
Dolly has also organized, in the nearby village of El Chino, a small women’s collective that makes and sells baskets woven from a local palm fiber. The women had made baskets before, but just for their own use, not to sell. I had seen some of these baskets on the wall of our apartment in Iquitos, and then again at the museum. By then I knew that the baskets were made at a place near the lodge where we could visit, so decided to wait until we were here to purchase them directly from the weavers.
At the museum I did buy a number of small animals, frogs, birds, etc made from the same fiber. It turns out that they are made by the same group. Each animal is labelled with the name of the person who made it, so I will probably get to meet some of them.
This morning Loring and Melisa went off on a more extended boat ride and hike, to a lake where the hoatzin bird can be spotted. I decided to stay here and read and write. It turns out that most of the guests also went out early, because there were only five of us here, the three women from Washington with whom we arrived on the boat a couple of days ago, a young woman travelling for over a month in South America, and me.
Instead of the usual buffet, we had breakfast served to us at the table, scrambled eggs, cheese, ham, avocado, olives, some kind of fried chips, two kinds of juices, and fruit. The meals here have been impressive, a lavish buffet every lunch and dinner with a couple of kinds of salad, one of two kinds of meet, cooked medlies of veggies, fruit and cookies for dessert.
Everything is fresh, although not really local. It is all boated in from Iquitos. Yesterday we saw them unloading large amounts of food, as well as wood and some other supplies.
Right now I may be the only guest here, mostly everyone has headed out on some kind of excursion. They will mostly if not all be back for lunch at 1pmThe young woman college student is headed up to the research station, for just one night. We will head up there tomorrow, for two nights. So we may cross paths with her again, either at the research lodge, or on the river
The other people here now are a couple from California, three women from Washington State, a family with two teenagers from, Ohio .There was also a group of four from the Netherlands, but I think they may have left. According to Dolly, though, there’s a large group arriving later today.
At the moment, there are more staff here than guests, even without counting the guides. There are cooking staff, cleaning staff, boat operators, and construction workers, although there may be some overlap.This morning, some people are sanding wood brought on the boat yesterday. I assume there is always maintenance work to be done.
So the lodge has given employment to a lot of local people. Dolly told us she met Paul, her husband and founder of the lodges, when he advertised for female guides some years ago. I suppose there weren’t any women then.
Paul wrote a book a couple of decades ago, Adventures of a JungleGuide, or something to that effect. The literature for the place said it was required reading for the trip, and we both dutifully read it. It details his own earlier trips here, starting in the 80s or possibly the 70’s, when it was truly an adventure, and he went, with tourists, to virtually untouched places, built their own shelters, uncovered archeological ruins, gotten bitten by fire ants, snakes, etc.
There are two other books with Amazon themes that we both read while in Iquitos. Neither of them was great literature, but both were entertaining enough and had enough local color to enjoy reading them while here. One was an adventure and romantic story about a young woman from Boston who travels to Bolivia and falls in love with a local man, and travels with him to his family home in the jungle. Although it is set in Bolivia, the jungle references seem very appropriate to here. At the credits at the end of the book, the author gives credit to Paul Beaver, whose lodge she stayed at ( right where we are now) while doing her research!
The other book is called Death in Iquitos. (I think.) It’s a murder mystery that takes place mostly in California, but some scenes are in Iquitos. One scene takes place at the restaurant where we had dinner a few night ago. I do love reading books that are set in the area where I am travelling, whether it be Israel or Paris, Berlin or Peru.
I think that almost brings me up to date. It’s almost lunchtime, which is at 1pm. They signal it with a drum outside the dining room door.
This afternoon we are going fishing, unless Melisa recommends something else and we change the plan. And everything’s always subject to the weather. So far we’ve been incredibly lucky in that the downpours have always occurred when we are at the lodge rather than out in the jungle or in a boat. But it can change really fast. Even as I write this, the rain has begun again. Who knows if it lasts until after lunch or not.
Loring has returned from his morning excursion. He did see several hoatzin birds, as well as a sloth, more dolphins, and a good glimpse of a monkey, one of a troup that they could hear in the trees.
He agreed, though that I was happier here at the lodge than I would have been trudging through the jungle in deep mud.