Villages and Pink Dolphins on the Peruvian Amazon
January 1, 1970
by Jenn Meagher
Iquitos Launching Point
While Peru is revered for Machu Picchu above all else, it’s rich bio-diversity makes for a potentially unique trip should you choose. When my parents and I went, there was no doubt, we absolutely HAD to visit the Amazon River. Iquitos is the launching zone of all Amazonian trips. The easiest way to get there is definitely by air. We had arranged a tour with Libertad Jungle Lodge. They were to pick us up at 8:30 and by 8:45, my sweet, middle-aged, and very punctual parents (ahem, dad) were starting to worry we’d been forgotten.
But of course, we hadn’t. It’s Latin America, so around 8:59, they pulled up, packed to the brim with supplies and we wedged ourselves and packs into whatever tiny vestiges we could in a very cozy, albeit bizarre trip to the river. From van, we transitioned to a series of converted moto-buggies, which my dad had been obsessed with ridding from the moment he’d seen them. Over an hour later, he was all too quick to jump off as the novelty had definitely been replaced by discomfort.
We were dropped at the shore-side and taken to the market while the others loaded the boat. It was quite a sight. I hadn’t been to a Latin market in a while, and never to one at the jungle’s edge. The array of fish, fowl, and other beasts brought in, butchered, and skinned, including a monkey, was from another planet. Our guide explained that most people just bring in everything they catch without much thought to preservation (it hadn’t really been necessary before) but that the government was starting to place restrictions (though the enforcement of these would be near impossible).
The Amazon River
The Amazon River is the largest river in South America and first or second longest of the world. Peru is extremely diverse in all ways and its section of the Amazon is no exception. It covers almost two-thirds of the country. It’s home to thousands of species of birds, fish, butterflies, mammals, reptiles, and plants. (The Only Peru Guide) There are two National Parks, dozens of eco-tourists lodges, and a scattering of villages the entire way down. There are numerous native languages spoken. (Wikipedia) And all travel is by boat.
The riverboat was finally loaded with all the heart’s desires and we settled in for the hour and a half ride, to the village, that would be home the next four days. We hardly spoke the entire ride; there was so much to take in. The slow meandering of the river lulled us into a peaceful rest after an otherwise chaotic day.
The village has approximately 300 residents. Not many of whom speak English or Spanish but rather one of the many Native Languages of the jungle. Everything is on stilts. While the town is at least 400 meters from the shoreline sometimes the stilts still aren’t enough and homes have been known to flood. During the rainy season, the only way you can travel is by boat. There’s no walking to the neighbors as the pathway becomes part of the river. One of the people I spoke to said dolphins are often found swimming just outside your doorstep that time of year.
Libertad Jungle Lodge
I’m not one for tours before the trip but I can’t offer enough positive feedback about Libertad Jungle Lodge. A small, rustic space that only has generator-run power certain hours of the day and no air-conditioning. It’s amazing. It’s clean. The staff is unreal! Each group is assigned their own guide and are free to do as many outings as they like, for a flat rate (when we paid at the end, it was less than what we’d been quoted!). Also, I should mention, the food is amazing. As fresh as you can get, often caught that same day and super healthy. It was by far the best of the whole trip.
The lodge only hires locals and sometimes there’s a school but apart from fishing and farming, there isn’t much work. For the most part, this is fine. They seem to have everything they need but to supplement their incomes, the local ladies make a variety of crafts which they sell to lodge guests. They aren’t peddling the streets or anything but rather, once or twice a week (depending on how busy things are), everyone gathers in a sort of mini-market to share their creations.
That first day, we took it pretty easy. Having just left the high altitude of Cusco, we were far from accustomed to the heat and humidity of the jungle. We took a walk which seemed very hard. The jungle is not my element but as uncomfortable as you may feel, you can’t help but feel the aliveness of the place. Everything moves and everything makes a sound. After wandering around for what felt like forever (it was probably only 45 mins), we were picked up by a boat to be brought home. They timed it perfectly of course, and we arrived on the main channel for sunset.
It’s all about the sunset here. This is when we get to boat out to look for pink dolphins. The Amazon River Dolphin is the only pink dolphin in the world. While there are other freshwater dolphins, these are unique in their large size and diverse diet. Over the past few decades, their numbers have declined due to an increased number of fishing lines on the river. (Wikipedia) Our guide said hunting contributes as well but largely it’s the increased number of boats, as tourism becomes more popular in the area.
The village is located directly adjacent to where the pink dolphins live. They only pop to the surface very briefly so I haven’t any photos, but what I can tell you, is when pink dolphins break the surface at a pink sunset, and the sun hits them just right, they sparkle. And if there’s any doubt in your mind, sparkly pink dolphins, at a sparkly pink sunset, is what life is all about.