Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Amazon

Eighteen years ago, Doug and I were looking for an exotic destination for our honeymoon, and after a lot of thought, we decided to go to South America. (This was 1995, and South America was quite a lot more exotic then than it is now.) One of the places we decided we wanted to see was the Amazon rainforest, and we chose one of the only ecotourism companies that was operating in that area at the time: Explorama. The conditions were rustic, but hey – we were in the jungle! My memory of those five days we spent with Explorama was that it was hot and humid and there were lots of mosquitos, and that we saw amazing things.

Fast forward nearly two decades. When we decided that we would spend a couple of months of this trip in South America, we immediately thought about going back to the Amazon. There are many more companies now, but we really wanted to go with Explorama again. We even decided to stay in the same lodges, just to see how much they had changed.

So as I write this, I'm sitting in the bar at the Explorama Lodge, about two hours downriver from Iquitos, Peru. This was one of the places Doug and I visited on our honeymoon, and it's fascinating to be back. The Yanomono village a bit down is so much larger than it used to be, though the women still go about topless and the children still swim naked in the river. (And I still get chills thinking about the fact that I studied this tribe in college in one of my anthropology courses, and here I'm talking with them!) The rooms are nicer, with en-suite bathrooms (but no hot water, not that it matters) and a brand new building – the rooms where we stayed before are now staff lodging – but the only thing I really remember is the bar. (Ha!) Not even the dining room looks familiar to me; everything else seems so very different.

But some things don't change: it's still hot; it's still humid, and once again, we're seeing amazing things.
The heat and humidity is shockingly stifling. It's actually a bit worse in Texas in July (with just as many mosquitos), but we spend all of our time in air conditioned comfort at home, and so the shock of being out in this 24/7 is really quite amazing. One of my memories from our honeymoon was that the first night (sleeping under separate mosquito nets) was so, so hard. It was stiflingly hot, so humid I almost felt like I couldn't breathe, and I remember lying there and thinking, "I can't do this." But of course, I did, and the next night was easier. By the third night, I was sleeping like that proverbial baby.

The same was true this time: the first night in the heat and humidity was difficult. The difficulty this time was compounded by the fact that we have always had a family bed policy, and so Carter has never spent an entire night sleeping by himself. We honestly weren't sure if he would be able to stay alone under his mosquito net for the entire night. It turned out that it wasn't a big problem. Around 4:00 am, he wakes up and asks me to come snuggle with him, and sleeping squished up against a very warm child is something I can do for the last few hours of the night.

One of things that has been really fascinating about this part of the trip is the way that Carter has completely adjusted to this new environment. He hasn't once complained about the heat, or about being dirty or covered with mosquito repellent and sunscreen. He just accepts it and has fun. Doug and I will look at each other and really want to whine, but we can't. If Carter isn't complaining, we don't feel like we can!

Another thing that's been really interesting is the way the locals have responded to Carter. I think that they see a lot of tourists, but not many of those are children. One of the Yanomono women picked him up and held him in her lap, and he had this look on his face like RESCUE ME. He's become shy about talking to other children, but the children in the villages here are much friendlier than the children were in Santiago. He got some cold shoulders there when they realized he didn't speak the same language, but the kids here seem to find him so fascinating that they don't care. He even got involved in a water balloon fight with some, which was funny.

One more thing before I get to the pictures is that Doug and I were really worried about how this week in the Amazon would go. It can be a dangerous place, and we had to have lots of talks with Carter about not running ahead, not picking up bugs, not digging in the dirt, and so on. We were worried that this week would be torture for him, that he wouldn't have much fun because of the virtual leash we'd have to keep on him. Instead, he's exceeded our expectations. He's adjusted to this new environment incredibly well. Even our guide, who has 30 years of experience, was surprised at how well he's doing.

We did have an injury early on that may have helped Carter really believe that the Amazon can be a dangerous place. We were riding along in the boat and Carter stuck his hand into the spray, as he'd done quite a few times before on that boat ride. Suddenly he pulled his hand out with a yelp, and I saw there was something sticking out of his thumb. It looked with a little piece of plastic, almost like a splinter. I thought, "Okay, I'll just pull it out quick," and so I did – and it turned out to be about an inch and a half long. It was a piece of a fin from a small catfish, basically a fish bone with jagged spikes sticking out all over. There was blood everywhere and Carter screamed his head off (it really looked like it would have hurt) and we headed back to camp. I have a first aid kit, so I got him cleaned up and we snuggled up with soda and potato chips and some "My Little Pony" on the iPad, and that finally calmed him down. It healed quickly and doesn't seem to have gotten infected, so I think it will be fine. Still, that seemed to make him take our warnings about safety a bit more seriously.

And now, some pictures:

You'll start to notice that we're wearing the same clothes in almost every picture. They weren't taken on the same day -- we're just wearing the same clothes, over and over. It's interesting how quickly you can get used to putting on the same sweaty, dirty clothes...

The Amazon is surprisingly wide this close to the source. it's also interesting that the river moves around a lot. Channels and islands are constantly shifting, forcing the people to move when the waters rise too high.

Near the Explorama Lodge, there is a small fake traditional village set up to show you how the Yanomono people used to live. Here our guide Ricardo is giving us a blowgun demonstration.

Turns out he's a pretty good shot.

We took a lovely quiet ride through some narrow channels near the Explorama Lodge.

I can't believe I'm posting a picture of the back of me, but this shows how snuggly Carter gets during boat rides.

Here he's snuggling on Daddy.

Carter is checking out a stick insect that decided to catch a ride on our boat.

Carter really enjoyed hanging out in the hammocks.

We all did, actually! I had forgotten how relaxing swinging in a hammock is. It's also a good way to get cool: in the still air, the swinging creates a small breeze.

Following are some shots of the Explorama Lodge. Very little of this was familiar to me, strangely enough.

Here you can see our room, complete with mosquito nets!

This macaw lives at the lodge. He hopped up onto a chair during munch and swiped some bread from Carter's plate, to Carter's great delight.

The dining area at Explorama Lodge.

This is something I remember from our last visit. There is a lovely lake near the lodge with these gigantic lily pads everywhere. They're 6 feet across, really huge.

These are tree sloths!

On another day we headed out to go fishing for piranha. Carter fell asleep on the way.

Ricardo and our boat driver had a lot more luck than we did.

But amazingly enough, Doug and I each caught one!  They were both too small and had to be thrown back, but still. 

Carter almost caught one, but lost it at the last second. Ricardo said that if he'd caught it, that may have been a record for the youngest gringo ever to catch a piranha, heh.

That's it for now. More later!

Also, be sure to keep an eye on our Tumblr account ( for even more pictures. I've finally managed to get all of the Easter Island pictures queued up and have begun queuing the Amazon ones. A new picture gets posted every six hours or so, so keep checking!

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing. I can't decide whether the stick bug or the tree sloths are my favorite. I'm so delighted that your kiddo is being so adaptable. All that family bed time must be paying off in his security.