After the amazing animal rescue centre on the edge of the Amazon river, I didn’t think our day tour into the jungle outside Iquitos could get any better. We pulled up next at a small village alongside the river, and walked inland a bit before boarding a motorized canoe. The river here was formed by flooding from the Amazon; Alfredo, our awesome guide, explained that in summer this whole area of forest was dry and you can walk along it to Wimba Lodge – the jungle lodge which the Wimba tour company use as a base – but during winter the river lever rises dramatically and floods the forest.
We cruised along the river, the glassy black water perfectly reflecting the trees growing straight out of it. Beside the birds and the sound of the oars, there was total silence, apart from occasional splashes as fruit fell from the branches overhead into the still water. Alfredo told us that in places it could be twenty foot deep, or more, and with the thought of fish swimming past forest trees the silent, calm water below us seemed filled with mystery.
As we pulled up at a muddy bank, Alfredo began calling out towards a damp clearing, a strange word I didn’t recognise. From somewhere beyond the trees came an answer, and as we clambered up the slope a small group of wooden huts, thatched with palm fronds, came into view. The clearing and huts, coated in drizzle under a grey sky, seemed deserted, so it was Alfredo who introduced us to the village of the Yaguas – the native tribe of the area. Inside the largest hut – a huge cone-shaped thing with a high ceiling used for meetings, rituals and ceremonies – we were introduced to the chief, his gut hanging over his grass skirt, his weathered face smiling. The chief, who didn’t speak a word of Spanish or English, painted our faces with a bright red dye in swirling patterns which indicated if the person was single, married, or looking. The Yaguas seem to disagree with the idea of dating before marriage, so Sam and I were given the symbols for a married couple to avoid confusion.
Whilst we were being painted, another tribe member shuffled in; ancient, wrinkled, and clearly very out of it, the village’s shaman looked a lot like someone who has taken a few too many hallucinogenic drugs in his time. Anything between 80 and 200 years old, the shaman barely looked at us, flinched away from the chief when he tried to paint his face, and didn’t seem to know what was going on. Even so, he played some traditional music for us while we danced with the chief: a halting, galloping march in a line holding hands round and round the hut.
It was a bizarre experience, but very fun, and it quickly got stranger as we were led outside for a demonstration in the tribe’s traditional hunting method, the blow dart gun. The chief produced an enormously long pipe, which he used to blow spindly wooden darts across the clearing into a wooden sculpture of a man; first hitting him between the eyes, then in the throat, and finally right on the end of the unfortunate guys’s exaggerated genitalia. After the chief’s impressive performance, we all had a go, and discovered that it is so much harder than it looks. It took me three tries to even blow the dart out of the end of the gun, but when I finally managed I did get the wooden guy right in the throat, so I was pretty proud of myself!
We left the Yaguas and headed to Wimba Lodge, a beautiful wooden lodge in the heart of the jungle, for a delicious lunch of fried dorado (golden catfish) with rice. After lunch, we got into another canoe – this time with no motor- and paddled down the river into the forest. We stopped briefly to check out a wimba tree on the shore, an enormous tree about ten foot wide and goodness knows how tall (Alfredo did tell us, but unfortunately he told us so much that day, that I’ve only retained a tiny portion of it). The last part of the day’s schedule was a spot of piranha fishing from the canoe, but sadly we’d run quite late so we only had about ten minutes or so, and none of us caught anything. It was still really cool to sit in the silence of the river-forest, surrounded by black water with no idea what was lurking amongst the trees beneath the surface.
The journey back upriver to Iquitos took almost two hours, but by this time the sun had come out and we were blessed with an impossibly beautiful blue sky lined with sculpted clouds that reflected on the Amazon’s surface. We glimpsed a few river dolphins, and along the bank I caught sight of a flash of dark movement which the guides said was a catfish.
It was a fantastic day, filled with wildlife and beauty, which gave us the tiniest glimpse of the powerful, mysterious Amazon. Wimba were a great tour company; friendly, reasonably priced and helpful – plus Alfredo was a brilliant guide – and I’m happy to recommend them for anyone heading to Iquitos.