Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to travel the Amazon River. On September 1, 2016, I was able to scratch that off my bucket list. My wife, Jennifer, and I spent a week exploring the Amazon and some of its tributaries on an Amazon River Boat called the Delfin I. It was and will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
First a little background history. The mouth of the Amazon River was discovered in 1500, when a Spanish expedition led by Vincente Pinzon sailed up it to a point 50 miles (80km) from the sea. Forty years later, another Spanish expedition, of 50 men under the command of Francisco de Orellana, achieved an epic journey from the distant Andes by way of the Napo River and the Amazon mainstream to the Atlantic. By the 19th century, naturalists finally began to learn the secrets of the rivers and the surrounding rain forest. Between 1848 and 1859, the British naturalist Henry Bates collected thousands of insect species entirely new to entomology. Now, the Amazon is thought to have 2.5 million species of insects, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and a whopping 2.5 million different insects. The botanist Richard Spruce gathered some 7000 new plant specimens. Now, the Amazon is estimated to have 40,000 plant species, 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees. The Amazon River is by far the world’s largest river by volume. It has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. We were only able to explore a few of these.
We flew into Lima, Peru then onto Iquitos, a bustling city completely surrounded by jungle. There are no roads leading in or out of Iquitos. You can only enter or leave on foot or by boat or plane. The primary mode of transportation is a motor carriages or “Tuk Tuk”.
After a brief tour of the city, it was onto Nauta, the riverboat port. Once we embarked, we met our guide and our fellow passengers, two couples from Lima, Peru. We didn’t waste any time and immediately boarded a skiff (motorboat) to search for pink dolphins. Even though our guide made no promise we would be able to see any pink dolphins that day, we spotted dozens just during that 2 hour excursion.
The next day consisted of a jungle hike where we observed several forms of wildlife. We got close to a sloth that really seemed to be posing for our cameras. Our jungle guide discovered a Tarantula and brought it close for us to view (I hate spiders). We also got close and personal to a boa constrictor, a small poisonous frog, and a monkey (see photos below). Even though it was 90+ degrees with high humidity, we all had to wear long pants and sleeves due to the huge population of mosquitoes. Thank goodness I brought along my Para’Kito mosquito repellent wrist band.
The scariest and most unforgettable excursion of our journey was the jungle canopy walk. It is a series of several tree platforms around 35 meters (115 feet) high connected by swing bridges giving you a unique perception of the wildlife and vegetation seldom observed from the ground. For someone who is afraid of heights (me), this was quite a frightening but awesome feat. Had it not been for Jennifer encouraging me from behind, I would have never conquered that fear.
I can now actually tell my grandchildren (not) that I swam in the Amazon, I fed a Manatee, I kayaked in the Amazon, and fished for Piranha in the Amazon. Fishing for Piranha is an art that I will never master. Normally, a fish will hook itself while going for bait. A Piranha is smarter that. As they bite into the bait (not hook) you have to pull them quickly into the boat. Well, we fed a lot of Piranha that day but didn’t catch any. What we did hook was Amazonian Catfish. I was so proud that I caught one. Jennifer caught five!
On our final day we visited a local village and spent time with some of its 150 inhabitants. I will never forget that day. We all brought the children some toys and school supplies which they desperately needed. Jen and I purchased some beautiful straw items they handcraft which provide their village with income. I tried to converse with one of the village leaders with the little Spanish I know. He just smiled. Many of the jungle people are very happy and live to be over 100 years old. When asked the reason for their longevity . . . ”no stress”.
The Amazon is more than just the World’s largest river, it is the life force of the surrounding rainforest which is one of the one of the world’s greatest natural resources. Because its vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen, it has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet”. About 20% of earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area, it will be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your life.