Hola amigas y amigos! On Saturday, I returned from a whirlwind adventure (Saturday to Saturday) in the Peruvian Amazon. I very much enjoyed my time there, although I am now sitting on couch at home fighting the pain of a swollen gut as my body attempts to purge itself of something I consumed (food, drink, or parasite unknown). After a week filled with swimming in a tributary of the mighty Amazon, chasing monkeys, and floating down the river sneaking up on birds, it was hard to leave, but it is good to be home with the parents, the critters, and the man. Not to mention not being on a plane and eating something that doesn’t come with a side of yucca (however, the plantains and other bananas were amazing).
While in the Amazon, I learned many lessons, which I would like to impart upon you at this time:
1. Do not pee in the river. Do not drink the water. Do not touch anything unless you ask first.
Words of wisdom passed along by one of the guides right before I jumped into the river to swim with the pink river dolphins. That’s right, fresh water dolphins. Pink ones. We spent about 30 minutes boating up the river in search of these mystical creatures, which sounds glamorous, like an aquatic unicorn or something, but in reality are kind of lumpy and weird looking (though certainly rose tinged). Fortunately, we spotted a mother and her calf a little ways up river (calves have to breach every few minutes to breathe, so it was easier to keep tabs on where they were). At this point, I shed my clothes and jumped into the river in hopes of a close encounter with the magical, lumpy river dolphins. Keeping close tabs on all of my extremities in case of piranha or spectacled caiman nibbles, I paddled away from the boat. I was surprised at how strong the current was: although I was stroking about as fast as I could without getting my head wet, I was actually going backwards. The dolphins decided to be wary and sneak under me and the boat to continue downriver, but it was wonderfully refreshing to jump in the river after a few shower-less days.
2. Monkeys actually do go bananas for bananas.
On day two, we visited Terra Firma (solid ground), where the ground is supposedly high enough to not be affected much by the ebb and flow of the river. Here, we found lots of frogs (including one poison dart frog); some super cool insects; a giant hive of non-stinging bees in a log which our guides proceeded to destroy with machetes in a long, sweaty, futile attempt at gathering what is apparently the best honey ever; and (my personal favorite) a hollow log filled to the brim with multiple types of bats, which I was able to crawl through with Jonatan to have some cool up-close and personal time with one of my favorite mammals (I would like to allay your potential fears and tell you that there were no vampire bats involved. However, I would be lying).
After getting sufficiently covered in guano and hiking out, we got back on the boat and headed down the river. Quite suddenly, we cut the motors and approached the bank and something large shook the branches above the boat. In awe, I looked up into the face of a woolly monkey, getting closer and closer by the second. My mind is racing going “holy crap, this is a dream come true, I’ve got to take a ton of pictures, I wonder how long it’s going to stay, are there more around, holy crap is this really happening, wow it’s getting really close…holy crap, it’s in the boat.” As I snapped a ton of photos, the zoom lens distorted my vision and I didn’t realize how close the woolly was until she unceremoniously jumped into the boat. She, and her two buddies who joined shortly after, were rescued from various markets and homes where they were being sold and kept as pets, and through the ARC were released back into the wild. The guides produced a bag of bananas and oranges, much to the excitement of the woollys. It was so cool to be able to check out a prehensile tail up close while they were distracted by bananas.
Mini-tangent: speaking of bananas, people who eat them in Peru are somewhat looked down upon, apparently because bananas are thought of as monkey food and slightly less than fit for human consumption by most folks. As a banana lover this was hilarious, considering the best, freshest, sweetest bananas are available here. Despite the stigma, I stuffed my face with delicious yellow goodness, daily (okay, more accurately multiple times a day).
3. Evolution is weird.
Okay, so even after being fascinated with biology and spending a lot of time over the last three years with a bio/ENVS guy, I am totally baffled by the different adaptions that help critters breed and escape predation in the jungle. I mean seriously, when you can look up and see this:
and then look down and see this:
you kind of have to wonder. There were so many crazy examples of brilliantly camouflaged creatures sitting right alongside others so flamboyantly colored as to almost be an eyesore amongst the varied greens of the jungle landscape. Not a surprise, or really a lesson learned, but mindblowing (and humbling) to see biology at it’s finest so many times in one short week.
4. Zip lines are WAY scarier if you have to go into them sitting down.
Preface: I am terrified of heights. There are few things I can think of that are more unsavory than plummeting to my death, mainly because I will have lots of time on the way down to berate myself for getting so stupidly close to the edge of whatever I fell off of. I went zip lining for the first time last year when Zach and I visited Maquipucuna Lodge in Ecuador (shameless plug: GO) and it was so much fun. Since then, I’ve been much better about heights (in fact, when Lydia and I did our Southwest park hopping road-trip, we played who-can-get-closer-to-the-edge all trip long. It made for some opportunities to see absolutely unbeatable views). So I wasn’t all that concerned about zip lining here, and even smirked a little when other guests who had gone the previous days and relayed tales of sweaty palms, second guesses, and prayers before gliding between the trees in the canopy. After getting hoisted up into the canopy and climbing the additional ladder to get an extra-high view, I felt unstoppable, and volunteered to be the first to get strapped into the line system. Mistake. As I was getting hooked in, Christian told me to sit down, then scoot my butt off the platform into thin air. There was no chance to lean back on the line and test it out, not for the actual safety of the line but for my own mental block against jumping out of a perfectly good tree. My palms got sweaty. I thought twice about the wisdom of my previous excitement for this experience. And then I took a breath and slid off the platform, not fully surprised, but still totally terrified, by the two foot freefall before the line caught me and I whooshed off to the next platform.
5. Rats are so much cuter in Peru. Fact.
These are but a few of the many lessons I learned in Peru. I will impart one last, very important, lesson learned: apparently LAN Airlines does NOT include puke receptacles on any of their flights. Let’s just say, BYOB (bring your own bag). Goodnight!
PS: Here are some more photos. Feel free to check them out 🙂