by Sara Moses
Back in April, my colleague Scott and I were sent to Peru to work on developing two new tours in the Amazon Rainforest. I was chosen for this expedition in order to create our new Amazon Woman tour for lesbians, and Scott was sent to get perspective on a new Amazon cruise for our gay male groups. We would be traveling with other travel professionals, all interested in exploring this special part of the planet and finding great spots that our clients will love.
A week or so before the trip, Scott and I drove 100 miles to the Upper Keys in order to get our yellow fever vaccinations. This was nerve-wracking, because neither of us likes needles, and we were really working each other up over the big bad shot! Scott called me a big baby so I said “ladies first” and giggled. The nurse didn’t get my joke and pricked me first, before I could introduce Scott as Bonita Bitch, one of the legendary Key West Bitch Sisters! (She’s the pretty one).
Later in the week we made the gorgeous drive up the Keys again, this time all the way to the Miami Airport (MIA). I love this rainbow window at MIA. We stayed the night at the airport hotel to take an early morning flight out.
Day 1: Miami to Iquitos
Scott and I met our coordinator, Claudio, and several members of our group and boarded our COPA flight to Panama City, Panama, where all the men in the airport were handsome and sharply dressed and the women had on their tallest heels. At the Panama City airport we met the rest of our group and continued on together to Iquitos, Peru in the early afternoon.
Flying over the Amazon as we approached Iquitos was breathtaking. Serpentine rivers wind through lush greenery that extends as far as the eye can see. It appeared that the jungle had no end.
Our hotel had arranged a group transfer from the airport; our other option would have been the mototaxi, the main method of transportation in Iquitos. Many families have scooters; we saw very few private cars but thousands of mototaxis.
We checked into our hotel on the town square, and an afternoon storm rolled in and right back out.
Two of our traveling companions, Eldon and Myron, went exploring local shops. They stopped at the esplanade overlooking the Itaya River:
They came upon a parade:
And many beautiful birds:
Everyone returned to our hotel in time to enjoy traditional Peruvian cocktails, Pisco Sour and Pisco Cocona. We unanimously agreed that the drink, remarkably, did not taste like coconut. It took three whole days of hilarious discussion to finalize our understanding that COCONA is not COCONUT. You’ll have to imagine a chorus of ten people revisiting the popular argument (cocona? coconut? cocona! no coconut?). Thoroughly warmed up from three rounds of Pisco, we walked together along the esplanade overlooking Belen (the Floating City), where kids were playing soccer in the fading light.
Dinner was at a restaurant that uses filtered water for all cooking and washing purposes, features triple-washed greens and freshly caught fish, and takes pride in serving no illegal or endangered species. The waiters were all good-looking young men who promised to meet us later at the disco! Several members of our group walked to the disco and secured the curtained private room at the top of the stairs, with a direct view on the front door. Scott and I were breathlessly looking for our waiters to arrive, but alas, we ran out of steam before the club really got hopping, and our group went back to our hotel for the night.
Day 2: Military Men, Manatees, Monkeys, and a Mermaconda!
Every Sunday in Iquitos there is a display of military presence, where all branches are present for a flag ceremony, the singing of the national anthem, and stirring speeches. The roads surrounding the town square are closed to vehicles, so our tour van was delayed. This gave Scott the full opportunity to collect photos of his favorite troops.
And a double-take zoom shot of the gentleman on the left!
We met our van around the block and headed to the outskirts of town to the manatee rescue and rehabilitation center. This was our first introduction to La Selva (“the jungle” – how locals refer to the Amazon Rainforest). Just before hopping over a giant tree root, I realized that it appeared to be moving, and I stopped and stepped back. Two lines of leaf-cutter ants were determinedly harvesting the huge tree, taking leaves to their home 20 ft away. I took this video after our group moved on, so that the sounds of La Selva could be heard.
The staff at the manatee center are committed to educating local people about the plight of the manatees, which are endangered because they are delicious, apparently. Our local guide explained to us that all edible animals in populous areas here are slaughtered and eaten, and this is resulting in lowered populations of manatee, sloth, monkey, and pink dolphin. We took turns feeding the manatees, which are bristly and gentle, with suction cups for mouths. I was the only one who pet the loveable and lump-covered puppy who wandered around the reserve.
We headed next to the zoo, where we saw several varieties of monkeys, some parrots, a few wild cats, and even the gift shop’s pet rhino beetle. I tried to hold him, I really did. Really. But I just COULDN’T. Eldon and Michael were more courageous.
We caught glimpses of the captive Paiche, gigantic river fish that patrol the moat of the monkey enclosure, rippling through the murky water like sea-monsters and avoiding the camera. We also did not see a real Chullachaqui, though a few guests said later that they had nightmares of this shape-shifting goblin who sneaks into villages and steals people’s mates.
Carlos and I enjoyed lunch at the Zoo’s beach. I couldn’t resist helping Michael eat that haunch of roasted alligator!
It was delicious, as are most meats roasted this way, I imagine.
We then switched to a hotel across town with a great pool area. My suite was bigger than my Key West apartment! Dinner tonight was at a kitschy restaurant that featured Peruvian takes on American cuisine (or maybe vice-versa?). I had pancakes for dinner and Scott had a beer in a wooden box.
I mocked Scott because he is afraid of snakes and wouldn’t even sit near this painting of the mermaconda.
Upstairs at this restaurant was the Iquitos version of Margaritaville, complete with a Bourbon Street sign and a McCain/Palin campaign poster.
When we returned to our hotel for the night, we all checked our email and finished up any business, because we really didn’t know what level of technology to expect once we left Iquitos to enter the Rainforest the next day!
…to be continued. Click HERE to read Part 2!
HE Travel Media Assistant