The final leg of our Peruvian adventure began bright and early, as we set out at 5am from Cusco. Our journey took us on a flight to Lima, followed by a connecting flight to Iquitos, where we met our final guide, Roberto, and I promptly got my first Amazonian mosquito bite, as soon as my feet hit the tarmac. We then took a van through the town of Iquitos, where we boarded a boat floating on the Amazon River, bound for the Ceiba Tops eco lodge. On the 45-minute boat ride, we ate a box lunch provided by the resort, complete with the sweetest banana I’ve ever tasted.
We arrived at the Ceiba Tops lodge, on the banks of the river, by mid-afternoon. After a short welcome from Roberto in the communal lounge, we arrived at our room. While simply adorned, the room was equipped with air conditioning and could not have been a more welcome respite after our first few hours in 1000% humidity (a slight, albeit realistic, over-exaggeration). We spent a bit of time cooling off, and also avoiding an afternoon rain shower, before heading back out for a little hike around the Ceiba Tops grounds. Roberto walked us through, pointing out flora and fauna, and bringing us onto a path that would give us our first taste of the jungle. After a few minutes of hiking and discovering things like walking trees (the roots grow outside the ground, so they literally change locations as they grow), and millipedes (I held one! Ew!). We eventually arrived at a giant FernGully-like tree, the Ceiba tree for which the resort was named.
After we returned from our hike, with a couple hours to spare until dinner would be served in the lodge, we took the time to have a little R+R in the pool, enjoying some vacation drinks and trips down the slide. We also enjoyed hearing the stories of fellow travelers who had been at the resort for a few days.
That evening, dinner was served in the communal lounge — a buffet of local specialties. In addition, during dinner, we were treated to a music and dance show by local children from the nearby Indiana village. Highlights included having an anaconda placed on my shoulders, and Adam and Karina being invited up on stage to dance.
The next day would be equally jam-packed, and so started early again, as we met at the dock at sunrise for a 2-hour trip down the river.
When we arrived at the other eco lodge, we were greeted by the resident capybara, Charlie, and her baby, Charlito. Although they were essentially just giant, gentle rats, we were all completely taken with the pair, happily making their way across the beach.
After a quick breakfast and coffee, we finally hit the trail, setting out for a treetop canopy through the rainforest. On our way there, we were able to examine various jungle scenes, including a band of monkeys swinging high above us.
After the fun of hopping along the 14 different rope bridges suspended high above the jungle floor, we hiked our way back to the extension lodge, where we were greeted by more monkeys, enjoying a snack.
We grabbed some refreshing cervezas and hit the hammock hut, giggling as Charlie made her way up to the platform. We were all commenting about what a cute creature it was, likening her to a sweet puppy. Just like a puppy, however, Charlie quickly turned mischievous and began nibbling on the shoes we had taken off to get comfortable, and before we knew it, Karina’s sock was being devoured by the capybara. Luckily for Karina, her newly-minted fiance took one for the team and fished her sock out of the creature’s throat. Although a little gooey, the regurgitated sock was deemed better than no sock, and after some hearty laughs by the rest of us, we headed back to the lodge for lunch. (Don’t worry, we all washed our hands — thoroughly!)
After lunch, we set out into the heat again to a nearby botanical garden, to observe a demonstration from a local shaman. The shaman showed us some local tinctures and remedies, as well as the ingredients for the famed ayahuasca (which we did not try, by the way!), and he did a short (drug-free) cleansing ceremony, before we headed back to the boat for the return trip to our lodge.
We spent some much-needed time in the pool again, cooling off, during the evening hours. As the sun started to set, we headed back to our room to gather flashlights and hiking boots for a nighttime excursion into the jungle. We were on the search for nocturnal creatures, and we weren’t disappointed. With the help of Roberto, we spotted two tarantulas, a baby cayman (alligator), giant poison frogs, gorgeous butterflies, and some kind of tree rat. In addition, we ran into the resort’s “pet” tapirs, Cynthia and Geno. After this exciting adventure, we enjoyed another lodge dinner, followed by some games before bedtime.
The next morning would begin our last full day of vacation, starting with a breakfast buffet in the lodge. Afterwards, as I was relaxing in the lounge with a cup of coffee and a book, I turned to find that I had attracted a friend who was helping herself to my morning beverage.
After coffee, we met Roberto and a boat driver for a private ride to the middle of the river, where we spent some time spotting for pink dolphins. We saw a few from a distance, and then re-focused our search towards piranhas for some fishing. We were each handed a primitive stick, with a simple fishing line and hook, to which we attached chunks of steak provided by the guide. We learned the fine art of fishing for piranhas, first by splashing the stick around in the water to get the attention of the fish, and then dance the hook/meat around, attempting to hook a piranha before it steals our bait. I was pleased to impart some of my bobber fishing skills and hook a razor toothed fish on my line, along with about 4 or 5 more that we pulled in as a group.
Upon our return back to the lodge, the staff cleaned and prepared our day’s catches, to pair with the lunch buffet being served, including dorado, fried plantains and a hearts of palm salad. I have to say, the fresh piranha was pretty delicious, albeit a little disturbing.
After lunch, we spent some time playing some games before riding a boat to go visit another local village — the Yaguar tribe. On the way, we were treated to additional dolphin sightings from our boat. As we arrived at the village, we were greeted by the playful children, along with their many pets of monkeys, ducks, cats and chicks. They treated us to some local dance and music, followed by a demonstration by the local chiefs of the blowguns. Anthony and Adam tried their hand at the weapons, and were total naturals, hitting bullseyes immediately. Anthony was lucky to make it away without becoming their newly-elected chief.
As we started to peruse the village peoples’ handicrafts, the spunky children emerged with their best pet — a baby sloth that they quickly shoved into our arms. I am not exaggerating when I say that all time stood still in this magical moment, holding the most precious non-kitten creature on the planet. I think we all enjoyed the cuddle time with the sloth, who naturally and instantly would wrap its body around each of us in a hug.
We treated ourselves to a few handmade goods, always keeping an eye on the sweet kids and their pet sloth, which they carried around as casually as one would swing a teddy bear. Every so often, the sloth could be spotted ever-so-slowly crawling back into the forest, only to be spotted by one of the kids and drug back to the circle of play or tossed onto a pole.
After the village, and a bit more dolphin-spotting on our way back, we hit the pool once again for our evening dip. After taking turns down the slide, we enjoyed the evening bat show that signaled our need to head inside before the mosquitos started feeding. We spent some time in the bar, enjoying some live music and chatting about our fun day, followed by dinner and a bit more games before bed.
The next morning we woke to rain, and joined our guide for a quick jaunt over to the neighboring Indiana village for a quick walk around town. Anthony and Adam, the two Hoosiers of the group, found some humor in the town’s moniker, named after their home state. The town’s founder had gone to school at IU and named the town after the U.S. state that provided his education. While the town was more developed than I expected (I was quite taken with the topiaries all over town), it felt virtually uninhabited. We learned that the reason no one was out and about was due to a nationwide census that required all Peruvian citizens to stay home until 5pm and be counted by census officials.
After Indiana, lunch, and a little more hammock and pool time, it was time to start our journey home. The journey began with a boat ride back to Iquitos, followed by another van ride around town. Because we had a bit of time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, our driver took us on a mini tour of downtown Iquitos, pointing out some European-inspired architecture.
When we were finished checking out Iquitos, we got to the airport, only to find out that all of the flights were delayed due to the aforementioned census. After a long trip with minimal travel hiccups despite all of our connecting flights, we were finally running into some pretty hefty delays. Our domestic flight to Lima was delayed due to the census, and as luck would have it, our international flight from Lima to Fort Lauderdale was delayed as well, so we at least were not stuck in Peru. However, the next morning, as we arrived in Florida just as our Denver flight was taking off, there was still quite a journey ahead of us. It was touch and go for a bit, and we were at the mercy of standby and non-direct flights, but after about 36 hours of travel we made it back home to our anxious pets and lovely, arid climate.
So, this was our Peru trip in a nutshell. It was an adventure, to be sure — one unlike any we’d experienced before. Obviously we’ve got plenty of fun stories to last a lifetime, and also exposure to ways of life that are so completely different than anything we’ve ever known. This is what I love about travel — it allows you to get new perspectives on life, knowing that our little bubble is just a tiny slice of this great big world. I loved the way the Peruvians honor their ancient and diverse cultures and heritage, and the pride they have in their land and their people. While the wildlife was incredible and the views were awe-inspiring, the jovial, friendly hosts — both our guides and more importantly the local people we encountered — made the trip all the more special. The exposure to different lifestyles also makes you question what’s important, what’s “normal” and what humans need in their lives in order to be happy. I want to end with a quote from one of our favorite travel heroes, Anthony Bourdain, who sums up perfectly the way I sometimes felt on this trip through the third world:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you, it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”