8 May 2014

Amazon Adventures With Jungle Man

Our journey to the mighty Amazon jungle began in Lima, after a couple of days hanging out in the trendy bars and restaurants of the Barranco neighbourhood, we boarded our $80 flight to Iquitos. Our decision to venture into the Amazon was made just one week before whilst we were in Cusco. After a few hours research and a couple of emails we chose to stay at the native owned Abundancia Ecolodge over the many American owned luxury lodges also near to Iquitos. Our guide would be Miguel aka Jungle Man! 

eco lodge iquitos amazon peru

Miguel grew up in one of the jungle villages, as a boy he hunted to feed his large family before training as a jungle guide for the tourist lodges. Recently he bought a beautiful patch of land in a very remote part of the jungle and set up his own ecolodge for curious tourists like us. We had high hopes for an amazing Amazonian adventure and couldn't wait to arrive in Iquitos. 

birds eye view amazon river peru
"Our first view of the Amazon river!"

Iquitos is a very unique city, it's not accessible by road so to get there you either have to fly or catch a boat. It’s also the fifth largest city in Peru with a population of over 400,000 that includes a few expats and fugitives. We’d never been anywhere so remote and cut-off from the outside world. Organising a rickshaw at the airport was almost as confusing as in India, everybody claimed to know our hostel and wanted to take us there. Eventually we were on the road grateful for the breeze in the intense humidity. Once in Iquitos more confusion ensued as our driver didn’t actually know our hostel, we didn’t have a full address and Vicky’s Spanish was limited.

Our abode for one night was the Crystal Corazon hostel which was also Miguel and his wife, Starr’s home. It was refreshingly cheap for Peru at 40 SOL (£9) a night for a private room. After a refreshing, cold shower we were ready to meet our jungle crew which consisted of Miguel, his wife Starr, the cook, the cook’s four year old daughter, Gabriel the volunteer, and Ashby an American tourist. We were given a pair of rubber boots, a quick briefing and handed over our cash to Starr. Then we headed out for dinner at Karma Cafe before an early night.

We still had no idea what to expect and in the morning it was just us, Miguel and Ashby in the house. The others had been trying to make their way to the lodge a couple of hours ahead of us and were in the midst of a drama as the engines on the public boats had broken. That meant we were in no hurry but, soon enough we were dashing through the thick crowds at the main Iquitos port and crawling onto an already packed public boat. 

hut on the amazon
"Amazonian river life..."

As the last ones to board we were lucky to find a seat, well Vicky and Hadley were, Steve sat on an empty petrol drum by the driver. It was also pouring rain and the windows were open so everybody got a good soaking in the face. We were the only non-locals on the boat, this coupled with the fact we had no idea where we going added to our excitement. About fifty minutes later we were scrambling off the boat into an even busier port. It was about 9.30am and Mazan was buzzing with boats, carts, cattle, people and rickshaws. It was chaos, and again we dashed through the heavy crowds in the torrential rain, Miguel found us a couple of rickshaws and then we were off again to the other port in Mazan just a couple of minutes away.

There waiting for us were Starr and the rest of our jungle crew, they hadn’t made it very far ahead of us! The rain was absolutely torrential and we didn’t have a raincoat, we’d kind of hoped that maybe it wouldn’t rain in the rainforest, our logic being that we were only going to be in there two days, in rainy season. How wrong we were! Weirdly nobody had any 'Poncho de Agua's’ for sale, the locals simply take shelter when it rains and the children are all half naked. We could only find two ponchos and they were huge, when Vicky wore hers it trailed on the ground and over her hands. 

We returned to the others under the canopy of a cafe and were relieved to hear they had formulated a plan. We just had to wait with Starr until the next step. Whilst we waited a fisherman brought two turtles to the cafe owner, he’d just caught them in the river that morning and they were still alive. This was a shock to us but you have to expect to see this in the Amazon where everything is food!

speedboat amazon iquitos peru

The rain started to ease off a little and next we were climbing down some steps to the river to board a TINY grey tin speed boat. Our cook was already inside waving us in. Amazingly the five of us did manage to squeeze in! It was certainly snug but we were glad to be on the move again. We waved ‘Adios’ to the guys who were in a dug-out canoe for the rather long journey up river. It was going to take over two hours in our speedboat so we dreaded to think how long it would take paddling in a canoe! 

As we sped upriver the sun came out to broaden the smiles on our faces. Again, we were pretty clueless about where we going but Vicky got some helpful commentary from Starr. The highlight of which was, “This is the last village before the lodge and the last place with phone signal, we’re heading about 40 minutes up river.”

We were cruising up the Amazon, in a tin boat, to the middle of nowhere!

speedboat amazon iquitos peru

Well, technically it was not quite the Amazon but, a tributary of called Rio Napo. Regardless of this the banks to either side of us were abundant with thick, tall, and luscious primary rainforest. There were no other boats on the river - it was just us and Mother nature. 

After a couple of hours we came to a beautiful rainforest covered island on a bend in the river and made our way slowly around it. Ahead of us we saw a floating pontoon, a few pointed wooden roofs, indigenous people and a couple of barking dogs. Starr was stood up in the boat shouting in Spanish toward the river bank.

amazon ecolodge iquitos peru

We thought this was a village but as a couple of men were helping us to moor the boat it dawned on us that this was our lodge, and very ramshackle it was too. And who were all these people?

Starr was clearly annoyed about something but told us nothing and we followed her obediently up into the dining room of the lodge. Then we were left there for almost two hours whilst chaos and shouting went on around us.

Clearly no tourist had been here in months and it needed a good clean and tidy up. We were expecting rustic but this place felt almost abandoned. There were holes in the mosquito netting plus, furniture and junk piled up on the walkways and its adjoining rooms. 

amazon ecolodge iquitos peru

Vicky finally got Starr’s attention to find out what was going on. It turned out that Miguel hadn’t been here in a couple of months and their new guardian had moved his entire family in, including his parents, his wife, and his children. And apparently he hadn’t carried out the expected maintenance and repairs. It was quite laughable except Starr was not the most customer orientated person and did not apologise for the inconvenience or state of the place. Instead she passed all responsibility to her husband as it was his business and she was here for a holiday too!

Finally we were given a jug of fruit juice to sip as we tried to relax into our surroundings and waited for our rooms to be made up so we could shower. We had booked a private bungalow which was actually really nicely done with a picture-perfect view from the balcony.  Ashby was in the lodge section with a private room next to the Guardian and all his family! She wasn’t happy about that but Starr wasn’t going to budge, the other bungalow was hers, we did manage to get one free beer each out of her though. Yes, just one.

amazon ecolodge iquitos peru

Miguel and Gabriel arrived a couple of hours after us whilst we were still sitting in the dining room. It was very tense in the lodge for the next few hours and we weren’t really told a lot but we did get a very nice lunch. Starr was also in a mood and was stomping about the place in her sarong and bum bag (fanny pack). Steve dared to ask for another beer and was abruptly told "I'm not working now!". Awkward. 

Instead we showered and then regrouped in the dining room to await further instructions. Eventually Miguel appeared to apologise and explain that the guardian’s family were leaving as they didn’t live at his lodge. He was not happy. The goods news: we were going out in the canoe to spot some river dolphins! 

canoe dolphins amazon river peru
"Merrily, merrily..."

We’d never really given much thought to what actually lived in the Amazon river so were very surprised to learn that many dolphins, turtles, stingrays, electric eels, piranhas, catfish and more live here. The river turtles even grow up to two metres in diameter. Everything eats catfish. You don’t want to be a catfish around here. It was surprising to learn as we associate the majority of these fish and mammals with the ocean. 

However, thousands of years ago when the Andes emerged, the Amazon was created from water in the atlantic which was also was cut off from the pacific. And all the wildlife inside it had to adapt and evolve over many years into the creatures that exist here today. Or, something like that.

That first evening we went as a group of four in the dug out canoe to watch the dolphins and spot some marmoset and spider monkeys in the trees, it was a great first taste of jungle wildlife. It was so serene, the only sounds we could hear were bubbles from the dolphins and monkey shrieks.

canoe amazon river peru
"Dolphin paparazzi!" 

River dolphins weigh up to 300kg, grow to 3m in length and eat 15-25kg of fish a day. There are two kinds in the Amazon grey and pink, the latter gets its colour from eating shrimp in a similar way to flamingos. We saw quite a few of them playing in the river but they were always to quick to pap with our camera. It didn't matter though as the scenery and reflections on the waters surface were incredible.

canoe amazon river peru
"#nofilter required ever!"

Back at the lodge dusk arrived and the jungle chorus was gaining in momentum and volume. The nocturnal jungle inhabitants were awake and hungry. Their harmony was magical! 

We enjoyed a hearty dinner with our guide Miguel before heading to bed for our first night in our bungalow. Within minutes we had fallen asleep lulled by the music from the jungle.

After a pretty good sleep we awoke to loud dragon growls from across the river. It turned out to be Howler monkeys and we were surprised to learn that monkeys are always the first awake in the jungle. It was quite surreal and amazed us how far a distance an animals voices can carry. Steve also had an amazing cluster of itchy bites on his back!

canoe amazon river iquitos peru

Our first activity that day was another kayak trip to see who was out and about doing their thing early in the morning. There were five of us in the canoe and we were all very excited for 6.30am.

We only had two goals for this adventure: to see a sloth and a toucan in the wild. 

Our day got off to a great start, as we paddled down the river amidst a few more dolphins there were a few toucans flying overhead in the jungle canopy too. Unfortunately for us toucans fly really high so we didn’t get a very close up especially due to our lack of binoculars. We could make our their orange beaks though so we definitely did see toucans! Goal one: tick!

canoe amazon river iquitos peru

We continued our paddle down river and took a sharp right down a narrow creek with lots of branches and vines trailing in the water or hanging close overhead. After about ten minutes Miguel was desperately trying to point a sloth out to us is a really tall tree.

canoe amazon river iquitos peru
"Donde esta la sloth?"

The four of us were blind to his directions and definitely could not see a sloth. By chance a father and son fisherman team were just next to us in another canoe and before we knew what was going on he was halfway up the tree and shaking it to get the sloth to move. But we still couldn’t see the sloth!

This little guy was muy lazy and wouldn’t move so the man climbed higher and shook harder. To our horror something dropped from the tree. OMG. We just killed a sloth. 

three toed sloth amazon iquitos peru

We all turned to our guide Miguel open mouthed in shame and shock but he was still smiling, don’t worry he said it’s fine. Then he explained the sloth had chosen to fall as its what they do all the time especially when they need to poo, they drop from a tree into the water to take a dump. Phew! 

Now we all know that sloths are lazy but did you know that they are constantly stoned on the leaves they eat and sleep for 18 hours a day? They often spend a couple off months in the water hibernating with just their noses poking out to breathe.

The son who about ten was in their canoe at the bottom of the tree and bent a small tree branch down to the water for the sloth to climb up on. The sloth was very slowly started to climb and it was fascinating, he moved soooo slowly at the speed of a transformer toy when the batteries are about to run out completely. It was an amazing David Attenborough style moment for us and Vicky clicked away manically. 

three toed sloth amazon iquitos peru

This was a three toed sloth which is the medium size breed although he was very small to us at about 45cm tall. He had incredibly long nails and his black fur was covered in green algae as he’d been in the water for some time (before this impromptu dip). His head was really small with a very cute black face that was a bit crinkled like a newborn baby, this was an elderly sloth about fifteen years old. We watched him for about 20 minutes as he made his way higher up the tree for another long nap, to be fair though he’d only made it about three metres in this time so to see him make to the top would have taken him all morning. 

three toed sloth amazon iquitos peru

Sorry for the inconvenience Señor Sloth but you really were worth it! Goal two: tick!

We waved our goodbyes and paddled our canoe for a couple of hours through creeks, swamps and up-river back to our lodge. We saw toucans and various other birds flying overhead plus a few more monkeys and dolphins similar. After our three hour paddle we were ready for our breakfast and a cooling shower of river water. It’s not every morning you get to see a sloth up close before breakfast!

Now that we’d met Señor Sloth we were much more laid-back about what we did next and that day we were lucky with the weather. The sun was shining so it was lovely to swing in the hammocks on our balcony, admire the view, and wildlife spot.

lizard amazon iquitos peru

After lunch we ventured out on our first jungle hike literally just behind our lodge. Within minutes we were all hot and sweaty in our wellies, long trousers and shirts, we had doused ourselves in insect repellent but still the mosquitos buzzed around us so it was a good job we’d brought the bottle!

Miguel really knew his stuff and pointed out so many fascinating things. The indigenous people have learned to medicate themselves with the plants and trees. From wild iodine and magnesium, to ‘hernia busting' milk and antiseptic tree sap - there are many natural resources all around for survival. There were even vines full of purified water for people to drink and the lightweight green moss makes a great natural plaster for wounds once its been chewed.

jungle walk iquitos amazon peru
"It's a jungle out there!"

The jungle floor was very wet and flooded so we had to wade through some quite deep swamps and always be on the lookout for snakes! To Vicky everything looked like a snake and the branches you stood on were water logged and soft (just like snakes!) so she was very twitchy. It was comforting to know that an Anaconda can be seen from very far away as they are so huge, usually relaxing in two huge piles of coils. Also they don’t really like to eat humans as we’re not very organic with our drinking and smoking but, if they were desperate we’d do. Also when they hunt they make a shotgun like sound so we would hopefully here one coming.

army ants amazon iquitos peru
"Army ants are also used to sew up cuts."

We walked and talked for a couple of hours with Miguel who was full of information and stories about the jungle inhabitants and dramas from his many previous expeditions. He grew up in a nearby village and as he was the second eldest son it was his responsibility to go out and hunt for food for the family, he’s pretty much eaten every animal and fish but that is what you have to do to survive in the jungle. Now he is a fully trained guide and has been for almost 20 years, recently he branched out on his own to become the ‘Jungle Man’.

jungle walk iquitos amazon peru

He is one of the most fascinating people we’ve ever met, his knowledge of the jungle is astounding and his culture and traditions are so far away from our lives back in the UK. We didn’t get to chat to him as much as we’d like outside of our activities with him but here are some highlights from the vast amount of information he shared with us.

Hard to believe jungle creatures that exist:

Haircutter Bees. If you're proud of your barnet you definitely don’t want to disturb this colonies beehive, rather than sting you they will go straight for your hair and cut it all off leaving you pretty much bald. And if that’s not bad enough they’ll then crawl into your ear and eat your brain.

Killer Bees. They really do exist.

Vampire Butterflies. Its not your blood but your eye juice that these thirsty vamps want. One encounter will leave any animal blind.

Piranhas. Its true they love fresh meat so avoid swimming with an open wound. Not sure that they eat you right down to the bone but they’ll definitely take a chunk off you. They’ll also bite you whilst you’re trying to take that fishing hook out of their mouth, but who wouldn’t?

vampire butterfly amazon iquitos peru
"The vampire butterfly."

Furry White Caterpillas. The deadliest and most feared critter in the rainforest. Even Miguel is afraid of them! Touch them and you will die.

Hallucinogenic Tree Frogs. Lick these guys to trip on DMT. We thought ‘Toad’ was made just for Family Guy! 'Do you do toad?'
The giant worm. Give it the opportunity and it will crawl up your bottom, drink your blood and kill you. Once its in, its never coming out.

Anaesthetic Ants. An essential ingredient in an Amazonian punishment ritual. These ants will quickly cover a man and bite him all over till he (apparently) feels no pain and then they eat him right down to the bone. 

anaesthetic ants amazon iquitos peru
"Anaesthetic ants!"

More bizarre jungles facts and tips:

Apparently women possess a special healing 'juice' that can cure some painful plant and insect stings. At least that’s what the local Shamen tells everyone!

The cat tribe blow gobs of a chewed tobacco and hallucinogenic plants through pipes up each others noses (this service is now available to tourists just in case this sounds appealing). They also rub the skin juice from the hallucinogenic tree frogs under their eyes to help them see in the dark.

Rub yourself in tobacco before you go for a swim in the river and you’ll be fine, jungle carnivores prefer to eat organic (confirm this one at your own risk).

Cannibal tribes still exist but they only eat you if you trespass on their land and they don’t just solely eat humans. The grandmother of the family who were at our lodge was taken from her village to be another wife for the cannibal tribe chief but escaped after 15 years and bore the scar on her cheek to prove it.

Ayahuasca is an effective treatment for drug addictions, fears, mental health problems etc. Its also widely available for tourists with a legitimate issue or who just fancy a trip on DMT. 

If you’re lost in the jungle at night don’t sleep on the ground, the creepiest critters come alive at night and they will either bite, sting, eat or crawl inside you causing severe pain or death. You’ll be more likely to survive up a tree. Lost in the daytime? Find a tree with the tall, slim roots and bang them with a big stick until help arrives. 

Disclaimer. We have not verified any of these facts and some details may have been lost in translation.

With our minds blown by the above information we walked back to the lodge and couldn’t wait to jump in the river and cool off. We quickly changed and headed for the floating pontoon, walking carefully across the canoe to get there. On the pontoon with us was a giant spider that Vicky watched like a cat. Miguel and Starr were on the other pontoon with same idea. However, Starr was rather loudly complaining about the looseness of her bathing costume and Steve was shocked when she purposely flash him her chest. She was becoming more and more like Bubbles from Little Britain minus the posh.

Ashby and Gabriel joined us for the swim but it was getting a bit chilly and Vicky declined to dip. Steve loved it though and nobody was bitten by a piranha or snake and emerged safely jump after jump. It soon began to rain so we headed indoors for a shower in the river water aka the water where our toilet waste went aka where they’d all just been swimming. This is how they do eco!

We enjoyed a group dinner and then a torrential rainstorm started. It was still going when we went to bed. We didn’t get a very good nights sleep as the rain was loud and Vicky was still paranoid about snakes. When morning came it was still raining and we realised that all the mosquitos had decided to join us in our bungalow. We were both covered in bites and later realised half of them were from bed bugs. Gross! 

canoeing amazon iquitos peru
"The other jungle man!"

The rain disappeared and the sun came out about 9am so we were able to proceed as planned in the canoe to a local village. We were behind schedule though so Miguel got his motor out and we were relieved not to have to paddle. The village consisted of about ten quite large wooden houses all built on stilts above the ground. In one home a mother and her teenage daughters were home cooking chocla, the local beer thats fermented with their saliva. No man goes to work without a big bucket of this for him and his mates to share.

It was a very picturesque village with many varieties of fruit trees that we can’t remember the names of, we tasted a few though and they were each delicious. There were a few pigs, piglets and chickens running around wherever they liked which was very sweet to witness. Especially the two piglets that were negotiating there way past Steve when his back was turned. 

canoeing amazon iquitos peru

Only the women and children were home in the village as their men were out hunting and working. Another home we visited had a small music player with speakers and this was the only technology we saw. The primary school only opens when the teacher turns up, that is the highest level of education available in the jungle villages and if you achieve your grades you can become the village chief. 

This was our last expedition with the Jungle Man and we were quite relieved to be heading back to Iquitos that day. We ventured home the same way we came first in the tin speedboat, the public boat and then a rickshaw. We’d had an amazing time in the jungle mainly because of Miguel and his skill, or maybe luck, showing us a sloth. 

canoeing amazon iquitos peru
"A view to remember."

Overall our stay was disorganised and we were not looked after very well. Starr and Miguel knew we were not satisfied but they offered us no compensation. We don’t feel we got value for money from them given the state of the eco-lodge, we paid $300 each which is the same rate that the nearby more luxury lodges charge. If you’re thinking of visiting this part of the Amazon its worth considering Abundancia Ecolodge. Another lodge to try is Curassow Amazon Lodge, we almost booked with them as they don’t have any captured animals on show to pet.

amazon ecolodge iquitos peru
"An absolutely gorgeous setting for an ecolodge!"

Our adventure in the Amazon is one we won’t forget and we definitely want to venture inside again as its so fascinating. 


  1. Eeek looked at their website and you would have thought it was a good one! Will have to consider Curassow then if I go there - which will probably also be in their rainy season early next year!

  2. Please don't let the rainy season put you off. There's still plenty to see and it doesn't rain constantly, we think it only makes fishing harder as the fish are more spread out. Looking forward to reading about your adventure soon :)