Iquitos, Peru is one of several gateways into the Amazon river and is actually the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road.
We flew into Iquitos to venture into the Amazon, and while we did not have much time there, I was seriously impressed by this jungle city! The old-world charm and simplicity of life paired with the vibrancy and warmth of the city life and local people there made Iquitos a place I will definitely return to so I can explore more! However, we did have just enough time to have quite an experience in Iquitos. It doesn’t take long in a place to feel the good vibes of a genuinely warm and wonderful city.
We walked off the plane in Iquitos, and were immediately smacked in the face with stifling humidity. The air was so wet it was literally tangible. I have never felt anything like it. I suppose I should have expected as much from a tropical rainforest, but I could never have envisioned the severity of this humidity. It was some serious moisture.
The airport was all open air, so we walked off the plane to the ground and we wandered over to the open air baggage claim. We were pretty much clueless, so it helped when a Peruvian local walked up to me and held up a sticky note with my name scribbled on it. I was rather perplexed at how he knew who I was, but then realized that Yaron and I probably had some pretty bewildered looks on our faces and were clearly not Peruvian. Not a ton of tourists fly into Iquitos.
So we went with this little Peruvian gentleman, who did not speak any English, assuming that he knew what was up because he had our names written on a sticky note. Seemed legit at the time I guess?
Turns out he did know what was up. Actually, I was beyond impressed with the organization of the Amazonia Expeditions company and their staff. They were professional, prepared, and didn’t miss a beat. They had a clean and comfortable room prepared for us in Iquitos, at their quaint lodge/hostel/research center. We stayed the night there and would venture into the Amazon the next day.
The next morning we woke to hustle and bustle of the Amazonian port our room overlooked. It was so unfamiliar and exciting! We had an adorable little Peruvian woman make us a private breakfast just for us, complete with lukewarm aguaje juice. (Which was not good but I’m glad I tried it.) The rest of the breakfast though was wonderful! Our guide, Wennie, picked us up at the lodge and took us around Iquitos for a few hours.
In Iquitos, their primary form of transportation is rickshaw. For those of you who are not familiar, it is a passenger cart pulled by a bike. They use motorcycles. They are very cute actually! And very environmentally friendly! But… they drive like complete maniacs. Don’t get me wrong, I also drive like a maniac. But my car is big. And a real car. Not a cart with a bungee cord for a seat belt. At any rate, it was terrifying. And exhilarating! Hoping we were safe in our bungee cord seatbelts, I eventually was able to let go, relax, and enjoy the ride.
With very limited time in Iquitos before we headed by boat into the Amazon, we really had to prioritize. So naturally we chose to go to the Manatee Rescue Center.
And what a great choice it was!! The refuge is called CREA (Centro de Rescate Amazonica) and is a sanctuary for many animals. Most of the animals there are babies, and will be released back into the wild when they are older and deemed ready.
There were many tiny sea turtle babies, a sloth baby, some monkey babies, a cutie otter, and of course, the MANATEE BABIES! The rescue center rescues animals that have been caught to be sold for food or used as pets, which is apparently much more common than I would have thought. Fucking idiots. Or sometimes they are found injured in the wild or become victims of habitat degradation and they are nursed back to health at the sanctuary.
It was awesome to see the importance they put on providing safety and comfort for the animals. But it was even more inspiring to hear the thorough process of recovery for the animals and the educational outreach aspects of the program. I was also excited and proud to know that the Dallas World Aquarium is one of their primary partners and a major donor. They donate almost all of the milk for the very young manatees.
It is a long and demanding process to nurse the manatees back to a point at which they are ready for the wild, and this sanctuary makes sure they take all of the time they need. For all of the animals. When they are released, they are released into natural and regionally protected areas. They can be tracked by radio transmitters to make sure they are doing well, and due to the educational outreach, the children in the villages participate in protection as well.
I have always wanted to see a manatee, but never actually have. So I was super excited. And OHMYGOD THEY ARE SO STINKING CUTE!! They are absolutely the most gentle and snuggly creatures in the world and I love them all SO MUCH!!!! We got to feed them some waterlily plants, and OMG. They do not have teeth, so they just kind of suck your finger. I mean, that sounds sort of creepy, but is is definitely NOT! Those babies can suck my finger all day. They love being gently petted and scratched, and they have the tiniest creepy cute little eyeballs AND I LOVE THEM!!!!
We fed them for a while, and eventually they pried me away.
But I WILL BE BACK!
We returned to our very secure form of transportation, and explored the city a bit more before returning to the lodge. We saw homes on the Amazon river bed made to float during the wet season, shopped at a local market, and went to a very official bank. (The bank was a guy on a corner with a bunch of money.) Obviously.
We made it back to the lodge and boarded a little boat to take us into the Amazon. They gave us ice cream and a weird egg sandwich with no crust for our journey. Not an important detail but one that sticks out in my mind apparently.
And we were off! Into the depths of the Amazon…and onto our next adventure!