Sunday, June 18, 2017

We Visited Iquitos and the Amazon Rain Forest from 30 Apr to 04 May

After a hectic visit to Iguassu waterfalls we bid goodbye to Brazil and flew further West to Peru – Lima. We landed late in the night and stayed put in Hotel Palmetto San Miguel which is a 15-minute drive from Jorge Chavez Airport. The hotel is basic and clean with a very good restaurant. After a very early breakfast we went back to the airport to catch a flight to Iquitos.

Four for the forest
Iquitos has the unique distinction of being the only large city in the world which can be reached only by air and river. No roads are there to reach the city. The area rapidly developed into a big town during the great Amazon Rubber boom during the early 1900s. In later years it attracted hordes of tourists wanting to visit the Amazon. Iquitos is now the staging post for the Peruvian part of the Amazon rain forests with its related activities. It is located in the Amazon basin at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers, about 3,700 km upstream from the Atlantic Ocean and 1,030 km north-Northeast of Lima
Motocarro experience
The most common way to move around town is by motocarro, a motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back. The last night in Iquitos the driver of motocarro managed to take all four of us back to the hotel. There are a lot of signature ‘must do’ items in Iquitos. We took a ride around the city in the motocarro, stayed in the Amazon rain forest, caught and ate Piranhas and relished the Peruvian National drink ‘Pisco Sour’. The last one is so addictive; it is being savored even now, back home in Bengaluru. 

We checked into a boutique hotel ‘Casa Morey’. Our stay in this hotel turned out to be yet another highlight of our SA trip. The hotel is located in front of the Itaya River. The Casa Morey is a historic building and is a national monument that dates back to 1913. The house was built by a wealthy rubber baron, Luis Morey, in 1913.This attractive building was restored as the Casa Morey Hotel to conserve the charm and splendor of past eras reminding us of the elegance of the historic buildings of the rubber boom era in the Peruvian Amazon. 
In front of the hotel - Itaya river basin
Photo op for Sushama in the reception area

The corridor in front of our room

Rita texting in the reception area

Unbelievably beautiful swimming pool

Another view. Spiral staircase leading to our rooms

Reception area

The dining area

City Centre
Casa Morey is an experience to be cherished. The rooms are huge by today’s standards with high ceilings and exquisite interiors which reflect the grandeur of a bygone era of opulence and leisure.  The swimming pool comes alive in the evening with attractive lights. A swim is a must to overcome the humid atmosphere. The hotel overlooks the river Itaya. The staff is very helpful, especially the cook who went out of her way to prepare dishes which suited the Indian palate. We enjoyed our stay in Casa Morey to the fullest.
Enjoying the delectable 'Pisco Sour'
Iquitos has a number of riverside restaurants catering to the tourist. In one such place, we were initiated into drinking Pisco Sour.

The very word ‘Amazon’ conjures up a deep sense of excitement. I have been hearing this word since my school days.  Just the mention of the word Amazon is sufficient to imagine very tall trees jutting into the sky blocking all sunlight, thick undergrowth, incessant rains and the muddy, often soggy ground filled with creepy crawlies. While planning our trip, the choice was between Iquitos/Amazon and Puno/Ariquipa. Sushama is an extreme wild life buff and wasted no time in deciding to visit the rain forest. The excitement starts to build up even before landing in Iquitos. The aircraft when descending flies over a vast stretch of the Amazon River. From the air, one can clearly see its vastness, its meandering and its sheer length and width.
From the aircraft prior to landing in Iquitos. What a vies
The river flows through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. However, the major portion of the river runs through Brazil and Peru. Peru’s rainy season runs from December through May. Our visit to the rain forest was during the high water months of Apr/May. The entire forest is inundated with water reaching up to 7 meters at some places. In a typical year, the Amazon River rainforest experiences 200 rainy days, which means that there will be days of rain even in the low water season. During this period all travel to and within the forest is by motor boat and canoe. The weather is muggy but tolerable. The fascinating aspect of the weather is its unpredictability. One moment it is dull and cloudy, and then it suddenly changes to bright sunshine and scorching heat. As one starts to appreciate the clear sky, clouds gather once again and the famed torrential rain engulfs the entire area for hours on end. The Amazon Jungle is as big as the  
Australian Continent. It has almost one-quarter of all the Earth’s species of plants. There are more than 60,000 different species of tropical plants here, and around 4,000 species of trees.  As you navigate the rain forest it is very common to see a very large variety of plants growing next to each other with no two trees or plants alike.
The thick undergrowth

A solitary crane amongst many other birds we sighted

A random orchid

The extent of inundation
The four of us and two girls from Canada embarked a motor boat at the jetty to be transported to Sinchicuy Forest Lodge for our three day ‘Amazon Rain Forest’ experience. Our English speaking guide Oscar was with us all through our stay and accompanied us on our conducted tours, telling us stories and facts about this great river with utmost passion and diligence. After an hour’s boat ride we arrived at the lodge. The lodge is built on an elevated area mostly out of seasoned wood. The lodge consists of a huge main hall which serves as the sitting and dining area for the tourist. The entire tall structure is covered by nets to keep the mosquitoes and other creatures at bay. The living accommodation is on stilts and the rooms come with a sit out and independent bathroom. Here again the entire area is covered by a net. The lodge sits amidst a thick forest growth with small rivulets flowing underneath. Mosquito repellent has to be applied on all the exposed parts of the body at least 3 to 4 times a day. It is advisable to carry a spray with you on all your outdoor visits. Mr. Franco is the manager of the lodge, a very approachable and helpful gentleman. The food is frugal but sufficient. It is helpful to carry some eats from Iquitos to supplement the lodge diet. One can hear the constant chirping of the insects, strange bird calls and all the other forest noises throughout the day and night. Added to this was the local colour and sounds of the lodge pets- Amazonia the cat, Paco the Parrot and Marco the monkey. They roam around the forest and return to the lodge for their meals.
Making our way through the Amazon

Worms on sale

Approach to the boat through their fishing market

The Sinchicuy Lodge

A private sit out

Sushama all engrossed . Notice the net covering the entire area

The Amazon is a beautiful combination of visual and physical experiences. It is very difficult to express this unique communion with nature.  

During our stay in the lodge we ventured deep into the rain forest three times a day. We took a tranquil canoe ride to Nueno Pero to encounter the indigenous locals of the riverside village. Peruvians love rice and it is on their table for all three meals. On our return we were served hot rice and a curry made out of jungle beans. Imagine having rice and rajma dal for lunch. It was heavenly. On both the nights we were taken into the forest in a canoe to get a feel of the forest in the dark. Somehow, we felt no fear as we canoed our way in the pitch darkness of the forest accompanied by sounds and shadows and a few twinkling stars seen peeping through the thick foliage. It is very easy though, to lose one’s way going up and down those canals leading off the river. Our guide, who was in a mischievous mood, asked us to guide the boatman home; we thought we were doing great till he finally backtracked and took the right canal home. During our boat rides we were able to spot monkeys, pink dolphins and the elusive sloths resting high on the tree branches. The forest is home to a very large variety of birds. We went on a Piranha fishing trip and came face to face with the deadly fish. We caught many piranhas and cooked them for lunch.
My firist fishing experience

A very risky item for lunch

We did a short trek to interact with the Yagua tribe. We danced with them and took a pot shot with ‘Punaca’ a native blow gun. We visited a local ‘Shaman’ to see local medicinal preparations. There was a very interesting visit to Fundo Neiser Custody Centre, an animal rescue centre, which gave us an opportunity to be up close to an anaconda. We had an extremely hilarious encounter with a local parrot. There was an impromptu singing session with Oscar on the guitar and a local boy on the drums with Jai and Rita singing ‘Lipstick on your Collar’. Within minutes the parrot repeated the song and continued with it till we left. It was really amazing. We crossed Yanayacu River from end to end and visited the Tambo Yanayacu Lodge located in the “Kingdom of the Giant Trees”. We saw a “lupuna” or ceiba tree species over 150-feet high.
We returned to Iquitos with ever lasting memories of the Amazon.
Impossible to penetrate this diverse variety of plants

Dancing with the Yagua Tribe

A Yagua child

For our album

A typical non tribal village

Rita striking the tribal drum to announce lunch. All announcements are made by beating the drum. Tourist take turns to strike.

Elusive Sloth

Another sighting

Ultimate experience. Baby anaconda at the rescue centre

My chance

Why should i be left out

Impromptu singing . Thereafter the parrot started lipstick on your Collar'

Jai taking a pot shot with the Punaca

Just before sun set

Passionate wildlife enthusiast has decided to come back to the Amazon for the second time.

Finally mustering courage

Having a field day with the macau

Oscar with a very odd looking Turtle

Monday, June 5, 2017

We Visited Foz do Iguacu and Iguassu Waterfalls from 27 to 29 April 2017

Panaromic view of Iguassu waterfall at Devils Troat
After a two hour flight from Rio we landed in Foz do Iguacu a small touristy town mainly catering to tourists visiting the famous Iguassu Falls. The city is a melting pot of many nationalities that come to visit the waterfalls. Foz is a fairly laid back city with a large number of restaurants catering to the diverse gourmet requirements of the tourists. Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Pizza, Tapas compete with the local delicacies. The city is very well spread out with broad roads, elegant footpaths and avenues. The weather is very moderate and comfortable. Shorts and a light cotton shirt fit the bill. Street cafes are a very popular form of dining. They provide every variety of food, beer and free wifi. We thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the open and enjoying the atmosphere. Unless you decide to visit a pub or disco restaurant, the town shuts down fairly early. Our hotelAguas do Iguacu Hotel Centro’ was located right in the middle of the action area. The hotel travel desk staff goes out their way to help with all tours and visits. Planning your activity, hiring taxis, buying entrance tickets are all done from the hotel. Various aspects of the visits are well coordinated and meshed together in a seamless fashion.

Foz do Iguacu has the distinction of bordering Argentina to the South and Paraguay to the West. With such a broad mixture of various cultures, it’s not hard to find a variety of artifacts being sold in the roadside kiosks. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces and other forms of junk jewelry are aplenty. We relished the sweet thick purple juice made from the Açaí berry, an energy drink. The Açaí Juice is a very popular drink of Brazil. 

In the afternoon we visited Bosque Guarani Zoo which is a refuge and sanctuary for many bird species, including macaws, golden parakeets, harpy eagles and toucans. Displays also include other animal life such as reptiles, snakes and tarantulas. It also carries out valuable research into the Iguazú forest environment and has a breeding program for endangered species. The idea is to rescue, recover and reintroduce specimens that get to this place because they were victims of an accident, confiscated or delivered by regretful owners. An afternoon well spent.
Place for the monkeys to play

Harpy Eagle

Elusive Black Panther

Capybera freely roam about outside the park - the largest rodent in the world 

Next morning we visited the largest bird park Parque das Aves in all of Latin America spread over 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest. This park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) as well as butterflies and reptiles from both all South America and other exotic places. What is different about this park when compared to other zoos or similar parks is that the most of the cages are huge and the birds and animals can roam and fly free. Also, it's possible to enter those enclosures and admire all the beauty of the exotic colorful birds: a wide variety of parrots, toucans, eagles, owls and others. It's a perfect place for photography as there's no fence between the camera and the object so the photos look as if they were taken in their natural environment. The toucans even seem to pose for photographs.

Cariama Cristata

Wild Fowl

Red crane perched on a tree

Budgies - Yellow Parrot

Blue and Yellow Macaw

Blue and Yellow Macaw with Eclectus

Cariama Cristata appreciating herself in the mirror

Budgies - Yellow Parrot

Great Egrets and Cranes
As recommended by our hotel travel guide we took a bus across to the water falls around noon time. As we alighted from the bus the wonder of the world ’Iguassu waterfalls’ was there right in front of us. The initial reaction was one of disappointment and a slight feeling of being let down when we saw one waterfall in the distance. The sadness was evident on all our faces. Soon we realized that it was just the beginning of 275 different falls which extend to 2.7 Km in length, ending up at the famous and spectacular ‘Devils Throat’. Their height varies between 200 feet and 269 feet. A large proportion of the water is thrust down Devil’s Throat, a long chasm that is 82 metres high, 150 metres wide and 700 metres long. We had seen the Niagara and Victoria Falls earlier and had been overawed by them. It was now our turn to enjoy Iguassu. As one treks along the 2.7 Km narrow pathway which runs parallel to the deep gorge, the beauty and the enormity of the waterfalls begin to unfold. This phenomenal spectacle seems never-ending as rivers Iguassu and Parana continuously empty themselves into the gorge. The visual treat is enhanced by the roar of the waterfalls and the cooling water spray. The trek is never ending and one needs to stop for a coffee break or a photo shoot to recoup.

The entrance to the National Park

At the entrance

The maiden view

As you progress down the track

Still Further

A Photo Op

Sushama engrossed

Yet another view

Prior to Devils throat
Each part of the waterfalls is different, giving an impression that we are watching a different waterfall each time. The intensity and the dynamics of each waterfall is distinctive making Iguassu very unique and unforgettable. At ’Devils Throat’ you stand face to face with the most powerful manifestation of nature. Experiencing the power of water at such close quarters will remain with us for a very long time. The ringside view is breathtaking. The Devil’s Throat is also the border between Argentina and Brazil, splitting the falls between the two countries.

The trek gradually takes you to the bottom of the gorge where they have built a viewing platform in the middle of Devil’s Throat. The best part is the lift which takes the tourists back to the top.

Totally drenched

Devils Throat

As it flows
Thereafter we took a 6 Km speed boat ride in the river. The last part of the boat ride takes you directly into the ‘Three Musketeers’ water fall. As the boat enters the waterfall, an enormous amount of water from a height falls on the boat completely drenching one and all. This experience was something new and totally exhilarating. The water fall is so thick and intense it becomes difficult to breathe through the nose. Screams and shrieking from the boat is deafening and addictive. As one recovers from the episode the boat re-enters the fall for the second and third time. The boat ride was an amazing unforgettable experience.
The entire Iguassu forest area is well maintained by the authorities. The drive to the waterfall, the facilities, restaurants, toilets, roads are in excellent condition. On the whole the visit was exhilarating and great value for money.

After the ride

All wet and thrilled

Very well crafted artifacts at the shop on top