In fact, that's why it's taken me a few weeks to post this; I needed time to put the puzzle pieces together, to make some sense of this surreal, wild place.
Then there are its inhabitants. Not only is the Amazon home to 20 million humans, its biodiversity is off the charts -- 20 per cent the world's bird species, 40,000 kinds of plants, 2.5 MILLION different insects (that we know of) -- and many of the animals you see could have flown or crawled out of a Philip Pullman novel.
|The closest I got to a piranha|
On our first day, we put on gumboots, covered up with long pants and sleeves (there's malaria in these parts) and went ashore to walk in the rainforest. (Rookie tip: always carry a straw fan in the Amazonian rainforest to keep cool and ward off mozzies.) I'd expected to see an anaconda on every tree, but the Amazon is not like that.
|The Goliath bird-eater|
(a type of tarantula)
Then there were the mammals. Howler monkeys with eerie black mask-like faces lazing on branches. Squirrel monkey troupes travelling at speed, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-like, through the treetops. A spider monkey called Eduardo in a wildlife sanctuary.
|Eduardo the pensive spider monkey|
|The Delfin II tied to the riverbank|
A few more dream-sequence highlights:
1. Swimming with pink river dolphins in tannin-stained, piranha-free waters -- well, close enough to hear them exhale and see their small dorsal fins. (We saw no live piranhas all week, incidentally, only their jaws made into jewellery in local markets.)
|Gentle sloth and child|
in Puerto Miguel
3. The Delfin II had three incredibly knowledgeable naturalists on board, but my favourite was Ericson, whose enthusiasm for every living thing was infectious. He was like a cross between a Latin American David Attenborough and a game show host, exclaiming as he directed his green laser-pointer into the trees, "There! Up a bit, along that branch... Can you see it? Look at his be-you-ti-ful face!"
4. Having a (free!) full-body mud-pack treatment, courtesy of the Ucayali River. A small group of us stood on the riverbank in our swimming costumes, smothered ourselves and each other with thick mud, let it dry then washed it off in the river. My skin and hair never felt so soft...
|The only jaguar I saw|
Pic by Carlos Romero
6. Seeing a jaguar... made of balsa wood. One of the few souvenirs Australian customs let me keep, it was carved by an elderly woman called Doris, who told me she has seen only two jaguars ("tigre" in Spanish) in her life. Still you never know your luck, as our expedition leader Carlos Romero said, “I’ve seen one and a quarter jaguars in 40 years, but people can be here three days and see one. The Amazon is like that.”
|Built for grazing: the |
eating end of a dugong
8. Half an hour after leaving the wildlife rescue centre, while waiting at Iquitos airport, a woman approached Michael the photographer and me to ask in Spanish if we wanted to, um, buy a turtle -- and there it was, a wallet-sized live turtle imprisoned in a clear plastic pouch in her bag. I almost cried, and there was nothing we could do to free it. That's life, I suppose, wherever wilderness and poverty collide.
|Sunset safari: dusk from |
one of the Delfin II's skiffs
Maybe that's what's so intoxicating about a trip like this, the fact that it swirls you around and forces you to temporarily lose your bearings before returning you safely to your regular life where you find yourself wondering, did that really just happen?
With big thanks to Lindblad Expeditions which runs 10-day Upper Amazon on the Delfin II trips departing from Lima year-round. See au.expeditions.com