Mom and I were up much earlier than we needed to be, so we took our time enjoying the hostel’s breakfast, including some weird rainforest version of a tamale, wrapped in a massive leaf. Our guide, Jaime (hi-me), picked us up at 9:00, and we took only one backpack each, leaving everything else with our hostel. Jaime told us that he grew up with four brothers and one sister in an Amazon tribe of about 50 people. He came to the city and got some scholarships to learn English and work in tourism, and while his English wasn’t quite as good as that of the two Finnish women on our tour (Riika and Tutti), he was still easy to understand. He was amazing at spotting sloths from a speeding boat and tarantulas in the dead of night.
Our first stop was the agency, where Jaime gave the four of us a brief overview and we all picked out rubber boots in our shoe sizes. We were all thoroughly distracted by a puppy running around the place, and Jaime didn’t seem to know whether to be annoyed or amused by us. Then we took the van to the local market, which is close enough to the river that at the height of the rainy season it’s a swimming pool. There was a little of everything, from catfish soup to alligator heads. Mom and I tried some grubs, grilled on a stick. It was pretty good, although at first I felt a lot like Simba in the Lion King, when he first starts living in the jungle and has to eat grubs and worms.
After the market, we boarded a boat that wasn’t much more than a big canoe with a roof and an engine on the back. We headed downriver to the lodge where we’d be spending two nights. It was hot, but at least the rooms and sitting areas were screened in. We had lunch before heading out to la Isla de los Monos. The monkeys like to lick the sweat off people, so there’s no bug spray or sunscreen allowed. I thought I was getting bit a lot because I was so itchy, but I tried to ignore it and focus on the cute little monkeys running and swinging around.
The monkeys were amazing. We saw spider monkeys and the itty bitty tamarins and so many others I can’t remember what they’re all called. The island is a rehabilitation site and they help injured or abandoned monkeys who were sold off as pets to people who couldn’t care for them (monkeys make awful pets). Ben, a volunteer from New Zealand, showed us around and then we joined him, his partner Emma, and a guy from France for baby monkey playtime, which always has to be monitored.
There’s a sloth hiding in this photo. Look carefully!
By the time we left, I was really itching hard and when we got to the best dolphin-watching spot in the area, the dozens of welts had turned into a swollen, red rash. It looked like an allergic reaction, not bug bites, and it was probably from something I ate (I’m guessing some kind of exotic rainforest spice or herb). Still, dolphins are the main reason I came to the rainforest and the only reason I came to someplace on the Amazon River (the rainforest is multiple countries huge), so I stuck it out.
The river dolphins don’t jump like bottlenoses do, so we mostly just saw their dorsal fins and backs when they came up to breathe. They were all different mixes of pink and gray and so incredibly beautiful. The Amazon is a murky brown from mud and silt, so they were difficult to distinguish from the little waves, but we still saw dozens of them–or, more likely, the same few dozens of times.
Riikka, who was a good 15-30 years younger than her traveling companion, and I jumped on into the river and swam with the dolphins, getting within 50 feet of one (possibly closer, if the dolphin wasn’t breaking the surface, we had no idea where it was). The water was so murky that we kicked each other a few times and freaked ourselves out, thinking it was a dolphin or a fish or something much, well, not more nefarious, since animals are just animals, but something more dangerous. Something that could take off at least a couple of toes.
We headed back at sunset, and my rash was worse than ever. Every part of me was swelling–even my face and scalp, though most of it was on my back, stomach, arms, and legs. I couldn’t seem to cool down, even in a cold shower, and nearly vomited several times. My vision started to fuzz out and darken. Luckily, the Finnish women had brought antihistamines, and that helped a lot. I didn’t eat dinner and we delayed the night walk for the next evening. If it hadn’t gotten better, I would’ve had to ask for a boat out, but the rash was nearly gone by morning, so I was able to stay.
I hadn’t eaten anything that Mom hadn’t, but I guess it was my turn to be in a place that didn’t agree with me.