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See Part I here.

I must have been adjusting to the Amazon schedule, because on the second day of my Three Day Amazon Adventure at Heliconia Lodge I was awake at 6am. My excitement about the mornings’ excursions helped bolt me out of bed — we were going piranha fishin’ and pink dolphin spottin’!

The river boat we boarded was something out of a Tom Sawyer novel. The wooden vessel was strewn with rattan furniture, which I pulled right up to the starboard side so I could watch the Rio Amazonas go by with my feet up on the rails. When the motor stopped we embarked onto a small metal speed boat and headed down one of the Amazon tributaries — where the piranhas live.

Amazon Riverboat

Amazon Riverboat

My fishing experience has been limited to whimperingly accompanying my three nannying charges to the local pond where I was forced against my will to handle worms and remove hooks from fish eyeballs (at least I got payed extra on those days). Still, I was pretty thrilled to see piranhas up close and in the wild.

Turns out though, I’m not much of “patience” person. After a full seven minutes of casting reels off my wooden fishing rod and coming up empty, I was kind of over it. However, I busied myself with photographing others’ catches and shrieking appropriately whenever a fish of any kind flopped onboard.

Fishing for Piranhas

Fishing for Piranhas
Fishing for Piranhas

Fishing for Piranhas

After that excitement, we stopped along the riverbanks so we could swim in the Amazon. I’ve never been one to swim in water where I can’t see my feet below me, so I gave it a pass. I will say it was one of my most scenic nap locations ever.

Relaxing on the Amazon Riverbanks

Finally, we looked for pink river dolphins, which Freddy assured us were abundant in the waters around us. Indeed, when he stood on the bow of the boat and made what I otherwise would have assumed was a comical dolphin impression, they responded to his calls with brief breaches out of the water. They moved quickly, with flashes of their pink-grey skin breaking through the muddy surface of the water before I could focus my lens on them.

Earlier, I had asked why there were so many dolphins in the Amazon, whereas manatees had been hunted almost to extinction. He explained that the Amazon people have a legend in which dolphins are descendants of spiritual humans – thus, even the hungriest of tribes leave them be. Lucky dolphins. Unlucky photographer.

Pink Dolphin Spotting in the Amazon

Pink Dolphin Spotting in the Amazon

After lunch and free time at the lodge – which I used to take another dip in the pool – we head out for the afternoon excursion. Our first stop was a family run sugarcane distillery not far from Heliconia by boat. I had a hard time focusing on the sugarcane making process, but was fascinated by the archaic machinery and fluttered around taking photos. Again, there was an opportunity to buy souvenirs, but this time I passed — I can’t haul a bottle of liquid all over Peru for who knows how long.

The patriarch of the family regaled us with a fascinating story, translated for me by Freddy. In the Amazon, showers are… the Amazon. There is no plumbing, no electricity. So when this man traveled to Lima for the first time recently, he didn’t know how to work the shower in his room, and ended up giving himself severe burns. He relayed this slapstick tale with full body laughter it apparently deserved.

Sailing the Rio Amazonas

Sugarcane Distillery on the Amazon

Sugarcane Distillery on the Amazon

Sugarcane Distillery on the Amazon

Sugarcane Distillery on the Amazon

Sugarcane Distillery on the Amazon

Next up was an unscheduled stop. Someone in the group had made passing reference to a long held desire to see a sloth. Freddy responded that his friends kept one, “as a pet.” I was intrigued – it made sense that the kind of animals kept as pets in the remote Peruvian Amazon would be different than those we keep in suburban America, right?

I can’t seem to find words to describe the sloth. Steven Spielberg was undoubtedly studying one when he created ET – they are twins in body shape, movement, and alien-ness. Her movements were slow and fluid but she never stopped moving. She was one of the most fascinating creatures I’ve ever seen up close.

Holding a Sloth in the Amazon

Amazon Animals

Sadly the fun ended there. After the sloth came a parade of other Amazon animals, each handled more roughly than the next by their supposed human companion. The dog who hung around seemed timid and terrified of the man, and I watched in horror as he threw a rock at the beautiful pup. I realized that this was not a simple Amazon family showing off their beloved pet sloth as I had naively hoped but rather a low budget one-man zoo working for tips.

I watched as the owner dropped an exotic river turtle into a flower pot filled with dirty water and my heart sank. It’s a complicated issue – how can you expect someone to provide clean water and adequate housing for a turtle when they themselves have no plumbing? Still, I felt for the animals there.

Amazon Animals

Amazon Animals

Amazon Animals

Before dinner we rallied for one more excursion, a short nighttime jungle walk. I surprised myself by being calm and collected as we looked at tarantulas the size of human palms, though I did politely decline to allow it to crawl on my body. I was, however, extremely irritated by the bugs buzzing and whirring around me, attracted to our lights. I was so overwhelmed by frustration I couldn’t wait for the walk to be over. I realized that in the Amazon I would not die of lack of skills, or fear, or inability to effectively use resources. No, I would simply die of annoyance.

Amazon Night Walk

Amazon Night Walk

Amazon Night Walk

Amazon Night Walk

Amazon Night Walk

On the final day of the tour, my alarm went off at 5:45am for a sunrise boat trip, but I was already awake thanks to the deafening rain storm that had been raging for hours. Obviously, that trip was cancelled. Rain still pounding, we set off at 9am to view the giant lily pads. The expedition was kind of a wash for me, literally and figuratively. But while I wasn’t all that wowed by the lily pads I was once again fascinated by my conversations with our guide.

A Rainy Day in the Amazon

I asked him about the Mormons I had seen swirling around Iquitos. He laughed and revealed that he too had been given The Book of Mormon, but told them that “he was still thinking about it.” I asked why anyone in these tight knit, traditional communities would have reason to convert and he explained that many locals consider it an entry ticket to a more prosperous life in America, as missionaries often promise relocation assistance to converts.

Freddy revealed that twice, he too had tried to visit the US, but twice was denied a visa. “In Nuevo York, you have a very tall building, what is it?” Well, a few, I thought. “The Empire State Building?” I ventured. “Yes, so tall! So scary!” He giggled and shivered nervously. This was a man who, in the space of twenty four hours, I had watched catch a tarantula with his bare hands, wrestle a caiman and swim in the piranha infested Amazon. Okay, Freddy would want me to note that technically, piranhas live in the shallow tributaries and not the actual Amazon where people swim, but you get my drift.

All too soon, it was time to head back to civilization – or at least Iquitos. I really enjoyed my time at Heliconia. The plants and animals of the jungle were impressive, but mostly I loved having a first hand peek into life on the mighty Amazon.

Amazon Jungle Tour

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62 Comments...
  • memographer
    October 22 2013

    Piranhas and anacondas! What a wonderful experience, Alex 🙂 This is a type of post I expected from your trip to Peru. I wish you could take a better pic of a pink dolphin 🙁
    Can’t wait for the next update.
    memographer recently posted..Street Wedding Photography: Brides in Czech Republic and Belarus

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Actually, I was pretty happy with those in the end! They don’t breach out further than that on a regular basis, unlike grey dolphins, so it’s hard to see much more than a dorsal fin or a nose bump at any time. Which is a shame because they have such a cool shape!

  • Annie of TravelShus
    October 22 2013

    that spider is horrifying.
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..20 Hours in Montreal

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Ha, sorry, should have posted a warning 🙂

  • Kelly
    October 22 2013

    Love hearing about your Amazonian adventures. The pictures are fantastic! I wouldn’t have let an 8-legged creature crawl on me, either 🙂

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Glad I’m not alone in that, Kelly! And thank you!

  • Divelicious Chris
    October 22 2013

    I was so ready to set off for South America and go on that jungle trip UNTIL I saw the tarantulas! No I don’t really know, haha…

    It seems like an amazing experience though!
    Divelicious Chris recently posted..The Final Challenge

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Just skip the night walks, and you’ll be fine 🙂 I didn’t see any during the day!

  • Paul D
    October 22 2013

    Looks like an amazing adventure, and some great photos, as always! I don’t blame you for not swimming in the Amazon – seeing it close up and traveling by boat on it would be good enough for me, as well! Thanks for another great post – cheers.

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      You’re welcome Paul, and thank you! Actually, after writing this I went on another Amazon adventure where I DID end up taking the plunge — a very brief one 🙂 Stay tuned!

  • Krystle
    October 22 2013

    Hi Alex!
    South America seems to be treating you well so far! Such a sad fact about the one man zoo. The sloth looks so cute and cuddly.
    Safe travels!
    Krystle recently posted..Going to Athens on a Groupon?

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Thanks Krystie! South America is indeed treating me well. It feels so good to finally be here.

  • Alexandra
    October 22 2013

    The sloth is so sweet!! We saw a wild sloth in the rainforest in Costa Rica but he was high up and wouldn’t come down! Looks like a great start to the trip so far. Enjoy!

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      I ended up spotting several in the trees on a subsequent jungle trip and though they were amazing to see in their natural habitat, it did make me grateful for this experience! There’s nothing like seeing them up close.

  • Julia
    October 22 2013

    Great giveaway! And I would not have been calm about the tarantulas at all.
    Julia recently posted..A Night In Downtown LA

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Thanks Julia! Just looking to share some of the fun 🙂

  • Jenna
    October 22 2013

    This looks like so much fun–I really want to make it to the Amazon sometime! Except for the part about the one man zoo–the sloth was adorable though!
    Jenna recently posted..Haunted Museum in Key West: East Martello Museum

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Obviously I don’t have anything to compare it to (yet!) but Iquitos is a fantastic base for Amazon adventures! I very highly recommend it.

  • Hogga
    October 22 2013

    aww a sloth!

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      I think “awwww” is basically an auto-response when I see one!

  • Nadia
    October 22 2013

    What? No mention of that giant snake?

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      He was part of the one man zoo that made me sad 🙁

  • Brittany Hale
    October 22 2013

    This trip sounds amazing! I have always dreamed of going to the amazon and your blog posts so far have made me want to go even more. Since school keeps me stuck in one place most of the time I’ll have to settle for living through your posts for now, so keep them coming!

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Believe me, there is no shortage of Peru posts coming up 🙂 You guys are going to be begging me to leave at the end of it!

  • That Girl
    October 22 2013

    Wouldn’t a good reason to convert be a belief in the religion that missionaries are teaching about? I’m not sure how having a tight knit, traditional community means that people wouldn’t be interested in a higher power…I don’t see the correlation. Unless there’s already a religion that is the reason behind their tight-knit & traditional community.

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Yes, perhaps I was unclear. Those traditional communities do indeed have beliefs of their own, and their own higher powers. And I think being part of a tight knit community has a lot to do with it. In my experience, a person who is lonely and drifting makes much more sense as a convert to a foreign religion than someone who is already part of something bigger than themselves.

  • Amanda
    October 22 2013

    Ummmm you got to hold a sloth?!?!
    Amanda recently posted..First impressions of my first trip to Africa

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Indeed 🙂 And as somewhat of a cute animal connoisseur, I have to say — they really take the cake!

  • James Grinnell, Texas
    October 22 2013

    So nice to meet you in Peru, Alex!
    And I’m very impressed with your blog.
    Ciao

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Thanks James! Glad you found me, great to bump into you!

  • Breanna
    October 22 2013

    That looks like an awesome time you had in the jungle. I have to admit I would side with you on the fact that I would have had a lot of fun just chatting up the guide about differences in our cultures.

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      For me it’s often the best part of doing tours! I love getting to ask locals all the questions I’d be too shy to sidle up to a stranger on the street and start asking 🙂

  • Yasemin
    October 22 2013

    I went on a similar trip in Bolivia which also involved piranha fishing and dolphin spotting. No pool at the lodge though! Can’t believe the sloth meeting though!

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      The pool was pretty plush! It definitely made the whole experience a little more enjoyable for me, I admit it 🙂

  • Jamie
    October 22 2013

    he sloth is absolutely adorable! You’re a MUCH braver woman than me my dear. I would’ve been out of there the second they told me to have a swim where we just saw piranhas lol. Great shots! I love how adventurous you are!
    Jamie recently posted..Adventures in first time traveler mistakes AKA a series of “oh shit” moments

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Thanks Jamie! I really appreciate that. I try to be a “yes” girl!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    October 22 2013

    Alex, I am loving following you through where I went!! I passed on the swim in the Amazon too, but my traveling partner swam in it…yikes!! Nothing happened, but…ew. Glad you got to see the pink dolphins too 🙂 And just FYI, I rolled around and died at the photos of the sloth. My goodness. Win!!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Roatan Month 14 Roundup

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Ha, sorry to cause your roll-around death 🙂 But I agree, total win!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    October 22 2013

    I want to hold a sloth. They are so cute. When I went to the Galapagos islands I learned that the giant tortoises were the inspiration for ET, but looking at the sloth, I think that might have played a part too.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..My Cambodia homestay experience

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      That is fascinating Tammy! I would have totally bet the sloth. Who knew?!

  • Kate
    October 23 2013

    I want to go fishing for piranhas! Not at all interested in the tarantulas though.

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Agreed — at best I felt “meh” about the tarantulas!

  • Pamela
    October 23 2013

    The nature seems so serene and so beautiful minus all the insects especially that creepy hairy spider (I know spiders are not classified under insects but still…) Bet you had your lungs cleared of all the bad air pollution in the city! It is hard to imagine how people elsewhere live without electricity (no internet!!!) and go to bed at 7. Great post! 🙂
    Pamela recently posted..Guide to: 2014 Travel Planning

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      I know! It’s totally a different kind of life. It makes me happy to see that in an ever homogenizing world there are still people living so uniquely. It was an honor to learn about.

  • anna
    October 23 2013

    hi! i’m a secret reader.. 😀 but i love your photos. .. and also your writings about peru and the burning man.. these are the things that are soooo far from me.. but. also..that’s the reason why it’s soo good to read more about them 🙂

    • Alex
      October 23 2013

      Thanks for being an “unsecret reader” today, Anna! 🙂

  • Sky
    October 23 2013

    I probably would’ve broken down right around the time I saw an anaconda. Ugh. Hate snakes. But I love dolphins and sloths – sad about the way the animals were treated, though. 🙁
    Sky recently posted..A Real Dose of Honesty

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      I know, pretty sad 🙁 But as I said, a complicated issue. I can’t deny how cool it was to see them up close, and because of that I think the cycle will continue.

  • Shaz
    October 23 2013

    Hmmm… I’m not sure about the impromptu zoo, I would feel bad for the animals. But pink dolphins and piranhas do sound enticing!
    Shaz recently posted..10 Reasons Why You Will Love Pai

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      I felt bad for the piranhas too! I mean, I know we threw them back, but they must be traumatized! And that’s why I don’t fish!

  • Beth
    October 23 2013

    The sloths are just too cute!

    Glad you got to see the pink dolphins, we’re planning to do that soon here in HK (hopefully we’ll be just as lucky!)
    Beth recently posted..Enjoying the Quiet Side of Patong at Mercure Phuket Deevana

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      Funny, someone else on my trip commented they had seen them there! What cool creatures!

  • James Ginnell, Texas
    October 23 2013

    I can’t remember what you and Zoe said, I’m sorry. Where are you off to next?

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      We’re in Cuzco now, and off on the Inca Trail soon! Very excited!

  • Federico
    October 24 2013

    A fantastic trip indeed! Some day I will get the chance to see pink dolphins as well 🙂
    Federico recently posted..Fly Fishing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      I hope you have better luck with the camera when that day comes, Federico!

  • GiselleandCody
    October 25 2013

    Looks like you had a wonderful time Alex. You need to go back and get a better picture of those dolphins 🙂
    GiselleandCody recently posted..Our first impression of Myanmar

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      I’m heading back to the Amazon in December! Not sure if it is to an area with more dolphins, but there should be plenty of macaws to make up for it!

  • KC Ang
    October 25 2013

    ET and slow loris! love that comparison

    • Alex
      October 25 2013

      Thanks KC 🙂 I can’t imagine anyone would see a sloth in real life and not immediately think of ET!

  • Jonathan
    August 22 2015

    Me encanta tu aventura en la jungla, te vez muy bien con tus botas de goma..

    • Alex
      August 23 2015

      Me encanta la selva tambien 🙂

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