Less than twenty-four hours after arriving in Peru, I was being whisked fifty miles down the mighty Rio Amazonas by speedboat. My mission? To survive a Three Day Amazon Adventure at Heliconia Lodge, courtesy of Viator. Despite the tarantula holding, piranha fishing, and caiman spotting that was on the itinerary, I had a feeling that somehow I’d complete the mission. And spoiler alert: one of you will soon win a $100 Viator gift card that you could put towards a similar adventure.
My group was diverse in age and nationality — we were made up of a Peruvian family with a young boy, a pair of older Peruvian men, a pair of young Mexican men, a South African/Australian hybrid, and myself. Our bilingual guide was Freddy, who had grown up in the community that shares riverbanks with Heliconia Lodge.
Our first stop was a “native riverside community.” I was kind of meh about this excursion as these kinds of things are typically super touristy excuses to get you to buy overpriced handi-craps. However, Freddy was very upfront about explaining the stop to us. He relayed that these were people of the Bora Bora tribe, who once resided deep in the jungle near the border with Colombia. They were flushed out by tribal wars, and landed in the nearby San Andres village. They came each day to the small replica village we were in, in order to do cultural performances and sell handicrafts – this was how they made their living.
Hey, at least he was upfront. I enjoyed taking photos of the traditional dress and videos of the native dances, and I ended up buying two pairs of earrings made from snake bones for a mere 10 soles ($3.60). I tried to think of the place not as a tourist trap but as a living history and culture museum, similar to places with reenactments back home, and to my surprise I quite enjoyed it.
An hour and a half boat ride up the Amazon later, we arrived at the charming Heliconia Lodge. The digs were pretty plush considering our location — there was no wifi, but there was a swimming pool and a resident parrot named Pedro! The entire lodge was raised on stilts to account for high waters in rainy season, and natural materials like thatch roofs created a seamless blend with the surroundings. The highlight of each room was a small screened porch, complete with hammock.
As a Picky Eater in Recovery I was mildly concerned about being dependent on the lodge for food while being so isolated from any alternatives. I need not have feared — avocados, tasty chicken, local root vegetables and fresh exotic juices were all on the menu.
Pretty much all Amazon tours are all-inclusive deals that include lodging, meals, and excursions. I find that being on someone else’s schedule can be exhausting, and so I was relieved to find we’d have tons of downtime on this tour. I used mine to write, stay on top of editing photos, enjoy the pool, and read in my hammock.
After all the travel prep stress and headaches of the last few weeks, it felt glorious to slow down.
In the afternoon we donned rubber boots and — despite the heat — long sleeve shirts and pants and set off on a jungle walk through the surrounding Yanamono Reserve. We weren’t on the lookout for jaguars or tapirs or any other big mammals – those are simply not seen here, so close to Amazon communities. Rather, we were looking at foreign plants and exotic insects, and enjoying being in the midst of the rainforest.
Any photography hobbyist will tell you how challenging a subject any forest is. Yet the overwhelming variety of colors, textures, and patterns tempted me to try anyway and I was constantly jogging along in my rubber boots to catch up with the group after stopping to set up a shot.
It wasn’t all flora though — we did luck out and see some fauna as well, mainly in the form of colorful frogs. At one point, Freddy tried to show us a tarantula but to my relief was not able to catch it in time. He took the opportunity to tell the horrified group that in a place called Thailandia, people actually fry tarantulas and scorpions and eat them.
I was glad to hear that the Peruvians and I were on the same side of the bug eating debate.
One of the guys in our group had no pockets or backpack to store his water bottle in, and was awkwardly carrying it with his hands. Freddy hacked a vine off the tree with a machete and quickly fashioned a holster out of it. The resourcefulness of local people would continue to amaze me.
Right before dinner, we set off on one more excursion – an evening boat ride. I was hoping for crocs, but the most exciting thing we saw were a few fireflies and some iguanas curled up for the night in the trees. The far more interesting thing was the conversation I had with Freddy. “That’s my uncles house,” he said, pointing to a thatch roof hut high on the river bank above us. It was about the size of my room at Heliconia, though he told me around ten people lived there. He grew up without electricity – there still is none in this village – and so everyone went to bed around 7pm, when the sun went down, and rose at 4am. His perfect English was courtesy of a teacher from Chicago who moved to the Amazon and lived in his community for 13 years.
I wasn’t quite ready to move in for more than a decade, but as I drifted off to sleep that night, listening to the cacophonous sounds of the jungle, I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be.
Stay Tuned for Part II!
Note: I am a freelancer for Viator and participated in this tour in order to write a review for their site. I was compensated for my time and they did not request a favorable review on either their site or my own.