Peru was my first destination when I set out to travel long-term two years ago. While there, I toyed with the idea of going to the Amazon. It seemed like it could be a cool adventure, but it scared me because it was a little too outside of what I was comfortable with, so I skipped it. I was honestly afraid that if I went, I would come face to face with a killer snake or contract a deadly parasite and die. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how my mind worked then.
I returned to Peru after 15 months of long-term travel. This time, I was still a bit timid but a little more open to trying new things than when I first started traveling. My friend, a Peruvian local, asked me if I wanted to go to the Amazon with her. I agreed to go with her because by this time in my journey I began to understand that experiences that stretch your comfort are often the best ones. I was also really excited to experience something that would likely be super unique and different.
The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and covers 40% of South America—stretching across 9 countries. My friend and I visited the Peruvian part of the Amazon. We flew into the city of Iquitos where we took a boat down the Amazon river to get to our lodge deep inside the jungle.
On our boat ride down the river, we could only hear the flow of the river, birds chirping and trees blowing in the wind. The air smelt like grass and flowers mixed with a fiery musk, which I loved. Everything felt so tranquil and the rest of the world, along with any worries that I had, felt distant.
As we rode down the river, our guide quietly spoke about the different wildlife that lived there. The animals that he spoke about included fish (like the Parana!), snakes (ahem, the Anaconda), and pink dolphins (yes, pink).
In addition to its interesting animals, the Amazon has a fascinating culture. The people that lived in the region close to Iquitos seemed to place less importance on comfort and more on co-existing with nature. If something can’t be produced by natural elements, then it’s rarely used.
After about two hours riding down the river in a wooden boat, we arrived at our lodge. The walls of the lodge were made of wood and the roof was made of straw. There were small holes in the walls between the bedroom and outdoors. The shower head in the bathroom fell off frequently, exposing a large hole in its place. Our lodge was hostel-style—there were four beds lined up in a row and draped with mosquito nets. Electricity only worked for three hours a day and there was no wi-fi connectivity because we were too deep in the jungle to have service. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was sufficient.
I went to the bathroom as soon as we settled into our lodge saw a giant tarantula next to the toilet. When I think of a Tarantula, horror comes to mind. I’m usually not afraid of spiders but the tarantula is a staple symbol in many things related to horror: from Halloween decorations to scary movies. I mistakenly thought that a Tarantula bite could kill a person and was a bit freaked to be so close to one. I later learned that Tarantula’s are harmless and rarely attack. If they do attack, then their venom isn’t strong enough to kill a human. I even held one later in the day, which lasted 2 seconds before I screamed and asked my tour guide to take it off of me. I didn’t like the creepy-crawly sensation.
After arriving at our lodge, we went on a daytime walk through the jungle. There was a constant sheet of mosquitos flying around us, looking for their next meal, and it got even more intense when we entered the jungle brush. The Amazon is hot—usually around 90°F—but we had to cover with clothes from head to toe because if one part of us was exposed, then the mosquitos would bite. We also had to wear thick boots so that if we stepped on something venomous, the bite would have less of a chance of piercing our skin.
On our walk, we saw adorable Sloths. Sloths have the cutest faces that look like they’re smiling all of the time. We were able to hold them and when we did, their claws dug deep into our backs. Holding one felt like cradling a baby with strong nails. We also ate grub worms (beetle larvae). The locals like to eat them straight off the tree that they grow in because they taste best when fresh. We tried some and it was a bit jarring to eat something that was alive before it entered my mouth, but they actually tasted good—like coconut flavored candy.
At night, my group decided to trek through the jungle again. I was nervous to go into the jungle at night because it seemed like a time when terrible things could happen. I also didn’t like the idea of not being able to see anything that could potentially be dangerous very well…but I wanted to experience as much as possible, so I joined them. As we walked through the jungle at night, we could hear the noises of mysterious animals and could barely see anything. As my heavy boots moved from puddle to puddle of murky dark water, my knees weakened in fear and I quickly regretted my decision to join the group. I told myself to just focus and walk and that it would all be over soon.
Thirty minutes into the walk, our guide yelled with intensity and pushed us away. We were next to one of the deadliest creatures in Peru—a Lancehead snake—and he was ready to attack. I should mention that I am terrified of snakes and seeing one was my number one fear when I decided to go to the Amazon. Our tour guide grabbed his machete and killed the snake in front of us with one quick swipe. A sense of calm shock took hold of me and I stood still as the scene unfolded.
After this happened, we decided to leave the brush as quickly as possible. We had a bit of distance to backtrack before we could exit. Our guide was so rattled by the incident that he got us lost. Turns out, this snake was responsible for killing our guide’s brother. The Amazon isn’t a place that you’d want to get lost in at any time, especially not at night. After what felt like an eternity, we finally found our way back to safety. When we exited the brush and returned to our cabin, the bubble of calm shock that was protecting me shattered and I let out an enormous scream.
We tried to get some sleep, but it was impossible. Animal noises amplify in the Amazon at night and I was very aware of the wildlife that surrounded us. We could hear animals slithering, crawling, and clawing around our cabin all night long.
The next day, we woke at 3 AM so that we could see the sunrise over the Amazon river. We then boarded a boat and rowed down the river while it was pitch black. We stopped to view hundreds of glow worms that sat on lily pads and glowed a bright green light. It was a magical sight to see.
We stopped in the center of the river to watch the sunrise. It was incredible to see the jungle slowly shift from night to day and to hear birds chirping to signal the new day. After the sun rose, we jumped into the river and swam around in an area that our guide deemed “safe” to swim in. I was skeptical of what was lying underneath the pitch-black water but decided to turn my worries off and just enjoy.
After our dip in the river, we rode our boat some more and stopped in front of a family of monkeys that were sitting on a tree. The guide enticed the monkeys with bananas and they jumped into our boat to join us for the ride. They stayed with us for about twenty minutes.
After a day of Amazon exploration by boat, we stopped in the center of the river to watch the sunset in the same way that we watched it rise. As we sat and watched the sunset, we saw about five pink dolphins jumping up and down in the river. We heard that there were pink dolphins in the Amazon before our trip and were hoping to catch a glimpse—so we were really happy to see them.
As our second day in the Amazon came to a close, we rode back to our lodge and collapsed into hammocks that were hanging in front of it when we arrived. While lying in the hammocks, we re-capped the incredible two days that we had. I have never before in my life been exposed to so many different and wonderful things. My experience in the Amazon was scary because it was different, but it was, without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my life.