Hiking on Solid Ground
On Friday we finally had a chance to walk on solid ground (or as solid as ground can be in the Amazon Basin). We had a choice of going on the long walk or the short walk. The long walk was described as being 1.5 miles with some stairs. Noel and I usually walk 5 or 6 miles three to four times a week, so I thought this would be a piece of cake. Boy, was I wrong or perhaps misled! About half the walk was uphill on steps in an extremely humid and mosquito-infested forest.
I have balance issues because of my trifocals, aggravated by mask-wearing and admittedly my age. Towards the end of the hike, I had a major vomiting episode probably brought on by dehydration. I don’t think I have ever sweat so much in my life. But our guides were right there with an electrolyte beverage and the episode passed but it was not pleasant.
In spite of the vomiting episode, I saw some remarkable sights like a so-called “walking palm tree.” It is thought by some experts that the tree moves from the spot where it germinated to a more favorable one as conditions dictate. This type of palm has a unique stilt root system that grows several feet off the ground as well as in the ground. The theory is that the tree can actually move from shade to sunlight, for example, by allowing new roots to sprout toward a sunny area while the old roots die off, thus enabling the tree to change its position. It is also likely that the tree doesn’t really “walk.” The soil is simply eroded over time and new roots are formed. I like the “walking” theory myself. The tree looks like it has lots of little legs. In addition to the walking palms, we also saw many formidable ficus trees.
Our hike was in the area of a local village. A couple of the villagers acted as guides showing us interesting creatures that we would have never seen from a skiff like a beautiful tiny red-back poison tree frog and a rather large and formidable-looking pink toe tarantula. It turns out that the tarantula is a rather docile creature whose hairs can be irritable to humans but harmless while the red-back tree frog can be lethal.
We were also privileged to cross paths with a couple of anacondas, a young one and an impressive full-grown one. The females are larger than the males and can weigh in at 150 lbs. and measure 16’ long. The snakes are not poisonous, they are strictly constrictors, i.e., they squeeze their prey to death.
The villagers had set up merchandise tables where we ended our hike, but I didn’t buy anything because I was still recovering from my vomiting episode. Quite honestly, I wasn’t particularly impressed by what we saw – little straw figures, woven place mats and plates and bowls made from palm tree wood. The ship’s dining room had better examples of local handicrafts.
Noel and I went on our last skiff ride late that afternoon. We had had enough of the skiffs, but I’m glad we did this one because the creek we explored was truly beautiful. The water was black from the tannin in the trees, not the brown muddy water we were used to. As a result, the reflections of the forest in the water were stunning.
Saturday was our last full day on the ship. We went for another hike, this time in the Amazon Natural Park, a private protected area outside the boundaries of the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The park was the estate of a wealthy Peruvian politician who established it as a nature preserve. He created an artificial lake and built a canopy walk about a quarter of a mile long and 15’ to 20’ above the ground. Once again, we had a choice of a long hike or a short one. After my experience of the day before, we opted for the short one that didn’t include the canopy walk.
After skiffing to the park entrance, we boarded catamarans to cross the artificial lake to begin our hike. Most of the trees in the rain forest are narrow in circumference so they can quickly grow tall to reach the sunlight, but there are some huge ones like the ceiba which can grow to over 200’ tall with a wide, largely branchless trunk culminating in a huge, spreading canopy. Many Amazonian tribal people believe gods live in the ceiba tree.
We saw many large ficus trees here and on our other excursions but this time we also saw strangler ficus trees. Their seeds grow in the crevices of other trees and spend the first part of their lives without rooting into the ground. As seedlings, they grow their roots downward toward the earth and, once rooted there, eventually envelope the host tree as they grow upward toward the sun. Over time, the strangler fig often kills the host tree. It’s the anaconda of trees.
The park also had lots of chambira palms, trees that are used to produce fibers to weave baskets, place mats and the like and thatch roofs. We even came across a rubber tree with markings carved into it from the era of rubber production.
As we were walking back toward the catamarans, the railing I was holding onto collapsed and me with it, but there was no harm done. There was a recently fallen coconut palm right by our boat and one of the guides took out his machete and cut out the succulent heart of the palm for us to taste. He shaved the heart down so the fibers looked like fettucine. I believe we actually had a soup on the ship as a starter with palm pasta in it.
When we reached the place where we had docked the skiffs, some villagers had unexpectedly set up a nice small handicraft market with beautiful baskets, straw figures of animals and carved wooden bowls, much better merchandise than the market of the day before. Noel and I were the only ones who had brought soles, the Peruvian currency, with us. We bought some very nice Christmas gifts. I shop for Christmas all year round, so I don’t have to hassle with that kind of shopping during the holidays. It was a lovely way to end our sojourn. I knew the villagers would come through for us one way or the other.
On Sunday we returned to Lima and the Wyndham Hotel for our Monday morning flight back to Chicago. Noel and I made a decision that this would be our last “expedition” style of travel. There are still many places like the Amazon Basin where we haven’t been, but we’ve seen our share. We’re going to focus our future travels on more urban adventures in Europe and the British Isles that we neglected in our pursuit of the exotic. We booked a continuation of our 2021 Danube cruise for the end of September into October 2022. Our trip begins in Budapest and ends in Vienna. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine it will be interesting to feel its impact on that part of Europe.