The journey down the worlds largest river covered 650 miles through parts of
Peru, Columbia and Brazil. Our 90 foot river boat is the only research vessel on the
Amazon. Our guide, Senor Daniel Rios, a native Peruvian, is affectionately called
the Professor of the Amazon. He has been a naturalist and guide in Peru for
over 30 years. His scientific knowledge is extensive and his insights into the customs of
the people, their magic, their medicines, and the politics of ecology were so valuable.
The twenty plus guests on the boat were an assortment of amateur and professional
scientists, an intelligent and enthusiastic group with a flexible attitude and interested
in learning almost anything about the Amazon.
During our first night I was awakened as the boat grounded on a sand bar and the crew
struggled for hours to get free. I held on to the top bunk bed as the boat rocked with the
crews efforts to free us from the sand bar. Whenever we traveled at night, the first
mate constantly searched the water ahead with a bright light so that we could avoid
hitting the many huge logs which floated in the boats path.
At sunrise the next morning I couldnt wait to get out of the room and catch my
first glimpse of this magnificent river in daylight. It was a thrilling sight! Lush
vegetation reached right to the waters edge, the smells of unfamiliar plants, I
could hear squawking of parrots but could not see them. The vegetation was so thick and so
very green that the birds, especially green parrots, were difficult to spot. The river was
only about a mile across this far upstream, although at the other end, 2,300 miles to the
east, it is more than 100 miles across.
There were occasional thatched huts on stilts. Children would run along the bank to
watch the big boat pass by. The only other boats on the river were the native
peoples dugout canoes. The children laughed as they paddled out to catch the wake
from our boat.
For our first excursion of the day we took the small launch up a branch of the river
where we saw giant lily pads eight feet across. Twenty foot long spider webs were shining
brightly as they caught the morning sun in the branches of the huge trees overhead.
Fluorescent blue butterflies fluttered about the boat. Cicadas buzzed, birds of all types
squawked, called and sang to create an incredible din of sounds.
As the boat docked at Yagua Indian Village, I was greeted by two small children, a
girl and a boy, who held each of my hands as they walked with me. They seemed to enjoy
answering my questions about what they learn in school, their names and where they lived.
The Yaguas wore traditional clothing made from tree bark and they played music on
their unique handcrafted flutes and drums as they danced and sang a song in their native
The chief and his wife talked to us in their native language. Their voices were soft
as they spoke about how they travel upriver to tend their crops (manioc). The chief
explained that tomorrow he would go hunting deep into the jungle for four or five days.
As I began walking back to the launch my two little friends once again took my hands
and walked me. I searched through my fanny pack to find something to give them as a
parting gift. I found a ball point pen and a comb and I gave one to each of them. They
really seemed to love their gifts.
When we returned to the boat it was quite hot. I donned my swimsuit and jumped off the
boat for a swim in the cool muddy waters of the Amazon.
Later that day we took the launch up a small tributary called the Paranquiro. On the
peaceful banks of the river we saw a fish house or farm house where people stay while
tending their crops or fishing.
The clear, dark river seemed to end ahead as the water became covered with floating
plats. The boat glided easily over the hyacinths. Suddenly hundreds of insects of all
colors and shapes jumped into the boat. Click, click, splat, as they landed on the metal
boat and onto wet raincoats.
The next day as the boat turned toward the Atacuari River I heard the familiar sound
of porpoises breathing through their blow holes. Gray dolphin surfaced. They were smaller
than the bottle nose dolphins that live off the coast of Florida and much shyer. But
closer to the boat swan several large pink porpoises. This porpoise has a dome-like head
and is twice as big as the gray porpoise. It is against the law to harm these fresh water
porpoises but it is probably the superstitions surrounding them that has actually
protected them. It is believed that ill luck will befall the killer of a pink dolphin.
Pink river dolphin are blamed for unwanted pregnancies and birth defects since the males
allegedly turn into handsome men at night and seduce ladies. The burning of dolphin oil is
thought to cause blindness. So, luckily these defenseless mammals are respected and not
much hunted for food.
At the point where the Atacuari meets the Amazon there is a definite line the clear
black water of the tributary and the brown muddy water of the Amazon. I jumped in the
water for a swim with the dolphins in the deep waters of the Atacuari and the Amazon
After dinner, a small group of us took the launch up Rio Caballo Cocha. At the end of
the river was a large lake where we stopped to fish. As I dropped my line into the water I
noticed a stilt house in this beautiful, quiet spot. Three young children ran down the
bank toward our launch. They were carrying enormous Brazil nuts that they wanted to sell.
As we were negotiating for the purchase of the nuts I felt a fish on my line and pulled a
large piranha from the water. It was quite delicious for lunch the next day.
After a beautiful sunset on the lake we headed back to the Arca. The night sky was
spectacularly unfamiliar with no wash from the city lights. In the Southern Hemisphere new
stars and constellations were visible, the Southern Cross, Clouds of Magellan, and any
familiar constellations hung upside down! With our flashlights trained on the river, we
watched the caimans eyes glowed a bright red reflection.