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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Rugged Amazon jaunt was the trip of a lifetime

I would hate to learn that anyone who is planning a trip to the Amazon is considering cancelling because of the hardships being portrayed on the current Survivors series. I count a trip to the Amazon rainforest last August as one of my most educational and exciting experiences.

Just to see the size of the Amazon and the ways the natives utilize it in their daily lives is reason enough to include it on a South American visit. I truly hated to say goodbye to the giant river when, after four days on the jungle retreat, we returned to Equitos, Peru, to catch a plane back to the country's capital, Lima. I knew I would never have the privilege again of boarding a river boat or fishing for a piranha.

For the record, we were without the benefit of TV cameras, but travel pals did get a couple of good shots of me fighting to pull the orange-tinted fish from the black water without getting the pole caught in the low-hanging tree limbs. When the guide offered to give me a hand before I lost it to the sharp teeth of the piranha, I let him. After all, that's part of his job.

And also for the record, the bait we used was cubes of beef, not worms, which the Survivors valiantly attached to their hooks. One of my prized souvenirs from the summer trip is a preserved piranha that has a place of prominence on the buffet. The four fishermen in our 18-foot boat with an outboard motor caught a dozen piranha, and each were four inches or smaller.

Obviously we were not as hungry as the Survivors, who left only the carcass of the fish they cooked on a stick over an open fire.

Piranhas are a mass of bones that are not worth fooling with, especially when the cook presents the fish with head intact.

Fishing and other activities, including after-dark boat rides looking for wildlife that never appeared, were done on tributaries. They are no pikers as rivers go, but the 4,000-mile Amazon is the daddy. Traveling on a river two miles wide is a real eye-opener

After arriving by plane at Equitos, we boarded the first of several riverboats we would use to travel on the Amazon and its tributaries to reach our lodges.

Transportation is only by boat on the Amazon. Families use dugouts they carve from tree trunks. The length of the dugout is determined by the size of the family. The largest public vessels on the Amazon are taxis that were always filled to capacity with natives wildly waving at the smaller boat filled with tourists.

Our 20-passenger craft was built with a protective roof and plastic curtains in case of rain or high winds. The 50-mile trip on the Amazon to our first rainforest lodge, with our luggage jammed in the rear of the boat, went quickly. The incredibly beautiful jungle scenery unfolded in a display of thatched homes on stilts, riverfront farms, heavy vegetation, and skyscraper-high trees in the dense rainforest.

Arrival at the lodge after walking up a rugged stairway remains memorable. So this is our home away from home - can we handle it for a few days, we wondered as we were directed to our rooms and outdoor toilets, which were a good distance from our rooms, and seemed farther in the middle of the night. But somehow apprehension about the rustic accommodations gave way to the genuine hospitality of the staff.

At twilight, light from the kerosene torches and lamps led us to the dining hall for a satisfying meal. When the lone kerosene lamp in my quarters was extinguished, I couldn't have been more content with only the sounds of the jungle to lull me into dreaming of the next day on the Amazon.

Snug on a cot tented by mosquito netting in a room without a key, I slept like a baby without fear.

Even the community cold-water showers seemed to get warmer as the days passed.

How about the fierce wild animals and mosquitoes? How did we survive that? Quite well. A narrow river was chosen for a late animal search. We aimed flashlights through the rainforest, hoping to see wildlife, but alas, our scorecard chalked up but one sloth, a few sleeping butterflies, and a huge spider waiting at the water's edge to catch a fish, or so the guide said.

We did not see a tiger like the one in the Survivors promo.

Yes, there are mosquitoes in the Amazon rainforest, and we had a good supply of spray for protection, but we were bite-free until we moved to Ceiba Tops, an upscale lodge with electricity. When the lights went on the mosquitoes came out, and I scratched all the way home. Is there a lesson here about western civilization and its modern conveniences?



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