Amazon Lodge

My First Trip to the Amazon

By Michael Read

Amazon Yagua Chief


ver since I read about the Amazon in the National Geographic when I was a boy, I had wanted to go, and now I was finally on my way with my family.  We were staying with my wife’s parents in Trujillo and had already visited Cajamarca and the northern beaches.  Our flight, which left Lima at 8:35 a.m., touched down at Iquitos airport at 10:05, and I was surprised when the captain said the temperature in Iquitos was only 73 ºF (23 ºC).  I had assumed it would be very much hotter.

As we left the airport, we were greeted by a plague of taxi drivers all trying to get our custom.  It was most unpleasant, with them all jostling us and trying to take our hand luggage, it being all we had.  Fortunately, we found a combi from the hotel we were going to.  The driver approached us and, after a short wait in case there were other passengers for the hotel, we left after being joined by a tour guide from the hotel.

We had a quick lunch at a little restaurant near the hotel and then went with the guide's father to a very pleasant park (Quistococha Zoo) about 10 km from there. We saw a great variety of birds and animals, including monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, alligators, turtles, eels and parrots.  It also had an artificial lake and beach.  I took too many photographs and had to delete a lot of them. Unfortunately, what we didn’t know was that we could have visited two (admittedly touristy) villages, one of the Yagua tribe and the other of the Boras.

When we returned, we had ice creams at an heladería in the Plaza de Armas, and then I went to the malecon, while my wife and son went back to the hotel. By this time it had become really hot which made me completely wet.  After having a shower, I put on a shirt and trousers, but I soon discovered that I couldn't possibly cope with wearing so much.  So while Amalia and Robbie ordered lunch, I went back to the hotel and changed into singlet and shorts.  Dressed like that, I could just about cope.

We had decided to take a forty-five minute trip by boat to a reserve the following day, but then we struck luck.  We were offered two days on the Amazon itself for the same price as the tour to the reserve that we were going on.  We took the former, which turned out to be exactly the trip I wanted.  It took three hours by launch to get to the lodge up the river.  The guide was an Indian from the Yagua tribe, one of the ten remaining local tribes, and he showed me how to make a grass skirt.  I made some of it myself and he added twice as much again, but it still needed finishing off the next morning.

Yagua IndianAfter lunch on our first day we went piranha fishing, and we each caught two.  Much of our fishing trip was in the rain, which was very refreshing as I was only wearing singlet and shorts.  After supper we went out in the boat again to look at spiders and other fauna.  We saw tarantulas, frogs, glow worms and saw lots of eyes.  The noise of all the creatures was amazing.  This time it didn't rain, but there were lots of insects. Fortunately, I was wearing a shirt with long sleeves and trousers.  Later, we returned to the lodge which was primitive, made out of timber with no electricity and had kerosene lamps.  The entire cabin was raised on stilts, protecting it from moisture and flood waters.

The next morning we got up at dawn and went bird watching by boat and saw herons, parrots, parakeets, and kingfishers in addition to many other animals, such as monkeys.  Immediately after breakfast Esteban finished the grass skirt and then asked me if I’d like to wear it.  I was fitted out as a chief, with headdress, arm bands, leg bands and necklace, and photos were taken; then, with me still in the regalia, we went for a walk in the jungle.  In fact, it was just locally but very interesting.  Banana trees have to be planted from roots of existing ones as they don't seed.  We saw enormous ants carrying material for their nest, ant nests, different types of banana and many other things.

It was very muddy and I had bare feet as I was in my grass skirt, so they got very muddy.  I therefore decided to wash them in the river and went down to the little jetty.  The guide, Esteban, followed me and suggested that I should have a swim, but I pointed out that I was only wearing the skirt.  His response was that I should take the grass skirt off and swim in the nude, but I was concerned that people might see me.  However, he said that was what Indians did, so I did just that.  It was a wonderful experience.  The water was beautifully warm all over my body, and I swam to the other side (there was no discernable current) and then back, round in a nice big circle.  I would of really had loved to do it again.  Immediately after lunch, Esteban bodypainted me with paprika.  He took about twenty minutes to do my face, chest and stomach.  Then some new people arrived.  They came from Milan, but one was French, and she asked me if everyone had to strip off like me.  I said no, but pointed out how comfortable I was.  After photos, we went out in the boat to see dolphins, but we also went to a village, with me still in most of the regalia.  Esteban introduced me as the last chief of the Amazon, but he was really laughing at me.  He also liked pointing out that I was wearing nothing under the skirt.

Yagua Wood CarvingAfter going to the village, we went from the tributary where the lodge is situated to the Amazon itself, which is very wide and has a real sandy beach. We watched the gray river dolphins jump and then went for a swim but, this time, I wore trunks.  We were a group of course and we had collected some children from the village who swam in their clothes.  There was quite a current and the water was noticeably cooler than by the camp, but it was still warmer than Punta Sal, the tropical beach where we were staying the previous week.  We saw a fantastic sunset, dropped the children off, and then made our way back down the river.  It got cooler, so everyone else put on extra layers of clothing, but I was very comfortable just in the skirt, with the air all round my body.  As it gradually got darker, the noise we could hear from the river banks increased, and eventually the stars came out. It was beautiful, such a clear sky with the Milky Way standing out very clearly.   However, when we were only a mile or two away from the camp, the propeller snagged a fishing line and had to be cleared.

The following morning we went up the river by canoe.  It was so peaceful with just the sounds of birds and animals.  When we came back, I was able to have another nude swim, but this time I was able to spend longer in the water as nobody was waiting for me.  The water was beautiful but I was plagued by flies buzzing round my head.  I swam to the opposite bank and got out of the water and then swam up river, heading for a group of trees on our side on the bend in the river.  It was too hazardous, though, as there were tree roots right out into the river and the bottom of the river was very soft due to trapped gases.  In the afternoon we returned to the dolphin beach to camp for the night.  It was a wonderful experience.  We swam in the Amazon, sat talking until 11p.m, and then I slept under a mosquito net.  The next morning, we were up at 5:30 a.m. when I was able to photograph the sunrise.  We walked along the beach to a house, where everyone was up and even the children were working.  We then walked back, dismantled the camp and waited for the boat to arrive.  They had brought breakfast with them, so we ate as we sailed back to the Lodge.

Amazon LodgeEsteban the guide asked us if we would be interested in investing in a lodge he was creating.  He said it was dedicated to preserving his tribe's culture, especially the grass skirt and the traditional life style and the use of natural remedies.  As there was no time to look at the site of the proposed lodge, I agreed to return from England in a month’s time.  He said he would make me a little hut to live in while I was there.  It would have a round roof and two doors, which when shut would make the hut completely black inside.  I would sleep on a ledge and completely live the disappearing lifestyle of his tribe.  For sheets I would use tree bark and I would rise at dawn and go to bed when it got dark, as there is no electricity.  The toilet would be natural and I would wash in the river or stream, the same as I would in the shower at home.  I would only use natural soap and shampoo and would have a wardrobe of grass skirts.  I would have a canoe, which I would use for checking the fishing nets every morning.

I must admit that I am very interested in this lifestyle, the grass skirt being the most comfortable thing I have ever worn.  I would learn how to make the clothing from scratch, how to use a blowpipe and all the traditional culture.  This is a dream come true.  Esteban is particularly interested in developing the natural remedies that his tribe has been using for centuries.  He wishes me to market these remedies as he has worked with Cornell University.

According to Esteban's plan, people would stay in the lodge that he has built, which has running water, flush toilets and showers, but would have the opportunity of living the way I would be living.  He has developed jungle walks that can be done with bare feet, and is building more traditional houses.  My little hut (a cocamera) would be built off the main trail leading from the lodge complex, thus giving it complete authenticity.  Esteban also said that groups would go to other places for a few nights, thus giving more people the opportunity to stay at the lodge.  For example, there would be treks, visits to the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve and special courses to learn about shamanism and ayahuasca.

I became really excited as I had always wanted to live like that since I was a boy and read those articles about the Amazon in the National Geographic.  People have now moved such a long way from nature that they do not realize just what God has provided for us.  There is too much stress, too much materialism, and even the Yagua tribe is in danger of slowly following us unless we do something about it.  I have a desire to be formally adopted into the tribe.

The grass skirt is so wonderful, but judging from the reaction of most people to mine, very few would care to live that way.  I wore it for three days, most people's reaction being that of amusement.  The women were more positive than the men, one even saying she'd like one herself.  After I had been dressed like that for a couple of days, people could see how comfortable it was in the heat.  As one of the women said, it feels as though you have nothing on and, of course, it breaths; my legs remained cool underneath, unlike shorts for example, under which I perspire.

On our final day in the jungle, we made a second part to my grass skirt in the morning as it was getting a bit thin, and I was photographed again.  We had lunch and then at about 2:00 p.m., we went down to the jetty to board the launch to take us back to Iquitos.  The return trip, being down river, only took us two hours.

This was my first visit to the Amazon and I was absolutely smitten.  I did return a month later and we invested in a lodge, the Amazon Curaca Camp.  The lodge is now receiving visitors; so now I can introduce others to the lifestyle which I love.  We have a travel business in England, specializing in Peru and the jungle in particular, and we are trying to save the Yagua tribe and others from extinction by promoting their lifestyle and showing people their skills, which are in danger of being lost.


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