‘It’s just you and the creatures now’, said Juan Carlos as he waved goodbye. The air was loaded with sound. We could see nothing, but knew that life was all around us. We were at the last outpost on the Yanayacu de Yacapana River, at the start of our Amazon Refuge adventure. Beyond lay only jungle and watery veins of the Amazon.
We plunged right in. A three-hour forest walk. Dense vegetation, vines and huge trees intertwined, orchids growing on branches, fungus eating away at bark. There were no visible pathways and only decomposing vegetation underfoot; a soft mulch of leaves, mud and rotting wood; creepers tugging at feet and ankles. The ground felt spongy, flexible – odd – like it wouldn’t hold our weight. Continuously looking down at my feet wasn’t conducive to animal spotting, and even when Wilder announced with an excited whisper ‘pygmy owl- beautiful bird, beautiful bird’, I had trouble seeing what he was pointing at. That man could spot a glow-worm whose light had gone out, at twenty paces. The heat was incredible. My clothes stuck to me like a second skin. Beyond hot, my face glowed tomato-red and perspiration pooled. Every step required effort. The mosquitoes however, were active enough, and our clothes quickly became pock-marked with tiny splatters of blood. Now the greatest sound echoing through the emptiness was the slapping of hands on flesh.
Wilder was in his element, eyes sparkling, always laughing, his live-by line: ‘Anything is possible’. Part energiser bunny, part boy scout, part Crocodile Dundee, he forged ahead. We saw tiny owl monkeys with tan-orange bellies and huge eyes peeping worriedly beneath white brows; they stayed stock-still long enough for us to get a photograph; we caught glimpses of capuchin monkeys flying through the trees with the greatest of ease, scampering along branches barely more than twigs, and free-falling to boughs meters below; and merely smelled howler monkeys. All of our senses turned up a notch, the energy of the place palpable.
The sun left the sky in a hurry, a man on the run, melting into the water, the trees, the land totally. Black-out. Until the stars appeared and fire-flies offered pin-pricks of light, pulsing, flitting, flashing, wrapping the forest in natural fairy lights. Time for a canoe ride. Oars dipped almost silently in and out of the black water. Trees nothing more than shapes. Ripples in the water. Birds flying overhead. And suddenly a huge splash. Wilder had managed to grab hold of a little cayman. It eyed us warily, waiting patiently to be returned to the water. After a while, Wilder thanked it, as he did all the creatures he handled, and let it go.
Over the next few days he dragged an anaconda out of the water, caught piranha with a spear (‘good lunch for me today’, he laughed), and captured a tree boa. One morning he announced, ‘OK, now special looking for sloth’, and he almost ran sixty foot up a tree to bring one down. As he cradled it like a baby, and rocked it back and forth, the creature opened it’s long arms, splayed it’s legs, and looked totally content. When it was set back in the tree, it began to climb out of reach. Every move considered, graceful, and oh so slow. It stretched out an arm, and waited, moved a leg, and rested, blinked slowly, turned it’s head, and grasped a higher branch. It was like waiting for syrup to drip off a spoon, maddening and mesmerising. There were night walks (snakes, tarantulas and spectacular bugs), more boat rides, with misty morning starts when it was deliciously cool, glorious sunsets, hundreds of egrets scared into flight, filling the air with cotton-wool balls of white, and pink dolphins.
The water, the jungle, the weather changed continuously. It was often uncomfortable, but always beautiful. It was four days filled with natural grace and wonder and a great way to end our stay in Peru.
We stayed at the Amazon Refuge – a 6-hour boat trip from Iquitos. http://www.amazonerefuge.com