One of my travel habits is to compare the place I’m visiting to other places I’ve been. Cape Town reminds me a bit of San Francisco and New Orleans. The Oki Islands in Japan are reminiscent of the rugged coastline of Oregon. But when I found myself floating the waters of the Upper Amazon in Peru, I was shocked at where my mind went…..to Disneyland.
Specifically, the sounds of dripping water and calling birds, long sinuous vines, and vegetation that looks like tropical houseplants gone wild reminded me of being on the jungle ride in Disneyland. The allure that the ride hinted at was amplified in person and, to be sure, the humidity and mosquitos made it undeniably real.
During the two weeks I spent cruising the brown, and sometimes black, waters of the headwaters of the Amazon River, I realized that a tropical rainforest is a place of subtle beauty where patience and time are rewarded with sightings of exotic creatures. I saw brief glimpses of the elusive pink river dolphin, was tormented by macaws and toucans who always seemed to keep their distance, reveled in watching wooly monkeys swing from tree to tree, and fell totally in love with sloths, the slow-moving, wiry-haired guardians of the canopy. I learned to appreciate the quiet beauty of the rivers and creeks we explored on daily skiff rides, looking for splashes of color in a riot of green vegetation, staring into reflections as if in a trance, and I secretly loved getting caught in downpours where the rain forced me to do nothing else but enjoy the reason the rainforest gets its name.
As much as I enjoyed the natural beauty of the Amazon, I was absolutely surprised and delighted by our interactions with the local people who live along the river’s edge, the ribereños. The people were generous in giving us a glimpse into their daily lives.
Next year I’m fortunate enough to already be booked on two photography-focused departures in January with National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions on this itinerary. I’d love to explore the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve with you on board the Delfin II.
On the still waters of the Yanayacu River, I couldn’t get enough of the reflections. Luckily every afternoon seemed to have these gorgeous pile-ups of clouds in the sky.
We were able to spend time photographing groups of curious woolly monkeys as they swung from limb to limb hanging from their tails.
Every time we came across the impressive Victoria amazonica giant water lilies, I had to make pictures. The blooms begin as white buds and then unfold into pink splendor before wilting away in a brief two-day life cycle.
During this expedition, we maneuvered along the river, up creeks, and into flooded forests on skiffs, our reliable metal steeds.
The tropical rainforest can feel like a verdant dream and one quickly learns that a flash of any other color means a wonderful find. Whether that is the spectacle of a toucan or macaw’s bright feathers or the pop of red from a passionflower bloom hidden below the canopy, it is always worth observing.
After night fell on el Río Dorado, we used a high-powered light to spot caimans along the river’s edge by looking for the red reflections of their eyes from afar.
Our local guides took us to a favorite roost of a family of adorable night monkeys.
The hoatzin, or what I refer to as the prehistoric chicken, was one of the many animal species I came across which I’d been unfamiliar with before.
I was entranced by the details of the jungle like the gorgeous curtains of bromeliads that adorned many of the trees along the river.
Most of the sloths we spotted were perched high in the treetops except for this one occasion where we spotted a baby hanging out on a low cecropia tree, snoozing in between nibbles on the leaves.
As much as it felt that we were far away from civilization during our explorations we often passed by small river communities. We were able to take time to visit San Francisco, a typical river village filled with wooden homes with aluminum roofs.
During our visit to the community of San Francisco on the Marañon River, we were welcomed with smiles, waves, and curious looks, especially from children.
I photographed this lovely woman during a dance performance in the community center of San Francisco.
It was common to see local families living with pet monkeys, macaws, and sloths.
I love to photograph people when I’m traveling and I try, as often as possible, to find a way to share the images with the people I photograph. On this trip, I knew emailing images wouldn’t be an option so I brought along a Fujifilm Instax printer from B&H Photo Video which enabled me to print and share photos I’d taken with the locals I’d meet. I won over these young girls who chatted with me and stayed by my side during the entire visit.
In Puerto Miguel, these young boys enjoyed seeing the photos one of the Lindblad guests had taken of them. The boys kept telling him, “otro” and he would humor them by taking another photo and the cycle of giggles and grins would continue.
On Supay Creek we met this young boy who was keeping a coati, which is a member of the raccoon family, as a pet.
Locals all along the river make handicrafts to sell to visitors. Tarantulas and frogs woven out of dyed chambira palm fiber were a popular item.
The Delfin II was a luxurious home away from home while exploring the Upper Amazon of Peru.
To see more images from this expedition on the Peruvian Amazon, visit my Photoshelter gallery.