Following a more or less chaotic week in Iquitos, I finally headed out to the Tapiche Reserve (www.tapichejungle.com) on a Monday at 1 pm, with Kat a volunteer from the Green Track Hostel (which has the same owner as the Tapiche Reserve). Normally one leaves in the morning by bus to Nauta and then by speedboat to Requena and arrives at Tapiche about 4 to 5 hours later in a smaller boat, but as the road to Nauta was closed that was not an option. Instead we got on a slow boat directly to Requena, where we arrived about 6 am the next day, and then took the small boat to Tapiche. Travelling by slow boat was quite charming, we had a cabin to store our stuff, and also set up our Hammocks on the top deck, there were a lot of people, and the Hammocks hung pretty close to each other so it was really cosy. Considering that the slow boat is much cheaper than the speedboats, it was quite crowded, but that is the way the locals’ travel, so I enjoyed it very much! It actually gives you time to enjoy the Amazon River, and the views were quite stunning, the sunset in particular is a sight to behold while you are peacefully going down the river.
Kat opted to sleep in the cabin as she gets a little cold at night, but I figured since so many locals were sleeping in their Hammocks I should do the same, granted I should have worn a bit more than a long-sleeve and shorts, as about 4 in the morning it got quite cool due to the pouring rain. Nonetheless I slept quite well until about 5 when a couple of ladies came around trying to sell cheese, and they were close to screaming advertisement for their product, the flashlight that they shined straight into my face did not further sleep either. But that is the way it goes. Overall the slow boat was quite an experience, and other than the 2 toilets for about 150 to 200 people it was great, the toilets did get a bit messy, which is normal when so many people share only 2. Being the only 2 white people on the boat we got quite a few strange looks, but that is to be expected when you go to a place like Requena, where there is only few tourists coming through, pretty much only the people that go to Tapiche.
At 6 am José, our jungle guide, picked us up with a small boat and no engine, which we went to pick up a bit later. The engine was supposed to have undergone maintenance the day before, but it took about an hour to get it started, and then when we picked up José’s backpack for the trip, died again, and took about another hour to start, so all in all we left around 8:30. The breeze was cool, and the closer we got to the reserve the more beautiful the sights became, we saw quite a few river dolphins throughout the journey. José took us through a couple of shortcuts, one of which is actually only possible when it’s rain season and there is quite a bit of flooding. We arrived around 1:30 pm, and since we had not had much food on the first leg of the journey, to avoid the bathrooms, were quite hungry, Melitta the cook at the lodge quickly prepared a simple but delicious meal consisting of rice, pasta and some vegetables, which was more or less the diet for the rest of our time there, as there is no electricity except for a bit of time in the evening. Following lunch we sat up our hammocks, and I went for a nice little nap in the main room of the lodge, which is topped by a small birdwatching tower that also gives quite a nice 360° view of the camp. Since flooding is a normal occurrence the entire camp is built on stilts and that has its own charm. The nap was quite necessary as we had been on the river for pretty much 24 hours.
Following a nice shower with river water we had dinner around 6:30 when the generator was also turned on to provide a little bit of light, and a chance to charge our camera. Normally it runs for about 2 hours, but after 40 minutes, and some weird sounds it was done for the day. They set me up in a separate little cabin that has a bunk bed and was really nice. Sleep time in the jungle is about 9pm at the latest as the days start quite early, with breakfast around 5am and a departure out into the jungle about half an hour later. Normally the day trips consist of some time in a small boat, and some hiking, however as everything was pretty flooded we only used the boat.
The first morning we went out to Keito, a small lagoon or creek depending on how you look at it, and pretty much right away ran into a group of Squirrel monkey, which are very cute little buggers, agile and fun to watch, ultimately I think they are my favourite monkeys! We also saw a Mama Viejo (old mama) a bird that is named so as it sits on a tree and mostly just jabs away at anything that passes by, just as you would picture an old mama sitting behind her window complaining about anything and everybody. (A full list of all the animals we saw by day and location as well as some pictures can be found at the end of the article.) Around 9 am we had 2nd breakfast on the boat, which is mostly for the benefit of the guide who does quite a lot of rowing as you have to move through the jungle as quietly as possible in order to spot animals. The rest of the morning was relatively quiet and we saw a few more monkeys, parrots, and loads of spiders. José turned out to be a great guide as he can discern most animals just by their sound, and is quite good at tracking them!
We went back to the lodge for lunch which consisted of rice, pasta, vegetables, and a raw beetroot salad. The beetroot salad was new to me, as I am not much of a fan of cooked beetroot, but here they just grate it and add mayonnaise which makes for a really tasty salad, a recipe that I will actually take home and start eating there as well, as it is really delicious and tastes a little bit like carrot with a twist.
Following a quick nap we set out to Wimba around 2:30 pm, and following a bit of very skilled chopping of branches made it past the many water-lilies, which can actually make it impossible to pass. Wimba was very dense, and José had to chop away quite a few branches in order for us to pass at all, but at Tapiche wildlife is actually still wild, so clear cut paths etc. are not an option! We saw a few more different kinds of monkey, loads of spiders, and overall had a very good exploit so to speak. The coolest thing that did however happen was us running into another or the same group of Squirrel monkey, one of which became so interested in us that it actually followed us around for quite a while as we made our way back from a really old Ceiba tree. José opted to take us out of Wimba a slightly different path, and eventually the water became so shallow that we had to backtrack a little bit as the boat could no longer advance. With the shallow, stagnant water and the heat, we were surrounded by mosquitoes, and actually killed quite a few of those, but Kat still got stung quite a lot. Me on the other hand I only got bitten by the hardcore mosquitoes as I had been having loads and loads of raw garlic with every meal, and they don’t like that smell too much.
In the evening we had a quick shower before dark, as we could not count on the generator to provide much light (it again ran for about 40 minutes, which was a bit of a bummer as my camera was fully drained and I only could charge it a little bit, but these things happen, and the guys at the lodge said they had tried everything to fix the engine but needed supplies from the town to get it going fully again). Dinner included fresh amazon fish that was really delicious, however I do not recall its name, in any case I doubt I could ever find it back at home. Right after dinner we, or rather José, spotted a baby caiman in the shallow waters below the lodge, which was fun to observe while hunting small fishes. Well-fed I turned in quite early as even though I had not done much paddling, I was exhausted from all the sights and impressions and looking for animals. As I closed my eyes all of those impression started to appear before my inner eye, and boy there were a lot, so it took me a little while to fall asleep to the jungle sounds, which consisted of crickets, birds, and Zapo frogs, which can get really loud, sort of a rolling sound going back and forth between each other. The loudness of the frogs did not keep me from sleeping as they were quite rhythmic!
The 2nd morning we headed out to Chambira, a relatively large creek along the main river, and shortly after getting there were able to spot a white 3 toed sloth, which is a very rare sight, as they don’t move a lot and usually don’t come out much. At the same time as the sloth we saw a Zigzag Herron which was one hell of a funny looking bird, keeping its body straight and stiff to imitate a branch so it does not get attacked while protecting the one egg that was in its nest. A little later we saw a caiman lizard which I did not even know existed and it was quite agile and quick in the water. We ran into a second group of monkeys that actually were quite interactive and came down a little bit from the tree crowns in order to let us know that we were intruding in their territory. Right next to them we saw a family of Nancy Ma’s night monkeys which looked really cute hiding in a cavity of a tree, you could see four heads one above the other, and they looked a bit annoyed as they were kept awake by all the noise the other monkeys were making. Also saw loads of butterflies of which the most impressive one sported a set of bright blue wings.
Around 11:30 we headed back to the lodge for lunch as the sun was actually scorching. Following lunch and a quick nap it started to rain intensely so that it made little sense to go out in the afternoon as all the animals would have been seeking shelter from the rain anyway as well. Up to this point Kat and I were the only visitors in the camp, so it had been very quiet and relaxing. In the afternoon however another group of 4 arrived, which was fine as well, as a little company is fun every now and then, 3 of the 4 I had actually already met and hung out a bit with back in Iquitos before leaving to Tapiche. One guy was going to sleep in the same cabin as I, and he advised me that he snored a little at night, which is fine by me, a little snoring has never kept me awake so I had no problem with that, the others sat up their hammocks in the main room. We hung around the lodge smoking some Mapacho, and chatting the afternoon away. The 3 Germans were quite anxious to get the generator on in the evening for some light, I hoped to charge my camera so that it would not run out of power the next day, but it only came on late, and this time around for only about 15 minutes, which was a bit of a bummer, as I had to very carefully choose what to shoot the next day and what not. Carlos, the guy who was supposed to look after such things said there was nothing he could do, so we had nice dinner in the dark. It was actually the best meal of all as we go to eat pan-fried Piranhas, which was also a first for me, and it’s quite a tasty fish, albeit quite bony with only little meat, here again it would have been nice to still be alone in the camp, as there were only 5 fishes each of us only got half a Piranha, but I’ll remember the taste for sure! Following a few more smokes we all settled around 9. My room-mate fell asleep within a few minutes and turned out to not be snoring a little but shitloads! Basically I can sleep through any kind of noise but I need to be able to fall asleep. As we had spent the afternoon in the lodge, there had been a lot of noise, and so not many frogs had ventured into camp to cover the snoring. I don’t blame the guy for snoring, as it’s not something one can control, but a little heads up about the actual intensity would have been nice, and in that case I would have set up a hammock in the afternoon. As I had packed lightly I did not have any Oropax with me either so I tried to meditate and calm my mind to fall asleep, but there was really no rhythm to the snoring that I could have gotten used to, still awake at 11pm I shook the guy above me out of his sleep (as he had advised me to do), I told him he was snoring a lot and loud, and he cutely answered: Oh am I? I tried to go to sleep right away, but within 2 minutes he was back to snoring and even louder then before. So I just laid there trying to calm my mind and fall asleep, which just did not happen. Shortly after midnight with only 4 more hours before having to get up again I ventured out to find a different spot to sleep, the next cabin proved useless as the snoring was still very loud there. I then headed very quietly to the kitchen, where I put 2 wooden benches together to get some sleep, but after about 10 minutes was “attacked” by a few cockroaches, so that was not going to happen either. I did not want to enter the main room to set up a hammock as I did not want to wake 4 more people. So I resigned and went back to our cabin. Around 1 am with only 3 more hours to go and a full day on the boat with no lunch at the lodge ahead of me I woke him once more, and said that if he could not give me 20 minutes to fall asleep I would actually smother him with a pillow, I was getting a little desperate. Fortunately that speech helped and I finally managed to pass out for a few hours. I got up at about 4 and was quite cranky. When I met Kat having her morning cigarette I told her my night, and she said she even heard the snoring in the main room, about 20 meters away from our cabin, so at least I knew I was not imagining it to be loud as hell.
As we were a total of 6 people we took out a large wooden canoe with Jose at the back, and another guy, Hilbert, in the front to help with the paddling. Our destination for the day was Garzacocha, which is one hell of a beautiful and large lagoon, back home we would actually call it a lake. As we turned into the creek to get to the lagoon the guys in the back turned out to be quite noisy, and seemed to have no concept of what whispering means, as we went further in, they even started to complain that they had mostly seen only spiders up to this point, which considering their noise was no surprise to me, and I said if they would keep up the noise they could not expect to see much more. Following a few more calls by Kat to be quiet, and pretty much no reaction I actually got a bit pissy with them, and they finally quieted down a bit. Fortunately Pachamama (Mother Nature) was very kind to us, and we still saw a lot of animals, even a second sloth, this time a black one, it was well hidden in the leaves of a tree, but still visible! A little while after breakfast we even had a small frog on the boat that decided the best place for a rest was on my arms and later my head, so I just let it stay there as long as it wanted and enjoyed its company. We ended up seeing quite a lot different kinds of monkeys, I think about 8 in total, and also saw another caiman lizard that we met again later hanging out in a tree above the water, waiting to jump down for some prey. The lagoon itself was quite a sight, and holds a small moving forest which actually has trees growing on the water lilies, quite the phenomena! At the end of the lagoon we saw a large caiman, or at least its head, but it disappeared into the lilies once we got too close. The guy in the front was quite happy to be drifting on the lagoon as we had to make our way through quite a few lily patches to get there, and that is hard work, half of the engines’ fin was even lost in one of the patches, as the roots go quite deep. At the end of the lagoon is actually a paradise for birdwatchers, as there in the trees all kinds of species mingle in easy shelter with good access to food and water in and around the lagoon. The sounds were intense and loud, and the whole thing was quite a sight to behold. We drifted down a side creek, and ended up seeing a bunch of Uakari monkeys (a type of red monkey with large tails that they can’t use as a fifth limb) right before we had lunch on the boat.
On our way back things got interesting as just past the lagoon the second half of the fin broke off, and we had to rely solely on manpower to get back, with only 2 paddles and 8 people in total it was going to take quite a while. José and Hilbert paddled and paddled and we advanced only slowly as we were going against the current, I sure as hell did not want to be in their place that day! In the lily pads Kat and I helped as much as we could pushing lilies away with our boots and a stick, but it was still a Hercules type of a job to get through so a lot of respect to the guys! To make things worse, or actually for the paddlers a bit better, I started to pour but really pour by the litre, the guy in the front seemed to welcome the rain as it cooled him down a bit, I had my poncho on me so was not bothered by the rain at all. The rain itself was quite interesting as we could hear it from a few kilometres away as it drew closer really fast. The only down side was, that all the animals went into hiding, but considering that we had seen quite a few in the morning that was also fine by me, I just sat there, enjoying the trees, and the rain. It took quite a while to get back to the main river, but eventually we got there, and at least there we could use a bit of the current to advance, and the guys could take little breaks in between. Once the rain died down a bit, we actually saw 2 grey and 1 pink river dolphin playing, jumping around and somersaulting, which was quite the sight, as before I had only seen them come up for air and go back under, this was really impressive to me! I got a bit of it on film but finally my battery died, nonetheless a memory that will stay with me, as will the whole trip!
We made it back to the lodge around 5, and surprise, the unrepairable engine was running like a charm. So as it turned out, Kat had taken Carlos aside the night before and insisted on him moving his ass, as he was paid to do, and all of a sudden, the unfixable engine was running flawlessly. This in the end pissed me off a bit, as the days before the only answer, if any at all, Kat got was that there was nothing he could do. So I guess I ended up missing a few pictures not because there was an actual problem with the engine, which would have been fine as these things happen, and after all we were deep in the jungle, but just because Carlos turned out to be one lazy motherfucker. I had told Kat before that I was fine with there being no electricity at all, but yeah if I had known ahead of time I would have picked up a spare battery or a solar charger for the camera while still in Iquitos, but I had been assured that charging the camera was no problem etc. I was even fine with only the short charging times, as it was supposed to be an unfixable problem, but yeah laziness is a somewhat different story, at least for me.
That night I sat up a hammock in the main room as well, as I did not care to spend another sleepless night with my room-mate's snoring, and ended up sleeping like a baby, nice and comfortable in the hammock! On Saturday Carlos, Melitta, Hilbert, and I got into one of the boats to head back to Requena, where I was put on a speedboat to Nauta, and then got a bus to head back to Iquitos, which was an uneventful trip, and although faster not quite as fun as the 24hour boat ride to get there.
When I arrived at the Hostal the owner Katoo, was waiting and apologized right away for all the problems, I said, it was still a great trip, but also that as previously mentioned the generator being fixable, and the actual problem being laziness was a bit of a bummer. Carlos was not planning on keeping on working for Katoo anyway so at least that is one problem he no longer has to worry about. I could however not resist informing Katoo that before Carlos left he actually made a stop at his house to syphon gasoline from the boat, which I think he will hear about from Katoo as well. I may be a gringo around here, but sure not stupid, because when we stopped at Carlos’ house he took out one of the gasoline tanks, asked the neighbouring kids to bring an empty tank, then asked for a larger one, and disappeared with both in his house… Going in he had to use 2 hands and a leg to carry the boats tank, and coming out had it in one had. So it was pretty damn clear what happened. Katoo was happy to know and actually a bit pissed as he actually pays his staff good money, at least for here, so does not appreciate people stealing on top of that.
Nonetheless overall, one hell of a trip that I can only very much recommend, and that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life! If you come to Iquitos and want to visit the jungle this is the tour I would recommend, it is a bit pricey at 600USD but worth every penny! You will not get to take pictures holding animals or the like, but you will see the animals in the natural environment, the way it is supposed to be! As far as my research led me, Tapiche Reserve is actually the only one around that is really concerned with preserving nature, so I give them 2 thumbs up just for that! And besides the one black sheep all of the staff was super friendly and welcoming, and José is one hell of a knowledgeable guide who will go out of his way to find animals for you to see! So go out there, enjoy the quiet, be a little quiet yourself, and you will have one hell of a time!!! I would recommend coming during off season, as you might actually be there all by yourself, although normally they do not send out more than 4 people at one time unless it’s a group of 5 or 6 that already know each other. If you have a bit of time on your hands, be sure to ask if you can go down to Requena by slow boat, as that is also an experience worth having, and much more fun and fascinating than the faster route.
Below is the list of animals we saw (some of the spelling may be off a little, but yeah I am not a biologist):
Squirrel monkeys (loads)
Dusty titi (cola blanca)
Macaw 6 together
Red saddleback tamarind
Baby caiman at lodge
Sloth - 3 toted white sloth
Garza cebra - Zigzag Herron
Musmuqui - Nancy ma's night monkey
Iguana Cabeza Roja - caiman lizard
All day: Garzacocha:
Red hornbull screamer
Red saddleback tamarind
Iguana cabeza roja
Red howler 5x
Green frog on my head
Shitloads of birds (actually every day, but no time to write down all the names)
2 grey 1 pink dolphin somersaulting & playing