Today we transition from the river cruise portion of our trip to our journey of discovery related to the ancient Incas. We will disembark the Amazon Aria today, fly first to Lima, and then on to Cuzco to do a little altitude adjustment.
There was breakfast and then our luggage had to be outside our rooms by 9:15 am. That still gave us time to relax until 10:30 am when we would disembark the Aria and head to shore on our last skiff ride. We cruised back and forth a bit on the Aria since we obviously arrived in Iquitos early. I will be terribly sad to leave our naturalists behind. All four are different and yet I feel like I made a connection with each of them. From the beginning with Roland…the hand holding with Ricardo (he kept me steady)…the animal encounters with Billy…to the laughter with Julio. They are amazing individuals.
We saw a lot of the tuk tuks (local taxi powered by a motorcycle) around the city. There were also lots of motorcycles. Honda has a motorcycle production facility near Iquitos. The cost of purchasing the cycles for the locals has come down dramatically. Many families purchased them during the pandemic as a means of making additional money by providing transportation or delivery. Tourism is a key component of the Iquitos economy. When I asked Billy if the people suffered due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic, he said it was not as bad as it was in other areas as the people of the Amazon are self-sustaining. They grow or catch their own food as a normal way of life.
Once ashore, we boarded a bus for the ride through town to the manatee rescue center. Manatees are endangered and this is one of the places trying to make a difference in the population. There are several different tanks, from the clear one with the juveniles to the older ones where you see the water beginning to look a lot more like the muddy waters of the Amazon. The really small ones were more lethargic. The largest one of the three really liked to swim around and the guide told us that even he was rather listless when he first came to the center. What a difference three months makes!
The manatees’ habitat is shrinking and they sometimes are injured by the motors on the canoes that once were only propelled by human strength applied to a wooden paddle. The greatest threat to the manatees is that they have always been a source of food for the Amazonian people. With the shrinking rainforest and fewer animals, the gentle manatee has become the easier prey and their population is decreasing. The baby manatees the Amazon Rescue Center rehabilitates are often orphans left to fend for themselves or sold on the black market.
The goal of the center is to reintroduce the manatees into the wild. The last phase of the rehabilitation is a large pond where the manatees have no human interaction for one year before they are released into the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve that we have been touring. The protection they are afforded at the reserve gives them their best chance at survival. The rescue center is located on the road between Iquitos and Nauta.
Beyond rehabilitation, the center’s secondary goal is education and a large part of the tour was visiting the grounds where educational presentations and play areas geared to children are located. The hope is to convince the next generation that manatees are not a food source. Manatees are not the only rescued animals at the center. We saw lots of monkeys, macaws, turtles, and even a sloth. One of the saddest creatures was an anteater whose leg had been intentionally broken so he couldn’t get away and could be kept as a pet. He did have an interesting set-up. His home looked like a doghouse and he ate and drank from pet bowls.
The highlight of are visit was watching the staff feed the baby manatees. They could really take down a bottle of formula. It was a hot, humid day. I wish I had the opportunity to change before we got on the plane because my clothes were soaked by the end of our rescue center visit. I missed the cool breezes we enjoyed while riding along the Amazon in the skiffs.
After the rescue center, visit we re-boarded the bus for our trip to the airport. We said goodbye to our naturalists at the airport as they handed us our sack lunches and drinks. It was bittersweet. As a travel note, in Peru you can take drinks through security on domestic flights. Boris and I are struggling to keep the weigh of our bags down to 50 pounds (23 kg) each, the limit for domestic flights within Peru. I think they may have let us slide a bit at check in. After getting through security, we didn’t have too long a wait before we boarded the plane.
Before COVID-19, there were direct flights from Iquitos to Cuzco; unfortunately that route is no longer being offered. We will miss the nice dinner planned for the hotel in the Sacred Valley tonight. In Lima, we had to walk out of the baggage claim and then go back into the airport and through security before boarding our flight from Lima to Cuzco. Fortunately, the baggage didn’t have to be reclaimed; it was sent straight through. Carlos recommended we grab some food at the airport, but there really wasn’t much time.
For whatever reason the preassigned seats seemed to always have me being last off the plane. This route, Carlos got me a seat in the front and I was able to move up and sit next to him for the flight to Cuzco. While he ate his dinner, I enjoyed snacks I had brought from the Aria. When we arrived I walked with him to baggage claim immediately feeling the effects of the higher altitude. Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, sits at the highest altitude we will experience during the trip.
In baggage claim, we were met by our local guide Harvey who told us about the city as we made our way out of town. We did make a momentary stop for Carlos to collect some fresh bread and cheese he had ordered for our journey. By the time we arrive at the hotel, the restaurant and bar will be closed. It was after 11 pm when we finally made it to the Sacred Valley. Of course, when the itinerary had been designed, the plan was that we would make it there much earlier; we were waylaid by the altered flight schedules and the loss of the direct flight.
It was a long day of travel and I miss the Aria, but our hotel in the Sacred Valley was gorgeous. I will enjoy the beautiful bed before we begin early in the morning on our touring of the ancient Inca sites. On to the next phase of our adventure…