After eight months at Esperanza Verde it was finally time to hit the road again. Arriving once again in Pucallpa, the nearest city, we filled our boots with pizza and cold drinks. It’s amazing how much you appreciate a fridge after jungle life. Pucallpa doesn’t suffer from an excess of sights, so after visiting our favourite pizza place on the main plaza we’d just about exhausted the attractions. I exaggerate slightly. The two options you have available are visiting the Parque Natural, the local zoo, or going to swim with the river dolphins. As we’d just spent months living with the local wildlife and we’d swum with the dolphins in Bolivia we’d be giving them a miss.
Our first stop on our restarted voyage would be Iquitos. Famous for being the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road. It’s remote Amazon location means that you can either fly or catch a boat. The boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos can take around five days all going well. With flights taking under an hour and at low prices, we once again opted to fly.
Most people visit Iquitos for one of two reasons, to go on jungle tours or to take Ayahuasca, the increasingly popular jungle drug. After seeing the Gringos in various states of disarray wandering around Iquitos we weren’t keen on staying that long. The jungle tours from Iquitos are meant to be amazing but for obvious reasons we wouldn’t be paying for one.
With a few days to kick back and enjoy the river front we wanted to see what the other sights there were.
The Pilpintuwasi animal orphanage and the manatee rescue centre are both located just outside of Iquitos and make great and interesting days out.
The Manatee rescue centre is doing a great job of rescuing and re introducing the endangered Amazonian Manatees (Trichechus inunguis). They, like many other Peruvian rescue centres receive other animals that they weren’t expecting from the government. When we visited they had a Squirrel monkey, a Monk Saki and a White fronted Capuchin. They also had a very playful Otter.
The centre does an excellent job teaching children about conservation and recycling. The talks are given by a man hidden inside this moving tree. We were offered the chance of posing with him and of course jumped at the chance.
The Amazonian Manatees chomp their way through several kilos of aquatic plants every day, and after a thorough disinfect you can feed the juveniles.
The manatees swim over to you when they detect the water movement caused by your hands.
Graceful as you’d expect from a cow with flippers, they decelerate by simply bumping nose first into the wall.
Their mouths are amazing, with the teeth located well towards the back their lips are divided multiple times and our highly dexterous, allowing them to grab and pull food deep into their mouths.
Some of them are particularly fond of belly rubs.
The special milk that the young manatees require is very expensive and not commonly available in Peru. All of it is donated by the Dallas World Aquarium (DWAzoo), allowing these manatees to grow to adulthood.
The last surprise at the center were the Paiche. Anyone visiting Iquitos will see Paiche all over the menus. Whilst we knew it was a fish, a tasty one at that, we hadn’t a clue what it looked like. The two meter juveniles that the center were growing were quite a shock to us.
Capable of growing to nearly 5 meters in length the Paiche are one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. A member of the bony tongue family they can open their mouths to allow their young to hide inside. This has meant that overfishing has seen a vast reduction in their numbers as catching an adult in the wrong months also kills hundreds of fish sheltering in their mouth.
As we were leaving our guide pointed out the wild Pygmy Marmosets (the worlds smallest monkey) and Saddleback Tamarins jumping around in the nearby trees. If you’re heading through Iquitos, take a few hours to head out of town to visit the Manatees and help support this important project.