Adventures in the Amazon: Life on the River

After spending the morning in the Belen Market, I was more than ready to truly get my Amazon Adventure underway. I’d been in Iquitos for a full day, and while I found the jungle city a fascinating place, I was eager to get out on the river itself.

I planned to cruise the river, along with a small group of other travelers, aboard a boat called La Turmalina for a week. The ship operates out of Iquitos and is one of the few that gives tourists access to the Amazon. Built almost entirely out of wood, and painted in bright colors, La Turmalina is styled after the 19th century river boats that once roamed up and down the Amazon, providing access to the region in a time before air travel.

I’ve mentioned the incredible diversity of life in the Amazon in previous posts, but heading out onto the river really brought that home. We were minutes out of Iquitos when we spotted the first river dolphins, and the number of colorful bird species increased immediately as well. Even more impressive than the animal life, which would come to include a variety of lizards and monkeys in the days ahead, was the flora. With more than 40,000 species of plants growing in the Amazon, and more being discovered all the time, you can imagine how lush, colorful, and diverse the rainforest can be.

Amidst all that incredible diversity and stunning amount of life, the one creature I was surprised to see in such abundance was man. Make no mistake, once we set out from Iquitos, there were very few settlements of any size, but there were plenty of small huts, suspended above the river on stilts, lining the banks and throughout the day there was a constant flow of boat traffic, with local inhabitants paddling up and down the waterways.

Life for these river dwellers is, as you can imagine, fairly simple. The Amazon, both river and jungle, provides them most of what they need, although they make occasional trips into the nearby towns to trade for goods they can’t find themselves. They gather items from the rainforest or craft handmade goods to trade, and make the journey in simple dugout boats.

Most of the river huts that they live in are little more than simple wooden shacks with thatched roofs. A few have small generators for power, although most do not, and when the sun sets, darkness brings an end to their day in more ways than one. Those constructed right on the river are built on stilts to deal with the changing levels of the water, while the homes on higher ground sit on dirt floors with primitive living areas. The river provides for their water needs and they cook over open flames, much the way it has been for hundreds of years.

The people that live along the Amazon have a great respect for the river and jungle. They know that it provides them with everything they need to live, and they have a great understanding of how the variety of plants can be used for medicinal and herbal purposes. They are careful to maintain the environment, as it is their home, and they want it protected for the future. Something we could all learn from.

Next: Birdwatching in the Amazon

Read more Adventures in the Amazon posts HERE