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The Greatest Amazon (River) Experience

Abby Suplizio

River Boat
Amazon Star

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The Greatest Amazon (River) Experience

Abby Suplizio

I have a new happy place, and it's called the Amazon—a place where everything is alive! The air is a symphony of cicadas, jumping fish, fluttering butterflies and buzzing dragonflies, and the cries of unseen birds. Elusive animals, amazingly adapted to life in the lush rainforest canopy, are abundant. To travel through the legendary Great Amazon Basin is a nature experience you will truly never forget.

Stepping off the plane in Iquitos, Peru, I felt a strong rush of warm tropical air. My skin was awash with a tingling sensation, and I was keenly aware that I was somewhere utterly unique. Many exciting experiences were to come in the days ahead as I explored the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve—a corner of the isolated labyrinth of channels containing the planet’s largest body of fresh water. A vast protected wilderness with about 200 small villages and countless animals, the Reserve’s water levels rise and fall 40' between seasons and 95% of this area is underwater during the high water season. More species are being discovered in this region every day, and there is much to explore.

I think of the daily excursions as game drives by water, and my favorite moments were when our guides silenced the skiff engines in the small tributaries. It was there that I discovered you do not merely see the Amazon… you feel it. I felt the Amazon against my skin, and I soaked in the warm, indescribable scent of the wet forest surrounding me. Were those really all birds that I heard? The guides explained the occasional melancholy call piercing the sky was the tinamou, yet the constant buzzing just over the trees was cicadas. The birds were so very quick, revealing a bright flash of color—vivid and mercurial—before skittering away. Though not a serious birder, I couldn’t help but admire the colorings and incredible birdsongs.

Pink dolphins appeared on several days, coming out only for the occasional breath and allowing us mere glimpses of their shimmery blush-colored skin, yet one day we were greeted by very playful and active grey dolphins. Leaping out of the water—seemingly for our entertainment as well as their own—some performed a full breach while others silently glided past. Wildlife encounters weren’t limited to daylight hours, though, and one of the most exciting excursions was in search of caimans and other nocturnal animals.

To give more personal context to the environment, we stopped by two villages to meet the locals and get a glimpse into their lives. We had the privilege of joining in schoolhouse activities with the children of a small village, we toured the kitchen and main living area of a home, and we visited a local shaman for insight into the local plants used as medicine. We noticed the people seemed happy, healthy, and not in want of much—and according to our naturalist guide who grew up in the region, one never goes hungry thanks to the abundance of fish and fruit in the Amazon. He felt lucky to have been born there, indeed!

As I look back on my adventure—from the moment I boarded the comfortable 31-passenger La Estrella Amazonica to flightseeing on the final day—I feel privileged as well. Having experienced the Amazon in the company of fantastic guides and fellow travelers who are curious about the world, I have discovered that the wonder of the region is as expansive as the river basin itself. It is a truly enchanting, fascinating, and vibrant world—and I hope to return and soak in that never-ending sense of wonder again soon.

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