Amazon Riverboat Exploration

After several years of unemployment, taking any job I could get just to pay the bills, I finally got me a good job – so of course the first thing I do is sign up for another expedition with Earthwatch! This time, I traveled to Peru for their Amazon Riverboat Exploration.


Amazon river

Getting there wasn't too bad. I flew from Anchorage to Seattle and then on to Miami where I had a 10-hour layover. Since I had so much time on my hands, I took an architectural tour of their Art Deco District. If you're ever in the area, I do recommend that tour: it was very informative and was a great way to occupy my time.


art deco

From Miami I flew in to Lima and then hopped on to a puddle-jumper to Iquitos, our point of rendezvous for the expedition. Total flight time was just a little bit more than 16 hours, but with that long layover it actually took me more like 33.

Amazon river


I got in to Iquitos fairly early, so had most of the day to spend on my own. I decided to take a tour of the city, arranged for me by the concierge of the hotel I was staying at. Fellow volunteer Allyn, from S. Carolina, joined me even – I actually knew him from my Mongolia expedition several years back, so was quite happy to enjoy his company again.



The tour wasn't quite what I had in mind, since we really didn't get to see the city much at all. But we did get to see the Butterfly Farm & Animal Orphanage: that was cool. We also got to stop in at several touristy "indigenous Indian villages" to look at their crafts. I danced with the natives (but kept my clothes on, unlike the Indians) and even got to blow a dart gun. Most surprisingly, I hit the target even. And not once, but three times!


plantains and grubs

Official rendezvous time wasn't until 8:00 pm that night, so I had time for a nap after the tour. Flying always wears me out, even though this time wasn't so bad. I had a lovely room; if you're ever in Iquitos, I can highly recommend the Casa Morey as a wonderful place to stay.

Casa Morey

Casa Morey

Our dinner was a buffet-style oriental meal, with all 10 of us seated at a long antique table. Casa Morey is full of antiques, by the way. It's a very beautiful place. My fellow volunteers seemed to be all very nice people, and I was looking forward to getting to know them all better during the expedition. John and Linda Huetink (US), Graham and Allison Massey (UK), Sally Summers and Darren Butcher (UK), Allyn Schneider (US) and I (US) were joined by Dr. Richard Bodmar and his son William (UK).

antique mirror


The next morning, bright and early, saw us all loading our luggage onto the bus that was to take us down the road to Nouta where we would board the boat that would be our home for the next 2 weeks. Starting our voyage on the river in Nouta shaves off a good 24 hours of travel time, so it's preferable to starting in Iquitos – regardless of the 2 hour bus ride it takes to get there.



The Ayapua is a fine old lady; built back in 1906 in Germany, she is a rubber-boom epic vessel which Dr. Bodmar has restored to her original splendor. She is used for conservation and research expeditions to some of the most remote tropical forests in the Peruvian Amazon. My cabin was quite comfortable, with two twin beds and my own bathroom - complete with both a toilet AND a shower! Unfortunately, the Ayapua is a bit short: my head just touched the ceiling, and the shower head pointed right at my chest.



Our voyage began with an orientation meeting; Dr. Bodmar explained the safety features of the boat and then moved on to talk about the biodiversity, geography and ecology of the Amazon. We realized two things right away: first, Dr. Bodmar is VERY knowledgeable about all things "Amazon" and second, he loves to talk.

Dr. Bodmer


As we were in transit those first few days and so unable to do our research, we got to enjoy several lectures spaced out intermittently: History of the Amazon and of the research site, Population ecology of Amazonian wildlife, Community-based conservation in Amazonia, Determining sustainable resource use in Amazonia, The importance of monitoring in protected areas of Amazonia, Socio-economics of wildlife use in Loreto and The future of the Amazon forests. By the time we got to our destination we were well acquainted with what we were doing.

John and Linda

Graham and Alison


Sally and Darren

Finally, the morning of my fifth day in Peru, we were ready to begin working. That day, and the following 9 days as well, was spent on a variety of tasks. We got to choose our daily tasks from these surveys:


auxiliary boat

Daily Surveys:
Macaw censuses -- 5:30–9:00 a.m. and 4:00–7:00 p.m.
Biologists: Andy and Roberto
Travel 500 meters(about a third of a mile), pull over, stay still & quiet for 15 minutes, count what you see, move another 500 meters till a 5 kilometer (just over 3 miles) transact has been completed



Transacts -- 7:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Biologists: Jonathan and William
Travel to trail, walk "straight line" for 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles), count what you see, rest for 1 hour, go back and count what you see again.



Fish censuses -- 9:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
Biologists: Kimberly and Roberto and Wilfredo
Travel to chosen spot, set 30 meter (just shy of 100 feet) nets, fish by pole for an hour, gather nets, record catch



Dolphin censuses –- 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Biologist: Kimberly
Upriver = travel by motor 6 kilometers, drift downstream for 5 kilometers (almost 4 miles), counting what you see
Downriver = drift for 5 kilometers counting what you see, then motor back



Caiman censuses -- 8:30 p.m.–midnight
Biologists: Jonathan and Kimberly
Travel to site, motor slowly with spotlight, catch caiman with noose, haul onboard and secure, weigh/measure, release



The Ayapua was staffed by a wonderful crew of locals, which included an excellent cook who provided us with some truly wonderful meals:


Amazon river

Breakfast – 7:00 a.m.
Fresh coffee, tea, milk, toast with jam and butter, cereal, yogurt drinks, fruit drinks, oatmeal, eggs, pancakes, fruits, ham and cheese


Lunch – 1:00 p.m.
Main course of fish, beef, pork, poultry or pasta; salad, soup, rice, potatoes, bread and butter, fruits, fruit drinks, coffee and tea


Tea – 4:00 p.m.
Freshly baked cake, tea and fresh coffee


Dinner – 7:00 p.m.
Main course of fish, beef, pork, poultry or pasta; salad, soup, rice, potatoes, bread and butter, dessert, fruit drinks, coffee and tea


Snacks - afternoons
Biscuits, chocolate wafers, crackers, chocolate bars


Our final day on the expedition was to have been spent visiting with a local Cocama indigenous community – however, due to an unexpected medical emergency (three of our members contracted Dengue) we had to rush back to Nouta. There, the three in question, along with Dr. Bodmar and Magala (the staff Nurse), got a taxi and rushed to the hospital in Iquitos. The rest of us got to spend some time in Nouta, visiting their open market and a pool where we got to feed some big turtles & a gigantic Paiche fish, before loading all our gear back on the bus and returning to Iquitos ourselves.



Due to the unexpectedly rushed return from the field we found ourselves in Iquitos a day early, so Casa Morey gave us all complementary rooms for the night. I found myself in a room that was even more spacious than the one I had the first night, so was quite comfortable – and took full advantage of a hot shower that did not require me to bend over double just to wash my hair!



This also gave us all an extra day to explore more of the city. I and several other volunteers opted to go visit the Manatee Rescue Center, where we got to feed 2 yearlings and visit their snail farm, too. We ended our expedition with one final communal dinner before giving a round of hugs and exchanging addresses & phone numbers. Goodbyes are always so emotional…


spider tattoo

By this time, I discovered that what I had originally taken as a mere mosquito bite on my ankle was in reality something quite worse. I didn't know what it was, but it was most definitely NOT a mosquito bite. It looked like a blister to me, but I didn't know what could have caused it. By the time I got home, 24+ hours later, it had swollen so big I could barely walk. It continued to swell, to the point where I went to my doctor who – amazingly enough – was actually able to tell me what had bitten me.

blister beetle bite

Have you ever heard of a Blister Beetle? Apparently, they live down in the Amazon – and wouldn't you know it, I found one. When I was finally able to talk my doctor in to lancing it for me, it was the size of a silver dollar and perhaps half an inch tall. And yes, it hurt – a lot.

blister beetle bite

blister beetle bite

But all is well – I'm healing and should not have a scar (although I may have a new tattoo, to commemorate the experience!), and have a good 975+ photos to show for my Amazonian experience.



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