My second (and last) full day in the Amazon was my day of sight-seeing around the Iquitos city area. Because I was travelling alone, I wasn't able to do the day tours at San Pedro Lodge because they need at least two people, and the other guests had already done them. But because the guys at the lodge are awesome, they arranged for me to take their local guide for a one-on-one day tour, and I was able to create the itinerary myself. That cost me 100 soles (about £25) for the guide, plus entrance fees as necessary.
It was a 6.30am start, to get into the city early enough to see everything. Our first stop was something I've wanted to see since I saw a picture of it as a child. 'The meeting of the waters', where two rivers of different colours meet and run side by side. The confluence of the Amazon river and the Nanay river is just north of Iquitos, literally five minutes by boat. I was expecting to be underwhelmed, because as a child I'd built it up to be something magical. And it wasn't magical, but I wasn't underwhelmed. Mainly because I had finally seen it with my own eyes, and that was special.
We continued from the confluence to the Serpentario, an animal conservation centre on the shore of the Amazon river. They had monkeys which we fed nuts to, and I had to literally unwind one monkey's tail from my arm when it was time to move on. There was a sloth with a baby clinging to its breast, a macaw (a feather from which I still have) and two anacondas, one with a rabbit-sized bulge halfway down its body.
After a photo shoot with each animal, we headed to the river again, this time to meet the native Bora tribe. The Bora, living close to Iquitos, are no strangers to foreigners, Coca Cola or TV (one had a Disney princess bag) but going to meet them in their large hut suspended on wooden stilts above the swollen river was still an experience. They invite visitors to take part in a traditional dance, which was cringey, but interesting. A large part of it was sales tactics. They had a lot of homemade jewellery and small wooden turtles (one of which I bought as 'my thing from Peru'), and my guide explained that they use anaconda skin and piranha teeth in their wares. There was even a blowgun which they showed me how to use. As with most Peruvian salespeople, they were quite pushy. One woman even put an anaconda bracelet on my wrist and said 'Compre!' (Buy!) I did not buy.
It was definitely interesting going to see the tribe, but I did feel slightly uncomfortable with the situation.
Back on the boat, we went pink river dolphin hunting. And I saw several! I didn't expect to see any, but apparently there are rich fish stocks around the river confluence, so we went there and waited. We were rewarded several times with the huff of exhaling as they came to the surface to breathe. They were actually pink! And dolphin-like.
The next stop on the itinerary was Belén market. Belén is a poorer area of Iquitos, so it's advisable to watch your things as you walk through the vast and crowded market. It's like a maze. If I hadn't have had Jino to guide me, I would not have had a clue where to go. But we walked through fish markets; herb stalls, the scent heavy in the air; a table covered in dismembered turtles; meat stands surrounded by actual vultures sitting on the power lines above... There was even an ancient TV showing Abba videos. It's both a treat and a claustrophobic nightmare for the senses, but it was great to see it, and we tried some things for free - a sweet aphrodisiac wine and small snacks made from yucca plant being the best in my opinion.
And the final stop we made was the floating city of Belén. You can hire someone to take you out in a boat to see it. Otherwise there's no way to see it properly. It is what it says on the tin - a floating world where houses, bars, petrol stations and public toilets float together, bobbing with the waves from passing boats. Children were playing in the same filthy water that toilets empty into, women were washing clothes on their doorsteps, feet dangling in the river... It was eye-opening. I hadn't known what to expect, but I'm glad I went there. We also saw giant lilies floating on the water in a quiet straight of water behind a floating bar. I also saw some children catch a fish, which Jino pointed out was a piranha.
It was a packed day, but I saw everything I wanted to. The Amazon is a different world - fascinating plants, manic markets, a natural wonderland crisscrossed by peaceful passageways paved with perfect mirrors through the treetops.
If you have the chance to go, don't let any fears you have get in the way. You won't regret it.