Lagunas and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

Departed Yurimaguas 9AM aboard the boat Bruno. Arrived Lagunas 2:30PM, 16April2015.

Riding on the river is a welcome change regarding the increased comfort level as compared to van travel in mountainous areas.  In the vans, which don’t depart until every seat is filled (18 passengers), it is hot, the roads have hundreds of tight curves tossing passengers to and fro, many potholes, and hour long stops along the way (common in the wet season) waiting for road maintenance crews to clear the road of rock slide debris.

P1160829Above: The Bruno ties up in Lagunas 5 hours after departing Yurimaguas. (Note that there are 3 boats depicted. the Bruno is the one in the middle)

River travel  eliminates many of the discomforts of road travel described above. The river is flat, nearly free of waves or wakes, very little choppiness. There are many, many curves in the river but they are wide ones;  no sense of being tossed back and forth, no potholes,  ‘open air’ travel, and no unexpected road repair stops.

The public transport boats that travel distances requiring an hour or more are made of welded sheet steel and fabricated locally.  They are powered by two very modern 100hp  (usually Yamaha) outboard motors. Such is the Bruno.

It is flat bottomed, with gradually flaring three foot high sidewalls, about 55 feet long, 7 feet wide. There is a roof which extends nearly the whole length. Plastic tarp material is attached the entire roof length along both sides and  is normally rolled up so passengers are exposed to the breezes and the sights. When it rains, often suddenly and in torrents, the sides are rolled down keeping the passengers and gear more or less ‘dry’.  Seat design and comfort vary from boat to boat.  There is a life preserver tied over every seat, one for each passenger.

This kind of travel is not recommended for those who are in a hurry or who are seeking a relaxing, comfortable, ‘vacation’ experience. This is for those who are accustomed to some level of discomfort and who are seeking to experience a special way of Life that is different from modern, more ‘civilized’, metropolitan existence.

An ‘adventure’ is nearly guaranteed if one is willing to experience Amazon river travel the way the people who reside here live and travel. To hundreds of people and families, this way of life is quite normal. To ‘outsiders’ it is an amazing thing; to observe a way of Life that includes such close proximity to the Natural world… 24/7/365.

P1160832Above is  Lagunas: My gear is ported on shoulders to a mototaxi across a raised plank walkway. Sign to left says that the Bruno returns to Yurimaguas at 6PM.

The towns whose banks are on the rivers: Huallaga, Maranon, Ucayali, and the Amazon are accustomed to having ‘high water’ for three months or so every year.

This year the conditions are extreme. Water has risen to levels that have flooded homes and roads directly adjacent to the river bank.  I saw this in Yurimaguas, and in all the towns between Yuri and Lagunas. Where planked docks built on stilts are usually visible, even during ‘normal’ high water season, I saw men and women on these ‘docks’ with water over theirs knees.

Arrived Lagunas 2:30PM, 16April2015. Departed Lagunas (bound for Nauta) 7:54AM, 19April2015.

A lot can happen in 65 hours. My stay in Lagunas and Pacaya Samiria national refuge includes seeing/experiencing  firsthand some of the most prolific animal and plant species as they exist  in their Natural habitat in the Amazon basin.  My stay also included experiencing the truly kind and generous spirits of the people of Lagunas.

Sometimes Life’s adventures can include some amazing high points as well as  very low points, occurring within a short span of time. Such was my experience of Lagunas.

During 29 of those 65 hours I  experienced the most severe asthmatic symptoms ever in my adult life.  My bronchial congestion was so severe that breathing itself was just barely possible. The symptoms began shortly before nightfall at a cabin built on stilts at ‘Pozzo Gloria’, which is a considerable distance into the Pacaya Samiria reserve. My guide; Reiner, had paddled with the current for about 7 hours to arrive at the cabin on stilts, the floor only a foot or two above the water.

Above: Sounds outside my room at the Eco hospedaje during  the afternoon of day of my arrival.

P1160841Above: Morning 18April2015 after my first night in Lagunas, at the start of the canoe journey into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.  There was a downpour from above.

Had not ‘planned’ on a journey to the reserve. During the Yuri to Lagunas boat ride I just happened to be sitting next the president of Huayrurin Tours, based in Lagunas. We chatted briefly. Upon arrival in Lagunas he (Miguel) was kind enough to help me get my gear transferred from the boat to a mototaxi. I had previously decided (from an internet search) that my lodging would be at hospedaje Eco.  I was checked into my room within a half hour of arriving in Lagunas. Miguel invited me to visit his office… and so I did.

I learned that Huayrurin tours is the oldest Pacaya Samiria tour operator in Lagunas. Miguel has spent 40 of his years traveling in the area that is now the reserve. He has other, younger men who do the actual ‘guide’ work now. Miguel tends to the business end of things, managing two offices, one in Yurimaguas and the other in Lagunas. Lagunas only has electricity 5 hours per day; 6PM to 11PM. There is no internet service in Lagunas. Miguel often travels back and forth between Yuri and Lagunas, managing the internet site(s) and reservations received in Yuri.

My visit to the Huayrurin Tours office got me interested in seeing some of the reserve… why not? Who knows when I would be there again? And so… I signed up for a four day tour. It was to include ‘camping’ three nights in the reserve. The first night at Pozzo Gloria… and then the second day it was to include more paddling with the current deeper into the reserve where an even more basic cabin was to be the lodging… the third day was to have been returning to Pozzo Gloria for the night. The fourth day was to have been paddling against the current back to the ranger station where the mototruck would be waiting to return us to Lagunas.

P1160846Above: Guide and canoe handler, Reiner (L)  and the mototruck driver at far (R). The young woman handled the forms needed to give to the park rangers (three forms required… with signatures)

P1160853Above: The mototruck with gear and provisions for a four day journey into the Pacaya Samira reserve.  It was a 30 minute bumpy, muddy ride to get to the ranger station, reserve entrance where we transferred all the stuff into a canoe.

P1160857

 P1160860P1160875After signing into the park ranger registration book, Rainer and I began the canoe trip into the reserve. During the course of the day I and saw and heard an extraordinary number of animals. Spiders, two kinds of macaws, two and three toes sloths, four different kinds of monkey, eight or ten different kinds of birds including raptors, water striders, dragonflies, eight or ten different kinds of butterfly… and while at a small elevated hut where we stopped for lunch held a three pound white piranha, a usual food fish in these parts.

We encountered a few other folks in canoes.. People know each other around here. Strangers are easily identified and don’t go unnoticed nor unreported amongst the local population. Saw a friend of Reiner who had been very successful netting 20 or so edible fish. He would return to Lagunas and sell them.

Above: Macaws in their Natural habitat and sounds of the wooden paddle gently whisking our canoe forward with the current deeper into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.

Above: Report upon arrival at the cabanas. Breathing issue had just begun, and got worse as night and rain ensued.

My asthmatic symptoms began around 6PM at cabin… and continued to worsen through the night. I had taken a (Salbutimol) inhaler with me. I gave myself two doses every half hour throughout the night. It helped very little. I spent the night in my bed surrounded by mosquito netting in the front leaning position reducing the muscular strain and effort required to breathe. I am sure that everyone heard me laboring for breath all night. There were two other people… who prepared the evening meal at the cabin. There was also another guide and his client, a young man from Italy.  There was little point in disturbing Riener during the night as it would probably have not been possible to see enough to paddle the canoe at  night against the current back to the ranger station.

It rained during the night, sometimes very heavily. At daybreak people began to stir. They prepared a fire to cook breakfast. I rose and dressed. I immediately notified Rainer that I would not continue the planned 4 day journey and I needed to return immediately. Everyone could see that my breathing was very labored. Apparently this is not an unknown phenomenon in these parts, even among locals.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw a park ranger had arrived with a motor (a ‘peke peke’) on his canoe. I’m guessing that someone had alerted him that there might be problem. We had to change canoes which required some makeshift field modifications before all gear, Reiner, the park ranger and myself were in the canoe and motoring against the current toward the ranger station/entrance.

My breathing was still very labored and the inhaler had been exhausted… nothing left. Fortunately, in the sunlight, it was not raining, my condition improved slightly.  The motor sometimes conked out unexpectedly and the ranger cursed a few times. Again, we were underway. Took two hours by motor to get back to the station.  Another hour waiting for the mototruck who was expecting us back in two more days.  A half hour more of bouncing through the mud before arriving back at the hostel where I had another inhaler in my gear.

Had not slept at all the previous night. Was glad to be at the hostel in Lagunas, but even so, the Salbutamol inhaler did little to ‘fix’ my breathing. The owner of the hostel, Miguel the president of Huayrurin tours and Reiner, my guide sat with me for a time and were obviously concerned.

When they did leave, I took a shower, tried to sleep but could not. Walked down to the Huayrurin Tour office in the late afternoon to let Miguel know that I understood that my four day fee had been used to buy supplies and things. Had to stop several times along the way to catch my breath.  I let Miguel know that did not expect a refund.

He  saw that I was still not doing well and offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle to a pharmacy.  He said the owner was a friend of his and had seen these kinds of breathing problems… that an uncle had had them and that the only thing that helped was some kind of injection… which his friend had and knew how to administer. I immediately responded: “Vamanos”  (let’s go).

Received the shot in my rump while lying on a cot in the rear of the pharmacy. It was obvious that this man knew his stuff. He asked me if I had used an inhaler… did it work? … other kinds of meds?.. OK. shot time. He said it might take a while to kick in and that the effects would then last for about 12 hours. He was right.

Returned to the hostal. Took another shower. Electricity came on at 6PM as it had done my first night in Lagunas. I packed up all my gear, very slowly as I was still breathing poorly and I knew that in the morning there would be very little light.  I had learned that there is a boat that goes downriver… to Nauta… departing at 8AM the following morning. I would be on it. Miguel, once again, stepped up and offered to pick me up at 7:30AM and to help get me and my gear loaded on the boat.

After all my gear was packed and I was completely prepared for the following morning… all I had to do was get dressed…. I lay on the bed looking at the one tiny bulb and listening to the sounds outside my room. I was exhausted… no sleep the previous night and breathing was still difficult. I must have fallen asleep sometime after the electricity went out. I awoke around 2AM… startled from a very weird dream… but very grateful to discover that my breathing had greatly improved.

P1170005Above: 65 year old Wellington; resident of Lagunas

At 7:30AM Miguel was there with a mototruck as he had promised. Wellington, who I had spoken with at the office and who had recommended that I try mixing honey with wild lemon juice for my breathing. He said he used it every morning and evening for about three months and he said he used to have breathing problems and no longer does.  He rode in the back with me and the young woman from the office. They all came to see me off and to wish me well. Miguel drove the mototruck.

Wonderful, kind, caring, generous people. I have nothing but good things to say about the people of Lagunas.

Yep, a lot can happen in 65 hours… even in the middle of a jungle environment where electricity is a sometimes thing and where plants and animals vastly outnumber human critters.

Was aboard the boat to Nauta just in time… it actually left a few minutes early.  My breathing was very much improved. I was told to expect a twelve hour boat ride. Was very pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Nauta around 6PM… only a 10 hour boat ride.

I have lived to tell the tale… which remains my ongoing intention.

Next: Nauta and onward to Iquitos