A tale of shamans and sad­dle­backs

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - GADGETS -

is so­phis­ti­cated and cre­ative, with ex­otic de­lights such as ar­moured cat­fish caviar, fresh muy­aca berries and grilled paiche, a huge Ama­zo­nian fish. Wine from Ar­gentina and Chile flows freely at meal times.

The high­light of the cruise is the skiff ex­cur­sions, held twice daily and led by four knowl­edge­able riberenos (or river dwellers) who grew up on the banks of the Ama­zon.

Most of our time is spent in the Pa­caya Samiria Na­tional Re­serve. The ex­cur­sions start early, of­ten be­fore break­fast.

Our first morn­ing on the river brings us pink dol­phins, squir­rel mon­keys, three-toed sloths and igua­nas cam­ou­flaged on a lowhang­ing tree branch. Blue and yel­low macaws, caracaras and hawks glide above the tree­tops.

Our guides are hu­mor­ous and in­for­ma­tive. We learn that igua­nas taste like chicken and pi­ra­nhas are not the vi­cious man-eat­ing crea­tures por­trayed in Hol­ly­wood movies. At Moringa Lake, we an­chor among the reeds to fish for red-bel­lied pi­ra­nhas. The gear is ba­sic: a stick with a piece of string, hook and a tiny piece of meat. Only a few of us catch a pi­ranha but the guides keep hook­ing them in.

As it’s high-wa­ter sea­son and most of the for­est is flooded, the skiffs carry us deep into the jun­gle, closer to the tree­tops than if we had been on foot. It gives us the chance to glimpse sad­dle­back tamarinds with bushy mous­taches, night mon­keys and squir­rel mon­keys, which eat mos­qui­toes and cock­roaches. Even so, most sight­ings are from a fair dis­tance and binoc­u­lars or a cam­era with a good zoom are es­sen­tial.

One ex­cur­sion that doesn’t re­quire binoc­u­lars is a visit to San Fran­cisco vil­lage on the banks of the Mara­non River, a trib­u­tary of the Ama­zon.

We gather in groups in the vil­lagers’ homes. I visit the home of 38-year-old Se­gundo and his 25-year-old wife, Ma­gale, who is frying fish for the evening meal. Their three chil­dren stare at us cu­ri­ously.

From Se­gundo, we learn that the vil­lagers are fish­er­men and farm­ers, who grow corn, pa­paya and rice. Se­gundo grows bananas, which he sells in Nauta, a town along the river.

The money he earns is used to buy kerosene, sand­stone and medicine. Rain and river wa­ter is col­lected for drink­ing and bathing. Each fam­ily con­trib­utes $US5 ($A5) a month to buy diesel for a com­mon elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tor.

The vil­lagers prac­tise a form of

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