“Hush, listen to the symphony.”
This is the instruction given by our guide, Neycer Pizango, who cut the engine of our skiff. Trying to be a good student, I sit as still as possible and tilt my head towards the forest canopy. An echo of chattering macaws resounds in the rattle of cicadas. Then the cry of a lobster katydid, or giant lobster cricket, ricochets among the trees. A group of swallows in chorus falls low above the reeds. All around us whining mosquitoes rise above the surface of the water like sentinels.
Experiences like this are why I came to spend four days sailing along the head of the Amazon River and Pacaya Samiria National Reserve with Aqua Expeditions, an adventure cruise line known for a five-star floating experience that takes guests to some of the most biodiverse and hard-to-reach places on Earth. Its itineraries visit destinations like the Galapagos and the Mekong, but the company’s origins are here in the Peruvian Amazon, where its small fleet of ships remains one of the only ways to get this far in the region. You are more likely to come across a canoe laden with yucca en route to Nauta or nearby Iquitos than another tourist boat.
I am here during the peak rainy season, the time of year when the river and its tributaries are at their highest, flooding the forest and driving out the indigenous communities who for millennia have lived half the year on the banks of the Amazon. Entire villages are temporarily submerged. The banana trees give way under the force of the water. But while the river seems to consume the jungle, it also creates new routes from which to view it. The Amazon rises up to 23 feet above its level during the dry months, so from December to May, humans have unique access to the creatures that live high in these trees.
This means that if the many pleasures of Aqua Nera (which include an outdoor plunge pool, masseuse and expansive viewing deck for sipping pisco sours at magic hour) make it tempting to stay on board, it would be foolish to miss it an excursion. My guides – or naturalists, as Aqua prefers to call them – are Pizango, with his musical ear, and Alejandro Enrique Aguilar, who goes by Alex. Both were born and raised along the river, and both have a deep knowledge and understanding of the jungle and its waters. They host lectures on the flora and fauna of the Amazon, explaining how humans have not only co-existed with its ecosystem, but depended on it for thousands of years.
“Nature is part of us,” Aguilar told me early one morning as we set out in search of the area’s famous pink dolphins. When the water is high, they are more concentrated and easier to spot than in the dry season. Momentarily, I catch sight of three as they snort and arch in the scorched marshmallow hues of sunrise before falling back into the unknown.