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Pink River Dolphins and Hiking in the Amazon Jungle: An Unforgettable Adventure

Getting lost in the Amazon jungle is not something you want to do. And you don’t expect your guide to get lost, but it is obvious when it happens. The peci-peci motor, named after its sound, has a long shaft and small propellor that can be raised and lowered to motor you through the logs and branches in the narrow-overgrown channels connecting rivers to lakes. While your guide traverses through dense vegetation, searching for Lake Christina, you are actively boating, dodging branches, often dropping to the boat floor, and always trying to avoid the ants and spiderwebs waiting for you you around every turn.

A guide using a machete to cut branches in the Amazon jungle.
Not lost. Agusto, our guide, machetes a pathway through the narrow channels.
A small boat in the Amazon jungle.
Active boating. Dodging branches, ants, and spider webs in the side channels.
Kayaking in the Amazon jungle.
A giant. The Walking Palm can provide shelter to smaller animals in the dense mass of above-ground roots.

Lake Christina is small, and when the river recedes in the dry season, the lake gets cut off, and wildlife gets trapped. Isolated piranha gets hungry and angry, making swimming a bad idea, but fishing with a flap of chicken skin can be very productive. Likewise, the electric eels in Lake Mata Mata, named after the trees that line the banks, are not friendly in this 30-foot-deep lake and can wrap around your leg before releasing enough electricity to kill a human. 

A piranha on a hook.
Best bait. Piranha can’t resist chicken skin on a hook.
Eating lunch in a boat.
Quick lunch. No time to cook, so canned meat and mayo on bread are the meal.
A two liter bottle of orange soda.
Flesh? Yes, nothing refreshes like canned meat with crackers and a glass of orange Flesh!

Hiking in the dense jungle around Lake Mata Mata is hot and buggy. The guide seems to know where he is going, but it takes less than a month for the vegetation to reclaim a path, and the guide’s machete is always at work clearing a new trail. While he is hacking away, you constantly spray yourself with insect repellant to keep off the mosquitoes. Yet it does not affect the black bees when they swarm you for interrupting them as you are trying to keep your balance on a log over a creek crossing. When you see your guide start running, you take off like little girls, swatting the bees and pulling them out of your hair.

Hiking in the Amazon jungle.
A narrow path. The jungle can reclaim a trail in about a month.
A giant termite mound in the Amazon jungle.
What “wood” you expect? With all of the food the jungle provides, giant mounds of termites are common.
Hiking in Amazon jungle.
Crossing. Vertical sticks next to logs at river crossings help with your balance.

Needing a place to swim and cool off, the guide takes you to the entrance of Lake Bujuzu (a high point Scrabble word), where the water is 82 F warm, but the current is strong. He whistles the first two notes from Close Encounter, and like a miracle before your eyes, pink and grey river dolphins appear. Wearing a life jacket to protect you from the water flow, you jump in for a closer look as the dolphin comes to the surface for air. They never leap out of the water but get too close for comfort and might even give you a nudge.

Fairytale. Swimming with the pink river dolphins is a dream come true.
Grey river dolphin.
Pink and grey. River dolphins come in two colors and a variety of sizes. Babies, about 2 feet long, are the cutest.

Back in the boat and returning to the Palmari Reserva, the guide stops to pick the bitter Camu Camu fruit growing along the riverbank. After a day of hiking, fishing, and swimming, he knows his way back, and there is no getting lost this time.

Picking Camu Camu berries.
Camu Camu. The bitter fruit, full of vitamin C grows along the river bank.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

The African savanna with three acacia trees.
Amazon Jungle
Costa Rica

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