Today we continued our exploration of the Peruvian Amazon and added a new dimension to it; we visited a local community and got the chance to interact with and learn from some of the people there. But shortly before that, we went to a small lagoon nearby to admire an impressive plant, the giant water lily. Also known as the Victoria regia, its floating leaves — five feet in diameter — maximize the plant’s exposure to sunlight and completely cover the lagoon. They also provide a platform for aquatic birds and amphibians, as well as shade and nursery grounds for a myriad of fish and other water creatures.

Afterward, we visited the small community of San José de Paranapura, located alongside the Ucayali River and founded in 1848. Home to about 150 souls, San José is a nice clean place with electricity, a water filtering plant, an elementary school, and lots of orchards around it. The locals grow bananas, coconuts, papayas, and many more delicious fruits. Here the local wildlife, including a troop of squirrel monkeys, can also get a meal. The people here are extra lucky, as they are the proud neighbors of Don Román, a traditional medicine man. And we were lucky too, because Don Román regaled us with a very interesting talk about some of the plants that he has been using for decades to treat the health problems of people from San José and other communities nearby. He showed us many of the leaves, roots, and tubers that he uses, and some of the beverages that he prepares with them. We learned about uña de gato, sangre de dragon, and ayahuasca, among others. We also learned about the vital role that he and his colleagues play in these remote areas, many hours or days away from the nearest medical facility.

During the afternoon we boarded our skiffs and went exploring Yarapa Creek, where we admired such amazing creatures as black-collared and great black hawks, wattled jacanas, and Amazon kingfishers. We also visited an island where monkeys that were previously kept in captivity were released and now live free. We had some exceptionally good views of a group of woolly monkeys — including a female with her baby, an encouraging sight. Lots of other species of birds and monkeys contributed for another great day exploring the Peruvian Amazon.