You cannot drive to Iquitos, Peru, a city that once exported more rubber for automobile tires than any other in the world. The city is a prisoner of the Andes mountains. Access is by plane or by boat up the Amazon River. We arrive by plane, from Miami, via Lima.
Once in Iquitos, our guides, Angel and Roldan, help us onto a thatch-roofed skiff and we motor three hours down the Amazon to our camp on a tributary, the Rio Negro. As we make our way down river, chunks of the bank fold into the water and huge palms belly flop and drift like tiny branches in the swift current. It is the middle of the rainy season and the water is high.
When we arrive, people scatter to nap in hammocks. Angel invites me to ride in the dugout. He is a somber man, with smoldering good looks: angular jaw, high broad forehead, pronounced cheekbones, and smooth skin the color of the muddy water. He paddles until we are alone, dives overboard, and treads water. "How about we play I be the piranha and you be the bait." I dip my finger in the silty water and he bites it. I become nervous, my finger in his mouth. "Take me back," I say. As we walk up the path toward the huts he says, "Meet me at ten tonight."