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That time I chased a sloth up a tree in the Amazon

Iquitos, Peru then 3 hours deep in the Amazon
By Nate 6 years ago1 Comment
Home  /  Stories  /  Adventure  /  That time I chased a sloth up a tree in the Amazon


{@}It was a guys trip, my dad, brother, and I. The first part of the trip was in the Cuzco area visiting Machu Picchu, an amazing place. If you ever make it to Peru, make sure to visit both Machu Picchu and the Amazon, both are equally incredible. Let me first get you oriented to our location, we arrived in Iquitos, Peru (where you can only get to via plane or boat), deep in the Amazon rain forest. From there we took a boat over 3 hours deep into the Amazon and were staying at this sweet lodge-on-stilts setup. This time of year the whole area was flooded, there was literally no land in sight, and we were on a man-made island of lodges connected by little swinging bridges, and ripe for adventure.

On one of the mornings, we journeyed out on one of the small side channels with our guide, Manuel, on a little skiff to explore the area. After we had been paddling for 15-20 minutes, Manuel pointed off in the distance and said, “I think I see a sloth in that tree over there…” then asked us if we saw it as well. All three of us were straining our eyes to their limit trying to see this sloth, but it was futile, everything looked exactly the same, and frankly I thought the guide was pulling our legs just trying to make things exciting.

Manuel was pretty adamant about seeing a sloth so he directed us directly into the Amazon forest. Remember everything, even the forest area, is covered in water, so we simply needed to start paddling into the rainforest. Manuel got out his machete and just starting swinging and carving us a path through the thick vegetation. We kept paddling at least 70-80 yards into the vegetation and we arrived at a tree, a tree that looked like any of the other hundreds of trees we had just passed, and Manuel said, “I think this is the tree, is this the tree guys?” I remember confusedly staring at my dad and brother, and they looked back at me with the same stare. I was thinking in my mind, “This is about 60 yards further into the rain forest than I had even considered looking…I have no clue if this is the tree Manuel had thought the sloth was in…”

Manuel decided this was indeed the tree, and had us paddle right up to it and he proceeded to shimmy up the tree climbing out of sight. Now we could speak freely and all of us were saying the same thing, “There is no freaking way there is a sloth up in that tree, this guy is just having fun with the gringoes…”.

A minute or two later and Manuel yells down to us, we can’t see him at all, but we can barely make out, “I found the sloth!”, then he cries out to me, “Nate grab your camera and get up here.” You see I had a nice DSLR camera with a super zoom lens and Manuel was excited for me to get some nice shots of it. I looked at my dad and brother with a look of, “Should I climb the tree?” we are also all still thinking, “Is this guy just pulling our legs…”, with Manuel continuing to yell down I only had a few moments to decide and figured, “What the hell, when am I ever going to have another chance to climb a tree in the Amazon rain forest to chase a sloth…”

I started up the tree trying both to brace my nice camera, and to not fall into the murky amazon water below. I went up about 20 feet, and all the sudden I hear Manuel cry out, “The sloth is coming down!” Now, as most of you, I have had no prior experience with sloths, and I know very little about them, expect of course that they are supposed to be incredibly slow. But even taking this into account, I must admit I was still freaked out. I was 20 feet up a tree in the middle of the Amazon rain forest with a sloth, that I still could not see, headed towards me.

I am peering up straining my eyes wondering where the heck this sloth is…all the sudden I see this brownish fur ball shape coming towards me not at an incredible speed, but definitely not at the slow speeds I had always heard about. As it gets closer I realize it is falling down the tree, and I am thinking “Crap, the poor sloth is falling and going to die.” I soon understand though, that it is actually a controlled fall, it is rolling down the branches, this is how it makes up for its slow speed, it uses gravity!

I was so freaked out by the wild sloth headed right for me that I barely even had time to get my camera up, luckily I was able to get one picture off. Then the sloth was past me and still heading down right towards the water, and “plop”, it rolled right into the water below. Again I started worrying about the poor sloth, I figured this thing is going to drown, but its head popped up and it started this slow methodical swim strokes. The best way I have always been able to describe it was kind of like how the Terminator moved, slow, methodical, but with a ton of strength. The sloth continues these calculated strokes over to the closest tree, and then proceeds with the same methodical movement to climb the tree. I am definitely relieved the poor sloth was able to make it out of this experience alive, albeit soaked to the bone.

But it doesn’t end there, all the sudden I hear Manuel flying down the tree with his own version of a controlled fall, he is very excited about something, and he says, “I want to hold the sloth!” He quickly gets past me, and jumps in the boat, they paddle over to the other tree, leaving me stranded in the original tree. Manuel paddles right up to the sloth, and he starts trying to pull him out of the tree. He is very adamant about wanting to hold the sloth, but try as he might there is no way he is getting that sloth out of that tree, sloths are slow, but they have freakish strength! Those large claws and inner sloth strength kept it glued to the tree. After a couple minutes Manuel gives up, and they swing back around to pick me up. Who would have thought Manuel really had seen that sloth so far off in the trees…

Sloth header Image thanks to Charles Peterson.

  Adventure, Funny,
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Nate is an avid traveler and adventurer. He has been all over the world, and loves to share the vacation stories he has collected over the years.

  • nate_mv

    This really was an awesome experience!