“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” Amelia Earhart
Some friends had recommended an Amazon River Cruise to us. Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times! We love African safaris, so we thought this might be another unusual adventure. It was not an African safari but it was an adventure – instead of lions there were sloths. Instead of game hunters there were naturalists. Instead of open plains there were rainforest treetops. We missed the anaconda but saw the tiniest of glass frogs and held a baby spectacled caiman.
Aqua Expeditions runs a four-day trip on the Amazon, the Pacaya Samira Natural Reserve, in Peru. It starts in Iquitos, Peru where you board the Aria. This is a small lovely boat with large rooms and a full wall of windows on one side. The Peruvian cuisine is excellent and varied. A key highlight of the cruise was the warm and friendly staff of the Aria. They were funny, accommodating and knowledgeable. Many workers were natives of the area who could fully describe life growing up in this remarkable environment. The crew was a pleasure to know.
Days were full of skiff rides into the tributaries of the river searching for wildlife and unusual trees and flowers. In contrast to Africa, the wildlife is up in the treetops and not interested in you! They are noisy and active and have lots of camouflage – it is not easy for the avid photographer. We heard Horned Screamers, Red Howler monkeys, various Macaws, Capuchin monkeys and Woolly monkeys to name a few.
During off times, there were demonstrations in cooking and lectures about nature and natives. We learned how to make ceviche, to create the perfect Pisco Sour (my favorite) and to fold napkins in the shape of flowers and monkeys.
The Rainforest has a diverse eco-community with extraordinary numbers of insects, snakes, birds and monkeys. From the skiffs, our guides spotted many animals. You could hear them but it took patience and a keen eye to observe. Every evening you could go back to your room and examine the provided wildlife checklist. It is amazing the numerous species of unusual animals. An early morning bird watch allowed us a few glimpses of the pink river dolphin while an afternoon fishing expedition resulted in a successful piranha and catfish catch. Areas of giant water lilies, lavender water hyacinth and water lettuce covered the waterway so it seemed you might jump out of the boat and walk on water.
Our hike in the rainforest arrived with heavy rain. We donned the large water ponchos and rubber boots provided and started our trek. How could anyone survive in this terrain you might ask. A friend recommended the perfect book to prepare for this challenging surrounding, thank you John F.: The River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. This tome chronicled the former president’s exploration of the Amazon territory in Brazil, the hardship in dealing with nature, the wildlife and the hostile natives. Besides being an exciting, riveting tale, the story inspires your imagination, particularly when you stood in the rain surveying the dense jungle around you. We learned about the use of tree bark to make tea that deals with birth control, parasites, infertility and infections. Snakes, insects, vines, mud…but we survived (barely) the 40 minutes and enjoyed the challenge immensely!
Our final experience involved visiting a rural Amazon village to meet the children and bring them greetings and gifts. The village was happy to see us and we visited many homes, the school, the store and the central meeting area. We exchanged gifts (toys, school supplies, grooming kits) and songs and shared some special time talking via the guides with our hosts. That night the crew entertained us with songs and a slide show and lots of laughs and dancing. We departed the next morning with smiles and were surprisingly satisfied with a very special experience. It was particularly heartwarming when the guides thanked us for visiting the Amazon which provides them with the means for a better life.
Two days spent in Lima were also quite full and rich. The lovely Belmond Miraflores was in a perfect location with views of the coast, El Malecon. El Malecon is a six mile stretch of parks situated along the cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean. It is a lovely walk with sculptures and even a wonderful shopping mall. There are also lots of parasailers! We enjoyed our visits to the Larco Museum of pre-Columbian Art with a delightful garden and restaurant, as well as the MATE Museum featuring the photography of Mario Testino. Lastly, we loved visiting the Magic Water Circuit to view the tour of dancing water and lights. Amazing!
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
Recommended reading: The River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Travel guide: Dukie Baxter at Travel Concepts – 914. 277. 8144
All photographs by Carol Santora.