These days when we talk about Amazon, we're probably referring to the mega-selling online site, but I'm just back from a visit to the real Amazon, and it certainly explains why Jeff Bezos chose to name his company after the mightiest river in the world.
Statistics abound: the water flow is greater than the next seven rivers combined. The world's largest drainage basin by far. The estuary at its mouth is 150 miles wide. The Amazon Basin includes parts of nine different nations. No wonder it's sometimes called the "River Sea."
The Amazon is a distant place of jungle and danger, myth and mystery, and Sean Connery movies. Naturally the Mayhem Consultant and I wanted to visit. <G> For several years, I've been eyeing an Upper Amazon cruise offered by the partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society.
The cruise boat, DELFIN II, (delfin means dolphin) is small and specially designed for river cruising. With only 14 passenger cabins that hold 28 passengers, the week long cruise really does feel rather like an expedition--albeit, a very comfortable one.
We explorers gathered in Lima, a very old city worthy of a blog in itself. After a night's sleep and a brief city tour, we flew to Iquitos, a sizable jungle city where motorcycle rickshaws called motocars are the main transport. We boarded our boat at Nauta, then sailed off into the night--and off the grid. No wifi, no cell phones. That was really rather relaxing.
The boat is never anchored because the river bottoms are all silt, with no rocks to hold an anchor. So the Delfin nudges into the river bank and is tied to a tree--very low tech. <G> It's pretty exotic to wake up your first morning to find tropical vines and trees smack up against the wide window! (You can see our window frame on the left in the picture.)
The Amazon is generally considered to start when the rivers Marañon and Ucayli join together. Both of these are LARGE rivers--larger than the Danube we sailed on in September. Nauta, our embarkation port, is on the Marañon, and we sailed through the joining of the rivers into the Ucayli. When we entered the Amazon proper, the ship's emergency horn sounded briefly. I noticed because it was -right- outside our door. <G>
There was regular river traffic, everything from dugout canoes to river ferries. The Delfin carried three 10 passenger skiffs, and several times a day each ventured forth with passengers, a driver, and an amazingly knowledgeable naturalist to spot wildlife and explain the jungle around us.
The naturalists were all local, and some had grown up in primitive riverside villages. (Their stories of how they got the education and credentials to become naturalists were truly impressive.) The best rides were way too early in the morning, when wildlife is most active, but we had multiple opportunities to explore the many tributaries, oxbow lakes, and lagoons.
Wildlife watching in Africa is more dramatic because really, how can even a macaw in flight upstage a herd of zebras? But the Amazon is justly famous for its vast array of bird life, and a sky full of nighthawks taking off all at once from a bare tree is truly striking. As are the fishing bats, with 20" wing spans as they swooped around our skiff when we returned to the Delfin at dusk.
We saw leaping dolphins, both pink and the smaller Amazon gray dolphins. We learned that while piranhas do sometimes attack humans, the Hollywood image of cows being stripped to their bones in mere moments is a myth. And when it rained on a skiff ride, very encompassing ponchos were instantly handed out to us. <G>
One thing I particularly wanted to see was giant water lilies, and on the last day, I did. It wasn't their blossoming season, but they're still pretty darned impressive!
The River Folk
We visited villages of ribeñeros, those who live on the riverbanks, and they were lovely, friendly folk. They liked waving at us almost as much as we liked waving at them. <G> We met with a local advocacy group, Minga Peru, and women told us how they were being empowered to improve their lives. Lucho, our terrific expedition leader, encouraged us to contribute money toward building the group a meeting place, and we passengers more than exceeded the goal that was set because we were so impressed by the work being done.
Daytime temperatures were in the 80s, which wouldn't be bad if humidity wasn't in the 90%+ range. So it was pretty sticky, though not awful, particularly if the sky was overcast, which it often was. Definitely there were bugs, but my insect shield shirt and pants from L. L. Bean served me well, along with some repellent. The ship itself was very comfortable, with most areas except an open lounge air conditioned, and lots of gleaming wood and pale colors.
And we ate very, very well, with beautifully decorated tables and mixtures of familiar and unfamiliar foods, including juices and ice creams made from tropical fruits I'd never heard of such as the cocona and camu camu. Juice pitchers at breakfast had a cut piece of fruit in front of them so we could see what we were drinking. Sliced tropical fruits also joined pineapple and watermelon on the fruit tray. A couple of things were served that virtually no one would touch (some sort of river snail that looked like a chewed up rubber gasket comes to mind <G>), but there were always other choices, and no one went hungry.
Since this was our vacation, the MC and I didn't go on every skiff expedition because it was also lovely to sit in the open lounge with our e-readers and feel the breezes blow through as we admired the river and the jungle. (I prefer print, but it's hard to beat an e-reader for vacation entertainment!)
Monkeys were the most viewing fun, and we saw five different varieties. On the very first day, one of the skiffs rescued a wet, hungry baby squirrel monkey only about two weeks old. He was brought back to the boat, fed and cuddled, and instantly became the darling of the cruise. Here's a picture of him asleep in Lucho's arms. Later in the week he was transferred to a natural farm where he would be fed and looked out for but allowed to roam free so he could return to the jungle. We missed him. <G>
On the last day, we visited a monkey island where several pet monkeys had been released by people who no longer wanted them. The island was opposite an eco-lodge, and the monkeys were flourishing. We arrived bearing gifts in the form of small bananas which the naturalists stuck onto the branches so the monkeys would zoom in.
I asked our naturalist, Rudy, if the monkeys ever jumped in the boats. He hesitated, then said yes, which is why we backed up after he placed bananas. At one point, the monkeys came so fast that Rudy said they regarded him as a piñata. <G>
I've already gone on too long, so I'll stop here, though I reserve the right to talk about Lima someday. I'll just summarize that it was a great trip to a magical place in a great country, and I'm very glad I had the opportunity to visit.
Would you like to visit the Amazon, or Peru, or some other distant jungle? Have you been to such a place? What would your dream vacation be? I'd love to know, because sometimes those dream vacation can true!