Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Peru - Part 2!

The Amazon

The next day, Thursday, June 13, we headed for our first real adventure on this trip, a 5-day boat journey in the Amazon rainforest of northeastern Peru.  We would fly from Lima to Iquitos, drive for an hour and a half to Nauta, a small frontier town on the Marañon River, and then board our luxury 8-passenger boat, the Delfin I.

Except for the fact that our plane out of Lima was 2½ hours late (which meant we would arrive in Iquitos after dark rather than in the afternoon), that the only food options in the terminal were fast food joints, that the terminal was cold, and that Sandra was sick with nausea and diarrhea, our leaving Lima was without incident.

With all that, as promised we were met in Iquitos by the Delfin people and transported to the boat with a minimum of inconvenience.  Our traveling companions were two friendly couples, from N. Carolina and the Netherlands, and two elderly Italian women from Milan.  They were on the aloof side and mostly hung out with themselves even though one spoke pretty good English.  They weren’t a problem for us but they did challenge the patience of Luis, our tour guide, with complaints and demands over and beyond the call.

The Delfin was wonderful.  Top of the line.  Spotless, spacious, comfortable to a fault.  A bar and sitting area on the top deck.  A lovely dining room.  Two cabins each on the middle and lower decks.  We had booked a cabin with a hot tub on the lower deck, but since the hot tub water wasn’t heated we didn’t use it.  Didn’t matter.  Our cabin was terrific.  And service on the Delfin was impeccable.  Whenever we left the cabin for a meal or excursion it would be cleaned and straightened up in our absence.

Our food was consistent with the rest of the Delfin experience – excellent.  Every meal was creative, tasty and gourmet quality.  They even changed the décor in the dining room frequently so that each time we ate it was a subtly unique occurrence.

The boat was on the move frequently, up and down the Amazon and tributaries.  Our main destination was the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve, five million acres of protected, flooded forestland, which is difficult to reach and requires special permission to enter.  Each day was similar and different.  We would usually leave the Delfin and board a skiff twice a day to explore one place or the other, looking for flora and fauna.

Luis was masterful in spotting birds, animals and plants we’d never have seen otherwise.  A three-toed sloth, monkeys, macaws, butterflies, egrets and other birds, dolphins, caimen, flowers, and more.

One day we visited a village and later a local market.  While these events were orchestrated, I didn’t find the people so much on display that it was demeaning for them or offensive to us.  The village seemed in pretty good shape.  Simple houses built on stilts with thatched roofs.  No signs of malnutrition.  Friendly adults and inquisitive children.  Pigs, chickens, a few dogs.

The main event during our visit was a gathering of kids at their school.  They sang songs, asked and answered questions, and were given small gifts that we had brought – paper, pens, balloons, etc.  Luis visits this village regularly and has created a small charity to help keep the kids in school and to encourage higher education.  His effort seems authentic and appears to be making a difference.  At the end of our time in the Amazon we made a financial contribution to support the work he is doing.

The market, set up for our benefit, featured several dozen mostly women selling pictures, trinkets, mementos and table items like placemats, napkin holders, etc.  Sandra managed herself quite well and only bought a few small things.  I don’t know how often the market is set up, but in all likelihood the clientele would only be tourists.  I doubt it is a serious source of income for the sellers.

Hours on the skiff left me with a sore lower back and tired legs.  In addition, my stomach was not behaving properly.  None of this put me out of action, but I was usually not very hungry, which meant I left some very good food uneaten.

We chose a very good time for an Amazon excursion.  The rainy season and high water mark happened about six weeks before we arrived.  Water lines on the trees were a visual reminder of how high the water gets and how much it had receded – as much as 15’ in some places.  Still, the smaller tributaries had enough water for us to access where we wanted to go.  Luis said that in another two weeks the water wouldn’t be deep enough for the skiff.

On our final afternoon we went to a place where swimming was possible.  Only Ron, our North Carolina man, accepted the challenge.  Then we did a little fishing.  A few people caught small piranhas; Sandra and I had nibbles but didn’t land anything.  We ended that day in the middle of the big river blessed with a gorgeous sunset.  The water, as it was throughout our visit, was calm.  It was quiet and peaceful.  An idyllic experience.

The next morning, Monday, June 17, we had our last skiff excursion, packed, and headed back to Nauta, where we would disembark and drive to Iquitos.  On the way back to Iquitos we stopped at a Manatee Rehabilitation Center.  Apparently, when these large, gentle aquatic mammals are young they often need tender loving care to survive.  The Center has been successful in nurturing them and then releasing them back into the wild.  It was fun to see these creatures – and to help feed them.  Rather than head out that afternoon we were going to stay in Iquitos for two nights and spend the next day seeing what this rather remote river town was like.  We arranged with Luis to be our guide for half the day.


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