Story and photos by Lisa TE Sonne
To get closer to the Amazon’s wildflowers, my friend Beth and I paddled toward the reeds in a hand-carved, wooden canoe, with Rosa, an engaging Riberaňo and her seven-year-old daughter Rosita. In every direction beyond our simple vessel, we saw no signs of humanity. Just green lushness, birdlife, and the dark reflecting waters.
Not far away, but out of sight, was a motorized skiff. Another quarter mile away, our “mothership” the Aria, floated on the Amazon.
The phrases “Amazon river” and “Amazon jungle” conjure images of adventure, wildlife, and, for some, dreadful discomfort – bugs, humidity, heat and dirt. Was it possible to explore some of the nature and culture of this “bucket list” destination in comfort and safety?
The folks at Austin Adventures (http://www.austinadventures.com) connected me with Aqua Expeditions. Aqua offers two small floating boutique hotels as home bases for excursions and interactive experiences for three-, four-, or seven-day cruises with diverse and tested itineraries built so that people of different ages can find things to enjoy.
By the end of our cruise to the headwaters of the Amazon with the convergence of the Ucayali and Maraňon Rivers I witnessed pink river dolphins before breakfast, photographed an anteater’s long tongue darting out (before it fell out of its tree), and caught a piranha fish. I had also enjoyed a rainbow arc above village school children singing, and talked with a naturalist, Roger, who spoke four different languages – English, German, Spanish, and his birth language, which is now known by only 25 families in his village, several hours away. On his days off, Roger makes his children practice speaking with his parents so the language doesn’t die.
At animal rescue centers that re-habilitate orphaned wildlife and abused pets, I fed a manatee from a bottle, hugged a three-toed sloth, had a monkey tug on my camera, and gingerly held the head of 14-foot Anaconda snake that started to wrap part of its thick trunk around my leg (which prompted me to end that experience quickly).
I also had a chance to really enjoy time with Beth, a longtime friend, and meet wonderful fellow passengers occupying the 16 designer suites. Our diverse group hailed from Canada, Japan, Russia, Australia and the US.
As for those possible detractors from taking a trip to the Amazon (dirt, discomfort and insects), here’s how we managed:
Well, we were navigating tropical rivers through one of the greatest jungles on the planet, so, yes I did take malaria pills (no reported cases, just being cautious). I also sprayed my excursion clothes with Sawyers before leaving home. (It had previously served me well, repelling flying insects in Papua New Guinea and other tropical bug spots.) I also used the bug sprays that sat next to sunblock at the tender station on the Aria.
The results? Only one small bite. I never did see huge swarms of mosquitos that I anticipated. And the bugs I did see were magnificent.
On a night excursion, with the full moon weaving between clouds and an occasional firefly flashing, we headed through vines to get to see a “Pink-toed tarantula” about six inches across.
On an early morning bird watching jaunt, the skiffs tied together and breakfast was presented to our collective flotilla as we watched winged creatures above. A guide pointed out a grasshopper on the metal front of a boat and said it was called a “Rainbow Grasshopper.” After others snapped their photos, I got up close when it was back on a leaf. It lived up to its name spectacularly.
Aqua provided rubber boots when trails were muddy, and cleaned shoes and clothes when dirtied. Each suite, with its glorious floor to ceiling window view, had a rain showerhead in the adjoining bathroom. A Jacuzzi with cooling cleansing waters was on the third deck. When we weren’t in our suites, one of the dedicated cabin attendants cleaned up behind us. For most of us, jungle life in the Amazon was cleaner than life at home.
In our air-conditioned suites, we set the temperatures ourselves. After shore expeditions, a cold drink and cold cloth were presented. As an added touch, the cloths had been soaked in a tea of cinnamon and cloves, so it smelled refreshing, too. The bartender mixed anything we wanted, and, for an extra fee, the onboard masseuse worked out any remaining stresses.
This viyage included the extras associated with bigger cruises– cleverly folded towels in animal shapes, a cooking and cocktail demonstration plus educational talks. The crew members on this cruise were all from the Amazon region and were willing to talk about their own experiences. The cruise director, Gabriella, could light up a room. The gift shop she helped run included jewelry and napkin holders made from the Amazonians along our route, and a percentage of the profits went back to the villages.
RETURN TO THE MOTHERSHIP
Post kayaking, the skiff transported us to a wider section of the river where we did our best swan dives into the refreshing waters. “Roger, where are we?” I asked our guide.
He surprised me: “You are in the Amazon River, where there are electric eels, anaconda snakes, and lots of piranha!” It was all for grins. He’d taken us to a safe spot where we were a
tiny spec on the vast network of thousands of miles of jungle rivers, grateful to be so comfortable.
For information contact:
Austin Adventures: http://www.austinadventures.com
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