From the time we arrived at the airport in Iquitos and were taken to our coach for the ride to Nauta, we were in the capable and highly organized hands of the naturalist team who were leading our Amazon explorations. In my professional career I have encountered many people who were experts in their field, but Juan-Carlos Palomino and Robinson Rodriguez have made an indelible impression on me that I will never forget. How they could spot a tiny black dot high in a tree as we were speeding down river in our motorized skiff, and instantly identify the type of bird, simply blew my mind. Specially when our skiff driver, Darwin, would stop the boat so we could see the bird. Even through my very powerful binoculars I could often barely make out the shape of the black dot- which now just looked like a big bird-like blob to me. But they could point in the bird guide to the exact type of bird. And then when I zeroed in on the image captured (usually by Robinson, for me) on my camera, and zoomed in on the image - there it was. No longer a black blob.
Before supper each night, we were entertained on the upper deck by the ship’s band of whom the mainstays were brothers, Oscar and Edgar Rachi, and Blumer Arica, all of whom sang as well as playing multiple musical instruments. We danced lots of salsa and merengue with the occasional rumba for variation. It was quite a surreal experience to be dancing on a river boat in the Amazon jungle!
We were originally scheduled to travel on La Amatista but two weeks before the trip I received an express letter saying that we were now traveling on La Turmalina. I love the jewel names, amethyst and tourmaline. The two ships are part of a fleet of four, built in the style of 19th century river boats, in the ship yard in Iquitos. La Amatista and La Turmalina can take 30 passengers and the other two, La Esmeralda and La Aquamarina take 17 and 24 passengers respectively. La Turmalina, our expedition riverboat is registered in Peru and operated by English speaking Peruvian Officers and crew. There can be up to 14 crew members. Our group of passengers numbered only 16 which was great for us - never rushed or crowded.
One of my sensible and pragmatic daughters-in-law, on hearing my plan to cruise the Amazon into the jungles of Peru, looked at me bemused and said "why?" Since heat and humidity, bugs and butterflies, moths and mosquitoes rank so far below the bottom of the list of my favorite things - comfortable bed, hot showers, flush toilets and a temperate insect-free environment all placing quite high up - I could understand her bewilderment. But this is my year for breaking thorough the boundaries of my - until recently- very conventional urban professional and family life.
Being this luxury-loving urbanite I had nothing that would be of any use in rainforest terrain, so I had to acquire a few items. Here's what I got, and what did and did not work well for me.
This is the INDEX of posts for the travelblogue of my trip to Peru for a week-long cruise on the Amazon River. I signed up for the Amazon River Expedition travel program sponsored by the University of British Columbia Alumni Association.
From Lima we flew to Iquitos in Northern Peru, took a coach to Nauta and boarded our riverboat, La Turmalina. During this trip we traveled beyond the confluence of the Ucayali and Marañón rivers, visiting the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve (the largest wetland reserve in the world), Pacama village and spending a night in the Kapok Camp.
A small skiff took us on several excursions. They are numbered 1 to 14 on the map which is the key to upcoming posts. Along the way we saw birds, monkeys, river dolphins and a fascinating variety of medicinal plants and trees
From a health perspective, a seven day journey up the Amazon River into the jungle, even on a luxury river boat, is nothing like the luxury cruise in the Mediterranean or Caribbean, that I have taken thus far. The rain forest environment is hot and humid, and vicious little mosquitoes carry nasty organisms that cause malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and other diseases. The first reminder of the isolation and primitive nature of the area into which we will be traveling, came from the disclaimers and advice in the information package from the travel agent through whom we booked this cruise. Then I did some serious reading and decided I needed to speak with a medical travel expert who would be current on what precautions would be needed to keep us fit and healthy.
My travels start with a flight to Los Angeles where I spend the day with my family visiting the Science Centre and the shuttle Endeavour exhibit. Then I join up with my fellow-voyager at LAX to board a flight to Athens. After a brief two day visit to Athens we cruise from the Port of Piraeus through the Aegean, Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean seas, visiting ports in the Greek Islands, Turkey and Croatia before returning to Athens and flying back to Vancouver.
The Verandah Restaurant on deck 2 at the Grand Lobby of the Queen Elizabeth features French cuisine from Cunard's Culinary Ambassador, Jean-Marie Zimmerman. Dining is a la carte but the prices are reasonable for the quality of food and service provided. The ambience is sophisticated and elegant with quietly efficient service.
Once seated and your meal order taken, you are presented with an amuse bouche. When two people are dining, each receives a different amuse bouche.
On cruise day 3 we arrived in Istanbul where the ship was docked overnight. Istanbul, which also has a fascinating history, is a divided city in that part of it lies in Europe, while part is in Asia Minor, separated by the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the largest city in Europe, and as our guide told us, among the world’s most populated city within city limits with an estimated 11 million people. Moreover the actual population is probably even larger than that recorded by census, as many residents return to their home towns for census day and are not counted as residents in Istanbul.
Istanbul was founded by a Greek colonist, Byzas, around 660 BC, and known as Byzantium for nine centuries. Later in 330 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine renamed the city Constantinople. Over the next 16 centuries till modern times it was the capital of four major Empires. These were the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261) and the Ottoman Empire (1453 to 1922). Today though, Ankara and not Istanbul, is the capital of The Republic of Turkey.
On this cruise, I chose to book several excursions as there is so much to see and I was hoping for excellent and knowledgeable guides. However in Lesbos I planned to simply walk around the harbour area of Mytilene and find a taverna to have a lunch of calamari and Greek salad.
Amazingly for this time of year, the weather was again very good- sunny and quite warm. For this dance-camp on board we decided to schedule dance lessons for mid-morning. I was craving the authentic Greek style calamari that I remembered from years past so the plan was to go ashore and find a seafood tavern in the harbor area.
The Queen Elizabeth docked in Mykonos in the new port area, a short drive round the bay from the old port and harbor front area. Shuttle buses were running back and forth between the two areas for most of the day. I signed up for a morning excursion to Delos, a short boat ride from Mykonos.