Cruising the Peruvian Amazon
by, 03-25-2014 at 06:15 PM (2497 Views)
Travel often involves sharing dreams and visions of others.
Such was the case, when we recently returned to Peru. Previous Luxury Link trips have enabled us to spend time in jungle environments including the Ecuadorean Amazon and a variety of venues in Central America, but we had never taken river cruise in Peru.
Some years ago, Luxury Link offered a cruise package aboard an Aqua Expeditions vessel plying the Amazon River in Peru. Not being 'cruise people' per se, we procrastinated on bidding and the auction packages were never offered again.
Francisco Galli Zugaro, CEO and founder of Aqua Expeditions, is a true visionary. He dreamed of delivering unmatched levels of comfort for adventure travelers wishing to visit one of the more remote regions of Peru. His first boat, the Aqua Amazon, was an immediate success attracting guest reservations well in advance of its actual completion. His goal was to explore secluded tributaries of the Amazon in top style.
Time passed and the Amazon dreams faded from our thoughts.
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In 2013, an article in Departure Magazine featured Aqua Expeditions second vessel, M/V Aria. Our interests were rekindled and we decided to schedule this long awaited adventure.
Thanks to Luxury Link, we were able to add Hotel Rio Sagrado and Palacio Nazarenas and extend our Peruvian itinerary.
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Shortly after our LAN flight from Lima touched down in Iquitos, we were met by
Daniel Vasquez, one of Aqua Expeditions original guides, who warmly greeted us and our twenty travel companions.
He smiled and said "don't concern yourselves about the luggage or anything else from now until we say farewell. Just follow me and we'll head to Nauta where Aria is waiting to take you on the adventure of a lifetime."
Our van plodded through the congested streets of Iquitos avoiding scurrying motor taxis (tuk- tuks) darting in and out of bumper to bumper trucks and cars. Driving southwest from Iquitos we arrived at Nauta, turned from the last bit of pavement and headed down a muddy uneven road.
Before us, a large mystical slowly emerged from the misty, foggy, drizzle filled darkness. There was the M/V Aria, somewhat ghostly illuminated; crew members busily loading our luggage, while others quickly greeting us and extended hands to assist in our boarding.
The next five days and four night unfolded into a kaleidoscope of unanticipated exotic encounters and opulent indulgence. Our expectations were exceeded at every turn.
The M/V Aria (and sister ship M/V Aqua) are the most elegant vessels plying the deep
waters of the western Amazon. Each cabin is 230 sq. ft., offering floor to ceiling picture windows, full size beds with high count linens and tastefully decorated with original prints. Each cabin has individually controlled A/C units, spacious bathroom and shower facilities and more storage space then might be anticipated. Comfort at every turn.
Head chef Antonio Desvansconsuelos and pasty chef Sergio Melendez performed pure magic and garnered raves from the passengers with their creations.
Breakfast is served buffet style, offering a wide selection of fresh and exotic fruits and juices (Camu Camu was available every day), cereals, breads and eggs to order.
Lunch is also buffet style, offering at least three hot entrees and a substantial selection of interesting side dishes. Desserts, oh yes, the desserts!
Dinner is table service with two entree choices and variety of side dishes. As we are vegetarians, we were offered a number of choices and suggestions for lunch and dinners. Surprisingly, we were served some of the most creative meals of the cruise. All things considered, the food was extraordinary, especially given the galley constraints.
Most of our sailing was done at night, allowing for a whole new environment and landscape each morning as we drew back our drapes. Nothing ever looked the same and each vista was more impressive than the last. We covered approximately 350 miles during our five days and never grew tired of the experiences.
Daily excursions were anything but ordinary. Boarding 27ft skiffs, a guide and boatman would escort us deeper into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. Most of the jungle lodges built on the perimeter of the reserve use the 'peke peke' canoes to transport guests on river excursions. Noise from their tiny engines often frighten away animals as they approach. Our skiff were powered by 60hp and 120 hp Evinrudes and were skillfully and quietly maneuvered into positions allowing for up close wildlife encounters.
One huge advantage offered by Aqua Expeditions, is their ability to move the mother ship, if wildlife spotting become scarce. During a couple of excursions our guides were not satisfied with the existing wildlife and elected to venture much further than the scheduled itinerary. By adjusting our travels, we encountered more birds, monkeys Amazon pink dolphins, butterflies, capybara, herons , macaws, and sloths. Meanwhile, the Aria, which was in constant radio contact with our guides, was repositioned on the main river to shorten our return time.
Community visitations were especially interesting, both for us as well as the residents. One such stop resulted in a local fisherman sharing an up close and personal experience with an anaconda he had captured that afternoon - rather than kill the snakes, they are welcomed to remain in the area to keep down the vermin populations. At some communities, we disembarked and engaged the services of community members to lead us on explorations. During these hikes, we found real treasures of the jungle; including hard to find frogs, snakes, insects and medicinal plants.
One afternoon we entered a particularly remote lake (only accessible during the wet season). The murky waters were thick with hungry piranha. In less than a hour, we hooked and released more than 30 of the toothy creatures. Finally we caught and boated a fairly large specimen. As we headed back to the Aria, our guide started making an unusual whistling 'call' toward the tall trees on the shore line.
Soon we spotted a juvenile Black Collared Hawk 'calling' back to our guide . We took a small branch from a low hanging limb and threaded it carefully through the piranha's gill. The 'target' was then set afloat and we backed off about 20 yards to observe. It was a 'National Geographic" moment when the hawk swooped down and grabbed the fish from the water!
So many highlights, champagne sunsets, night time caiman encounters, deep jungle excursions, community visits featuring school age children (Aqua Expeditions visits and supports more than 20 communities throughout the reserve); well the list is exhaustive.
Rather than spoil your possible future trip, we'll leave many details unwritten, so you may fully appreciate your adventure.
The last morning, as we approached Iquitos, our guides offered us a choice of excursions. We could take a skiff and explore the floating Belen neighborhood or visit a down river animal rescue sanctuary. We were told we would likely get rain that morning. If we visited Belen, we could make it back to the Aria, probably without getting too wet. If we went to see the rescues, then a wet open boat ride would probably occur. We went for the rescue center, draped in ponchos, shod in knee high rubber boots and yet we were soaked by the time we returned (totally worth it). Upon boarding Aria for the last time, our drenched clothing was collected and promptly dried and returned to our suites - while we were treated to warm showers and fresh towels!
Any regrets? Should have purchased this trip years ago when Luxury Link offered it.
Of course, we would have saved some money.
P.S. - Thanks to Francisco Galli Zugaro of Aqua Expeditions, his dreams became a reality for us. Soon, Aqua Expeditions will be operating in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Maybe, Luxury Link will offer some cruises for auction - we won't procrastinate this time.