An Amazon River Cruise Adventure, Part II

June 17, 2010
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This is the second installment in a series by Wayne Zanardelli, an IE Guest who was kind enough to pass along observations about his latest Amazon cruise. Read Part I here.

We landed in Lima at 5:00 AM, cleared passport control and customs and were met outside for our ride to the Swissôtel. The hotel is beautiful; too bad all we have time for is a shower and a change of clothes. We placed our bags outside our rooms at 8:30 and were downstairs to meet the rest of the group, a group with a lot of “birders.” We’ll have lunch at 12:00 and leave for the airport for our flight to Iquitos at 1:30. I am whipped.

Lima is very, very big geographically with a gazillion buses, give or take, of all shapes, sizes and conditions. We boarded a large, modern bus and drove to our first stop, the oldest home in Lima located in the center of the town. It was built in the 16th century and has been in the same family for 16 generations. We entered from a side street through an inconspicuous door that led to the only parking spot on this street behind the walls of the home. The home was deceptively cavernous because of the front access. It was filled with priceless antiques from over 500 years and intricately carved wooden furniture, moldings and picture frames. It was a bit much for my taste, but beautiful nonetheless. Every wall was adorned with a huge picture complete with large ornate wooden or brass frames. The center of the home was an open two-story skylight with a three-tier fountain on the ground floor and a huge old tree pushing toward the sky past the roofline. It was elegant old-world.

We next walked to the oldest cathedral in Lima founded by Fransisco Pizzaro and logically called the Lima Cathedral. It was another example of over-the-top wood carving on every wall with cedar being the wood of choice.

Next up, a church and then a monastery where the bones of 20,000 dead are on display in the catacombs, neatly arranged in bins by type of bone, i.e. femurs, tibias, ulnas, clavicles, skulls, etc. It’s a tad ghoulish, in my opinion. Thankfully, the practice of burying someone below the monastery is no longer allowed.

The city has a number of beautiful and interesting town squares that were very attractive. They help brighten up the rather gloomy surroundings.

We left for the airport and all flights were on time. We landed in Iquitos at 6:00 after a 90-minute flight. It was a very cloudy day which obscured any view we may have had of the Andes Mountains. It was 88 degrees when we landed. There is only one road through the jungle from Iquitos to Nauta, our destination. Nauta is a jungle town of 16,000 located in the middle of nowhere. The trip is a 90-minute drive along a narrow two-lane asphalt road that took 30 years to construct by cutting through the jungle. It is from there we will board skiffs to cross the river to our boat, La Amatista.

Along the road we passed a number of small settlements along with squatters that migrated to this area from other parts of the rainforest. Electricity in Nauta is supplied by diesel generators. Everything in this part of the world is brought in by river barge — cars, buses, machinery, building supplies, food, fuel and clothing and you name it.

It is very dark — jungle dark — and the southern sky is alive, sparkling with millions of bright stars. What a sight.

We had dinner on board at 9:15. I am exhausted. The captain pulled over and tied up to a tree at 10:30. He won’t start the engines again until 5:00 AM giving everyone the ability to sleep without the loud engines running. That is the procedure every day. Oh, and anchors don’t work here — the bottom is heavy with silt and the current too swift. How the captain manages to navigate at night in this ever changing, unmarked waterway is a mystery to me.

Breakfast was at 7:30 in the dining room. It was very good and the dining room is very nice with floor to ceiling windows all around enabling everyone to watch the luscious scenery drift by as we enjoy our meals.  hey manually ring a large brass bell for meals here. It may sound like a corny idea, but it is actually kind of nice.

The river is huge and we are only in one of the many tributaries. Along the river bank there are small villages here and there usually comprised of four to 10 poorly constructed wooden shacks on stilts with thatched roofs and we see kids, lots of kids waving as we go by. These small settlements do not have electricity, as you may have guessed, and no pure drinking water, but worse, no easy access to anything except the river.

Our first outing started at 9:00 AM. Boarding was easy even though La Amatista and the skiff were moving quickly through the water. We passed a number of solitary, poorly constructed shacks built on stilts near the river bank. They live on a parcel of land that will soon be claimed by the water, so they move and move and move to higher ground and rebuild their huts and clear the land (slash and burn) and plant their meager crops. There were many of these isolated houses, but all were separated by long distances.

Along the way we passed by a small village where the banks of the river were lined with grapefruit trees all heavy with fruit.  Grapefruit grows wild here, but these were planted by the villagers.

I am living out another of my fantasies. I consider the Amazon River and rainforest a natural wonder of the world and the last great untamed frontier for man with the potential to change the world in many ways.