An Amazon River Adventure Cruise, Part III

July 08, 2010
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This is the third installment in a series by Wayne Zanardelli, an IE guest who generously shared notes from his recent Amazon adventure aboard La Amatista. Get caught up with Part I and Part II here.

The captain started the engines at 6:15. It is overcast and extremely humid. Yesterday felt long — I am hoping for more diversity today, and the early group returned and indicated they saw a large number of parrots, macaws and parakeets.

The water current is very swift. The shallow banks of the rivers are being constantly eroded by the current, causing the trees and vegetation to collapse into the water. We see examples of it every day — trees leaning precariously over the water.

We leave at 9:30 and will be taking a shortcut along a different body of water. How our skiff drivers navigate this place is amazing since it all looks alike in every direction — brown water and thick, impenetrable jungle.

The service on the ship is first rate. Everyone is very helpful, always polite, always smiling.  We are always greeted by name and everything is spic and span.

Our pilot left the main river and turned into a narrow tributary.  As soon as we turned into the tributary, we saw more pink dolphins. We continued up the waterway and it felt like I was truly in the real Amazon for the first time — the thick, tall jungle surrounds you here and it is strangely quiet except for the birds and the occasional monkey. The water is crystal clear and is called "black water" since it is deep and clear and appears black as you look into the water from the boat. The surface is like a mirror. As we continued, we came to an area of dense vegetation covering the water’s surface and it went on acre after acre. The vegetation is water hyacinth in full bloom with large purple flowers standing erect above the greenery. Also part of this dense collection is water lettuce, a non-edible, small smooth leafy plant. These enormous masses float on the surface and are not anchored by roots to the bottom which is 20 feet down this time of year. Our pilot pushed against the mass with the bow of the skiff until a large section would start to move. He would reverse the engines to pull back and clear the props of vines and then push forward once again until he cleared a channel. It was a tedious procedure of slow, incremental progress, but amazing to see.

We saw a large number of bird species, several types of monkeys, tree sloths and frogs. The air was very still with temperature and humidity off the charts. Whew! Our guide handed us a chilled washcloth to cool off and freshen up. It was heaven.

Another tidbit: Each evening on the observation deck, e have a band made up of our guides, Victor and George, the expedition leader — Hernando, the chef — Pepe, and two cabin boys who play the keyboard, guitar and wooden flute. They play well, but are greater entertainers. The guides have an encyclopedic knowledge of anything that grows or lives in the rainforest. It is truly uncanny since there are 1,600 bird species alone. Their stories and insights about the people, their culture and the land are fascinating. Both George and Victor were born in the rainforest and grew up there until moving to Iquitos for their education. While both guides have accents (Victor heavier than George), both have a rich English and scientific vocabulary.

A small glimpse of American culture: Hernando was whistling the theme song from Sesame Street yesterday. I laughed since I recognized it immediately, but wasn’t sure I could have come up with the melody on my own.