Avid traveler Wayne Zanardelli has chronicled his adventures to 83 countries in a series of more than 30 journals. Highlights of Mr. Zanardelli's travels include meeting the sons of both Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; a private train trip between Beijing and Moscow; and sleeping in a tented oasis in Tunisia. Now Mr. Zanardelli shares journal excerpts from his Amazon River cruise with IE.
This Amazon trip with International Expeditions (my second with them – the first was Botswana and Namibia in April 2008) begins in Lima, Peru on February 12 and ends in Lima on February 20. The trip is a 600 mile cruise down the Amazon River, stopping at remote villages along the way and using smaller craft to go through some of the many tributaries that thread their way through the Amazon rainforest. We fly north from Lima over the Andes (average height 13,000 feet, with Aconcogua at 22,841 feet the highest peak) to the city of Iquitos, Peru located at the headwaters of the river.
It is from there we depart for our trip aboard the river boat, La Amatista, a three deck, flat bottom boat, 127 feet long with a 28 foot beam. It carries a crew of 13 and a total of 28 passengers. Each cabin has A/C, en suite facilities, and large windows for panoramic views of the tropical forests as we sail down river. The river itself is a staggering natural wonder. It is the largest river system in the world. An unbelievable two thirds of the unfrozen fresh water in the world is found in the Amazon Basin. At 4,000 miles long, it is the second longest in the world after the Nile (this is an ongoing dispute, however). It was discovered in 1500 by the Spanish navigator, explorer and conquistador, Vincenté Yanez Pinzon, who hailed from Seville. He first called the river, Maria de la Mar Dulce or sweet sea, referring to the fresh water pushed out into the sea. It was later called, Grande Rio, Mar Dulce. Pinzon was also captain of the Nina when Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492.
The majority of the people who live on the Amazon River are not, as popularly imagined, groups of headhunters and wearers of strange lip ornaments. Headhunters are people of legend and television documentaries. Such people do exist even now, but they are rare and endangered whose future is cause for despair among anthropologists and whose culture won’t survive against the onslaught of the 21st century. And head-hunting is long gone.
Most of the people in the rainforest are not indigenous, though they have lived there a long time. They are usually descended from both European and Indian ancestors who migrated here to work on rubber plantations or other short-lived booms of the exploited rainforest. They are called Mestizos. In Peru they are called Riberenos. They speak a mix of Spanish and Quechua (a language derived from the Incas) as well as their indigenous languages. They are a people who live with minimum amounts of cash; they harvest the jungle judiciously; they build their canoes and fish the river; they grow gardens in small plots; they build their houses of wood and plants from the forest and raise their livestock on a bit of pasture supplemented with forest and garden grazing. Making a living is tough. Selling produce or fish or meat is very difficult since the only market is Iquitos and the distances from the villages can be great. Five hundred years ago there were 10 million Indians living in Amazonia — today there are only 200,000 indigenous people. Over 90 tribes have been destroyed since the early 1900s.