My 9-day Amazon Adventure in Peru with Canadian Travel company G Adventures started with the company representative meeting the plane at the airport in Lima. Leaving customs, it looked like about 500 people were holding signs from various tour companies, hotels, or private taxis. The G Adventures' transfer representative was short (like many Peruvians), but he was holding his sign high, so I saw him easily. One other couple was in the van with me to the Hotel Antigua Miraflores hotel, but they were doing a different G Adventures' trip, one to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. Since South America is a relatively long flight from North America, combining an Amazon River cruise tour with a visit to other Peruvian destinations is a good idea for those who have the time.
The Hotel Antigua Miraflores is an old Peruvian mansion built in 1923, and the 69 rooms are filled with heavy, dark, colonial-style furnishings. I loved the look and style of this classic hotel, and it is in a great location in Miraflores, within easy walking distance of restaurants, shopping, and Kennedy Park. The beach is about a 15-minute walk away. Breakfast is included with the room, and I think most of the visitors were those in tour groups like ours. Although the hotel is air conditioned, not all the rooms had heat. This normally wouldn't be a problem in temperate Lima, but outside temperatures dipped down into the '50s during our mid-winter July stay.
I easily found an ATM and got some local sol (the Peruvian currency). It's important that travelers to the Amazon get small denominations in sol from a bank since most of the many local handicraft vendors on the Amazon do not have change. They also do not take American dollars unless they are brand-new because they say their bank won't exchange them. I think many of us would have spent more money in the Amazon markets had we taken small bills along. Getting sol in advance of flying to Iquitos is probably one of the most important tips for traveling outside of Lima.
Cruise Tour Meeting
We had a meeting at 6:00 pm to get acquainted with the 15 people on our cruise/tour. The G Adventures' chief experience officer (tour leader) Rudy was quite informative but almost too frank. He laid out all the negatives of traveling to the Amazon, heat, bugs, diseases, sanitation, etc. After listening to him for an hour, I think some folks were wondering why they had booked the trip. Fortunately, by the end of the adventure, we were all delighted we had taken this cruise tour.
I guess Rudy thought full disclosure was always better, and he was trying to lower our expectations. On a previous trip to Peru to visit Machu Picchu, our guide had stressed the Peruvian policy of not putting toilet paper in the toilet, and Rudy did the same thing, telling us at least 10 times to put it in the trash can no matter where we were in Peru. He advised us to not drink or even use local tap water to brush our teeth anywhere in Peru and warned us to not get any tap water in our mouths when showering. Sounds a little like overkill, but none of the 15 of us got sick or had tummy problems, so worth the warnings.
Rudy had three main rules for traveling in Peru, be flexible, be patient, and don't expect things to be like they are at home. I think those are good rules for traveling anywhere, don't you?
Rudy provided a preview of the Queen Violeta, our Amazon riverboat and home for six nights. The ship has purified water to wash vegetables and fruits, so it's okay to eat everything on the ship. However, like the hotel, we were not supposed to brush our teeth or do anything but bathe in the tap water. We would be visiting a village and could take gifts like school supplies along if we wished. He warned us to not give any children money or to single out a child for a gift of any type since it would hurt the feelings of the others who didn't get something. Better to give the teacher a gift for the school. He also emphasized one point I've heard from guides in other developing countries, giving to one begging child only teaches them that begging can be more profitable than working.
When leaving the ship, he recommended we take a flashlight, suntan lotion, bug repellant, bottle of water, rain jacket, and collared shirt or bandana. The naturalist would tell us in advance when hikes were scheduled since we would need to wear long pants, long socks, closed-toed shoes, etc. Shorts and sandals were okay when exploring in the skiff and not going ashore.
Here are a few other interesting tidbits he provided on Peru. The country has about 25 million residents and 24 states. Over 70 percent of the country is a jungle, and over 50 percent of Peru is in the Amazon Basin. However, only 5 percent of Peru's population lives in the Amazon Basin. The next day, we would be flying to Iquitos, a remote area that is only accessible via airplane or boat.
After our briefing on the trip, several of us walked with Rudy to a restaurant near Kennedy Park for dinner. Dinner was on our own, and I enjoyed a Peruvian beer and traditional dish of beef with onions and peppers. Very good, and I was starving. The restaurant also gave us a free Pisco Sour, so I enjoyed that too. We were in bed by 10:30 p.m. or so since we had a 4:30 a.m. wake up call.
Like some other river and small ship cruises, all shore excursions are included in the basic fare. Both Victor (our local naturalist) and Rudy stressed that each voyage may be somewhat different, depending on the weather and water conditions. However, this travel log should provide a good idea of this excellent G Adventures' cruise tour to those considering a trip to the Upper Amazon.
Pucallpa and Iquitos
The next morning we all gathered in the lobby of the Antigua Miraflores Hotel at 5 a.m. to leave for the airport. Everyone was right on time, which is always appreciated. We were at the airport about an hour later, and Rudy got us into a special line to check in as a group. He kept all the luggage tags, and it was nice we didn't have to get into the queue. The flight left for Iquitos about an hour late due to weather, but the flight went perfectly fine.
We did a short stopover in Pucallpa, a city in the Amazon basin that is accessible to Lima via automobile although it's a 24-hour drive. The flight to Pucallpa was gorgeous since we first flew over the dry desert mountains along the coast before crossing the Andes and getting to the flatter (and much wetter) Amazon basin. Unfortunately, clouds were thickly covering the area of the tallest mountains, but we did see some snow-capped ones in the distance. By the time the clouds disappeared, the ground was green, lush, and flat.
Pucallpa is a city of about 150,000 that can land small turbojets like ours. It looked a little bleak, with most homes small and topped with tin roofs. Goods can be driven to Pucallpa and then shipped downstream on the Ucayali River via boat to Iquitos. Our guide told us it takes about a week to reach Iquitos via boat. We left Pucallpa and were in Iquitos about 45 minutes later. Big difference.
We arrived in Iquitos about noon and met Victor, the local naturalist for our cruise. He explained that Iquitos has 500,000 residents and is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached via road. It's also one of the major cities in Peru. Iquitos is about 2300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It takes about a month to sail downriver to the mouth of the Amazon. The Amazon River basin is over 7 million square miles, about the size of the 48 contiguous United States. That's big! About 500 thousand people live in the Peruvian states along the borders with Ecuador, Columbia, and Brazil. Iquitos is about 300 miles from Ecuador, 350 miles from Columbia, and 350 miles from Brazil, so the town has a large military presence. A border peace treaty was signed between Ecuador and Peru in 1998, so it's been relatively peaceful since then. The city was a rubber baron town in the 1880s (much like Manaus, Brazil). Rubber was king, but about nine men were killed for every ton of rubber exported, so the work was very dangerous. Inflation was horrible in the town, with a bottle of wine costing about $600. After the rubber market fell through (someone stole some seeds/plants and took them to Malaysia where it was easier to grow, harvest, and transport than in the Amazon), the area went downhill quickly.
The first thing we noticed in Iquitos was the huge number of tuk-tuks. A businessman brought eight of these to the city in the 1980s. They are half motorbike and half car or truck. In Iquitos, they are called motokars, but they are tuk-tuks in Thailand and India. The eight vehicles first imported have grown to over 20,000 in the city now! Since Iquitos only has 65 miles of road that's outside the confines of the city, it's no wonder we saw so many. We also got a glimpse of Iquitos' shantytown, which has 20,000 residents. Like the shantytowns in Lima built on the landfills, the residents of the Iquitos shantytown are squatters who pay no tax. In Iquitos, they settled on areas prone to flooding where no one else will live. This one is called Belen, and during the dry season, people live on rafts that sit on the mud. In the rainy season, the water rises and the rafts float. People use dugout canoes to move between the rafts.
Before heading for the Queen Violeta, we did a walking tour of the local downtown market. It was like markets I've seen in other undeveloped areas, fascinating but pretty dirty by North American standards. Anything you wanted to buy was available. Most of the retail clothing and soft goods come from Pucallpa. Of course, the food section was most interesting to me, although the turkey vultures sitting on the tin rooftops covering the outdoor market waiting for scraps were a little threatening.
Victor showed us his favorite Amazon dish, suri, which are large palm grubs that can either be eaten raw or pan fried. The young woman cooking them had large tubs of shredded palms topped with the grubs. The suri eat the core of dead palms, so shredding this wood makes a nice bed for them to fatten up in before cooking. These grubs were white, about 3 inches long, and had blackheads. They almost looked a little like miniature sheep to me. Since Ronnie had eaten one of these grubs raw when we visited the Amazon several years ago, I volunteered to try one of the cooked ones. Kind of chewy, but I could only taste the grease it was fried in. The things I do for my job. A Canadian woman was the only other member of our group to taste one. I figured that the hot grease would kill any bacteria, and they were certainly fresh.
The market also had many displays of fish, most of which were dried or salted. When the river is very high, people can't fish, so they dry and salt fish when they can to help get through the rainy season. We learned that one of the more popular food fish was Oscar, one of which we had in a freshwater aquarium years ago. They also had peacock bass and many other types of fish. The largest fish was a paiche, which can grow to over 400 pounds. We saw many huge hunks of this fish that had just been sliced.
The other fascinating part of this outdoor covered market was the "Amazonia medicine" area. Vendors were selling all sorts of remedies, some of which I am sure cure ailments. One woman in our group had been on a trip to stay in a jungle lodge before joining us. She had quite a few mosquitoes and chigger (red bug) bites. This vendor put some "dragon's blood" (a red juice that changes color when rubbed) on the bites on one arm. One day later that arm looked much better than the one she treated with whatever cream she brought from home. She kept wishing she had bought some of the dragon's blood in Iquitos.
Leaving the market, most of us went to sit on the air-conditioned bus while Victor went shopping with one man who had not brought any closed-toe shoes, only sandals. There are several things that people definitely need for this trip, walking or tennis shoes (or something that bugs can't bite through), long-sleeved shirts and pants, long socks, a lightweight day bag that will definitely get wet from the rain, and some big plastic bags to stash the camera/binoculars, etc. I'm sure glad I brought the binoculars since they make watching the birds, monkeys, and other wildlife much better. The guy on our cruise without closed-toe shoes had relatively big feet, so they were gone a while since most Peruvians are very tiny (compared to North Americans) and have small feet. He ended up buying some rubber boots as we took to Alaska (another rainforest area) to wear when hiking in the jungle.
Arriving at the Queen Violeta, I was immediately impressed at how charming it was. It's simply furnished with simple cabins, beautiful polished wooden floors, good showers, and huge picture windows with a door going to the outside in all the cabins. The ship carries 32 passengers. The large dining room with an honor bar is aft on deck 2 and also has big windows. Deck 3 has a covered outdoor seating area, with some comfortable chairs, and deck 4 has hammocks for more serious resting. Nice to be outside when sailing in the daytime, but very buggy at night. There are three crew members who serve as bartenders, waiters, and cabin stewards.
Late Afternoon Skiff Ride
We boarded the Queen Violeta at about 2:45 p.m., immediately ate lunch, and then had about 45 minutes until our first skiff tour at 3:30 p.m. Lunch (and all meals) were buffets, delicious salad, rice, fresh fish, chicken, and vegetables. The food was delicious, and a preview of the good meals ahead. They have a 24-hour coffee bar that also has four types of tea available. Snacks of fried plantain chips, bread sticks, peanuts, and packaged cookies/crackers are also out in the dining room just in case someone gets hungry.
Cabins are spread over two decks. I had cabin #4 on deck one forward. The floor is hardwood in the cabin and tile in the bath. Each cabin has its own air conditioning, and since my unit was over the bed, I could hear the water in the coils and always thought it was raining outside. Very soothing to sleep by!
I had shelves to put my stuff on, 2 twin beds, 2 night stands, and a small bathroom with toilet, nice-sized shower, and sink. The bathroom could use some storage space or shelves since the sink area barely had room for my bottle of water (for drinking and tooth brushing). Some hooks in the cabin would help a lot too since a place was needed to dry clothes and rain gear after getting in the rain or just from the humidity. To protect the wooden doors and hardwood floors, they asked us to apply spray-on bug repellant or sunscreen out of doors on the deck.
The driest month on this section of the Amazon in October, but at that time the river channel gets down to 7 feet in some places, which can be a problem when you are on a ship with a 6-foot draft. The rainiest months are April and May. The river looked like it was down about 10-15 feet from where it would flood, but Victor said the water level changes by about 40 feet each year. Dark brown alluvial clay soil cliffs line the river in many places, and we could usually see the high water marks on the trees.
Our entire cruise consisted of a 100-mile-journey up the Amazon River to where it is formed from the joining of the Marañón and the Ucayali Rivers, and then go up the Marañón River into the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. The source of the Amazon is high in the Andes Mountains near Cusco and flows into the same Urubamba River that I once rafted in the Sacred Valley near Machu Picchu. The Urubamba eventually runs into the Ucayali.
Riding in the Skiff
Our first excursion was at 3:30 p.m. the day we boarded the Queen Violeta. We did a ride in one of the two nice skiffs. They have padded seats and padded backs running along each side of the boat, making for a comfortable ride. Guests have to be able to step over the foot-high supports to move to the back of the skiff and get to some of the seats. The skiff is very stable, so one can stand up to take photos or see things on the other side of the boat.
The skiffs are towed alongside the ship and do not have to be lifted on and off the ship like tenders. The Queen Violeta didn't even stop for us to transfer to the skiff, passengers just step from the ship to the skiff while moving slowly along the river. That first step is a little scary the first time, but we quickly got used to it. The skiff we used held our entire group.
We rode along the Amazon River, looking at the river scenery, the sky, and the villages along the bank. We noticed some houses were painted with shovels, while others were painted with a rooster logo. These are related to the two main political parties in the region, which is having a big election next year. These logos painted on the sides of homes are the equivalent of yard signs back home.
We saw much amazing wildlife on our first skiff ride. The afternoon was a little cloudy, and we had frequent rain showers, so I was glad to have my rain pants and jacket along. The skiff had some heavy ponchos stowed for those who didn't bring along adequate rain gear, but most of us brought along our own. I was very impressed with Victor's ability to identify birds and spot wildlife. He was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area, having been born here and working as a freelance tour guide on the river for 15 years. I won't go into all the birds, but he was especially excited about an orange-backed troupial, which sang a lovely song. Other birds I noted in my book were roadside hawks and a huge flock of great white egrets that flew overhead.
Since we were still relatively near Iquitos, we saw many homes along the river. Most seemed to have at least one dugout canoe, and it was a little scary to see children swimming in the fast-moving, very muddy river. Guess if you grow up here, you get used to it.
After a couple of hours in the skiff, we returned to the Queen Violeta and I took a quick shower before dinner. Sure felt good!
Dinner was a salad, fish, chicken, rice, fried yucca, some green vegetables, and watermelon and ice cream for dessert. Like Costa Rica, they had fresh juices at every meal. The food was very good given the remote area we cruised. The riverboat sells ice cold soft drinks, beer, wine, and mixed drinks. I bought a bottle of white wine to drink with dinner since that seemed to be a better deal. I carried it over for a couple of nights.
I was back in the cabin and asleep by 8:30 p.m since we had gotten up at 4:30 a.m.
Early Morning on the Amazon River
The Queen Violeta had stopped overnight and tied up during dark. The river had many logs and debris floating in it, and the captain didn't want to sail during the darkness (can't blame him). He moved out and up the river at first light around 5:30 a.m.
We started our first full day on the ship with another ride in the skiff. Victor went around and knocked on doors starting at 6 a.m., and we were in the skiff by 6:30 a.m. This early morning ride was even more productive than the one the day before. We saw both solid red and blue and yellow macaws, tree iguanas, spider monkeys, tamarin monkeys, striated herons, roadside hawks, and a pink dolphin. I was very happy to have my binoculars along to see the birds and monkeys. The pink dolphin was the one creature I had come to the Amazon to see. I couldn't believe its bubble-gum pink coloring. Very impressive! I didn't get a photo, although we saw it rise and porpoise several times, giving everyone in the skiff at least a glance at the coloring. After seeing the dolphin, we rode a short distance up a very narrow creek. We saw some long-nosed bats on the side of a tree, much like I saw in Costa Rica.
We returned to the ship about 8:30 a.m. and had a hearty breakfast of fruit, scrambled eggs, corn tortillas, bacon, sausage (like pepperoni kind of), toast, and rolls. Very good. We had either passion fruit or orange juice.
Sugar Cane Distillery
After breakfast, we had a little siesta time until 10:30 p.m., when we rode in the skiff to visit a family-operated sugar cane distillery near the village of Porvenir. We knew we had arrived at the still when we saw all the leftover cane piled along the bank of the river. We had to walk across this pile to reach the distillery. The leftover canes had fermented some themselves and definitely smelled like molasses. The one woman in our group who couldn't walk well stayed in the skiff since she didn't think she could make it up to the bank.
This family has about 38 hectares planted in sugar cane and produce about 60 gallons of cachaca rum per day. (Cachaca is the type of rum used in Brazil to make caipirinhas). This distillery was much different than those I've visited elsewhere. Fifteen workers bring the cut sugar cane into an open-air barn, where each piece is individually pushed through a grinder to extract the syrup. It runs down a trough into a large bucket. After sitting for about 12 hours, the juice is fermented enough to be mixed with a fresh juice and the whole batch then sits another 48 hours. The ratio used is about 1/4 fermented juice as a starter to 3/4 fresh cane juice. Locals love to drink the freshly fermented juice and call it warapo. Victor thought the family also makes molasses and brown sugar, but we didn't see any evidence of anything but cachaca.
This whole fermented concoction is put into a large vat over an open fire. The alcohol steam is run through pipes to cool it and make the alcohol, which drips out into a barrel. I think this is much like an old moonshiner's operation, although he wasn't using a radiator. We all sipped the straight cachaca, and some of our group bought a 16-ounce bottle, which the owner sold for 5 sols (about $2). Guess this is today's equivalent of the mason jar filled with North Georgia moonshine I once tried when much younger. With the dogs and chickens all around in the open barn, the boiling cauldron, and its dirt/mud floor, I don't think it would pass any OSHA or Bureau of Alcohol inspections back home, but the alcohol probably killed any germs.
The owner of the distillery sells a barrel of his cachaca to a middle man for 250 sols/barrel. (about $80-$90). A ferry boat carries the huge barrels downriver, where it is cut with water and sold for much more.
Every time we left the Queen Violeta, it just kept moving on up the river, and we caught up to it in the skiff. Kind of fun. We left the distillery and rode back to the riverboat for lunch. We had potato salad, a green lettuce/tomato salad, fresh river fish, roast beef, rice, beans, and mashed potatoes. More watermelon and ice cream for dessert. By the time we finished lunch, it was about 1:15 p.m., and we had a whole 1 1/4 hours until our next event, the "meeting of the waters" in Peru.
Meeting of the Waters
The joining of two muddy rivers, the Ucayali and the Marañón, in Peru to form the Amazon was not as dramatic as the meeting of the waters near Manaus, Brazil. There, the white (or muddy) Solimoes River, which is called the Amazon in Peru, but renamed when it crosses the border into Brazil, meets the clear, black (tannin-stained) the Rio Negro. These two distinctly different colored rivers run side by side for miles, slowing mixing into the muddy Amazon. The process is kind of like adding cream to coffee.
Experts disagree as to whether the Nile River or the Amazon River is the world's longest. The two rivers are only about 100 miles different in length. If the Amazon is to be called the world's longest river, the source has to be over 4300 miles from the Atlantic in the Andes near Cusco, and the river length has to include connecting waters that some experts do not consider part of the Amazon. Since he is Peruvian, Victor said the Amazon is longer than the Nile, but not everyone agrees since the Nile is often considered the longest. The Amazon is by far the most powerful and has the most water. It's certainly the longest river without a dam. According to Victor, enough water flows from the Amazon to fill Lake Superior in two days.
The Marañón and the Ucayali Rivers look very similar in color and about the same size, although the Marañón only reaches about 800 miles, whereas the Urubamba/Ucayali stretches for over 1500 miles. The Ucayali River is translated as the Poison River since Indians shot poison darts at the Spanish, led by the brother of Inca-fighter Francisco Pizarro, who was exploring the river in search of cinnamon and gold. The Marañón river translates into Cashew Nut River, which is not quite as intriguing.
Victor's story of the Amazon name was the most fascinating. We've all heard that the Spaniards named the river for the tall Indians with long hair who reminded them of the Greek tales of the Amazon women warriors. In Greek, "A" means "no" and "mazon" means breasts. So, Amazon literally means no breasts since the female warriors supposedly removed one breast in order to be able to shoot their bows and arrows better. Good story, isn't it?
Amazon Rainforest Hike
At 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon, we had our first rainforest hike from Queen Violeta. We smeared on the bug spray since we were warned the only creature we were guaranteed to see was the mosquito and then rode the skiff to the small village of Prado. Fifteen families or about 90 people live in this small village, and they maintain a walking trail through the jungle and provide a local "guide" with a machete to escort us. He is also supposed to make sure we don't take anything or do any kind of destruction.
Prado was named for a famous pilot in Peru, Manuel Prado, who landed his float plane near the already established but an unnamed village. As we exited the skiff, we were greeted with a hug from the village matriarch (mother of 14 children) who was about 4.5 feet tall, looked 90, but was 70 years old. She did have black hair, but according to Rudy, the Indians of the Amazon basin do not get gray hair.
Before we started walking, Victor stressed that we were to stay on the trail and not touch anything. Many of the plants are poisonous, and you never know when a snake, spider, etc. might be lurking. We walked for about 1.5-2 hours in the jungle, stopping to discuss trees, bushes, insects, termite nests, leaf cutter ant mound, frogs, etc. Didn't see any sloths, but did see their favorite trees, the cecropia. I'm continually amazed at the many different species of plants, vines, trees, insects, etc. Victor's knowledge of the local flora is as extensive as his knowledge of the birds, insects, and animals.
At the end of the circular route hike, which was up and down hills and way too difficult for some in our group, we had a nice view of the Amazon River from a hill overlooking Prado, time to watch the village children at play and to do a little handicraft shopping. Victor had advised us to bring along some small bills of sol. Prado had a lovely pond filled with gigantic lily pads, and we all stopped to take photos.
Back on the ship a little after 6 p.m., I grabbed a quick shower before the pisco sour making presentation/lesson from Charlie the bartender, which was followed by a few musical Latin songs by some of the crew on guitar, flute, bandbox, and maracas. Their group was relatively new, and they called themselves the "Chunky Monkeys". They were actually very good and got us in a festive mood before dinner.
Dinner was next, delicious chicken, salad, rice, and fish. In bed (again) before 9 p.m.
Early Morning Skiff Ride
Wake up call at 6 a.m., and we boarded the skiff at 6:30 a.m. and went in search of more wildlife. This time we went way up to a narrow river near the town of Nauta, but on the opposite side of the river. Again we saw many species of birds and wildlife, including parrots, water jacara, plumbous kites, crimson-crested woodpecker, red-capped cardinal, great black hawk, black collar hawk (a fishing hawk), Cayman lizard, tree iguana, snail kite, and a pygmy hatchet frog. Two highlights, the first was a three-toed sloth, which was way in the top of a kapok tree. We could see him clearly since the kapok didn't have any leaves. The second was some Hoatzin birds, which are ruminant birds. Although they are very large and look like peacocks, they were in a tree. Very exciting.
We saw two dugout canoes with fishermen in them. Victor asked if we could see their catch and they graciously agreed. They had the fish in the bottom of their boats. One boat was using nets and the other a baited trot line. The fish were small but included a walking catfish and several other freshwater fish. They were "professional" fishermen and had paddled their canoes for over an hour to reach the fishing spot. These canoes only have a few inches on each side. A big wave would definitely swamp them.
Visit to Las Palmas Village and School
Back to the Queen Violeta about 8:45 a.m., we had a nice breakfast of cucumber fruit (delicious and tasted like a sweet cucumber, but looked like the fruit of a honeydew melon), hard-boiled eggs, two types of sausages, corn tortillas, and toast. After breakfast, we re-boarded the skiffs at 10:15 p.m. to visit the village of Las Palmas, which was on the south bank of the Marañón River, the side that floods. The day before we had visited the village of Prado on the terra firma (non-flooding) side. Las Palmas has houses on stilts, and they've had to move about four times in the last ten years due to the river changing course. The houses seemed a long way from the river, but the water level can change up to 40 feet during a year's time.
The people in Las Palmas grow watermelon and other products and travel downriver into Iquitos about three times per year to sell their crops and to buy the supplies they need like kerosene, salt, hooks, and machetes. Victor said that men who live on the Amazon consider their machete a second wife. It was interesting to me that there are no rocks along the river that can be used to sharpen the machetes, so they have to buy a sharpening rock. The men sharpen these tools about four times per day, so that rock must be important since it is used so frequently.
We spoke for a little while with a 45-year old woman and her 23-year-old daughter who has an 11-month-old baby. (Their men were off working somewhere.) They answered many of our questions through Victor. After seeing the motorized machine used to squeeze the sap from the sugar cane the day before, it was especially interesting to all of us to see the manual ironwood sugar cane press used by this family. The family uses the cane juice to make warapo (the fermented but not distilled juice), brown sugar, and molasses. Each cane provides about one-half cup of juice. Two women in our group gave it a try and did an excellent job of squeezing out the juice.
We left the family's house to walk further into the village. On the way, we saw two tropical screech owls in a tree. We also saw a man using a hook on a long pole to move the grass aside before chopping it with his machete. The pole and hook serve two purposes, it moves aside the grass already cut, and it scares off any fer-de-lance snakes, which are very poisonous. One guy asked about bushmasters (another very poisonous snake), and the grass cutter told us (via Victor) that they are only found on the terra firma side of the Amazon.
Next, we visited the school, which had about 15 elementary school kids and 5 in kindergarten. One of the two teachers had worked in jungle schools for 28 years. The kids were certainly enamored of us--especially our cameras. After the kids get past the 6th grade, they must go via canoe to another school (or drop out to work at home). We had several teachers in the group, and they were impressed with the organization and supplies at such a remote location. We were at the school for quite a while and then walked back to the skiff. Like the previous village, this one had handicraft items to sell. One woman from Canada had a great idea. She had brought along t-shirts, games, and school supplies to barter with. I would have hated to have to tote the stuff from home, but the vendors seemed to like her bartering stuff as much if not more than the sol.
We got back to the Queen Violeta a little before 1 p.m. and had lunch of cowsa (rolled mashed yellow potatoes with tuna on the inside), thinly shredded hearts of palm and avocado salad, pasta, chicken, fish, and mushy peas. Dessert was bananas and ice cream. The ship was tied up at the river town of San Regis, which Victor said had about 5,000 residents (including the surrounding villages). This town is just starting to get electricity. Hard to believe that people could do without it. I am so spoiled.
After lunch, we had siesta time until 4:00 p.m., which was lucky since we had a horrible rain storm about 2:30 p.m. that lasted for about 30 minutes or so. Then, we met at the skiff to go on "private" dugout canoe rides. Each of the 15 of us had our own paddler and canoe. The paddler/guide didn't speak English but paddled me through some beautiful bayous and creeks off the main river. The dugout canoe was handmade and sat very low on the water. An hour on that hard seat certainly made my butt tired! However, the event was well orchestrated since in my hour-long ride I only saw one other canoe from our group. Very relaxing and a good way to see the backwaters. Didn't see any wildlife (other than birds), but did see some huge trees and interesting vegetation.
Nighttime Skiff Ride and Wildlife Viewing
Back at the Queen Violeta about 5:30 p.m., we regrouped and went out again on the skiffs about 6 p.m. for a nighttime ride. (It gets dark on the Amazon about 6:30 p.m.). While waiting to leave, three gray dolphins danced and rolled right off the back of the skiff. It was quite fun to watch them. The nighttime ride was a little disappointing since we were hoping to see caimans, anacondas, or some other night creatures. We did see some more pink dolphins, but it was close to dark so we barely saw them. We also saw tons of night herons, bats, some monkeys and even a glimpse of a kinkajou in a tree. It was a fun couple of hours to be outdoors and hear the jungle sounds in the evening, but I know we were all a little disappointed we didn't see more. Guess we were getting spoiled. Poor Victor. He stood on the front of the skiff with his high-powered spotlight looking for creatures, but only found a few. One interesting story, we stopped at a ranger station on our way into the backwaters. The ranger's family (as is a tradition) gave us a gift of a mess of fish. Victor said it was very impolite to refuse, so he brought them on board and put them into the ice chest. Kind of the opposite of home, here, the hosts give the guests a gift rather than vice versa.
We were back on Queen Violet by 8:00 p.m. and ate a late dinner. Amazing how hungry you can get just sitting all afternoon. We had a bowl of very yummy asparagus soup, tomato/carrot/cabbage salad, rice, French fries, baked fish topped with tomatoes and onions, and Lomo saltado, the traditional Peruvian dish I had in Lima, which is beef tips with onions and tomatoes. Dessert was some kind of cake. All of it was delicious. Sat around the dinner table and chatted with our guide Rudy and some of the other guests so didn't get back to the cabin (and a shower) until 10:30 p.m. Bed at 11:30 p.m. Another great day on the Amazon River!
We got to sleep in on the Queen Violeta until 7 a.m. and had breakfast at 7:30 p.m. We had watermelon and papaya, fried eggs, sausage, toast, cheese, and some kind of cold cuts. The juice of the day was star fruit juice.
After donning our long pants, long socks, long-sleeved shirts, closed-toe shoes, hats, etc., and spraying well with mosquito repellant, we boarded the skiff at 8:30 p.m. for a ride to a park area of the river on the terra firma (south side) of the river. We walked a short distance before boarding one of two Amazon style catamarans, which were actually two dugout canoes lashed together. The catamarans were on a small lake, and like the day before, someone paddled us across the lake. It wasn't as nice as the day before since we weren't alone with just the paddler, the boat, and the jungle. The ride across the lake was only about 200 yards.
We then hiked along a mostly muddy (it's a rain forest!) trail. Hoped to see many animals, but didn't. We did get a glimpse of one monkey and a few birds. Victor showed us all kinds of plant life such as a 300-year old ficus tree and a 200-year old kapok tree. Kapoks can easily be identified since they have a big bump (like a baby) on one side. They are often called the "mother of the forest". We also saw a type of bean tree, which is used for making boats and hardwood floors.
Although the terra firma side of the river almost never floods, the soil is very poor and can't be used for growing agricultural products to sell. In addition to the various trees, we also saw huge vines, some of which were over 250 feet long. One vine was very thick and curved like a swing. Several people had their photos taken in this "monkey ladder". We also saw a "Pepto Bismol" tree since it produces a white liquid sap the natives use to treat diarrhea. The sap of the rubber tree was the most spectacular. Victor cut a small nick in the side of the rubber tree and rubbed some of the latex that came out between his fingers. In just about 10 seconds, the latex had dried into a string-like rubber band that was surprisingly strong and stretchy--just like you'd expect rubber to be!
At one time, rubber was king of the Amazon. From 1880 to 1910 many rubber barons made their fortunes from the plant. It's interesting that only 8 trees could grow per hectare since the plant needs so much nourishment. In the early 1900's someone smuggled out 70,000 rubber tree seeds and they were planted in Malaysia and other parts of the tropics easier to reach than the Amazon River basin. This killed the industry in Peru and Brazil.
Suspension Bridge Hike and Lunch at Louisa's Home
After hiking about 1.5 miles, we reached the eight suspension bridges over the jungle. These wooden-slatted bridges reminded me of those we crossed in Costa Rica, but the park area wasn't as well maintained. Victor made us keep at least 12-20 feet distance, and only three of us at a time could be on a bridge. We all actually spread out more than he asked since it was like you were in the jungle all by yourself. What a marvelous sensation being above the rainforest with hardly anyone in sight!
At the end of the bridges, we found handicraft shopping! Those who were the first on the bridges had longer to shop. We had another 1.5-mile hike back to the river, and the trail ended at a huge lodge owned by a man from Lima. It even had a swimming pool but didn't look like it was used much (if at all) anymore.
The Queen Violeta was tied up nearby, but we still took the skiff back to the ship, arriving about 12:10 p.m.
Lunch at Louisa's
We had a whole 35 minutes to have a potty break before going to a nearby tiny village for our home-hosted lunch. G Adventures always takes its guests to the home of a local for a meal.
This village was unnamed, but our hostess, Louisa, had an open-air home set on a cliff overlooking the river on the terra firma (no flooding) side. Louisa's husband was gone for a few days taking some lumber downstream to Nauta. He floated the logs downstream and would take a ferry back home. Louisa (age 44) and her husband have 10 children ranging in age from 24 to 11 months. Two of their children are married, and she also has 2 grandchildren.
G Adventures provided the boiled water to make the drinks (yellow tomato juice or a lemongrass tea), and we also had delicious catfish wrapped in some kind of leaf and grilled and topped with a delicious salsa, venison, boiled yucca, some type of fried balls (like hush puppies), and grilled plantains for dessert. Really a delicious lunch, and it was fun to eat in Louisa's open-air home. Her kitchen and "stove" are in a small building next door to the living area.
After lunch, the local "Wal-Mart" (Victor's term) crew arrived--some of the ladies of the village with their handicrafts. Wish we had known we would have shopping opportunities at every stop. I think most of the guests on the Queen Violeta would have timed their purchases over the entire week (instead of buying early in the cruise) to help more of the Amazon River people. We did take up a small collection for Louisa like we had the day before in Las Palmas.
After perusing the handicrafts, we boarded the skiff and rode the short distance back to the ship, arriving about 2:15 p.m. Amazingly, we had until 4:30 p.m. before our next excursion, so I squeezed in an hour's nap. Very nice.
Cleansed by a Shaman
We left the Queen Violeta at 4:30 p.m. to go visit one of the Amazon River shamans (medicine men). This man was 39 and had the "calling" to be a shaman at age 10. His name was Bernavay (phonetically spelled), and he was a Bore Indian from the Napa River area, which is a long way from the San Regis area of the Marañón River where we were. He told us (via Victor's translation) that he moved to this area because his wife was from here.
According to Victor, the shaman often corrects bad things done by the witch doctors. Bernavay showed us several of the concoctions he uses in his "practice". We passed them around and most smelled heavily of alcohol. The most interesting was Hiowasca (spelled phonetically), a hallucinogenic considered the "mother of all rain forest" medicine. After a cleansing process that takes a few days, Bernavay gives the Hiowasca to his patients and takes a dose himself. He then gets a vision of their problem. Victor said a beta-carmoline is the main drug in the Hiowasca. The Hiowasca also serves as an emetic and strong laxative.
The shaman demonstrated the cleansing process (without us taking any drugs) on each of us. He chants, sings, whistles, and blows mapache (fresh tobacco) smoke on you while beating your head and upper body with a bouquet of the leaves of a plant that smells like garlic. Most of us found this cleansing process very relaxing. We all had to sit quietly while he went through the process on each of us. By the time he had done a half dozen, I was ready to take over and finish the tasks, but sat quietly and enjoyed the chanting, whistling, smoking, and beating. I had undergone a similar abbreviated cleansing process with a shaman in Cusco three years before, and since then I've been happy and healthy. I figured a booster might last me a few more years.
Leaving the shaman's hut we found more handicrafts with a few different items. We were back on the ship by 6:15 p.m. and had dinner at 7:00 p.m.
The Chunky Monkeys (crew entertainment) performed 3 or 4 songs before dinner on the guitar, flutes, wooden box drum, and maracas. Very fun and entertaining.
Had a beautiful corn soup (wonderful flavor), tomatoes, cucumbers, pasta salad, rice, beef tips with onions/peppers, a chicken dish, and grilled plantains. Dessert was pound cake. Another delicious meal.
The next day we were back to an early wake-up call of 6 a.m.
Breakfast Boat Ride and Piranha Fishing
The next day we had a 6 a.m. wake up call and were in the skiff for our long boat ride at 6:30 p.m. The river was very quiet and calm and a little spooky. We rode up a very narrow waterway that flows into the Yanayacu River and then back into the Marañón. It was white water (muddy) at first and then we came across one that was black water (tannin/clear) and got to see the two rivers merged. Where the waters mixed we saw about six pink dolphins feeding and stopped to watch them for about 15 minutes. Victor says the fish in the black water get confused when they come into the white (muddy) water, making them easier to catch by the dolphins.
We stayed on the white water river, and rode along the narrow (about a maximum of 20 feet wide) waterway, watching for wildlife. We saw a gorgeous umbrella bird, often called an Elvis Presley bird because of its black "hairy" top, spider monkeys, white-necked heron, great black hawk, chestnut eared aracari, and blue and yellow macaws. One fascinating thing to me was all the fish jumping around the boat as we slowly moved along the river. We could easily see where the high water was earlier this year (marked about 4-6 feet up on the trees), along with where it was in years earlier--another four feet higher. Eighty percent of the Amazon Basin is flooded for about four months each year. Great for the fish and other wildlife. The best time to visit is when the water is lower, but not too low. The river we were on will not be passable in another few weeks. The water is highest in May, and the river is sometimes flooded from January/February through May.
After riding for about two hours and gawking at the wildlife, we tied up along a shady bank and the two crew who had come along served us a nice breakfast on a tray with real silverware and everything. The meal included a jelly and butter sandwich, a chicken sandwich with tomatoes, peach juice, roll, apple, orange, coffee, and tea. We laughed about thinking they might serve a piranha McMuffin, but the breakfast was more than we expected. Having a tray with cloth placemat was very elegant, and being entertained by pink dolphins frolicking nearby added to the experience.
After breakfast, we saw many yellow and blue macaws (probably 20 or more). They are easy to identify when flying, and some perched in a tree for those with long lenses to get photos. We also saw black-headed parrots, some more long-nosed bats stuck to a tree, and a beautiful yellow capped heron in the top of a tree. We stopped about 10:00 a.m. to fish for a while in the shade. It was great fun to use the wooden poles and raw venison as bait. We all caught at least one piranha, it was kind of like fishing for bream in our pond back home. The only challenge was hooking them before they picked the meat off the hook. Most of the piranha were red-bellied (really orange in color), but we also caught a silver piranha, elongated piranha, and black spotted piranha. I landed three nice-sized ones (the red-bellied) and had half a dozen more get off. We would be having the piranha for dinner that night since everyone caught a few.
The Queen Violeta had sent along with a portable potty, but only two women and one man needed to go, so they found a somewhat clear bank and the three of them went into the edge of the jungle (out of sight of the skiff). I think most of the other women (me included) did not drink much with breakfast or in the skiff. We were very lucky with the weather on our 5.5-hour boat ride--it never got miserably hot, and we had a nice breeze since we were moving most of the time.
We were back on the ship at noon and had lunch at 12:30 p.m. This certainly was a very busy itinerary. Lunch was a delicious hearts of palm salad (they called it vegetarian ceviche), tomatoes, rice, potatoes, grilled/barbecued chicken, beans, and fish. Dessert was watermelon and chocolate ice cream. Another delicious meal. The chef does a superb job.
After lunch, we had time for a 2-hour siesta, which was a welcome respite from the busy schedule.
Rainforest Hike with Snakes and Frogs
At 3:30 p.m, we had our last rain forest walking tour in a place called Cash-wall, which was spelled Casual. It was the most overgrown trail we walked on. I felt like stuff was scratching my legs and arms the entire time. Glad I had on my long pants tucked into my socks, my tennis shoes, long sleeve shirt, and hat! (And, the required bug repellant.)
We walked for about two hours, stopping to see the plants and animals along the way. The residents of Casual had maintained the nice trail, and two of them accompanied us to seek out animals they thought we would be interested in. The first two were lizards, the blue-throated anole, and the southern leaf lizard.
Then, we watched one of the guides demonstrate how to weave a mat from a stalk of the fiber palm. The natives use this very thorny palm to make fans, baskets, and hammocks. It was great fun to watch this guy cut down a palm shoot and turn it into a woven fan within five minutes.
Other creatures we saw on this walk included a pink-toed tarantula, red-tailed boa constrictor, a HUGE strangler fig (which is somehow related to the ficus), anaconda, small green frog, tiny yellow thigh frog, which is a poison dart frog where they get curare. It was a fun walk and the only snakes we saw. The two local escorts brought them to show to us; I'm not completely sure they weren't in a cage somewhere, although they claimed to have found them near the creek. Maybe these snakes are as territorial as some other animals and birds are so that they stay in about the same place. We also posed to have a group photo taken along the trail.
We got back to the Queen Violeta at 6:00 p.m., had music from the Chunky Monkeys at 6:30 p.m., and dinner after that. We did a sing-along, which was fun and included the macarena--can't remember the last time I did it! Dinner was a nice salad, rice, beef with potatoes and carrots, baked fish, and pan-fried piranha we caught that morning. Dessert was a canned peach and a flan. As usual, it was delicious. I enjoyed the baked fish more than the piranha, but only because the piranha had many bones.
Back to the cabin at 9:00 p.m. and off to sleep soon after.
Markets and Motokar Ride in Nauta
As was now usual, we had an early day in Nauta, a town of about 20,000 residents that is on the Marañón River near the confluence of the Marañón and Ucayali Rivers that form the Amazon River in Peru. Nauta, which is a tribal word for clay pot, is about 100 miles via water upstream from Iquitos. The town was founded in 1830, and is an "oil town". Although Nauta is 200 miles downstream from the oil fields, workers are transported to the fields from there, where they work 21-day shifts. Nauta is also growing because it has a 65-mile long road to Iquitos, which was completed in 2004.
We left the Queen Violeta at 6:30 a.m. and rode the short distance to the town on the skiff. As always, the ship was tied up during the dark hours since traveling on the river can be dangerous due to floating logs and debris. Since the river was down, we had a fairly rough climb up the bank to the market. The market was already bustling, and it was fun to see all the fresh fruits, foods, and other goods for sale. Three huge stalks of bananas could be purchased for 10 sols (less than $5), and one huge stalk of plantains sells for only 20 sols (less than $10). Quite a difference from home. Was surprised to find that a watermelon sold for 5 sols--not much different than in Georgia. The market also had clothing, a barber, cooked food, and goods like a "Little Mermaid" tote bag. Although it was only about 7 a.m., the market looked like it had been open for hours, but evidently, people go home when it starts to get hot.
Our little group then walked to the town square (Plaza de Armas), which was flanked by the Catholic Church and school. At the square, we boarded a 3-wheeled motokar (half motorbike and half car seat) to ride to a large pond on the edge of town. As we had seen in Iquitos on the first day of our adventure, these motokars came into the area in the 1980s and have multiplied rapidly. We had two people per motokar plus the driver, and the ride was quite fun if a little harrowing at times. When we got to the large pond, we were delighted to find that it was filled with the large turtles we had only seen from afar, plus had some caimans, and many paiche, the Amazon's largest fish, which can reach 400 pounds. We've eaten the paiche a few times, and it's very good. Victor even brought along a little stale bread for us to feed to the turtles and fish.
We've seen locals selling handicrafts almost everywhere we've been, including at the pond. This part of Peru has very few tourists, but these vendors seem to be everywhere. Most of us spent what little sols we had early on the trip since we didn't know we would have purchasing opportunities almost every day. One couple has two, 100-sol notes, but they can't find enough to buy at one place to spend them, and none of the locals have much change. We have been told to not just give them money since it's important that they not connect tourism with money they haven't earned. Good point!
We reboarded the eight motokars, had a quick motokar tour of Nauta, and then got dropped off where we had left the skiff. We were back on the ship by 8:30 p.m. Amazing what you can do in a couple of hours!
Swimming in the Amazon River
After breakfast, the bravest ones in our group changed into our swimwear, and we all got in the skiff to ride up the Ucayali River to find some "black" (not muddy, but clear and stained with tannins) water. The swimming hole was up a small Amazon tributary called the Yarapa River. The driver stopped the boat, and we jumped in and swam around for about 30 minutes (or at least about 10 of us did). Was a little creepy after seeing the huge numbers of piranhas earlier in the week when we were fishing. However, the water felt great. It was much cooler than I expected but perfect for swimming. At first, we were out a little too much in the current and were afraid we were going to end up in Brazil but managed to stay with the skiff. I was glad the skiff driver had brought along a ladder, which made reboarding much easier.
A small hut was on the bank near where we stopped to swim (it was a narrow river), and after we all got back in the boat, out came a woman with her handicrafts to sell. After five days, it getting very funny, but the vendors are not aggressive at all, which makes you want to buy more. I had spent all my sol and only had some American $5 bills, but they were not new, so no one would take them.
We left the swimming hole and headed back down the Ucayali River. As usual, we saw some water taxis, but also some big barges headed downstream to Iquitos. Goods like ice cream can leave Lima via a refrigerated freezer truck (or semi-trailer with a freezer section), drive for 24 hours and arrive in Pucallpa. From there, the freezer truck or trailer is put on a barge and floated down the Ucayali. Seven days later, it arrives in Iquitos. No wonder ice cream is so expensive in the city.
Victor had the boat driver go up into another small muddy river and we had really good wildlife sightings. We watched three black spider monkeys playing in the trees and along the bank. A brown capuchin monkey, pale fronted capuchin monkey, and red howler monkey were also in the same general area, and we got a good look at them, along with two coatimundis. Great fun.
Leaving that area and returning to the ship, we got great views of a sloth climbing an acacia tree. Victor said she had probably gone to the ground to poop. Evidently, sloths eat twice a day, but only poop once a week, and they leave their trees to go down to "do their business". This one was climbing back up the tree quicker than I expected, and she soon found a spot hidden by the leaves. Nice to see a second sloth!
We got back to the Queen Violeta a little before noon, and I took a quick shower to wash off the river water and remaining sunscreen and bug repellant. Lunch was another good one. Hearts of palm, cucumber, sweet purple onion, and tomato salad; fried rice; chicken with pea pods, peppers, onions; roasted pork; and homemade won tons. The "juice of the day" was chica morada, which is very popular in Peru, black corn juice, pineapple, cinnamon, sugar, and orange. Very good. Yellow corn juice is used to make the chica beer, which is also popular.
The afternoon was very quiet. After packing, I went outside on the deck about 5:00 p.m to watch the river in the late afternoon, look at some more water taxis, and to enjoy the cool evening on the river. As soon as it got the least bit dark, we were driven inside by the mosquitoes, even though the sunset was spectacular as always.
We had our last dinner on the ship that night, but before dinner, the "Chunky Monkeys" performed again. We even repeated the macarena. Dinner was another excellent one, and we all enjoyed our last chicken and fish for a while. Went to bed early since we had to get up early to leave for our last excursion in Iquitos and then to the airport.
Iquitos Manatee Rescue Center and Return to Lima
Up before 6 a.m. and had a bag outside the cabin by 6:30 a.m. Last breakfast on the Queen Violeta at 7:00 a.m., and we left the ship at 7:30 a.m. All 15 of us agreed it was a really great soft adventure cruise. Those who expect all the big ship amenities when vacationing (e.g. casinos, multiple dining venues, spa, fitness center, swimming pool) might not enjoy an Amazon adventure like this one, but wildlife lovers, travelers who enjoy learning about and interacting with different cultures, and those who don't mind roughing it a teeny-bit will take home lifelong memories.
We arrived at the Iquitos Manatee Rescue center about 8:15 a.m. or so. This center was started in 2007 to help save manatees that people have kept for pets. Locals would kill the parents to keep the babies, but they have to be fed a special milk diet if they don't have mother's milk. This center has released 12 manatees back into the wild after feeding and caring for them for up to 2 years. They currently have at least half a dozen at the center. The USA donates the special high fat "milk" for the babies to eat. We all got a chance to hand feed the manatees, and I got to give one a bottle. A very special way to end our cruise. I had always heard these mammals were gentle and very passive, and I believe it. After feeding them a slice of banana, they suckled on my finger without biting it in the least. They are plant eaters, and only have molars in the backs of their mouths.
We sadly left the Manatee Center about 9:00 p.m. to head for the airport, and flight back to Lima was uneventful. We did stop over again at Pucallpa but didn't get off the plane. It's only a 45-minute flight from Iquitos to Pucallpa, and I couldn't help but think of the barge traffic that takes 7 days! We would overnight at the Miraflores Antigua Hotel again before flying home the next evening.
A Day in Lima and Home
Our group arrived back at the Hotel Antigua Miraflores about 4 p.m., and several of us walked to the restaurant area near Kennedy Park for dinner. After dinner, some of us returned to the hotel while others went for a nightcap.
The next morning, Rudy (the G Adventures' chief experience officer for our tour) met up with those of us who wanted to do a tour of Lima and we set out, walking through Miraflores towards the tram that would take us to the colonial section of the city. Exiting the tram, we were surprised to find a throng of soldiers running in formation through the streets. Most were dressed in the national colors of red and white.
We strolled through the pedestrian streets of the old central city. It was a Sunday morning, and we could hear music playing a block or so ahead. Suddenly we saw the source of the music--it was a parade! Hundreds of people, all dressed in fantastic costumes, were dancing in the streets. Musical groups were interspersed with the dancers, and all were playing the same song. Rudy said the parade honored the Virgin Mary, and that most of the participants were from the Puno area of Peru and is near Lake Titicaca in the southeast. The dancers were all synchronized, so although the costumes were different, the music and dancing for each group were the same. The whole scene was mesmerizing, and we felt very lucky to have stumbled across the celebration.
Our next stops were at Plaza San Martin and then at Plaza del Armas, the main square of Lima. While at Plaza del Armas, we watched the noon changing of the guard and then toured the cathedral.
After all that walking and city sightseeing, we ate lunch at the Atlantic Latin American restaurant near the Plaza del Armas. Rudy treated us all to an appetizer of one of Peru's most famous dishes--cuy, which we know as a guinea pig. I had eaten cuy on a previous visit to Peru, so I knew it was tasty. The rest of the group was a little leery at first but soon discovered that the cuy was as good as advertised. I'll have to admit that none of us tried the head, which Rudy said was the best part. Maybe next time.
Our last stop on the informal tour was the San Francisco Monastery. This building looks like a typical Spanish church on the outside, but the inside is unique. First, there's a magnificent old library, but the dark, close catacombs beneath the church are the main reason many choose to visit this old monastery. The catacombs contain the remains of about 75,000 people who were buried under the church, and the bones are displayed for all to see. Very macabre, but kids love it (and so do adults).
We returned to the hotel and went to eat a light dinner before heading to the airport. Leaving the restaurant, we had one last Lima surprise, a fireworks display! The fireworks boomed overhead as we gazed above, remembering the amazing Amazon River and all we had seen and done the past 9 days. Thanks to G Adventures, Rudy, Victor, and the crew of La Violeta for a great look at a fascinating destination--the magnificent Amazon River basin of northern Peru.
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