Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, they did. It was time to climb aboard my new home for the next seven days, La Estrella Amazonica or the Amazon Star. The boat only carries 31 guests at full capacity, and there are 18 crew members on board. It was love at first sight! She’s a beautiful boat with a ton of character. Our room was cozy and there was plenty of space to store all my crap. It also had all the right perks for surviving the Amazon in comfort – air conditioning, a huge shower, a comfortable balcony, free laundry service, and wait for it…happy hour! Now it’s a party!
You never know…
Just waking up each day on the boat was an adventure. I’d open my curtains to see soaring kingfishers, frolicking pink dolphins (Yes, pink dolphins! Crazy, right?), majestic hawks, and even small villages. Each day, we had the opportunity to go on two excursions, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. The Estella had two skiffs for excursions into smaller tributaries and waterways. That’s where all the action happened.
Oh, here’s a perk I almost forgot to add – there’s siesta time EVERY SINGLE DAY. For those that chose not to nap (nuts), the crew provided other activities like cooking classes and lectures.
Each excursion skiff had a naturalist and a driver. Both experts were constantly scouring the area around us for wildlife. These men were absolutely amazing and made the difference between a good excursion and an extraordinary one. I saw and experienced so many incredible things, it’s impossible to cover them all in this blog, so I’ll just hit the highlights.
Pretty in pink
I didn’t even know that pink dolphins existed until this trip. They were fantastic. It was super hard to get a great picture of one, so I got this one from our expedition leader. He was the official photographer for our boat. Pink dolphins like to play in wakes like salt water dolphins so we’d do donuts at more active sites to draw them out. I almost jumped out of the boat when I saw my first one. It took all my willpower not to squeal out loud. They really had a lovely shade of pink and were much bigger than I expected, too. I’ve never wanted to be a mermaid so badly in all my life.
Al fresco is the besto
During the cruise, we had number of unique excursion. A notable one was breakfast in the Amazon. The crew packed us some wonderful breakfast sandwiches, fruit, and other goodies to eat on the skiffs. We saw so many beautiful birds, it was truly worth getting up for. The jungle is very active in the early morning hours before the afternoon sauna starts. We saw numerous fishermen getting their nets together for the day. The folks on my skiff decided to just eat quietly and enjoy the sounds of the jungle. What a glorious morning!
Get a different perspective on the “Final Frontier”
We also had a nighttime excursion. This one was a hoot! We saw a few caimans, lizards, frogs, spiders and even an anaconda. What was especially magnificent was the night sky. Without light pollution, the Amazon sky is truly a sight to behold once the sun goes down. The constellations looked a little weird to me since I was in the southern hemisphere, but I had a trusty astrology app to help me find my way around the stars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a great picture because the skiff kept moving, but trust me, I could see so many stars, it was mind-boggling. This may sound strange, but I felt so close to the sky, like I could touch it. I was filled with awe at how amazing our universe is and humbled by how fragile we are.
Underwater exploration (sort of) and cool clothing
I got to wear gaitors for the first time when we hiked a small part of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve that was under water not four weeks earlier. Hard to believe I was walking where river otters and dolphins were cavorting just a month before. The ground was still spongy wet. Apparently, snakes run pell mell around this area so gaitors were a must. I felt like I was wearing green storm trooper boots. The amount of vegetation in this part of the jungle was incredible. In just four weeks, mother nature transformed the once submerged land into a bounty of greenery.
Swim with the piranhas
Yup! You can swim with the piranhas in the Amazon. They typically don’t mess with humans unless the humans are already dead or gravely injured. The real danger to humans is accidentally swallowing too much water. A few people that went swimming had to stay near a bathroom for a few days.
I opted for fishing for piranhas instead. We used simple wooden rods, totally old school. Raw chicken meat was our bait. Those piranhas were totally sneaky and would eat the bait right off my hook. I guess I wasn’t really fishing, I was feeding fish instead. I only caught one tiny piranha and had to throw it back. Good thing my fellow travelers picked up my slack. We went home with a nice haul, and they were delicious.
Meet new friends
One of the highlights of the trip was getting the opportunity to see how people live in the tiny villages that dot the mighty Amazon. I visited a Ribereño village, and it was an extraordinary experience. The children were waiting for us with smiles and giggles as we disembarked. They wanted to visit with us as much as we wanted to visit with them. The children really enjoyed having their pictures taken, and loved seeing themselves on the camera. I took a video of two elementary-aged boys playing on a wooden sign frame, and they couldn’t stop laughing when they saw themselves swinging around like spider monkeys.
Most of the houses in the village were on stilts and did not have walls reaching all the way up to the roofs. Good for keeping things cool in the hot jungle. There were a few modern looking structures in the village. These were the school buildings. The children were proud of their new school and were eager to give us a tour. They even gave us a short recital, singing in English and in Spanish. And yes, I had to sing along with them. I couldn’t resist.
As an aside, while we tourists were doing our thing, La Estrella Amazonica’s crew were out playing soccer with some of the villagers. It was fun to see them in normal clothing, meeting up with friends and family.
Well, that’s it for the Amazon portion of my Peru trip. Leaving the Amazon was so hard. I felt like I was leaving a piece of my heart behind. However, it was time to move on to the next part of my adventure – Machu Picchu!