It was a Monday morning in Iquitos and I was checking the passenger list as they were going to board the cruise that same night. The first thing we did was make sure that all the food and supplies for the trip were the right and necessary ones. It was very important to make sure that nothing was missing since we would be sailing on the Amazon River and its tributaries, far from civilization and we could not go backwards so as not to hinder the established route. We had to make sure that everything was perfectly coordinated. My position was director of the luxury cruise ship Delfin Amazon Cruises. Being a high standard cruise ship, our service had to be up to the demands of our guests, always trying to exceed their expectations and get close to perfection. Our demand was maximum.
As I always did, I checked the passenger list and could see that the group was quite diverse. There were two elderly people traveling alone, a family with four children, a youth group, and several couples of different ages and nationalities. I made sure that they did not have any food restrictions or allergies and if any of the guests had any diseases or physical deficiencies. It was vital to know everything in advance and not leave anything to chance. Once we started sailing, we would meet in the middle of the Amazon rainforest and away from the cities. The organization and the union between the team had to be impeccable.
Coordination of the ground staff with the crew was of vital importance. Together with Augusto who was the ground operations manager, we went over the final details of the characteristics and profiles of the passengers and the trip. Once everything was perfectly organized, we headed for the city of Nauta where the port where the voyage began is located. To get to the city, we had to leave Iquitos and take the only existing road that leads to the city.
Iquitos is the capital of the Peruvian Amazon and the largest city in the world not accessible by road. You can only communicate by river or air. It is called “the beautiful island” because of its houses that still remain from the rubber boom, unique in the jungle, only comparable to the Brazilian jungle city of Manaus and its vibrant day and night life. Thanks to its isolation it maintains its physiognomy and character different from the rest of Peru. It is a country within a country. Its very inhabitants maintain a peculiar accent, a unique character and an idiosyncrasy different from the rest of their countrymen. Its population is approximately half a million inhabitants and receives about 70,000 tourists annually. It was one of the richest cities in the world during the rubber exploitation between 1880 and 1914. Unfortunately, the indigenous population suffered from slavery at the hands of large Western companies. Today, it is a charming city with a welcoming population eager to show its beauties to the world. Its economy is considerably based on tourism and oil extraction.
Once we arrived at the port in the city of Nauta, I got on board and started talking to the whole team. We went over the details of the rooms in a thorough and complete way.
I was informed that the clients’ plane had landed at the Iquitos airport at the established time, we had about two hours before they arrived on the ship since they would also do a short tour of the city. While we were leaving everything perfect, I notified all my colleagues to hold the respective meeting to explain the customer profiles and finalize the last details.
The naturalist guides who accompanied the passengers in the company’s private transportation would let me know at every moment where they were and how much time they had left. Once they arrived, we welcomed them with the respective explanation of the itinerary and what was to come in the following days. We accompanied them to their respective rooms. Once they were settled in, they had a pleasant dinner. The boat began to sail along the tributaries of the Amazon and the adventure began.
Beginning of the journey
I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to go to work. In the jungle, the sun rises around 5:30. The first day there was an excursion before breakfast. It was the best time to observe the multitude of birds that live in the Amazon. The excursions are made with some motorized skiffs of maximum of 10 people to be able to go into the tributaries of the Amazon. Peru is the third country in the world with the greatest variety of birds.
After the tour and once the passengers had had breakfast it was the perfect time to start getting to know them.
I went up to the lounge eager to meet them and have several conversations to start a friendly bond. Suddenly I found the kids in the family fluttering around and playing soccer with a ball they had brought, screaming as if they were in a professional first division game. They had moved all the furniture to set up their goals, their dividing lines, and their particular stadium. Obviously it was totally forbidden. I had to tidy up and talk to the parents. We all wanted to have a quiet, pleasant, and peaceful trip respecting the rest of the passengers. The parents did not seem very surprised, but reluctantly agreed that their children could not practice such a sport on a riverboat in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
The Russian couple
At that very moment the Russian couple appeared. They were about 50 years old and started talking to me in Russian. I spoke to them in English … but they didn’t seem to understand me, I tried Spanish, but it didn’t seem productive either, finally in French, but it was unsuccessful. They kept talking to me in Russian and I didn’t understand a word of it, but I could tell they were saying something about the Internet. I understood that they wanted a wifi signal so that they could use Google Translator to communicate with me. Unfortunately in the middle of the jungle it was totally unfeasible. I made a titanic effort to move my arms by signaling and removing my facial features that we were in the middle of the jungle and that there was no possibility of bringing any signal to their mobile devices. I could see in their manifestations that they were astonished by such a surrealistic situation in their opinion. They had the misfortune that their luggage had been lost and was probably still in Lima, so they could not show me exactly why they were so uncertain.
In the lounge I approached the American gentleman who was only observing the majestic views of the jungle. He was very happy to be on the cruise. It seemed strange to me that he came alone to the Amazon. He invited me to sit down and we had a very friendly and interesting conversation. His name was Mr. John. He explained to me that he had lost his wife and had wanted to come to the Amazon Rainforest for years and was doing so because his wife had wanted to come. I explained to him that he was on the best cruise ship in the Amazon with the best possible crew and that he had done the right thing. He felt very comfortable and happy to be with us. He congratulated me on his presence and I was sure he would enjoy it. After a while I went down to the kitchen to talk to the chefs. Lunchtime was approaching.
I met with Raul who was the head chef and the rest of the guys. He explained to me that he would serve during the trip the typical dish of the Amazon gastronomy called Patarascha. It consists of a fillet of fish – usually maiden fish – seasoned with palillo, Amazon vegetables such as sachaculantro, aji charapita and wrapped in a bijao leaf cooked on the grill.
Lunchtime arrived and it was the right time to eat with and mett them. I sat down and met at the table with an American couple and a woman named Mrs. Carly, who was also elderly. Coincidentally her husband had passed away last year and she had decided to travel and tour the world and one of her dreams was to see the jungle. While we were being entertained by the Amazon cuisine, I decided to introduce Mr. John so that they could get to know each other.
I have always believed that a trip is a unique experience and that the synergy of the moments is singular. I met with Christian who was the deputy director and my right-hand man on board to see how to bring them together discreetly so that they could get to know each other. That’s the essence of travel. Getting to know other cultures and people.
Visit to the village
After lunch the guests went to their rooms to rest. After a while Christian and I started to prepare everything for the excursions. While we were at it, an American guest named Nina Burleigh came up to me, told me she was a journalist and was writing two articles, one for a travel magazine and another for the New York Times about Iquitos. She asked me to help or at least to give my point of view. She needed someone to write her article from a foreigner’s point of view. Since I was from Barcelona, it was a good fit. I was a Western foreigner living and working in the Amazon. My first intention was to stay on the boat to make sure the rooms were spotless. But at Nina’s insistence I accompanied her on the trip so that she could interview, talk, and converse with the women of the village for her article.
After the excursion, the guests took a shower and we went to the dining room for dinner. Raul and the other chefs had prepared paiche (Arapaima gigas) cebiche. It is a fish exclusive of the Amazon and the second-largest freshwater fish in the world. It can reach over 3 meters long and weigh up to 250kg. Its meat is very valuable and appreciated by the inhabitants, and its scales are used for various purposes and to make utensils.
In all the excursions the passengers are never alone and are always accompanied by the naturalist guides. It is of vital importance to know perfectly the jungle since once you penetrate the jungle, you are surrounded by vegetation and in a few seconds you can get easily disoriented and that is why all the naturalist guides on the cruise are native and experienced.
Once dinner was over, we went on a night safari in search of caymans and fortunately we were able to observe several specimens.
The next day, after taking a shower and getting ready, when I opened the door of my room I met the Russian couple who showed me some drawings where I could appreciate the figure of a shaman with medicinal plants. Little by little I was able to deduce what they needed. They needed a shaman to show them various plants. Having done ayahuasca several times and being interested in the ancient Amazonian medicinal plants I knew the right person.
After breakfast they took another trip. They went fishing for the dreaded piranhas. Feared by Westerners and ignored by the natives. It is true that piranhas are carnivorous and devouring, but they are harmless if you don’t have any bloody wounds. Hollywood has instilled in us the erroneous idea that piranhas attack every living thing that moves in the water. Far from it. Christian and I, with the help of the naturalist guides, join Mr. John and Mrs. Carly in the same skiff. They fished piranhas together and shared a very endearing moment! They shared the fishing rod and the effect was that they had caught half a dozen piranhas in just 10 minutes. The group of young people seemed calmer because they had enjoyed incredibly fishing for piranhas and were starting to fulfill their expectations of great adventurers.
Curiously, one of the activities that passengers enjoy most is piranha fishing. And the best thing is to cook and eat them. They were eager to try them. Raul prepared the fried piranhas for us, along with a varied salad of Amazonian tropical fruits.
The jungle and nature are magical and unite human beings. Their happiness could be expressed.
After lunch I explained to Nina Burleigh the idiosyncrasies of the Amazonian people who are united with nature, their mythology and conservatism inherited from Spanish Catholic colonialism. As in all of Latin America, there is a mixture of different cultures that make its people rich and diverse.
In the afternoon they enjoyed kayaking on the tributaries of the Amazon River where the current is calm. The young people were delighted and also the not so young. It is a great way to enjoy the Amazon as there is no engine noise to disturb the sound of the jungle.
Everyone came back delighted. They were enjoying themselves immensely, but the Russians still seemed restless. I had already arranged with Augusto and Christian to meet tomorrow with a shaman in a village near the Amazon River.
In the evening we had chonta salad, colloquially called the fetuccini form jungle. It comes from the heart of the pijuayo palm tree among others. It is usually served with lime juice, farina, and avocado. It is a very healthy and digestive dish.
Swimming in an Amazon lake
The next day after breakfast we went swimming in a lake. Litlle by little the group of passengers joined in and showed their complicity. They observed the solemn pink dolphin, the only one of its kind in the Amazon.
After the swim in the lake we also visited a village where the passengers could see how the locals lived, interact with the natives, and appreciate the kindness of the Amazonian people. We visited the local school. The children enjoyed seeing us and the passengers bought the local handicrafts. It is essential that there is interaction and that the local people can be helped. All the crafts and decorations on the boat were made by the natives and we always try to collaborate with the local economy.
Looking for the shaman
Augusto, Christian and I went to find the village of the shaman with the Russian couple. He showed us various types of medicinal plants and finally after half an hour they found it. It was the plant called achiote ( Bixa Orellana ) which helps to treat skin infections. The Amazon is the largest pharmacy in the world. I didn’t know what specific problem they had, but it seemed that the Russian couple had finally found their anxious plant.
Rescuing the sloth
On the way back to the cruise, we observed an animal suffering in the water. As we approached, we witnessed that it was a sloth. We managed to save it since it seemed to be drowning due to the strong current. We took it on board and approached land to set it free. We did not want to feed it because then we could disturb its food balance.
The sloth (Bradypus tridactylus) is one of the most beloved and peculiar animals of the Amazon Rainforest. It’s strange to see it on land as it’s very vulnerable, only coming down from the trees to excrete once a month. It is a folivorous animal, that is to say, it feeds exclusively on mature leaves that contain a high proportion of cellulose that makes it difficult to digest. As they have a very low energy value, they must dose their energy. They are very slow animals with a calm metabolism and long digestions. They live on the branches of trees. They are defenseless and very much loved by the natives.
After a few days we could see that the group of different nationalities and so disparate was very united. The Amazon and nature did their job of bringing people together.
Preparing the surprise
The next day Mr. John came to me enthusiastically, he wanted to surprise Mrs. Carly. His idea was to give her an Amazon flower. I knew the perfect plant, but it was very difficult to get and I needed to bring it to make the surprise. We had managed to bring the two passengers together and now we couldn’t fail. I contacted Augusto to bring us the Heliconia (Heliconia episcopalis), a very colorful tropical plant characteristic of the area.
I contacted Augusto and he helped me. The problem was in the logistics since we were quite far from the city of Nauta. Given the situation, he didn’t hesitate, he went in with a motorized skiff and came in search of us. He brought the plant back intact and shiny without the passengers noticing.
In the afternoon while the passengers enjoyed a walk to observe the fauna and flora of the Amazon, we went to Mrs. Carly’s room to leave the flowers and decorate her room.
On the way back from the excursion, Mrs. Carly found herself in majestic awe. She wept with emotion and embraced Mr. John. That night we decided to serve dinner in her room so that both of them could enjoy an intimate moment and observe the wonders of the Amazon alone with the full moon.
The last day we made an excursion in the canopy where we could appreciate from the height of the solemn Amazonian Rainforest. Most of the fauna and flora are found in the tree canopy, which are the tops and upper regions of the trees in a forest. In these layers it is estimated that it stay (casa) between 60 and 90 percent of the life present in the rainforest.
Back on the boat, at the moment of the farewell the whole team and I hugged emotionally with the rest of the passengers. It’s the saddest moment, but at the same time the most emotional. The trip on the Amazon cruise brought us all together and created a sentimental bond creating an experience that we all carry with us for the rest of our lives.
If you want to read the articles published by the American journalist Nina Burleigh during her cruise and in the city of Iquitos with us click on the following links:
You can learn more about Amazon cruises by visiting our experience by clicking on the following link:
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