A month into the fall, I received an invitation to join a select group of travel advisors to visit the Peruvian Amazon on one of the first sailings of International Expedition's new ship, Zafiro. The itinerary was intriguing: Four days in an Amazon lodge followed by four nights aboard the luxury boat. The timing was perfect and my fun-loving business partner, Leslie Yzaguirre, really wanted to go. So I packed my bags and got ready for a most unexpected adventure.
The fun started the moment we landed. We grabbed a luggage and headed to our home away from home for the night. The next morning, we flew to the heart of the Peruvian Amazon to meet the International Expeditions team and begin our adventure.
Our first stop was Ceiba Tops, a rustic lodge accessed only by boat, became our base for the next four nights. We were not the only occupants of the lodge, as there were wandering tapirs and all sorts of other Amazonian wildlife happily roaming the premises. Abelardo, our gracious guide who had grown up in the Amazon, showed us his world for the next five days.
Early mornings were spent hiking through the jungle while Abelardo pointed out everything from the rare olive whip snake to caimans, poisonous frogs, and industrious leaf-cutting ants that could have easily been the inspiration for Pixar producers. What we encountered continually were birds of all kinds; Macaws, toucans, flycatchers, tanagers and so many more. One particular bird, the red-throated Caracara, had a call you would easily mistake for water dropping in a pond. Short of spotting a giant anaconda, it felt like we were walking through an Indiana Jones set.
One afternoon we visited the local Yagua tribe where we were greeted by their chief and a group of elder women with grass sheaths that covered their chests. Both Leslie and I were given the chance to test our skills at blow darts. Being two of the most competitive women on the planet, we spent a chunk of our afternoon trying to hit a target that a Texan with a wad of chew could easily mark.
On our last morning with Abelardo we woke early to climb above the jungle canopy. Walking on suspended bridges built by researchers we could see for miles and yet looking down we saw more birds, flowers and sizable insects than I could count. The morning mist was below us and the sounds of the jungle waking were absolutely melodic. I wanted so badly to be able to take the sounds home with me, but I couldn’t bring myself to record it as I knew that I could never adequately recreate it.
The next day we headed to the the Zafiro, a recently launched, luxurious forty passenger boat. After five days in the jungle, we spent the next five being utterly pampered. The Zafiro featured daily wildlife viewing from small skiffs, swimming in the Amazon, fishing for piranha and opportunities to visit local villages where people live much as they did hundreds of years ago; fishing, farming, bartering and relying on a shaman to help them with their health needs.
We spent our final night aboard the Zafiro huddled around the only working television watching the Peru vs Columbia soccer match along with the yacht’s Peruvian crew. With Peru on the verge of playing in the World Cup after sixty years of being shut out, a win in this this match would rival the second coming….With flags waving and patriotic songs being sung, the Peruvians tied the match, leaving them one more match to play next month to secure their coveted spot.
The next morning we headed back to Lima to catch our flight home. What we had just experienced was special and not typical of what most tourists get when they see the Amazon. The Zafiro was the perfect complement to the rustic experience of Ceiba Tops. From here on out I will do my best to encourage others to see this rare and beautiful place that plays such a significant role in the health of our planet and humankind.