Leaving Machu Picchu and on to Cuzco

Photo ©Jean Janssen Machu Picchu, Peru

When we finished our half day touring Machu Picchu I was wore out and thirty. We went directly to the restaurant next to the Belmond Lodge right at the entrance to the Machu Picchu ruins. It was set up for a buffet and fortunately, our group had reservations. It was a clear, hot day but I had been afraid to drink much since the only toilets were outside the ruins entrance gate and there was no reentry. Most members of our group were hungry, but I just wanted to keep thinking water and then a Peruvian soda that was on the buffet. I hardly ate anything at all.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Exhausted, we all got in line for the bus back down the mountain after lunch. The line actually moved pretty quickly; we didn’t have much of a wait at all. The hotel was going to deliver our bags to the train station, so once we arrived back in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) we had free time to visit the bars and souvenir stands before the train ride back to Ollantattambo From there we are taking our bus to Cuzco. At this point, I wish we just had the direct train to Cuzco.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Machu Picchu, Peru

Carlos showed us the layout of the city and where the entrance to the train station was although it was too early for us to get in. Neither Boris nor I felt much like shopping, but sitting in a bar near the station, hydrating, and watching the crowds sounded like a good plan to me. We saw more of the sherpas loaded down with gear for the Inca Trail while we passed through the marketplace.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View out the train window leaving Machu Picchu.

When the luggage arrived, we made our way into the train station to wait. There were lots of passengers waiting for multiple train departures. It is obvious that some people hike up to Machu Picchu, but take the train back down and it was much more crowed than when we arrived yesterday. Wow, that was only yesterday. It seems like so long ago given the amazing experiences we had visiting the Lost City of the Incas.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The demon dance aboard the train from Machu Picchu to Ollantattambo

There were more steps and some difficulty handling luggage, so just be prepared if you are leaving from the Pueblo station. Once on board, we found that instead of the relaxing ride and looking out the windows, we were going to be treated to some entertainment. A dancer dressed in costume and mask appeared and danced down the car to piped in music. She was dressed as a demon according to Harvey, our Incan guide. After her own performance, she decided she needed some audience participation.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris dances with a demon, Machu Picchu Pueblo, Peru

It came as no surprise that she selected to dance with Joe. However, guess who was her second victim, I mean partner. Thats right. Boris. He danced with her back and forth down the aisles. Hysterical, but he looked like he was enjoying himself. Of course, I got some video.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Searching for glaciers outside the train windows

After the dancing, the staff in our car put on a fashion show. Peru is headed into winter, so none of the items we saw were anything I could wear anytime soon. That didn’t stop me from looking though. Of course after the show they came down the aisles selling the modeled clothing.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Searching for glaciers outside the train windows

After that we settled into the rest of the ride into Ollantattambo, hoping for a view of the glaciers. I was on the wrong side for the best pictures, but I did catch a glimpse. Given all the entertainment, it felt like a quick trip back. Upon arrival in Ollantattambo, we had to get off the train quickly as it was continuing on to Cuzco. From the station we got back on the bus for our drive into Cuzco.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Searching for glaciers outside the train windows

On the way into Cuzco, Harvey told us about the new airport planned for the city. It has been in the process for about 10 years, but has met with a lot of resistance because it is closer to the Sacred Valley and many of the people are concerned about the disturbance and perhaps damage it will cause to the area. It will be bigger and closer to the attractions in the Sacred Valley and access to Machu Picchu.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The exterior chapel entrance at Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel in Cuzco, Peru,

Arriving in the city, we hit lots of traffic and it was very slow going. If they are going to put an airport out here they better start with wider roads and more lanes of traffic. Once we got closer to the hotel, we had to switch from our bus to two smaller vans because our bus wouldn’t fit into the narrow lanes of the old city where we are going. Our hotel tonight is something very special-although all the hotels on this trip have been amazing. As the name implies, Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, is an ancient monastery and one of the most touted hotels in Cuzco.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Carlos and our doorman outside Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, Cuzco, Peru,
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Making a grand entrance at Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, in Cuzco, Peru

Upon arrival the doorman greeted us at the front of a large wooden door. Once everyone was on the sidewalk, he opened the door for the big reveal. We were checking in in the monastery’s chapel. What a moment. We quickly got on our way. Our luggage had been delivered to the hotel prior to our arrival and we simply had to point out our bags and receive the heavy metal key to our cell (what the monks called their rooms). Although not large, the room was gorgeous with high ceilings and the bathroom made the most of its tiny space. No two rooms in this hotel are alike.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel check-in at Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, in Cuzco Peru was in the ancient monastery’s chapel which was set up for a wedding.

Carlos recommended several area restaurants for dinner, but Boris was so exhausted he didn’t want to go out. We ordered room service and then crashed after our exciting day at Machu Picchu and our spectacular arrival into Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas. The exploration of more Incan sites and this fabulous city is on the agenda for tomorrow.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Monasterio, A Belmond Hotel, Cuzco, Peru
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Natasha visits Machu Picchu: #1 on her Bucket List

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Machu Picchu, Peru

If you are a regular blog reader you know I have done extensive international travel, much of it before I even started the blog. My bucket list for travel ebbs and flows, but for many years now the number one thing on the list has been a visit to Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Our Tour Group at Machu Picchu. Boris and I bookend the group. You’ll see he is in full Indiana Jone wear today.
Photo by Carlos Alvarez.

We expanded the trip by adding a cruise on the Amazon on the front end by booking a package with Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. I covered that portion of our trip in eight previous posts. After flying to Cuzco at the end of the river cruise, yesterday we started our exploration of the Inca heritage sites traveling through the sacred valley and boarding the train in Ollantattambo.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the train. We assumed this bridge is used by those on the Inca trail.

Leaving Ollantattambo, you can hike the magnificent Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a four day-three night walking excursion with the assistance of sherpas who carry the heavy loads and set up the tents. On our way into Ollantattambo, we passed a field where all the clean gear had been laid out to dry. We later saw the sherpas in town. Hiking the Inca Trail is the only option if you want to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Urubamba River from the train to Machu Picchu.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. We could see up and out from the windows in a Vista Dome car on the train to Machu Picchu. There were views of the canyon walls from the windows in the ceiling.

You can not drive to Machu Picchu. If you are not hiking, your other option is to take the train up. The train was definitely the right choice for Natasha. Not only it is a better fit given my physical health after two foot surgeries and a later fall down the stairs, but I didn’t have to give up the spectacular views. The train tracks run right along the Urubamba River and right between the canyon walls. Our vista dome car meant we had large windows, including ones in the roof. I spent the 2 hour and 15 minute trip staring out the windows. We took the 3:55 afternoon train up. The number of tourists that can visit the site on a daily basis is now limited-only 75 are let in each hour. There is an adequate number of trains offering service to the site, but you want to be sure to book your travel well in advance.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View from the train on our way to Machu Picchu

If you are not touring other destinations in the Sacred Valley, you can take the three and a half hour train ride from Cuzco. There are various levels of luxury depending on what company you choose. The end of the line for travelers from either Ollantattambo or Cuzco is Aguas Calientes, named for the warm springs. Its official name is Machu Picchu Pueblo. Here there are hotels, restaurants, and other tourist services. We ate at our hotel after our evening arrival, but there are other restaurants in town and plenty of places to buy souvenirs. If you really want to stretch your budget, there is a Belmond Sanctuary Lodge at the entrance to the ruins. We stayed at the SUMAQ Machu Picchu Hotel which has a lovely view of the mountains. It is one of two luxury hotels in Aguas Calientes.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This was the view of the river and the mountains from our balcony at the SUMAQ Machu Picchu Hotel in Aguas Calientes

In the morning, we took the 30-minute bus ride from the hotel up to the entrance to the ruins. Aguas Calientes sits at 6700 ft. Machu Picchu sits at almost 8000 ft. We originally thought we were going to have to go to the community meeting point where guests line up for buses that begin running at 5:30 am. However, given the size of our group-we almost fill a bus-they are bringing a bus to us at the hotel. The alternative to the bus ride is a 90-minute to two-hour strenuous walk up to the citdel.

Machu Picchu. Photo by Phil Lichtenberger
Llamas roam through the upper levels of the ruins at Machu Picchu where they met other members of our group.
Photo by Phil Lichtenberger

There were no written records mentioning Machu Picchu until Europeans visited the site in the 19th Century because unlike the Mayans, the Incas did not have a written language. As we toured, various locations were referred to by specific names like the Temple of the Sun, the Sacred Rock, and the Temple of the Condor. These names are the inventions of the explorers who came later and are based on the tombs and other physical evidence found.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Terracing at Machu Picchu in the agricultural quarter of the ruins.

“Most recent archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later, at the time of the Spanish conquest. According to the new AMS radiocarbon dating, it was occupied from c. 1420–1532. Historical research published in 2022 claims that the site was probably called Huayna Picchu by the Inca, as it exists on the smaller peak of the same name.” Wikipedia

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our local guide Byram showed us what the area looked like covered in vegetation when the explorers arrived in 1911. The Alvarez family who was living on the site had only cleared some of the terraces for farming.

After it was abandoned by the Incas, few beyond those in the immediate area even knew of its existence. The jungle completely overtook the landscape, effectively hiding the ruins. It was Yale lecturer Hiram Bingham who began writing extensively about Machu Picchu after he was led there in 1911 by locals Melchor Arteaga and Pablito Alvarez. In 1912, he led an expedition to begin clearing the site. If this story sounds vaguely familiar, it is the basis of the opening scenes of the Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford in the lead role, a character based roughly on Hiram Bingham.

While we toured the lower route and got to into the temples and other structures, other members of our touring party took the upper route and got these iconic views of Machu Picchu. Photo by Phil Lichtenberger.

In 1983, Machu Picchu was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Today it is one of world’s favorite tourist destinations and after a closure for COVID has reopened to visitors. The only restrooms are outside the ruins. There is a small fee to use them. You can not reenter the citadel, so although water was recommended throughout our visit, I was afraid to drink much in case I needed to go to the toilet and then couldn’t come back in.You must tour Machu Picchu with a guide. Due to the size limitation for tour groups, our group was split into three. There are four routes: long upper route; short upper route; long lower route; short upper route. For ease, we are taking the long lower route which is also the one recommended for first time visitors. The iconic views we see in familiar photographs of Machu Picchu are taken from the upper route. The lower route offers you the opportunity to enter many of the structures.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Touring the Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. View up from the Temple of the Sun

We walked along side the amazing terracing we have come to associate with the Inca sites. Our first stop was the Temple of the Sun, (Temple du Soleil or “Torreon”) and the the Royal Tomb (Tombeau Royal) “Only priests and other high ranking Incas were likely [sic] only permitted access into the Temple of the Sun, one of the most sacred temples in all of Machu Picchu. Adapted to the natural environment, the unique semi-circular construction of the temple is built over an enormous granite rock and there’s a tower with a trapezoidal window. In this sacred temple, it’s believed that Incas worshipped their Sun God, Inti [sic]and may have served as a royal tomb.” machupicchu.org.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The natural cave under the Temple of the Sun was once thought to be a royal tomb. Machu Picchu

“A trapezoid window of the Temple of the Sun was positioned along its curved wall to capture sunlight during the winter solstice on June 21st…There is a natural cave under the Temple of the Sun, Originally, it was believed that this cave may have contained the remains of the Inca Pachacutec, but more recent studies indicate that the space was likely used to do ceremonies in honor of Mother Earth (Pachamama).” machupicchu.org

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking back down as we were going from the Temple of the Sun to the royal residence
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Going from the Temple of the Sun to the royal residence

The next stop was what might have been the royal residence (Maison de l’Inca). You are able to tour this series of structures with amazing views, sources of water, and wonderful acoustics. The Incas truly were early masters of architecture.

Natasha at the entrance to the royal chambers, Machu Picchu. I used the walking sticks only when balancing when going up and down steps where there was no hand rail. They don’t always let you take them in, but after two foot surgeries and a recent fall down the stairs (where I re-injured the same foot) I had them along for security.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maison de l’Inca, Machu Picchu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maison de l’Inca, Machu Picchu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maison de l’Inca, Machu Picchu
Carmen and Natasha touring Machu Picchu. Photo by Leslie Sharp.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking back at the residences at Machu Picchu

After viewing the residences, we went on to see the Sacred Rock, Wank’a in Quechua. The Rock resembles the mountains behind it. The spot was a shine and a place of rituals and offerings to the earth. The spot also afforded us our best view of the high point of Huayna Picchu, the mountain seen in all the iconic pictures of Machu Picchu and arguably the best spot to get a photograph of the citadel ruins. The ruins sit on a lower point of the mountain. You can climb to the top of Huayna Picchu, but you must make reservations very early. Only 650 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu each day.

Machu Picchu. Photo by Phil Lichtenberger
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sacred Rock, Machu Picchu.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Huayna Picchu

After circling behind the Sacred Rock, we went to visit some of the lower structures and the Temple of the Condor. “The Temple of the Condor in Machu Picchu is a breathtaking example of Inca stonemasonry. A natural rock formation began to take shape millions of years ago and the Inca skillfully shaped the rock into the outspread wings of a condor in flight. On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feathers, completing the figure of a three-dimensional bird. Historians speculate that the head of the condor was used as a sacrificial altar. Under the temple is a small cave that contained a mummy.” Peru.com

Temple of the Condor, Machu Picchu. Photo by Leslie and Carmen Sharp

The lower structures offered us terrific views of the hilltops, canyons, and valleys below. We could also look across and see the sun gate where hikers on the Inca Trail enter the historic site.

Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen Boris leads the group down as we tour the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru

Near the bottom were some amazing lookout points. There was also a wonderful view if you looked back toward the terraces in the agricultural sector.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Looking back at the terraces from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen Llamas enjoying the terraces of Machu Picchu,
Photo ©Jean Janssen A young family enjoys the view from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru and wanted a picture to record their visit.
Photo ©Jean Janssen View from the lower structures of Machu Picchu, Peru

The site was totally deserving of its number one designation on my bucket list. I would encourage everyone to visit this true wonder of the world. –Natasha

Looking a little worse for the wear, Boris and Natasha complete their visit to Machu Picchu. Photo by Carlos Alvarez.
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The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru

Photo ©Jean Janssen. In traditional dress in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The spectacular Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru

We woke up in our gorgeous hotel in the Sacred Valley in the Andes Mountains of Peru ready to start the next phase of our Peruvian adventure, discovering the sites of the ancient Inca culture. Late this afternoon we will take the train to Machu Picchu which we will visit tomorrow. After breakfast we headed out for Moray.

Photo ©Jean Janssen View from our hotel in the Sacred Valley, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our hotel in the Sacred Valley, Peru

At 11,500 feet and sitting just west of the village of Maras, is the Inca ruin Moray. The site contains a series of terraced circular depressions. The largest depression is 98 feet deep. Significantly, the temperature difference between the top of the highest terrance to the bottom of the lowest can be as much as 27 degrees F. The Incas were ancient masters of design. Their ruins are architectural marvels and their understanding of orientation, the wind, and the sun was excellent.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Inca ruins at Moray, Peru.

The purpose of the Inca depressions at Moray is not certain. The Incas had no written language so there are no ancient texts to consult. It has been suggested that the terraces at Moray were designed for agricultural purposes, an amphitheater for ceremonies and celebrations, a quarry that was retrofitted after mining was complete, or were even the site of an extraterrestrial landing. The most widely accepted theory was that the area was experimental terraced farming with various microclimates at the differing levels given the temperature differences and the sun hitting specific sections at varying times of the day. The Incas developed a series of channels that fed water to the terraces from high in the mountains. It has been suggested that they used the knowledge gained from the experimental production to develop farming techniques for the varying landscape of their empire.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Inca ruins at Moray, Peru.

Excavation of the site “suggests that the bottom six terraces may have been built by a culture predating the Incas. Presumably, the Wari culture who thrived from the 6th – 10th century.” Peruforless.com. What we see today was created by the Incas between the 12th and 14 centuries. The farmers who live is this area have always known about the ruins, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the terracing at Moray came to the attention of western cultures. Since the 1970’s the areas has served as a tourist attraction. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A necessary stop is always on the agenda and Carlos was on hand with supplies to make it as pleasant as possible.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the weavers’ farm we were greeted by the community members in native dress. The stick in the front is one of honor and is carried by the mayor of the community.

We will see more ruins today, but our next stop was a little different. We are visiting local weavers for a demonstration and the opportunity to purchase the artisan crafts. This is llama and alpaca country and their fur is what serves as the base for the local textiles. We were greeted by the mayor-his ceremonial stick present during the demonstration-and the women who make these beautiful products. They were dressed in traditional costumes. The difference in headwear showed us that one of the women was from a different community.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Natural products are used to dye the fur. The basket on the left shows the natural color of the varying shades of the alpaca fur after it is cleaned.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the looms used by the Sacred Valley weavers. On this smaller apparatus, a cloth in the fur’s natural color is being created. The intricate, traditional designs are time consuming hand work.

Carlos started with an introduction and a translation, but then one of the woman surprised us by speaking beautiful accented English. Even joking with us in English. During the demonstration we saw how they clean the fur, derive color from the natural products, and weave the cloth. They used different looms to create the various items, some very colorful and some in the natural color of the alpaca fur.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This long runner was created on a larger two person loom. The products are often started in the community center by the group and then taken home by the women to continue the work there. A larger product like this one can take two months to produce. It just happened to go home with Natasha.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. This Peruvian woman came from a different community as evidenced by her headdress. The day started off cool so they were dressed warmly during our visit.

They showed us how many of the products served multiple functions from table linens to personal garments. One of the most interesting was an almost square piece of cloth that was used to carry a baby or small child. The little boy who was “volunteered” for the demonstration on how to fold the cloth was adorable, especially when he got a break and was given a cookie. We were never sure which of the women was the mother. They all held him at some point during the demonstration. I also admired the beautiful pom poms the women wore in their braids which traditionally would have indicated what community they were from. When the two braids are loose the woman is unmarried. She wears the two braids bound together after she marries.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Just driving through the villages of the Sacred Valley we saw evidence of the ancient monuments being incorporated into present day buildings.

We are traveling around the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes Mountains just north of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas. The area is also known as the Urubamba Valley, coming from the name of the Urubamba River that flows through it. Today this is agricultural land, villages, and ruins from the Inca civilization. Our guide Harvey will tell you that the Spanish Conquistadores did not conquer the Incas, although they did steal their treasures and abuse and enslave their people. Harvey is of Incan decent. You can see it in his size (smaller stature) and his features. It is his belief that the Incas are alive and well today and in many ways tricked their Spanish invaders into thinking they had adopted their religion and culture. He promised us more examples when we tour Cuzco.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. I took this picture from the bus as we traveled around the Sacred Valley. The woman wears the traditional tall hat of the region. It is worn only by the woman.

“The Cusco region attracts around 1.8 million visitors annually, many of whom are on their way to visit Machu Picchu. The iconic royal retreat is the best-known tangible remnant of the Inca Empire, which arose out of the Andean Plateau near Cusco and grew to encompass most of the Andean highlands. The Sacred Valley of the Incas envelops a fertile agricultural and cultural landscape, punctuated by small villages of Quechua-speaking communities and dotted with the surviving remains of great Inca family estates.” World Monument Fund. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sacred Valley of the Incas. (excuse the glare from the bus window)

We drove through the Sacred Valley, crossing back and forth over the river. We saw the “cabins” on the mountainside that you can stay in; you have to repel in. Fascinating, but not in my wheelhouse. Our next stop is the village of Ollantaytambo where we will visit a traditional house, tour the famous ruins, and later today board the train to Machu Picchu. In the mid 15th Century, Ollantaytambo was part of the personal estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Here the emperor built lodging for the Inca nobility and terraces and irrigation systems for support. Later when the Spanish would raid the region, Ollantaytambo served as the temporary capital of the native resistance against the Spanish Conquistadors.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. “The valleys of the Urubamba and Patakancha Rivers along Ollantaytambo are covered by an extensive set of agricultural terraces or andenes which start at the bottom of the valleys and climb up the surrounding hills. The andenes permitted farming on otherwise unusable terrain; they also allowed the Incas to take advantage of the different ecological zones created by variations in altitude. Terraces at Ollantaytambo were built to a higher standard than common Inca agricultural terraces; for instance, they have higher walls made of cut stones instead of rough fieldstones. This [is a] type of high-prestige terracing” found at other royal Inca holdings. Wikipedia
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colorful decorations greeted us as we entered Ollantaytambo. Today, this is a town for tourists looking for a glimpse of a different way of life, the ruins of an emperor’s private estate, and a jumping off point for travel to Manchu Picchu.

The Sacred Valley village of Ollantaytambo is “set on the Urubamba River amid snow-capped mountains. It’s known for the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress with large stone terraces on a hillside. Major sites within the complex include the huge Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain. The village’s old town is an Inca-era grid of cobblestoned streets and adobe buildings.” Google

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Traditional dress of the native people of Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Altar in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Food stocks in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Our first stop in the village was a traditional home where we were welcomed by the owner. We entered through a courtyard and went down steps into a large room. There was a hayloft, but otherwise the home was a single room with sections dedicated to specific functions. Alpaca skins lined the benches of the table as cushions, small altars were set up around the room, native clothing was hung as a display, and colorful textiles were folded on the end of the bed.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colorful textiles on the edge of the bed in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Carlos Alvarez. Hand milling in a traditional home in Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo ©Carlos Alvarez. Grace gives it a try

Harvey gave us an introduction to the various sections of the room and introduced the owner who gave us a demonstration on how grain was hand-milled. Grace was given a chance to try it and confirmed it was hard work. On of the corners of the room was a short walled sections that served as a pen for guinea pigs. They are not kept as pets. Guinea pig is considered a delicacy in Peru. One guinea pig serves as a meal for two persons.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Guinea pig pen inside the home in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The homeowner, Ollantaytambo, Peru.

After the home tour, we headed over to the ruins. There was a market place set up right next to the ruins entrance. Ollantaytambo has a thriving tourist industry. People come here to glimpse a traditional way of life, the colorful native dress, the beauty of the Andes, the spectacular ruins of the Inca Empire, and as a jumping off point for the train up to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. Just like in other tourist destinations, there is someone dressed up for a photo op. For a small fee, you can have have your picture taken with an Inca Emperor, although this one is wearing a face mask due to COVID restrictions. The hot items to buy here are anything with coca leaves or walking sticks. Boris brought some walking sticks from home, but I picked up a pair for $20 that I will use tomorrow at Machu Picchu.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Have your picture taken with an Inca Emperor in Ollantaytambo, Peru. With continuing COVID restrictions, even the emperor is wearing a face mask.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wearing the traditional tall hat of the Andes, this Peruvian women sets out a picnic meal near the marketplace in Ollantaytambo, Peru

After entering the archaeological site, Harvey gave us an orientation as we looked up at the temple steps. It was very windy and dry (a far cry from the still, humid rainforests of last week on the Amazon), and we had to look away to keep the grit out of our eyes. On “a steep hill…the Incas built a ceremonial center. The part of the hill facing the town is occupied by the terraces of Pumatallis, framed on both flanks by rock outcrops. Due to impressive character of these terraces, the Temple Hill is commonly known as the Fortress, but this is a misnomer, as the main functions of this site were religious.” Wikipedia

Photo ©Jean Janssen The temple hill steps at the terraces of Pumatallis at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru
Photo by Jean Janssen. Joe, Joh, and Sue start the trek up Temple Hill at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru.

With very limited time and a desire to save my strength for tomorrow’s visit to Machu Picchu, I decided not to make the 30 minute hike up and down the temple steps. A few members of our group made the trek and the rest of us took pictures and then headed over to the fountain bath of the princess.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Instead of climbing the temple steps, Boris agreed to pose as Natasha’s model at the terraces of Pumatallis at the Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo, Peru. Note the start of Boris’ Indiana Jones costuming as we get closer to Manchu Picchu
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Storehouses on the hills at the Ollantaytambo ruins, Peru.

Walking toward the fountain, we could look up and across and see the wonderful storehouses with their unique ventilation system set in the hillsides of Ollantaytambo. Because the storehouses were located high in the neighboring hills where there is more wind and lower temperatures, the contents could more easily be defended against decay. While Harvey was describing the bath of the princess at the base of the ruins, the fastest trekker, Joe, arrived to celebrate his victory. Ah to be 20! It is his, and his twin Grace’s, birthday today. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, Per arrived to celebrate his half climb. Got to give him his due as well.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joe celebrates his successful climb and decent of the temple steps.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the bath of the princess, Per claims victory for his half climb and decent.

We had to hurry out to the bus and a few people got caught up in the shopping, but it was time to finally head to lunch. That’s right, everything that I just described was from the first half of our day. Rather than try to find a place to accommodate our large group for a “midday” meal, we are going for a picnic lunch. I had envisioned box lunches at a park, but Carlos reminded me that this is Uniworld.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Fabulous spot for a picnic lunch in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

We went to a open field near town where gorgeous tents had been set up for a lunch with multiple courses with perhaps the best steak I have ever had and I’m from Texas. We were entertained by musicians on traditional Peruvian instruments including the pan flute. Then we were each given a pan flute as a souvenir and had a lesson in playing it. I was terrible. The video of the group attempt is hysterical.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Luncheon musicians. They tried to teach us how to play the pan flute.

Up next, the train ride to Machu Picchu and Natasha’s experience at the #1 thing on her travel bucket list….

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Seen from the train to Machu Picchu
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Transition Day: from the Amazon to the Incas with a trip to the Manatee Rescue Center

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Feeding the baby manatees at the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

Today we transition from the river cruise portion of our trip to our journey of discovery related to the ancient Incas. We will disembark the Amazon Aria today, fly first to Lima, and then on to Cuzco to do a little altitude adjustment.

Our Amazon Aria Naturalists. From left to right, Ricardo, Julio, Billy, and Roland.

There was breakfast and then our luggage had to be outside our rooms by 9:15 am. That still gave us time to relax until 10:30 am when we would disembark the Aria and head to shore on our last skiff ride. We cruised back and forth a bit on the Aria since we obviously arrived in Iquitos early. I will be terribly sad to leave our naturalists behind. All four are different and yet I feel like I made a connection with each of them. From the beginning with Roland…the hand holding with Ricardo (he kept me steady)…the animal encounters with Billy…to the laughter with Julio. They are amazing individuals.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tuk Tuks and Motorcycles are the preferred modes of transportation in Iquitos, Peru.

We saw a lot of the tuk tuks (local taxi powered by a motorcycle) around the city. There were also lots of motorcycles. Honda has a motorcycle production facility near Iquitos. The cost of purchasing the cycles for the locals has come down dramatically. Many families purchased them during the pandemic as a means of making additional money by providing transportation or delivery. Tourism is a key component of the Iquitos economy. When I asked Billy if the people suffered due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic, he said it was not as bad as it was in other areas as the people of the Amazon are self-sustaining. They grow or catch their own food as a normal way of life.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This clear tank at the Amazon Rescue Center near Iquitos, Peru is for the young new arrivals
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A transition tank for the young manatees at the Amazon Rescue Center near Iquitos, Peru

Once ashore, we boarded a bus for the ride through town to the manatee rescue center. Manatees are endangered and this is one of the places trying to make a difference in the population. There are several different tanks, from the clear one with the juveniles to the older ones where you see the water beginning to look a lot more like the muddy waters of the Amazon. The really small ones were more lethargic. The largest one of the three really liked to swim around and the guide told us that even he was rather listless when he first came to the center. What a difference three months makes!

Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

The manatees’ habitat is shrinking and they sometimes are injured by the motors on the canoes that once were only propelled by human strength applied to a wooden paddle. The greatest threat to the manatees is that they have always been a source of food for the Amazonian people. With the shrinking rainforest and fewer animals, the gentle manatee has become the easier prey and their population is decreasing. The baby manatees the Amazon Rescue Center rehabilitates are often orphans left to fend for themselves or sold on the black market.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Headed from the trees to the rooftop at the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

The goal of the center is to reintroduce the manatees into the wild. The last phase of the rehabilitation is a large pond where the manatees have no human interaction for one year before they are released into the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve that we have been touring. The protection they are afforded at the reserve gives them their best chance at survival. The rescue center is located on the road between Iquitos and Nauta.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Children’s Theater set and play area at the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

Beyond rehabilitation, the center’s secondary goal is education and a large part of the tour was visiting the grounds where educational presentations and play areas geared to children are located. The hope is to convince the next generation that manatees are not a food source. Manatees are not the only rescued animals at the center. We saw lots of monkeys, macaws, turtles, and even a sloth. One of the saddest creatures was an anteater whose leg had been intentionally broken so he couldn’t get away and could be kept as a pet. He did have an interesting set-up. His home looked like a doghouse and he ate and drank from pet bowls.

The highlight of are visit was watching the staff feed the baby manatees. They could really take down a bottle of formula. It was a hot, humid day. I wish I had the opportunity to change before we got on the plane because my clothes were soaked by the end of our rescue center visit. I missed the cool breezes we enjoyed while riding along the Amazon in the skiffs.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Feeding the baby manatees at the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

After the rescue center, visit we re-boarded the bus for our trip to the airport. We said goodbye to our naturalists at the airport as they handed us our sack lunches and drinks. It was bittersweet. As a travel note, in Peru you can take drinks through security on domestic flights. Boris and I are struggling to keep the weigh of our bags down to 50 pounds (23 kg) each, the limit for domestic flights within Peru. I think they may have let us slide a bit at check in. After getting through security, we didn’t have too long a wait before we boarded the plane.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. This character is used to tell the story of protecting the environment to the children who visit the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

Before COVID-19, there were direct flights from Iquitos to Cuzco; unfortunately that route is no longer being offered. We will miss the nice dinner planned for the hotel in the Sacred Valley tonight. In Lima, we had to walk out of the baggage claim and then go back into the airport and through security before boarding our flight from Lima to Cuzco. Fortunately, the baggage didn’t have to be reclaimed; it was sent straight through. Carlos recommended we grab some food at the airport, but there really wasn’t much time.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. At the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

For whatever reason the preassigned seats seemed to always have me being last off the plane. This route, Carlos got me a seat in the front and I was able to move up and sit next to him for the flight to Cuzco. While he ate his dinner, I enjoyed snacks I had brought from the Aria. When we arrived I walked with him to baggage claim immediately feeling the effects of the higher altitude. Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Incas, sits at the highest altitude we will experience during the trip.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wearing our Amazon Aria tees, Carlos and I grabbed a selfie on the plane headed to Cuzco.

In baggage claim, we were met by our local guide Harvey who told us about the city as we made our way out of town. We did make a momentary stop for Carlos to collect some fresh bread and cheese he had ordered for our journey. By the time we arrive at the hotel, the restaurant and bar will be closed. It was after 11 pm when we finally made it to the Sacred Valley. Of course, when the itinerary had been designed, the plan was that we would make it there much earlier; we were waylaid by the altered flight schedules and the loss of the direct flight.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. One more look at the baby manatees at the Amazon Rescue Center, Iquitos, Peru

It was a long day of travel and I miss the Aria, but our hotel in the Sacred Valley was gorgeous. I will enjoy the beautiful bed before we begin early in the morning on our touring of the ancient Inca sites. On to the next phase of our adventure…

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Natasha goes Piranha Fishing in the Amazon

Natasha catches a Piranha. Photo by Ricardo

Today is the day. I have seen them. Saw their red bellies and their sharp teeth. I have even tested fate by swimming in their river. Today, Natasha is going to catch a piranha.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Easy to spot evidence that we are moving into the dry season in the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. We spotted a pair of dogs along the channels off the Amazon.

But fishing is for later in the morning…It is the final day of our Amazon River cruise and the naturalists are once again offering an early morning excursion. Not to miss the opportunity, I’m in. Boris slept in once again. There was only one skiff headed out with Billy for our early departure. We traveled down interesting channels off the river. It was kind of like the Venice of the Amazon (without the bridges, and the buildings, ok maybe not like Venice) and we were in rush hour traffic on the water. There were so many boats out and about. Farmers were headed to their newly emerged plots of land and children were headed to school

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Early morning ride to the channels just off the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Swimming to us.

We have gotten better about spotting and identifying the various bird and animal calls. We spent some time listening and then trying to find the animals we heard. We also saw a couple of dogs along the way. Two of our guests, Phil and Kathy, are service dog trainers. The dogs would show up periodically as we traveled down the channel. They appeared to be really struggling in the mud and were most likely separated from their owner. When they swam to us it was obvious they were being more than friendly; they needed help.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Billy with our tag alongs. Taking them home.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Billy released the dogs when we reached the village.

Because he is naturally just a great guy, we had already almost completed our touring, and the fact that everyone on the boat was focused on the dogs, Billy pulled the two dogs aboard our skiff and held them at the front. They were shaking but also happy to be aboard. Billy knew of a nearby village and we asked people along the way and were able to confirm that the dogs’ owner lived in the village. At the edge of the village, Billy released the dogs and they headed home, but not before they took a look back at us. Billy is our hero. Boris is going to be sorry he missed this. We are both missing our Westie Peabody.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The early morning’s coolest find along the Amazon?
Photo ©Jean Janssen. With Stephen in the background, Per checks out our new friend.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. And finally…searching for a new home. No Boris to land on.

We look the journey back to the Aria, spotting a few more animals along the way including a mantis that looked like Pickett, the bowtruckle (animal character) out of the current Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts series. There were plenty of farmers already out at work on their plots of land even though the hour was still early.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Early morning and farmers are already out working their plots of land in the channels off the Amazon River, Peru.
Robert shows off his catch. Photo by Ricardo

For our regular morning excursion after breakfast we are going piranha fishing and will have our second chance to do some swimming in the river. The fact that we are doing these at activities in roughly the same area did not escape me. For the piranha fishing, we are snuggling up to the shore line. We are baiting the lines with steak.

Per and Leslie show off their catch. Photo by Ricardo

I admit that I was a little apathetic about the fishing. Boris was really into it, but I was happy just to watch. The women on our boat were killing it. Rita and Karen caught 7 and 8 respectively. It probably didn’t help my attitude that Rita was right behind me and would swing her line and fish right in front of me each time. Many times the piranha landed at my feet. They are nasty little things that chewed right through Julio’s shoes so I admit to a few screams when one of those suckers landed on me. Ricardo got some pretty funny video.

Grace dressed to match her catch. Photo by Ricardo.
Photo by Jean Janssen. That nasty piranha chewed right through Julio’s shoe.

Finally, Julio came up to me and announced that we weren’t leaving until I caught a piranha. I had by this point caught a few; I just hadn’t landed any. So I gave in, baited the line, and Julio told me when to pull. I ended up catching one of the larger ones. Well then I was hooked and caught a few more. Boris did really well; he is the real fisherman in the family.

Natasha and friend
Boris and his haul of Piranhas. Photo by Ricardo.
Amazon Piranha. Photo by Ricardo.
Amazon Piranha. Photo by Ricardo.

By the time our fishing was almost complete, we had gathered quite an audience of the native people. As it turned out, they were there to provide rides in their canoes for anyone who wanted to participate. The ship had also supplied kayaks for anyone who wanted to paddle on their own. Boris went for a canoe ride and I stayed behind to get pictures of him.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris on a local canoe paddling the Amazon.
Paddle Up for Grace. Photo by Ricardo.
Enjoying the ship’s kayaks. Photo by Ricardo

After the paddle, we had our final chance to swim in the Amazon. Of course I jumped in. Once again it was cool and refreshing. Several of the guests decided to take their beverages in with them. At the end of our morning excursions, we headed back to the ship for lunch and a break. We have a village visit this afternoon.

Ready for a guest for her canoe on the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo
Joe enjoying the Amazon River. Photo by Ricardo.

One of the things I admire about particular travel groups is the ability to blend the cultural experience with the active one. It is even more impressive when they offer a philanthropic opportunity to bond with the native peoples. My dive masters, Ann and Eric Keibler, with Oceanic Ventures in Houston make that a part of all their international dive trips. Today we are visiting a local village and taking them health and school supplies. Good for Uniworld and Amazon Adventures.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Interacting with villagers along the Amazon and meeting the local midwife.
Natasha presenting a gift bag to young girl. She was so smart, correctly answering many of Julio’s questions. And what a memory! You can see our ship the Aria in the background.

Julio led us in introductions and games and even with a language barrier, we felt a connection with the families. We met the village midwife, a rarity and a lucky addition for this village. She had delivered multiple generations of children in the village and couldn’t even remember a total number. We had the opportunity to present each of the children with a gift bag and Boris and Joe even interacted with some of the local animals. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris is always finding animal friends that like to sit on him.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Joe and friend.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris waves goodbye to our new village friends along the Amazon.

Tonight was our final dinner aboard the Aria. We saw a wonderful video presentation of all the pictures and movies that Ricardo had recorded during our week on board. I have shared many of those with you. Harvey our head waiter did an amazing dance routine; none of knew he had it in him although there were hints when he led the conga line at last night’s dance party. Tomorrow is a transition day for us. We will leave the Aria then fly first to Lima and then on to Cuzco. No worries! The trip is far from over. Now we turn our attention to the ancient Inca sites that Peru is famous for. Stay tuned; there is so much more to come…

Sunset view from the Amazon Aria. Photo by Ricardo.
Natasha and her piranhas.
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Looking for Lily Pads in the Amazon

Cruising on the skiffs in the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

This morning as we took our morning ride along the Amazon, I shot a lot of videos. We saw so many of the beautiful white birds in flight. The color contrast of the white birds against the green foliage and black water was striking. Sometimes we were slow as we enjoyed the images of the shoreline reflected in the glass-like water, and other times if felt like our skiffs were racing along the river.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Birds in flight over the Amazon River
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our tour director Carlos bought a fish from a local fisherman who was out in his canoe that morning.
Photo by Ricardo.

Our tour director Carlos (not to be confused with our bartender Carlos) was riding in our skiff today. We stopped a local fisherman to see what he had caught this morning and Carlos bought a rather remarkable fish that he intended to take to the chef. Then it was back to our primary mission of finding the lily pads. They are disappearing in the Amazon

Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of our skiffs made a stop at the Ranger Station to let them know we were in this area of the reserve.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Huge water lilies in the Amazon Rainforest.

Like the other life along the Amazon, the lily pads play an important role. “The Amazon Rainforest is most famed for its exceptional biodiversity, with over half of the world’s estimated ten million animal, plant and insect species calling it home. The rainforest is also the largest pair of lungs on the planet and provides approximately 20% of the world’s oxygen.” Rainforest cruises.com

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The underside of a Amazon water lily.

The lily pad can grow to up to 8-10 feet in diameter, depending on the variety, and can be incredibly strong (holding up to 65 lbs.). They have a lip around the edge creating a bowl like effect to protect things from falling off the edge. Perhaps even more interesting that the surface of the lily pad, is the underside where the defensive mechanisms protect it from fish that want to eat it. There are also stalks that extend deep into the water.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. It might look wide, but the uneven board over the anaconda was a little treacherous
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bridge to the toilet. A western style toilet is a rather find in the Amazon Rainforest.

We are going to be out quite a while this morning, so we made a stop at an outpost with a western style toilet not usually found in the rainforest. It didn’t actually flush; you poured water into from the barrel next to it. Unfortunately to reach the toilet, you had to cross a narrow plank and go out across a bridge.

Billy and Julio rescued an anaconda caught in fishing line. You can see the gashes where the line cut into the snake. Photo by Ricardo.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. They released the anaconda back into the river.

While we were at the stop, the workers told our naturalists about an anaconda that was tangled in fishing line behind the structure. Julio and Billy went to check it out. The snake had deep gashes in it, cut by the fishing line. Our heroes got it free from the line and released it back into the water while we watched. Both said that the injury was not too bad and that the anaconda would recover.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Making ceviche on the skiff.
Ready for lunch on the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo

Making a turn onto another tributary, we spotted our chef. Our boats were then tied together for lunch on the river. We started with the chef making fresh ceviche with the fish that Carlos had bought that morning. It was followed by drinks and lunch wrapped in a palm leaf.

Photo by Ricardo
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lunch on the Amazon River
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Lunch on the Amazon River with the local beer.

We had a full afternoon on the river. We found more monkeys at play to enjoy, rode down the river as beautiful birds flew overhead, saw lizards and new interesting foliage, and just enjoyed the serenity of the Amazon Rainforest.

Photo by Ricardo
Photo by Ricardo
Photo by Ricardo

We got back to the ship late afternoon and took a break before our evening celebration. We only have one full day left to explore the river. We had asked the cruise director earlier in the week when there was going to be dancing and tonight she delivered. After our evening lecture, we all went out back on the third deck to the hot tub lounge area where there was a food and beverage setup.

Photo ©Jean Janssen Party set up at the hot tub lounge on the Amazon Aria.

Our cabin stewards performed on traditional instruments including the pan flutes I associate with Peru. Ricardo joined along on the box drum. The rest of our crew danced behind the buffet table. They used to hire experienced staff and then try to train them for entertainment. It is now done the other way around. In this case they hired fabulous musicians and taught them how to be cabin stewards. It showed; they were fabulous entertainers.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Music, drinks, food, and dancing at the hot tub lounge on the Amazon Aria.

Wendy swayed to the music, but I got a lot of the girls up and we made the most of the evening. We had a great dance party before going down to dinner. I sweated the entire time through dinner. Totally worth it.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunset on the Amazon
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Exploring the Peruvian Amazon: Cocktails and Caimans

Seen along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

Another amazing day on the Amazon, today I really noticed the water line on the trees, realizing the water level is dropping fast. One of the first things we saw was a line of long nose bats on a tree trunk. Ricardo told us it was a harem with one male bat and many females. Apparently this guy is doing really well; it was a larger group than usual.

Photo ©Jean Janssen A male long nose bat and his harem along the Amazon.

Most days we enjoy the play of the plentiful squirrel monkey. Today, we also saw the saddleback monkey and the black tamarin monkey, a small monkey with a white face. The hollowed out spaces in the trees were hiding places for some wonderful animals. On our first evening out, we saw three owl monkeys hiding in a tree. One of our big finds today was a kinkachu with its dog-like canine teeth. Like the owl monkey, it is nocturnal.

Hollowed out tree trunks are great places to find animals along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Black tamarin along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Amazon Squirrel Monkey. Photo by Ricardo.
It wouldn’t be a day in the Amazon without a sloth sighting. Photo by Ricardo.

While we have been fortunate to see sloths everyday, it was unusual birds, some we hadn’t yet seen, that dominated the day. We saw two pairs of blue and yellow macaws and a pair of scarlet macaws in flight. Although we see them in aviaries at home, seeing them fly over the river in their natural habitat is a sight to behold.

A pair of scarlet macaws in flight. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

We saw some marvelous hawks, including the black hawk, in the trees today. We are also beginning to see sand bars appear in the river as the water level retreats. On one sandbar we saw the small birds that migrate from continent to continent in large flocks.

Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
The black hawk along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the newly appeared sandbar in the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

These sandbars appear as the water levels drop. Families will go out and claim areas, marking their “fields” with flags, tee shirts, etc. The spaces are used for planting rice and other crops that thrive in these wet areas. The season is short, about five months, and the people have to harvest before the rainy season begins. On one such area, we saw a beautiful pair on the storks.

Stork along the Amazon on a newly appeared sandbar that the locals will use for planting during the dry season.
Photo by Ricardo
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Stork in flight along the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A pair of storks on a new sandbar along the Amazon as the dry season begins.

We saw water taxis out on the Amazon transporting people from one community to another. Many areas are only accessible by water. Speaking of hitching a ride, Boris raised the bar today. After a series of cricket ride alongs, today it was a striking blue butterfly that landed on his hat and made the morning journey with us.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris and friend along the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A water taxi along the Amazon takes residents from one community to another. Most areas are inaccessible by land.

Back on board the Aria for lunch, it was demonstration day once again. Carlos was back making a new series of drinks and got Leslie and Joe to help with the shaking. Harvey gave us a napkin folding demonstration and crafted a lily pad that he added a frog handicraft to; it took it back to my room as a decoration. Finally, our chef made a wonderful ceviche which we all got samples of to start off our lunch. Afterwards, we also enjoyed a food coma and an afternoon break.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A frog handicraft sits in one of our napkin displays that Harvey demonstrated today aboard the Amazon Aria.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Ceviche for all after the chef’s demonstration aboard the Amazon Aria.

Late afternoon, we headed out down one of the tributaries that line the Amazon River. Some of these tributaries are black water rather than the muddy brown water of the Amazon. It is a rather sudden change when they merger. The black water originates at a swamp, rather than coming from the mountains. “As vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water, making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained.” In contrast to the black water created by the tannins, when water runs down the mountains it collects silt that gives the rest of the Amazon its muddy brown color.  The black water has a strikingly different PH balance.  Pink dolphin mothers come to the black water just after giving birth while the baby is still attached by the umbilical cord.  The water kills the umbilical cord causing it to fall off; the water then seals the hole.  If you place a piece of red meat on a string in the black water it will be white when you pull it up; the water cooks it.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The beautiful black water of an Amazon tributary.

The black water if really quite beautiful. It is mirror-like and reflects the surrounding foliage on the surface of the water. When we swam in the black water, it looked like we were swimming in tea. Most of the planet’s blackwater rivers are in the Amazon Basin, but we also have some in the Southern United States.

A child of the Amazon proudly displays her catch, an armored catfish. Photo by Ricardo.
A child of the Amazon proudly displays his catch, a red-bellied piranha. Photo by Ricardo.
A young Amazonian girl and her piranha. Photo by Ricardo.

After a twenty minute ride down the tributary, we pulled into a creek and came across children out in canoes; they rowed their small narrow boats with a wooden paddle.. They were eager to show us what they had caught. Some had the iron armored catfish; other piranhas.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Showing off his catch of the day, an armored catfish.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A close-up view of the proud fisherman and his catch.

A young boy brought his armored catfish right up to the boat. The fish was aptly named. Although they are found in my home state of Texas, I had never seen anything like it. In the US State of Florida, the invasive armored catfish is considered a problem for the endangered manatees. While these catfish only eat algae, they cling to the back of the manatee to eat the algae that collects there. For the manatee, it is like being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. The underside of the armored catfish.

Julio brought the armored catfish inside our skiff and we got a look at the underside of the fish as well. It was spotted like a giraffe, an interesting contrast. Some of the other young fishermen had caught piranhas. They had bright red bellies. Julio gave us a close up look at the teeth on one of them.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Check out the teeth on this piranha.

I love being out on the river at this time. The day is cooling and the breeze as we glide along is refreshing. One of the things we spot is the beautiful red fruit with the silk cotton inside. We have seen some with holes where the parakeets have eaten the seeds and made a home. We have also seen sloths lounging in these trees, presumably eating the fruit when they are hungry. The fruit on the trees we came across was not quite ripe. Julio opened one for us.

Photo ©Jean Janssen We saw these bare trees with the red fruit all along the Amazon River
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The inside of the not yet ripe red fruit.

We will be out on the river after dark tonight, so Carlos met us along our route for a sunset treat. Evening cocktails were enjoyed on the river as we got to watch the colors change in the sky with the sun’s setting. It was gorgeous. The on-river cocktail hour was a surprise.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cocktail hour on the Amazon River
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunset on the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Only thing better is enjoying that sunset with a cocktail.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The changing colors at sunset on the Amazon River.

We are hunting for caimans tonight; that is why we are out after dark. Since the guides use a spot light, all kinds of creatures are attracted to the light. As we moved through the water, we wore masks and clear glasses to protect ourselves. The easiest way to spot the caimans is to look for their red eyes. Billy and Julio are the best spotters and we are lucky to be in Julio’s boat tonight. We found caimans in two patches of reeds.

One of our caiman catches. Photo by Ricardo
Caiman of the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo
A closer look at one of our caiman. Photo by Ricardo

Caimans are “species of Central and South American reptiles that are related to alligators and are usually placed with them in the family Alligatoridae.” Brittanica. The name is sometimes spelled cayman, like the Caribbean island. We found one small and one medium caiman. I got to hold them both; Boris chose not to. Everything we caught was returned to the water.

Natasha and her caiman. Photo by Ricardo.

After our successful caiman hunt, we headed back to the Aria along the completely dark tributary and than the main river. Our guides moved the spot light along the shore looking for more caimans. Occasionally, they pointed out a large log in the middle of the river to our drivers. For almost the entire journey, the drivers navigated completely on memory not by sight. It was truly impressive.

Sunset on the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Sunset on the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Returning to the Aria. Photo by Ricardo.
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Natasha Goes Swimming in the Amazon

Swimming in the Amazon River. The brave members of our party who jumped in. Photo by Ricardo

More than anything else I heard from friends when I announced I was going to Peru, and in particular cruising along the Amazon, was don’t get in the water. No hands, no feet, and certainly no one had even contemplated that we might swim in the Amazon. Defying the odds, that is exactly what I did. Our naturalists knew where to take us and once I understood the difference between the black and muddy water, I figured they knew where it was safe to jump in. But I am getting ahead of myself…

We are all a little worried about Joe who decided to “kiss” the anaconda yesterday. He is out for the count, recovering from an allergic reaction. Photo by Ricardo.

We had a little bit of a scare yesterday after the anaconda photo session. One of the young guests, not only held, but kissed the anaconda. He was not at dinner last night and not at breakfast today. He had a strong allergic reaction. There is no way to know if it is the result of “the kiss”, but it is a coincidence if it is not.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Many things found on the ground in other parts of the world, are found on the trees in the Amazon. In particular, ant and anteater nests.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. I am used to seeing the crickets on Boris, but I spotted this on huge one among the water lettuce and tall grasses near our skiff.

Billy was hunting in the tall grasses again today, but this time we were looking at tarantulas and spiders. We were also reminded how different the life is for many of the animals who live in the rainforest. Their life is in the trees or on the plants since their world has a water bottom. Something you would expect to see on the ground in other parts of the world, is found here attached to a tree or a plant. The ant and anteater nests are a prime example.

With his telephoto lens, Ricardo was able to get some great pictures of the sloths. This adult is high in the trees

This was the morning of the sloths. While we had seen some each day, they were usually high in the trees. In other words, some distance away. Today, we got to see a juvenile of about 7 months old, up close. She was out on her own clinging to a tree. We were able to pull the boat right up next to her. But the coolest thing…she moved. It is everything you have heard. The movement is painstaking slow. I got a great video, but unfortunately this platform won’t support video. Just know that when I sent it to the animal expert in the family-Rocky-he was impressed. The movement is something you rarely get to witness up close, especially in the wild.

Up close and personal with the Juvenile sloth. Photo by Ricardo.
A closeup of the juvenile sloth. Photo by Ricardo.

Of course, we also saw some amazing birds that we hadn’t yet seen. It was just hard to top our girl the sloth and that up close and personal experience. The Amazon Aria provides their guests with a wildlife check list and I have started to mark off the different animals we have seen. By far the wide variety of bird species exceeds all others. More than the variety, these are birds we would never see at home and they are so beautiful and colorful. Even the nests are fascinating, particularly the weaver nests that hang from the trees.

Along the Amazon River. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

After a full morning it was back to the Aria for our break. This afternoon we are going into a village to see the weaving techniques. There will be a crafts market for us. More than anything else, it is the beautiful smiles on the faces of these remarkable children that stay with you long after your visit.

The beautiful children of the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
A beautiful child of the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

Wisely, we were asked to wear masks to protect the villagers. We saw a demonstration on how they use natural products to produce the various dyes used to color the straw that is then woven into wonderful products like baskets, napkin rings, and animal figures. There was also some wood carvings. I picked up the wonderful basket made by the young mom who did our demonstration and a figure of the wonderful Amazon Kingfisher that flies just above the surface of the water.

Photos ©Jean Janssen. All of the dyes used are made from natural products.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. We saw how each of the colors in this basket were produced from products gathered in the Amazon Rainforest.

We were also invited into a family kitchen, covered, but open-aired, and were shown how food is prepared in this environment. There is an outlet ready for when electricity finally makes it to the village. Part of the infrastructure is there but not the power. Billy showed us the Amazon’s version of a blender. Only hand power needed.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. An outlet in place in anticipation of power supply.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Billy demonstrates the Amazon version of a blender.
Fish on the grill in the open air kitchen. Photo by Ricardo.

From inside the kitchen, I looked over at the patio next door and saw moms bathing their children in large plastic bins. I got a smile and a wave from the women. Everyone was very friendly. Carmen, one of our Brits joined in a pickup soccer/football game and Grace played volleyball with the children in the large open field. Football (soccer to Americans) is very popular all over South America. Most of the villages have large open areas for play.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bath time in the village.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Carmen joined in to play football (soccer) with the village children.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Grace joined them for volleyball.

It was a marvelous visit that promoted support and understanding. The time spent with the people of the Amazon added another layer to our experience.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A family of the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The girl in the boat, the Amazon.

I am happy to report that the first person I saw when I returned to the ship was Joe. He is feeling much better and anticipates rejoining our activities tomorrow.

Photo by Ricardo.
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Natasha and the Anaconda

Natasha and the Anaconda. Photo by Ricardo

So after that tremendous first full day on the Amazon and its tributaries, I didn’t think our naturalists could top it. It is always a toss up. Its nature; you never know what you will see. The schedule changed a bit today. There was no early morning tour, but instead of breakfast aboard the Amazon Aria we headed straight out with a promise of breakfast on the river.

Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

Early morning is a great time to be out with everything coming to life along the river. The cool breeze that passes through the boat is refreshing.

Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.
Photo ©Carlos Alverez

The morning was filled with more exotic bird finds. The beauty of the Amazon in the morning really came to life when we got the lead boat position. We had the opportunity to see the still, glasslike water of the PA Reserve completely undisturbed.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Birds in Flight along the Amazon.
Along the Amazon. These birds were gorgeous in flight. Photo by Ricardo.

This morning we spotted several villages along the Amazon and families going about their daily routine. Although the larger villages have elementary schools (always a blue building), many have been underwater for most of the wet season and they are just drying out so the children will be heading back to school soon. We saw children out in the canoes fishing and they often gave us a friendly wave.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Along the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Doing the laundry in the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A wave for the tourists along the Amazon.

When the restaurant staff caught up with us, we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast tray complete with poached eggs with avocado, fruit salad, muffin, tea or coffee, and fresh squeezed juice right at our seats in the skiffs. Delicious and fun.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Setting up for breakfast along the Amazon.
Breakfast aboard the skiffs on the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

After breakfast, we headed off into a side lake with more water lettuce and tall grasses. One of our naturalists, Billy, appeared to be on a mission. Billy was always looking for the really cool stuff. Last night he was the one showing us the spiders and tarantulas and told us how rare it was to see those large schools of catfish at night. It came as no surprise that Billy was the one to find and get out of the tall grass our first anaconda of the trip. It is no easy feat getting it out of the water. He had spotted one yesterday, but it went under water before we got close enough to reach it.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Billy and his anaconda
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Per, one of two Canadians on board, decided to ham it up for his photograph with the anaconda.

Anyone that wanted a chance got to hold the anaconda. I was a little skeptical, but Leslie, one of four Brits on board, said I should come up with him to take a turn. Staff held the head, Leslie had the tail. I got my photo. They brought the two ends pretty close to my face. The also had the snake along my back and I could feel it squeezing me. Not the most attractive photo, but it sure is funny. The video is even better; you can see the reaction grow. So glad I took the chance.

Yep, Natasha and the Anaconda. Photo by Ricardo.

Boris didn’t take a turn, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t one with nature. He was the lucky recipient of a landing yesterday. He spent most of his afternoon skiff ride with a cricket sitting on his life preserver. Not be be outdone, today he once again found a friend that wanted to go along for the ride. He had both a before breakfast cricket, and an after breakfast one. Other boats would come up along side us just to see what animal had attached itself to Boris that day.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. One the first day, a cricket road on the left side of Boris’ life preserver.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Day two’s early morning cricket.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Day two’s late morning cricket.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Billy pulled the anaconda into one of the skiffs.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. He is a big boy. Billy and Julio hold the anaconda.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Grace, one of the female guests had the privilege of returning the anaconda back into the grass. We watched it-I videoed it-slither down into the water.

After a morning like that it was time for a break. We headed back to the Aria for lunch and to rest up before our afternoon jungle walk. We will have the opportunity to see some of the local villagers and purchase some of their handicrafts. There was a pretty heavy rain during the break and I was glad we were back on the ship.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Approaching the riverside for our Jungle Walk in the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beautiful village children greeted us as we went ashore for our Jungle Walk in the Amazon Rainforest.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our Jungle Walk in the Amazon

After the return of the sun, it was even more hot and humid for our late afternoon jungle walk. The children who greeted us were delightful. They loved to be photographed and shown the pictures on your camera. They played with a single balloon and were enchanted. A local guide led us to the jungle walk path. The villagers had cut up tree trunks to set round steps. It was very slippery after the afternoon rain and it was an up and down trail that was a little challenging for me. I fell down the stairs in our home a few months ago, so the fear is probably more in my head than realistic. Actually the heat probably bothered me more. I was completely drenched when we finished.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A rubber tree spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Seed from the rubber tree.

We were with Roland and he took us up a secondary path to see a rubber tree (few and far between these days). The trees were marked with red and periodically during the day the worker had to return to move the spigot to a different part of the tree. It was very labor intensive work.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Frog spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Frog spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Frog spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Frog spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon

We had a local guide who found lots of interesting frogs for us in the jungle, along with a large tarantula. He worked with his machete, or his “second wife” as Billy likes to refer to these blades. We found out he is 80 years old. His hair is perfectly black and he moved with ease within the jungle. He put me to shame.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Tarantula found by our local guide on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our local guide for the jungle walk and his “second wife”, his machete. I would never have guessed he was 80 years old.

In addition to the rubber trees, there was other interesting trees. Some appeared to have multiple trunks (they grow that way naturally). There was another with lots of needles. The needles on the lower part of the trunk had been removed. These are the needles the villagers formerly used inside their blow guns. When he was growing up, Ricardo’s grandmother still had her blowgun in her room. All of the naturalists grew up in the Amazon.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. I found it interesting how these multiple narrow trunks work together to form a single tree. Spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. The needles on this tree were the type used in blowguns. Spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Spotted on our Jungle Walk in the Amazon

We retuned to the Aria in time to catch the beautiful Amazon sunset. I was another amazing day along the Amazon River. And yes, today was all about Natasha and the Anaconda. Until tomorrow…

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sunset from our cabin window.
Photo ©Carlos Alverez. Sunset from the Amazon Aria. As seen from the third floor sundeck.
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Birthplace of the Amazon River, Peru

On our early morning tour the first day out, our skiff with only four guests was the first to spot a sloth in the Amazon Rainforest. Photo by Ricardo.

Our Amazon River Cruise is starting in Iquitos, Peru, a large city for the country with almost 500,000 residents (even more if you consider the squatters and the metro area) and a gateway city to the Amazon. It is the 9th largest city in Peru and the largest city in the world that can not be reached by car. It is only accessible by water or air.  We were originally supposed to fly to Iquitos and then take a bus to Nauta, but the road is under construction so our ship, the Amazon Aria, is coming to Iquitos to pick us up here.  The boat will then sail all night toward Nauta.

Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo

Our tour is booked through Uniworld with a package that includes a stay in Lima, the Amazon River Cruise, transfers within Peru and travel to historic Inca sites, including Manchu Picchu.  If you just wanted the River adventure, you could still book the experience on the Amazon Aria through Aqua Adventures.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our Arrival in Iquitos

When we arrived in Iquitos, the naturalist staff for the Aria was all there to meet us.  They pulled our bags, tagged them for our rooms on the ship and welcomed us with food and drinks for our bus ride into town for lunch at the Iron House Restaurant, the façade and balcony of which were designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Paris’s Eiffel Tower fame).  The iron structure was dismantled, shipped to Peru, and rebuilt on Iquitos’ main square, Plaza de Armas.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the main square, Plaza de Armas, in Iquitos from the balcony of the Iron House Restaurant.

On the ride in, one of our trip leaders Roland, nicknamed the professor, gave us some background on the city.  Iquitos was the first city in Peru to have a train line to reach it.  It was also the first city in the country to get electricity.  During the late 19th century, Iquitos was the center of the rubber industry in Peru.  The country was stripped of its rubber trees with the native people performing the heavy labor under slave-like conditions in the rainforests.  There were never rubber plantations in Peru, but 60,000 seeds were smuggled out with the plants eventually being sent to Southeast Asia where rubber tree plantations were established given the similar climate.  After decimating the rubber tree population in Peru, the rubber industry in the country collapsed. 

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A historical map of the Amazon adorns a wall at the Iron House Restaurant in Iquitos.

From the Iron House balcony we had a view of Plaze de Armas, the square where a stage and booths were set up for a festival.  It was Friday evening and people would soon be off work for the weekend.  I enjoyed a very late lunch of ceviche and a stir-fried beef prepared with Peruvian spices.  The table was decorated with small colorful animals handmade from native products.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A handmade tabletop decoration at the Iron House Restaurant on the Square in Iquitos.

Next, we reboarded our bus for the trip to the harbor.  Life jackets were distributed to us at the pier.  We will use these lightweight jackets throughout the week whenever we board the skiffs.  We took the tour skiffs out to meet our boat.  Our luggage had already been transferred and was waiting in our room.  It was almost completely dark when we reached the Amazon Aria. 

Photo ©Carlos Alverez. Amazon Aria

There are three levels to the boat.  The embarkation level has a hallway open on both ends with cushioned benches.  This is where you board the skiffs and apply your bug repellent.  There are also 8 guest suites for 16 guests on this level.  On level two, there are 8 additional rooms, the gift shop, camera storage, and the ship’s restaurant with glass on 3 sides.  On level three, there is a large shaded hot tub outside and a large interior lounge with the bar.  The lounge is also used for group lectures and meetings.  Additionally, there is small workout room and single massage room on the third level.

Along the Amazon River. Photo by Ricardo.

This daytime photo of the Aria taken the week of our visit by Ricardo helps show the layout of the boat. On the 1st level, the midship breezeway open at both ends is the embarkation point. To the right are the windows for 4 guest rooms on both the first and second floors with a similar set up on the opposite side for a total of 16 guest rooms. On the left, the kitchen is on the first level and the dining room is on the second. the windows on the third level are for the lounge, massage room, and work out room. The hot tub and patio is on the third level on the right side end of the ship with the covering.

There was a brief safety briefing on level one to show us how to use the (other) emergency life jackets and then we had free time to unpack.  Tonight dinner was not until 8 pm since we had such a late lunch.  Dining is open seating with tables seating 4 each.  Breakfast is s buffet with made to order eggs and another special offering served at your table.  Lunch and Dinner are served family style with multiple courses; wine is served at both lunch and dinner.  Almost all the drinks are included in the tour price.  The daily menu is printed and available at each table.  While there are multiple courses, you do not make selections; all guests receive the same meal. The chef does make adjustments for dietary concerns. I do not eat chocolate and I always received an alternate item whenever chocolate was served. 

Along the Amazon River. Photo by Ricardo.

During dinner we had a preview of the activities for the next day.  We learned that the naturalists rotate leadership among themselves regarding heading up the daily program.   We were also encouraged to tour with all of the naturalists.  Boats are assigned randomly upon arrival at the embarkation area.  Each day, the schedule is written on a chalkboard near the gift shop on the second floor.

Amazing and unique birds fill the Amazon Rainforest. Photo by Ricardo.

Tomorrow there is an optional tour in the morning at 6 am for bird watching.  That is not necessarily my thing, but I don’t want to miss out.  We will get a wake-up call at 5:30 am.  The daily highs in the Amazon reach almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit year-round (32 degrees Celsius). The Amazon has a hot and humid climate. We have been encouraged to wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants made of a breathable fabric. In addition to heat waves, the area also contends with the possibility of flooding and earthquakes.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. There were great views from our wall of windows in a cabin on the Amazon Aria.

The guest rooms feature a wall that is floor to ceiling glass so you always have a view of the Amazon River.  The room is big for a cruise ship and has a king-sized bed, two nightstands, a built-in bench and closet and a small side table.  The vanity area opens into the room with a separate enclosed space with the shower and toilet.  The shower is large for a cruise ship and features a rain head shower head and grab bar.

First Morning on the Amazon River, a Lineated Woodpecker. Photo by Ricardo

In an odd twist, Boris decided to sleep in the next morning and I got up for the early tour.  He is the early riser and I usually don’t hit my stride until about 11 am.  There were only 4 on my boat, but we were the first (and only ones in the early morning) to see a sloth.  We also saw a wonderful red detailed woodpecker and many other birds.  I love the kingfishers that are plentiful and skim just about the surface of the water.  We returned to the ship after about an hour and had time to enjoy breakfast before the regular morning tour.

Pink Dolphins at the Birthplace of the Amazon River, Peru. Photo by Ricardo
©Manchu Picchu Travel Amazon River Dolphins, also known as pink dolphins

We are skirting the natural preserve along the Peruvian Amazon.  Although many countries claim the birthplace of the Amazon, its origin is actually high in the Andes Mountains of Peru where the snow melts and flows down.  At the convergence of the Maranon and Ucayali Rivers in Peru, the Amazon is born.  We are visiting the convergence point today and continued to spot unique animals (especially birds), trees and plants along the way.   As we reached the convergence spot, we have our first sighting of the Amazon River Dolphins, also known as pink dolphins.  They look nothing like our bottleneck dolphins.  These creatures have a long snout.  Although there is some gray, they are almost entirely pink in color.  This type of dolphin is not particularly playful with humans.  They were more stressed by our appearance than anything else.

A squirrel monkey in the Amazon Rainforest. Photo by Ricardo.

We saw lots of wonderful things on this morning excursion including some remarkable birds, tree frogs, more sloths, and the ever playful squirrel monkeys that travel in large groups. We would just sit in an area for a while and enjoy the show in the trees.

First Full Day out on the skiffs along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo

There are lots of small boats on the Amazon from the common small narrow wooden boat or canoe to slightly larger boat with cover which serve help natives to move from community to community along the Amazon where there is no or limited connection by land. We are traveling in skiffs, shallow-bottomed metal boats with fixed (and comfortable) seats. The skiffs are powered by motor.

Love this Polka-Dot Tree Frog Spotted our first morning out on the Amazon. I got a picture, but Ricardo’s is better.
Another Ricardo photo of the Polka-dot Tree Frog

Timing is everything in the Amazon.  The Peruvian winter is just starting.  The country has three distinct ecosystems.  In the Amazon, there are only two seasons-high and low-dictated by the level of the water.  The low season is only in its second week, but we can already see that the water level has dropped significantly by the water marks on the trees.  Carlos told us that during the high-water season it is mostly bird watching.  In the low season you see more mammals.

Boris and Natiasha enjoying our Pisco Sours aboard the Amazon Aria. Photo by Richardo

After our morning excursion in the skiffs, it is back to the ship for a bit of a break before lunch at 12:30 pm. At noon there is an optional cooking demonstration. Our cabin stewards also got into it with a towel demonstration and our bartender Carlos showed us how to make the national drink, a Pisco Sour.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Meet the water lettuce. With the exception of the tree line, all of the green in the photo is vegetation that has grown on the surface of the water.

After lunch, we had another break and then headed out for a late afternoon/twilight Cruise. Today we were introduced to the water lettuce that covers many of the tributaries of the Amazon. It is simply floating vegetation. Unfortunately, it can completely cover the water and deprive the creatures below of sunlight and oxygen. The manatees previously controlled its growth, but they are hunted for food and are now endangered. The water lettuce does have a pretty look and you don’t always realize you are traveling through a large body of water until the skiff makes a path through it. We crossed many lakes completely covered in green water lettuce. If it clogs the engine, the driver simply reserves the engine, dispelling it or pulls it out.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. More of the pesky water lettuce on the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. A ranger station in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve, Peru
Exploring the Amazon’s tributaries. Photo by Ricardo

We had a wonderful time. We enjoyed finding more sloths, watching the squirrel monkeys at play, spotting both the Cayman Lizard (red head) and the green iguana, and more hawks and vultures. We saw our first ranger station in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve; the stations are usually positioned just as you enter one of the river’s tributaries. One of the best things about this time of day was that the ride was cool and it was nice to just be quiet and take in the beauty of the river and listen to the sounds of the jungle. With so few boats around, the water was like glass and it sometimes looked as if you were peering into a mirror as the tree line, sky, and vegetation was all reflected on the water. One comment about terminology. While scientists usually refer to the river banks and the surrounding growth as the rainforest, the locals just call it all the jungle. I’ll use both terms, but know in this case they refer to the same thing.

Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo
Along the Amazon. Photo by Ricardo.

Throughout this post, we will see photos credited to Ricardo, one of the naturalists on our cruise. In addition to his spotting and guide duties, Ricardo took photographs throughout our visit and shared them. All the pictures he took were from the days we were aboard and are just better versions of what I photographed or saw on the specific days they are credited to.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. A squirrel monkey mid flight along the Amazon (just off center and to the right in the photo).

I wasn’t able to capture much with my Iphone, although the pictures I took did help me remember what I saw each day. I did have some luck catching a squirrel money in flight as he leapt from tree to tree. These monkeys are tree dwellers. Due to the water bottom of their home, they spend very little time on the ground.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. As the river acted as a mirror, sometimes I just sat quietly and enjoyed the view.
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Twilight viewing on the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Twilight viewing on the Amazon

As we lost the light, we found lots of spiders and tarantulas. The day out ended with the viewing of a swirling school of catfish and piranhas, a sight the naturalists rarely see. They were captivated. Just when we thought we couldn’t see more, a red tree boa was spotted and observed by all. And that was just the first full day!!! My challenge to the naturalists…go ahead and try to top this. They did. Next up…Natasha and the Anaconda.

Photo ©Jean Janssen. Twilight viewing on the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Twilight viewing on the Amazon
Photo ©Jean Janssen. Losing our light, we headed back to the Amazon Aria through the vegetation while aboard our skiff.
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