From the High to the Low
Wednesday, 8.31.22, 9pm
The day was long.
I mean like tormentfully long. By the end (after the bus ride through crowded Cuzco to the airport, and the long waiting at the Cuzco airport, and the long plane trip to Lima, and the need to go through security AGAIN in Lima—and the security guy’s insistence that he couldn’t let me through if I didn’t have my original boarding pass, not the new one but the one from Cuzco, and I HAD IT, and the wait in the Lima airport, and the endless plane ride to Iquitos and then the bus ride to Nauta which took A FULL TWO HOURS…
…well, I was done.
By the end, I was fantasizing that the door of the bus would open and I would step out and into my own bedroom, with the door shut and the bed made and the cat purring. And there would be silence (no sound of motors or the irritating hum of almost-heard conversations) and no vibration at all, and I would be alone and fully at home in my own space.
And then I was restored.
We drove through Nauta, where everyone lives in cement one or two room houses with more-or-less store fronts that open onto the street. People sit bored in their doorways and watch their dogs; the only truly happy residents. The roads were cracked, the nabe was depressing, and we had to do a three-point turn in a startling mud bog…
…but that was to let us disembark into “our VIP lounge,” which was…well, it was STUNNING. Small local children gathered on both sides of the steps to wave and sing (because the crew handed out any of the box lunch items we hadn’t eaten on the ride in, and if I’d known—if any of us had known—nothing at all would have been eaten. We mostly ate out of boredom, which is a pretty pathetic reason to possibly let down a cluster of small, happy children.
But inside the walls, the place was a movie set. What you’d expect if MGM was going to set a millionaire movie in the tropics. The conical roof came to a point far overhead. The floor was polished wood. Elegant groupings of seating areas were scattered about. A bartender waited to solve any incipient dehydration, and lovely bathrooms waited to the side, over a covered walkway. And the air was soft. DC in the summer is FAR more brutal than this early nighttime.
And out on the river, lit up in the darkness, was the Delphin II, waiting for its new crew of passengers. We were taking “the skiffs” to the boat; please come this way when you’re ready.
In my secret heart, I despaired of getting into a skiff. My knees are much happier to be at sea level (o lord blessed be your oxygen!), and I was expecting the same effect as having to sit on a dock and put my feet into a loosely-rocking rowboat; I was sure to take a dip in full view of my horrified fellow passengers, all of whom I know and quite like by now.
But I now feel ashamed that I so doubted Lindblad.
The skiffs had ten upright seats in them (two-by-two for five rows; everyone gets a “window” seat, as it were) and a prow with a bannister built in. Thanks to kind Eric (who despite his name was born and bred on the river), I put one hand in his, the other on the bannister, stepped up maybe six inches, walked across a tiny deck, and down two metal stairs—still holding on to the bannister. I turned and sat; my dignity as firmly intact as my delighted grin. Fabulous!
Getting off the boat was every bit as simple.
Twig was the first one on board. She was greeted by the hotel manager, who said “Welcome! Do you know what cabin you’re in?” “Sixteen,” she said, shifting bag and backpack to get at passport and ID. He stopped her gently and gestured upstairs. “Please—that’s on the second deck. Go up and make yourself comfortable.”
We just walked in and were in our cabin mere moments later.
And the cabin was just as lovely as the photo. We have the front cabin on the port side, with windows that arch from the front of the ship all the way around. It was black night when we arrived; we didn’t get the full effect of the window, but it didn’t matter. The entire cabin (except for the windows) was wood-lined, with clever nautical design touches. We’d been told we’d have to share a king-sized bed, but no. We had two twin beds; perfection! The room is just glorious. The only flaw (and it’s one I’m determined not to think about too much) is that the boat’s septic system can’t handle paper; all toilet paper must be disposed of in a garbage pail with a lid; we are assured it will be cleaned and sterilized several times lately. It gives both of us the ug. But accept it and move on.
We went upstairs immediately, to the center of the ship on the third deck (where I’m writing now). While our rooms are air-conditioned (as are the dining room and the lounge, at the stern of the third deck), the large bar area at the center of the third deck is open to the air. The bartender rules supreme here, and they had an assortment of hors d’oeuvres for us to nibble on (if the box lunch at 4pm had left any inconvenient nooks and crannies). All pisco sours are free for the duration of the journey, as are any Peruvian beers (plus soda and filtered water). Passengers gathered at the bar as we got underway. I sat in one of the many luxurious seating areas and felt my will to survive flood back in. Twig joined me and we inhaled deeply and felt tension drain away. Rusty took one look and said “I kind of wish the whole trip had been this!” Then he parked it at the bar and engaged many of the other guests (most of whom are probably three times his age) in charming conversation. He, too, has regained his will to survive.
The pre-dinner briefing went on for too long. It was in the air-conditioned lounge, which was too bad, and the rumble of engines was particularly loud there. It was too much like the rest of the day. The plates and glasses on the glass-topped table in front of Ed and Gwen were chattering so loudly that I leaned over and made Ed give me the plates; I think they couldn’t hear how loudly they were vibrating from the engines. Then, whenever the presentations got boring, Rusty and I both watched with snake-like fascination as Gwen’s glass of wine chattered closer and closer and closer to the edge… She always took a sip just when it looked like things were going to get exciting.
The schedule for tomorrow was given to us, and there is VERY LITTLE going on that I don’t want to do. It’s going to be a long day! We’ll get a wake-up knock at 5:30 (there’s no shipwide PA system; if we put the “do not disturb” card on the door with the “Please wake me” side showing, then someone will knock on the door until we confirm that we’ve heard them. After that, if we show up for the excursion at 6am, we can go. If we oversleep or are late, too bad; you missed it. Coffee always available at the bar.
We cruise around in the wonderful-for-old-ladies skiffs for 90 minutes, looking at dawn on the Amazon and seeing what we can spot. Back for breakfast at 9. At 11, Sandro (or was it Jorge?) is giving a demonstration on the local in-season fruits, which includes tastings. I’m fascinated by that, and my foodie son and sister are over the moon at the thought. Lunch at 12:30, followed by a “mandatory” siesta. At 2, Walter will give a photo demonstration. I could skip that if I’m sound asleep, but I learned so much on the Patagonia/Antarctica trip from the Nat Geo photographers that I think I’d be a fool to miss this one. As much as I learned, I’m all too aware that a lot of useful info on that previous trip escaped me because my mental sponge was just too full at the time.
After that, Alberto (the expedition leader) asked for a show of hands; who would like to go fishing for piranha? I didn’t raise my hand because the one time I went fishing (in Wyoming), I spent the entire time afraid I’d catch something and have to DEAL with it. But Twig pointed out that there would be someone else to deal with removing the hook and all the “ew—no thank you” part, so I think I’m in, too. That’s supposed to be at 4, followed by a river wander as dusk comes on. Darkness at 6-ish, and we’re not due back until dinner at 7pm, so the guides will all use spotlights to see if we can spot night creatures. “Maybe a capybara, maybe snakes in trees, you never know.” Ooh! Eager shiver!
When we sat down for dinner, Twig and Rusty and I agreed that there was not one single thing we DIDN’T want to do. (Hang on—Alberto also had a jungle walk in there somewhere. After the photo demonstration? Yeah—3:00.) Even though we’re all of us tired to the bone, we’re going to do ALL of it. Even Rusty showed sincere enthusiasm. He’s feeling WAY better. I’m so glad he’s on the trip!
Dinner was all local stuff. What is this lovely not-cole slaw? What?? That’s shredded hearts of palm?! I’ll be damned! It looked like a large pile of homemade pasta. Heavenly. The fish (name provided but I have no damned idea what it was now) was tasty, but I was filling up. I ate some of the green beans and the quinoa and a bit of the mashed potatoes. Rusty and I had the “crème brulee,” which was more of a rice pudding with a thick circle of sugar candy on top, but I managed to choke it down anyway…
Twig (who prefers to be in bed by 8 or 9) has gone to bed. Upon the advice of Alberto, I’ve hung our binoculars on hooks amidships, in the open air, because it will take at least 90 minutes for air conditioned lenses to de-fog upon entering the un-air conditioned world. GOOD IDEA! And I gave our passports to Johnny, the hotel manager. He’ll return them tomorrow at breakfast. As far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome to bring them back within the last five minutes before we’re kicked off the ship permanently.
And now I’m writing on the open-air deck, under a gentle spotlight. There ARE plugs, if I’m willing to go stand next to a wall, but my laptop can do without a charge for a while longer. And I never thought to ask if there was internet on this boat. I think there isn’t (although my laptop just offered me a hotspot from my phone, so I guess I’m getting a signal somehow).
I’m going to just upload photos and paste them one after the other at the end of the blog post, instead of taking the internet time to lace them through the entry. I trust you won’t mind. None of the photos are particularly gripping. The images of the Andes from the air are terrible—but they remind me of an observation I had:
From looking at a continent-sized map, I’d stupidly thought the Andes would be mountains marching neatly up the globe, two by two. (There’s a brown Andes and a white Andes, depending on whether or not they have glaciers.) But that’s very, very far from the truth. The mountains extend in all directions beyond the point that an eye can see, even from that high up. It seems to me that if you could shake out Peru like a table cloth and iron out all those creases, this really quite small nation would turn out to be bigger than the United States. It’s just that all that area exists in a largely vertical format.
Except here, in the oxygen-rich headwaters of the Amazon, where life is flat. Calm. Breezy. Absolutely delicious. I might never come home.
NOPE. No internet. And my phone is getting either one or two bars, so the hotspot concept isn’t working well enough for photos. Take comfort from the knowledge that none of my photos were very good! I’ll see if I can upload this with no photos.