Here Is What Happened On Our Amazon River Boat Cruise
Hi, I am Bill Grimes, president of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises. I want to share this story to give you an example of what might happen if you join us on one of our Amazon River Boat Cruises. No two cruises are ever the same, so your mileage may vary.
This was our maiden voyage on the Amazon River Boat, the Selva Viva. There is much to like about the Selva Viva. The cabins, windows, bathrooms, and dining rooms are larger than most Amazon riverboats. The best benefit for passengers is the observation deck. It is the place to be to watch the river and rainforest go by. It is tall enough to be your own private canopy walkway. The boat is stable and handles well. It is owned by a French NGO and has a tourist business to help pay for its rainforest work. A bonus is that you will not just be tourists, but will also help fund the NGO.
We were traveling with Dave and Dottie Bonnett, their daughter Shayla, and two of their grandsons, Dave and Dylan. Marmelita and I consider it the highest compliment when our guests become our friends, and return to visit and cruise the rivers with us again. This was our third cruise together.
Among many other things, Dave is a scientific researcher recording and studying Pink Dolphin communication. He is building a large data base of recordings from several rivers in the upper Amazon. On this expedition we went up the Nanay River into Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve.
Our goals were to find and record Pink Dolphins, share our knowledge and love for the Amazon rivers and rainforest with the Bonnett family, swim, fish, deliver school supplies to remote jungle villages, and enjoy lots of good food. Mission accomplished.
The First Day;
After only four hours of sleep, I woke up at 3:30am going through my mental check list making sure everything was organized, that we were not forgetting anything important. I tossed and turned until 4:30 and since I could not sleep more I got up and worked on my computer sending last emails, and writing and publishing short articles for two of my blogs.
Marmelita got up at 5:30 and scurried around packing the coolers, coffee maker, toaster, fans, and organizing the last of several trips she had made the two days before for our expedition to the Amazon river boat The Selva Viva. Thanks to Marmelita’s great organizational skills and our experienced crew, we make staging these expeditions look easy, but of course it is not. It takes a minimum of two full hard days to get ready, three days are better.
We arrived at the Victoria Regia Hotel right on time and our guests were relaxing in the lobby with their luggage all packed and ready. Dave and Dottie Bonnett have gone on two other extended cruises with us, as well as on some memorable day trips and have become our good friends. This time they brought their daughter Shayla and two of their grandsons, Dave, and Dylan. The Bonnetts have established the non-denominational Dorthey and Dave Bonnettt Foundation, and sponsor several small NGO’s up and down the rivers from Iquitos, including Molly Mednekow’s Amazon Cares, The CCC Amazon Library.org, Patty Webster’s Amazon Promise, Pam Bucar’s Conepac Adopt a Schools, Dr. Elenor Swiftwick Peruvian Amazon Conservation, Dr Lenea Smith’s Amazon Medical Project, and they are patrons of the local artists.
We loaded into three motocarros and paid them S/ 3 soles apiece to take us to the Puerto Huequito, transferred over to Dawn on the Amazon I, which ferried us to the Selva Viva, our floating home for the next 4 days. The Selva Viva was built in 2007, in a traditional wooden Amazon Riverboat style, only with many nice features, such as solar panels that charge and store power in a bank of batteries, an electrical generator for back up, reverse osmosis water supply system, refrigeration in a modern kitchen, nice sofa, chairs, and lighting in the dining room, a GPS/Sonar unit, and a great observation deck with hammocks and a long table where we ate our lunches in the shade with the breeze. The Selva Viva is an attractive 22 meters long, 5.90 meters wide, with a shallow draft of around one and a half meters. She sleeps 8 comfortably but has a unique system that doubles the capacity for groups of scientific researchers, missionaries, big families or friends by dividing the large cabins with a thick curtain, with doors, bunk beds, windows, and plenty of cabinet storage space on both sides.
We met Captain Hernan and crew, who carried the luggage to our cabins, and like most of our guests will, went promptly to the observation deck and spent most of the day there.
We have to file a document called a zarpe with the Captain of the Port that shows our schedule, destination, and list of passengers and crew. No tourist boat can leave port without the Captain of the Port’s authorization. For those of us with boats, he is like God. Never get on the wrong side of God. It doesn’t matter if he shows up for the inspection two hours late, like this time. I always tell my guests this is where itineraries come to die. Why I don’t know. In the hundreds of cruises we have staged we have never been denied permission to leave port but only rarely have we been given authorization to leave on our scheduled time. I used to get very impatient, but am much more relaxed these days. That is just the way it is. There is nothing I can do about it. It is just another fact of life for an Amazon cruise company.
Finally we were cleared to cast off. We turned our stern to civilization and started toward the rainforest. We steered up the Nanay River into Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, one of my favorite places on earth. Ohhh it felt good to be back on the river. The first several hours were about our boat, the people on the boat, the other boats we passed, the villages, and putting distance between us and civilization.
We feasted for lunch on fillet of fresh fish, dressed with a gravy sauce made with nuts and heart of palm mixed in, herbed rice cooked with a few raisins, and a crisp green salad, washed down with fresh squeezed camu-camu juice, which has the highest vitamin C content of any juice. The fish and juice were a big success. The boys did not eat much of the rice. I liked it. We had freshly made peanut butter for back up.
It seemed like it sprinkled rain every 15 minutes, which kept us cool but the solar panels did not receive the maximum sun or deliver the maximum charge to the batteries.
Our first stop was the middle of the afternoon to pull into the beautiful lake of Llanchama. We have a Jungle Cabin there and usually pull in to show it off, visit the village, take a little hike, and blow off steam from being on the boat. The boys played with two frisbees and left them and a soccer ball with the children of the village. We dropped off supplies for a small group that will stay there for three days while we are up the river. Dave and I did not have as much steam to burn off so we stayed on board and enjoyed good conversation about our shared experiences.
Llanchama is on the edge of Allpahayo Mishana National Reserve, so shortly after everyone re-boarded the Selva Viva and we were under way we entered the reserve. Dave and I celebrated with a cold Iquiteña Extra beer, the ladies with Pisco Sours while we enjoyed a beautiful sunset.
The crew did a good job of finding a place to tie the boat up right after dark, and we settled in for another good meal. This time it was homemade pasta and tomato sauce, with fresh snow peas stir-fried with garlic and a little soy sauce, washed down with a sweet milky tapioca regional drink that is a favorite of the two Dave’s and I.
Marmelita and I took showers around 10:00pm and were serenaded asleep by rainforest frogs. I slept good until about 5:15 when the Duski Titi Monkeys started hooting near the boat and the tree frog chorus kept me awake.
The Second Day;
I took a shower around 5:00am. We had some electrical problems, partially because the solar panels did not generate enough extra power on the first day. We had a new motorista that did not understand the power system so the crew struggled for a couple of hours trying to figure out what was wrong. I like the coffee to be ready at first light, and it wasn’t.
Two troops of Duski Titi Monkeys kept hooting back and forth at 5:35, a night hawk was still feeding at 5:37, we had a nice sunrise, it was great to be back on the river, this was Dawn on the Amazon again.
A pod of Pink Dolphins were feeding right by our boat, frequently coming within a few meters, and entertained us from 5:45 to until 7:20. There were at least 2 immature calves, two mothers and a male.
Our electrical problem was solved and coffee was brewed by 6:45, early enough for most people.
After a big stuffed omelette, five types of tropical fruits, and fresh squeezed orange juice we cast off and wound around the bends of the Nanay River to the village of Mishana.
We were bringing school supplies from Sally and Sue, teachers at Turkey Run School in Park County Indiana. They received a grant to study the Amazon, came to Iquitos, traveled to these same remote villages we are going to, made friends with the children, and donated a lot of school supplies to help educate the village children. That will be a blog post for another day.
After distributing the educational material some of the group took a short hike out the back of the village, a few took a long hike, and Dave and I stayed on board. We made plans to find a lake where we could record underwater pink dolphin sounds, swim and fish. We were not worried, our chef Judy was still on board cooking lunch, which turned out to be marinated cecina, mashed potatoes, and chicken broth soup, araza, or guayaba Brazilera.
After the hike and a short swim we cast off for farther into the Allpahuayo Mishana Reserve. Along the way, Dave spotted a sloth, I heard Pygmy Marmosets, but they were not close enough to see. We enjoyed seeing the 4 toucanets. Dave counted 7 pink dolphins, and we stopped at two lakes, looking for a good place to record the pink dolphin sounds, but there were no dolphins in the lakes so we went on, until nearly dark and the third lake we saw dolphins when we pulled in but they seem to have been scared off by our sonar. The water temperature was 70 degrees at two meters deep.
Anyway, there was barely time to swim and fish a little before supper which was fried fish nuggets breaded with quinua, and twice fried platanos, cucumber, fresh basil, and tomato salad, with homemade apple cinnamon juice. Usually we do not have an insect problem in Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, but that night we were attacked by a swarm of hard shelled biting insects that invaded every nook and cranny. The kitchen was the worst place.
Took a shower, I like the large bathrooms.
One time Marmelita was guiding a group of guests in Dawn III, and the generator self destructed after only 4 hours on the river. She was still within cell phone range, called me, I bought a brand new generator exactly like the one that broke, had it delivered part way by road and speed boat, and had it installed while Marmelita took the group on a hike. The power was on when they returned from the hike and they did not even know we ever had any trouble, or that we nearly had to cancel their adventure and refund their money. Our guests were important, (all of our guests are important) and a financial and public relations disaster was avoided by quick decisive action. This electrical problem was solved also.
The Third Day;
I was drinking great fresh brewed coffee at 5:15, right on schedule. I don’t know how Judy made it, but it was how I like.
We had planned to swim and fish before breakfast but it was raining, so I made a controversial executive decision and we pulled out to move upstream. It quit raining shortly and the grand kids wanted to swim. My mistake.
I ate another herbed omelet stuffed with the works that would have choked an anaconda. The others had eggs and bacon cooked to their special order, with fresh blended pineapple with the fiber filtered out, and a big bowl of tropical fruit.
I had a plan and we kept going, saw 4 more toucanets. The Tangarana trees were coming into full beautiful bloom.
We saw a few pink dolphins and shut the boat down to drift along side them, but the current was too strong to get a good recording. Started back up stream and pulled into Samito, where we frequently see pink dolphins, and have a place to swim. No luck with the dolphins but Shayla found some jungle crafts that she liked and helped the local economy by buying some. We moved out into the lake and had a nice swim, then took off looking for pink dolphins.
Judy cooked a great beef dish called Ossobuco with a big piece of beef bone full of marrow and a fantastic sauce, brown rice, and a crisp lettuce salad topped with ripe avocado. She spent hours working all morning on the Ossobuco but as luck would have it we were just starting to enjoy our meal when the call rang out…”Pink Dolphins Ahoy” Dave lost his appetite immediately and jumped up to get his recording devise ready and the dolphins put on such a show that no one, except me, could concentrate on the meal. I hardly looked up until I had sucked the marrow out of my bone. That attitude might help explain my expanding waistline.
We had our good luck. A pod of Pink Dolphins in a feeding frenzy out of the current. Dave got a great recording. The Pink Dolphins were working as a team charging into the shallow vegetation and using a boom sound to stun their prey. The water temperature was 70 degrees at two meters.
After the Dolphin show slowed down we motored downstream to Lagunas to donate more school supplies. We were surprised to learn they had 35 students, and that used up the rest of our supplies. They were extremely grateful.
We moved on down stream to tie up in Yarana Lake just in time for swimming and fishing before dark.
Dinner was the best meal young Dave and I have ever eaten. Herbed baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes crusted with butter, baked chicken stuffed with peppers, and a sweet oatmeal milk drink that is a local favorite called avena, and a pudding made from quinua, milk, eggs….
After my shower I slept the night in a hammock on the observation deck and enjoyed the jungle night sounds. There was a bird or animal that I had never heard that called nearby from 1:30 to 2:30 mixed with a few hoots from the dusky titi monkeys and a flock of nighthawks calling tahuayo, tahuayo…Ohhhh I was happy to be back on the river and in the rainforest.
Coffee at 5:10am, at least three troups of Duski Titi’s started hooting back and forth in earnest around at 5:55, and kept it up till we left at 9:00 after breakfast, swimming, fishing and recording more pink dolphins. The water temperature was 68 degrees at two meters.
I stuck with my omelet, no imagination, others went with pancakes, Dylan ordered one hard boiled egg and two pieces of bacon. Fresh mandarin orange juice. 5 types of fruit. The passion fruit yogurt was a big hit.
We hurried downstream toward Iquitos. Stopped at a white sand beach that had emerged because the water was going down while we were upstream. The current was too dangerous to swim so we ate lunch, soup, chicken, olive rice, washed down with fresh squeezed lime juice. Then we moved to a safer place and swam close to the pink dolphins for half an hour and on to port at Iquitos where we tied up at 4:00pm. Plenty of time to make it to the airport for the 7:20 flight.
I can only speak for me, I had a great experience and thoroughly enjoyed myself. What about you? Does this sound like an adventure you would want to do?
Here Is What Happened On Our Amazon River Boat Cruise
Bill Grimes, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises