Our Introduction To The Amazon – Via Bill Grimes

by Captain Bill

Guest post by Leslie Stewart-Phelps

Our Introduction to the Amazon – Via Bill Grimes

I often travel with my sister and her husband.  We love adventures – domestic or international.  My brother-in-law John currently wants to visit places that are endangered.  Thus, our first such trip was to Antarctica.  We thought next about going to the Arctic, but the Amazon rainforest caught our interest instead.

Every trip has a “parent”, who is assigned the task of doing the research, making reservations, and collecting payment from the rest of us. John was “Dad” for this trip.  I was content to respond to his emails about preferences and possibilities and then go along for the ride.  Our parameters were to travel the tributaries instead of the main river, not spend a fortune, gain an accurate perspective of the area, and have an adventure.  After much research, John chose two companies for our trip – Dawn on the Amazon and Explorama Lodge. We spent November 3-10, 2013, with Dawn on the Amazon and November 12-15 at Explorama Lodge.

Bill Grimes of Dawn on the Amazon helped John choose an appropriate boat, and they settled on Selva Viva.  It is owned by a French NGO and has a tourist business to help pay for its rainforest work.  It was a bonus that we were not just tourists but were also helping fund the NGO. The Selva Viva has an excellent crew of six – a captain, pilot, engineer, general “sailor”, cook, and kitchen helper.  Also aboard were two French/Spanish/English speaking employees of the NGO who took us on hikes, small boat trip, and visits to villages.  They interpreted for the local guides and villagers.

On the first few days, we shared the boat with three delightful Canadians.  Then they went on to further adventures, leaving the whole boat to us three.  We felt well taken care of. The crew was happy, friendly, and helpful, responding to our every request. We ate well – all local fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit.  The only complaint I had about the boat was that it does not have fans or air conditioning, making sleeping uncomfortable.  Another hindrance to a good night’s sleep was the pumps in the hold under the cabins on the first deck.  Aside from that, the boat met our needs very well.

Days were filled with bird watching, rainforest hikes, boat trips up small rivers, visits to local villages and markets, afternoon naps in the hammocks on the top deck, fishing for piranhas.  (However, I just caught a catfish).  The crew was preparing for an upcoming medical trip in which doctors would be taken to remote villages.  Some of our trips to the villages were in preparation for these medical visits, so we got a more in-depth view of village life than I suspect other tourists get.

A highlight of the trip was a soccer tournament in celebration of the day the village was established.  (Most villages have a soccer field at their center.) The local guide, who had taken us into the rainforest earlier in the day, turned out to be the goalie.  Unfortunately, they lacked a referee, so our NGO guide, Arno, was drafted.  He took off his rubber boots and refereed barefoot.  They played spirited and quite good soccer.

Wildlife viewing was varied.  Bird watching was fantastic, of course, with many brilliantly colored and vocal species.  Primates were not numerous, although we saw 6 or 7 species, some of which were in the villages as pets.  The closest view we had of three-toed sloths was in the villages, where they were also kept as pets.  Pink and gray porpoises were common, having escaped being eaten because they are thought to have spiritual (usually negative) capabilities.  But other wild meat animals are very rare where we were – turtles, caimans, manatees.

The local guides told us about medicinal uses of the plants and found wildlife for us to view.  The NGO interpreters helped us with identifying flora and fauna as much as they could.  It would have helped our understanding of the Amazon environment if we had access to field guides and books with descriptions of ecological processes.

We said our sad good-byes to Selva Viva and its crew, returned to Iquitos for the night, enjoyed a hot shower and air conditioning at the Victoria Regia hotel, and ate a fantastic dinner at Dawn on the Amazon.  The next day, Bruno, one of the interpreters from the Selva Viva, graciously volunteered to take us on a tour of Belen Market and an overview of Iquitos.  The following day, staff from Explorama Lodge picked us up at the hotel and transported us to the resort.

Explorama Lodge is a totally different experience of the Amazon than we had seen so far.  It is a high-end resort – full air conditioning, king-sized beds, hot water, swimming pool, full bar, fine food. Our assigned guide, Orlando, is a local resident who was trained as a naturalist/guide.  His English is excellent, his knowledge of the flora and fauna was complete, and he filled in many of the gaps in our understanding of the ecology of the Amazon. Most Explorama Lodge visitors are on their South America tour – Machu Pichu,  Buenos Aires, Rio de Janiero, etc.  They spend a few days at the Lodge and probably claim that they have seen the Amazon.  The Lodge has a standard package of activities – rainforest walk, piranha fishing, visit to a village, lecture by a shaman, and a canopy walk.

Orlando had to figure out how to keep us interested because we had already done many of those activities on the Selva Viva.  The highlight was the canopy walkway at another lodge with 13 platforms linked by suspension walkways.  Our tour was mid-day, so wildlife watching was not at its height.  However, we saw numerous birds.  Experiencing the rainforest from the top was entrancing.  Other than the canopy tour, we participated in another of the standard activities – visit to a Yaqui village.  The residents dressed in their native costumes and demonstrated blow guns (without poison darts).  Orlando also took us on several boat trips into remote tributaries with extensive birdlife.

I am grateful that we saw “the Amazon” with the Selva Viva first and got a more intimate view.  Staying at Explorama Lodge, while I did enjoy its amenities and the additional knowledge I gained, was not the experience of the Amazon rainforest that I wanted.  Thanks to Bill Grimes and Dawn on the Amazon for steering us to as complete an experience as 2 ½ weeks can offer.

Our Introduction to the Amazon – Via Bill Grimes

Guest post by Leslie Stewart-Phelps

Bill Grimes here, president of Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises. Thank you Leslie, John, and Laurie. It was a pleasure to visit with you. A special thanks to Laurie for this article about your amazon adventure.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Leo Jones January 13, 2014 at 11:47 am

Kudos. An entertaining, informative and very well written blog.

2 Leo Jones January 13, 2014 at 11:49 am

Kudos. An informative, entertaining and very well written blog.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: