River Cruise Newsletter Dated July 19, 2010
Troy Bringle, Executive Vice President of Vacations To Go, has just
returned from a river cruise on the Amazon and his report is below.
There is a link to a slide show at the end. If you are not interested in
the Amazon, please scroll down to this week's river deals.
Amid the peaks of the Peruvian Andes, glacier-born waters slip through
jagged crevices and leap from craggy cliffs, flowing to streams that
feed the uppermost stretches of the Amazon River system. This network of
tributaries and rivers gives life to one of our planet's most
biologically affluent regions.
I recently had a chance to explore this area on an Amazon River cruise,
and here's what I learned.
The Amazon is a haven for the mysterious. Its forested walls are said to
house a lost civilization with advanced technologies, cannibalistic
indigenous tribes and El Dorado, a forgotten city made wholly of gold.
Added to these legendary intrigues are more commonly accepted tributes
to the region's eccentricity: fanciful pink river dolphins, miniature
monkeys that tip the scales at less than five ounces, garishly colored
frogs with a lethal touch, eels that electrocute fellow swimmers,
500-pound toothed serpents that don't need to chew, fish that favor
flesh, and even parasitic river dwellers with a knack for pervading
human orifices. The prospect of seeing fascinating creatures, but not
necessarily all the above, ultimately drew me to this place.
Amazon River cruises are available in Peru and Brazil. Cruises on the
Peru side usually begin in Nauta, a small town situated within the rain
forest, while sailings in Brazil (where the river is wider and the boats
somewhat larger) travel to or from Manaus, a city that gained fame
during the rubber boom at the turn of the 20th century.
The Amazon has two seasons -- the rainy and the dry -- though they could
perhaps be called the "very rainy and hot" and the "not
quite as rainy but even hotter." During the rainy season, much of
the land is flooded so exploration is done mainly via small, motorized
boats that travel with the ship. On these skiffs, you'll traverse narrow
waterways and grassy swamps to find wildlife and other sights. In the
dry season, you'll spend more time hiking as more of the region is
navigable by foot.
We opted for a cruise during the rainy season, which runs December
through June, on the Upper Amazon in Peru. I booked with Gap
, a company that specializes in taking customers down
roads (and rivers) less traveled.
Our journey began in Lima, where we were greeted at the airport by Gap's
friendly and energetic representative, Dania
, who helped us with
our transfer to the hotel after a late-night arrival. We had the next
morning free to roam the Peruvian capital before leaving on a flight to
Iquitos, Peru. Our Amazon guides then joined us for a two-hour bus
transfer to Nauta.
In Nauta, we boarded the 19th century-style ship, La Turmalina
Here our group of 29 adventurers ages 13 to 78 -- including couples,
singles and mother-daughter and father-daughter pairs -- would spend the
next six days surveying the Amazon.
I didn't expect luxurious accommodations -- we were in the Amazon, after
all. I found La Turmalina
to be a comfortable home base for our
weeklong expedition. The ship had a crew of 12 plus two naturalist
, all eager to show us the expanse
they call home.
The food was fantastic, though the dining experience differed from that
of larger, traditional ships. Guests were called to meals by the ringing
of the dinner bell, and all meals were served buffet-style. The menu
featured Amazonian staples like paiche, a fish that can grow to 400
pounds, and heart of palm, the tender core of the palm tree.
There was no dress code in the dining room or anywhere else on the ship,
which was a welcomed policy given the need for loose, comfortable
apparel on most days. Laundry service was complimentary, another plus
for guests who travel light.
Days started early, on the skiff seeking wildlife, and ended late, in
the ship's bar sampling pisco sours (a frozen Peruvian drink). All
excursions, though optional, were included in the cost.
In the Amazon, the river and rain rule the clocks and calendars, so
itineraries are flexible. Guides announced morning activities the night
before and shared afternoon agendas during lunch.
Our itinerary called for one night of camping in the jungle, a highlight
of the tour for me. After watching a downpour through the dining room
window, we stepped off the ship and into the steam room for an authentic
rain forest experience. A one-hour hike took us to Kapoc Camp, where
coolers brimming with water and beer glistened through the misty haze.
After a cooking demonstration and subsequent feast, we ventured into the
shadows for a night walk in search of things that flutter, slither,
creep or crawl. Survival is a tough chore here, so just about every
critter either bites or stings or secretes poison to prolong its brief
existence. With a superhuman grip on my flashlight, I shuffled across
the jungle carpet and hoped to avoid triggering one of these defense
Flashlights beckoned the crawlers to us. A bullet ant, about an inch
long and named for the intensity of its sting, joined us on the walk. We
also saw dead leaf crickets, oversize katydids, monstrous cockroaches
and long-legged spiders settled on leaves and twigs.
Dense canopy blocked the light from the moon and stars, and for a moment
we turned off the flashlights and sat in blackness. I couldn't see my
hand in front of my face -- or anything else in front of my face, for
that matter. We soon flipped on the lights and returned to camp. I dozed
off to sleep that night listening to the screeches, honks and whistles
of Mother Nature's metropolis, grateful for the tent that shielded me
from the traffic.
During a hike the next morning to a jungle lodge owned by Gap's local
operator, we learned how Amazonians live off the land. The material
beneath the bark of one tree, for example, is pulled away and used to
make rope. Palm leaves are woven together to build a roof for a house.
Resin from the copal tree serves as lighter fluid for fires, and you
might guess how the "blowgun" and "dart palm" trees
At the lodge we had access to an inviting pool and icy beverages. A
shaman (medicine man) from a nearby community stopped in to explain his
practice. One of his principal treatments is an elixir made with
Ayahuasca vine, tobacco and several other ingredients, creating a potent
brew that evokes visions and purges the body of impurities.
That night, Victor informed us that our next jaunt would be a swim in
the river. The concept was first met with roaring laughter, but the
hilarity faded to fright when his sincerity became clear.
After breakfast, we cruised to a serene spot on the Nahuapa River that
from the surface showed no signs of life-ending beasts. Termed
"blackwater," the river here is actually dyed golden brown by
tannic acid released by leafy plants.
Splash went the first daring soul, then the second, and I was next.
Nearly the entire group took the plunge. We enjoyed a cool and
refreshing swim as gray and pink river dolphins playfully circled the
Later that day, we visited a local village for a glimpse of life on the
Marañon River. One of our naturalist guides, Alan, was raised in
this town of 80, and his family welcomed us into their home.
All quick to share a smile, the residents seemed genuinely happy to meet
their guests. Children escorted us through the village, posed for
pictures and methodically examined our cameras. Our tour concluded with
a game on the village soccer field. It was a special afternoon, and as
the sun ducked beneath the horizon, we said goodbye to our new friends
and returned to the ship.
When we weren't camping or hiking in the rain forest, treading water
with dolphins or cheering on soccer teams, we were on the skiffs
foraging for flora and fauna. On these excursions -- usually one or two
a day -- we spotted lethargic sloths, exotic birds, giant lily pads,
colorful caterpillars, beautiful butterflies and teams of playful
tamarin and squirrel monkeys. We enjoyed front-row seats to luminous
daybreaks and kaleidoscopic twilights.
One creature our guides guaranteed we would see is the mosquito, but
they were a minor and manageable nuisance.
After a piranha fishing excursion on our last day, we were treated to
one more grandiose sunset, with strokes of orange, red and pink painted
across an indigo backdrop.
As the sun's rays fell into the water that evening, I reflected upon the
week's adventures. Far removed from familiar surroundings, we learned
about other cultures, tasted unusual cuisine and saw remarkable sights.
I only wish I had seen El Dorado.
Executive Vice President
Vacations To Go
To view photos or a slideshow
from my Amazon River cruise, please
To read more about Amazon River cruises and see a complete list of
sailings, visit our site at
For departure dates and prices for my Amazon cruise with Gap Adventures,
For a list of all trips from Gap Adventures, click
This week, I've searched our river cruise site,
to create a Top 10
list of river cruises offered by the world's
most respected operators. All prices are per person, based on double
occupancy, and subject to availability.
1) Springtime Along the Rhine 2011
(Frankfurt to Amsterdam)
, 8 days with Uniworld
. Begins in
Frankfurt and ends in Amsterdam with stops in Cologne, Arnhem and
Volendam. Save up to $800 per couple when you book and pay in
. Land/cruise-only starting from $1,949. Departs April 3,
2011 and April 17, 2011.
2) Romantic Rhine
(Zurich to Amsterdam)
, 9 days with Avalon Waterways
in Zurich and ends in Amsterdam with stops in Strasbourg, Heidelberg and
Mainz. Single supplement waived
. Land/cruise-only starting from
$2,339. Departs August 14, 2010.
& the Heart of Normandy
, 8 days with Viking River
. Begins and ends in Paris with stops in Giverny, Rouen and
Conflans. Companion cruises and flies for free, plus receive
complimentary wine with dinner
. Land/cruise-only starting from
$2,349. Departures from October 31, 2010 through December 19, 2010.
4) River Voyage of Discovery
8 days with Cruise West
. Begins and ends in Portland with visits
to Columbia Gorge, Hell's Canyon and Walla Walla. Exclusive Vacations
To Go rates!
Land/cruise-only starting from $2,787. Departures
from August 7, 2010 through October 16, 2011.
5) The Blue Danube Discovery
(Budapest to Prague)
, 14 days with Avalon Waterways
in Budapest and ends in Prague with stops in Vienna, Regensburg and
Nuremberg. Save $2,000 per couple
. Land/cruise-only starting from
$3,179. Departs October 21, 2010 and October 24, 2010.
6) Russian Waterways 2011
(Moscow to St. Petersburg)
, 13 days with AMAWATERWAYS
in Moscow and ends in St. Petersburg with stops in Yaroslavl, Goritsy
and Svirstroy. Save 5%
. Land/cruise-only starting from $3,249.
Departures from May 9, 2011 through September 18, 2011.
7) Black Sea Voyage
(Istanbul to Budapest)
, 15 days with AMAWATERWAYS
. Begins in
Istanbul and ends in Budapest with stops in Bucharest, Belgrade and
Vukovar. Save $1,000 per couple
. Land/cruise-only starting from
$3,729. Departs July 20, 2010 and August 11, 2010.
Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong
, 15 days with
. Begins in Hanoi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City with
visits to Siem Reap, Tonle Sap Lake and Phnom Penh. Save $200 to $500
. Land/cruise-only starting from $3,998.
Departs December 6, 2010.
9) Imperial Jewels of China 2011
(Beijing to Shanghai)
, 12 days with Viking River Cruises
Begins in Beijing and ends in Shanghai with visits to Tiananmen Square,
the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian and the Three Gorges Dam. Companion
cruises and flies for free, plus receive complimentary wine with
. Land/cruise-only starting from $4,749. Departures from
April 5, 2011 through October 12, 2011.
10) Nile Explorer
9 days with Viking River Cruises
. Begins and ends in Cairo with
visits to the Pyramids of Giza, Kom Ombo and Edfu. Companion cruises
for free, plus save $300 per couple off the air-inclusive price and
receive complimentary wine with dinner
. Land/cruise-only starting
from $5,995. Departures from October 2, 2010 through December 11,
2010. Book now!
Finally, for a complete list of cruises by river, click any link
Amazon River Cruises
Columbia River Cruises
European River Cruises
Mekong River Cruises
Nile River Cruises
Yangtze River Cruises
Once you've found a river cruise that interests you, call us toll free
at 800-510-4002 (US and Canada) and a river cruise specialist will
attend to your needs. Customers from the UK, please call toll
free 0800 279 8084. All other international customers, please e-mail or
call us at +1-713-974-2121.
To search for a river cruise anywhere in the world,
To see our worldwide listing of escorted tours, independent tour
packages, train tours and safaris,
For hotels and resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Bermuda,
the Bahamas, Europe, Canada and the continental US,
For savings of up to 75% on ocean-going cruises,
Please e-mail me your comments, suggestions and questions at
I will respond the same day.
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