Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our Amazon Voyage - Some Daily Details

We boarded La Aquamarina Saturday evening to find our luggage already in our cabin. One of the first orders of business was a safety drill.

We then had welcome aboard pisco sours and our first dinner. As was to be typical at dinner for the remainder of the trip, our IE expedition leader, Renzo, would give us the itinerary for the next morning. (At lunch we would get the agenda for the afternoon and evening.)

Sunday

We had rain (our only significant rain) which tapered off as the morning wore on. It was much cooler than I thought it would be -- perhaps because the sun was hidden by clouds. We were on board the skiffs, starting our search for wildlife.

In the afternoon, we went piranha fishing for red belly piranha. Might be hard to believe but my fisherman husband and I got skunked. Still, it was fun. And guess what was added to the dinner menu ...







Monday
 We had an optional 6:30 a.m. excursion. I thought it was funny they called it optional because, in reality, all the excursions are optional. Anyway, Jerry thought he'd be leaving me in bed that early in the morning. Not so! I didn't come to the Amazon to sleep.

That evening we were entertained by "the band" and we had a power point presentation on the rainforest. Then to bed. Not too many people hang around to socialize at night. It is hot, muggy and buggy.


Tuesday 
This time it was a not-optional 6:30 a.m. departure. Unlike Monday where we returned to La Aquamarina for breakfast, this time we had breakfast in the skiff.






Because we would be out for a bunch of hours, there was some concern about a bathroom break. Have no fear. IE thinks of everything, including an Amazon porta-potty, with privacy provided by a poncho curtain.  :)








We returned to La Aquamarina for a late lunch, siesta time and then a late afternoon lecture about the reserve we would be visiting and conservation efforts in the area.
After dinner we headed out for a night excursion. We settled in to wait for the sunset with ginger tea sweetened with molasses, yucca chips, peanuts and cookies. We saw giant water lily pads and, as night settled in, frogs, crickets and a baby cayman.









The blossoms open white, then turn purple after they are fertilized.


We could only touch it if we had no insect repellent on our hands.

Returned to the water very close to where it was removed.

















Viewing the Videos

While typically the photos come through to my readers who subscribe by email, I have learned that the video links don't always drop through.

To view the original post, and the videos, simply click on the post title to be taken directly to the blog post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Videos From Our Amazon Cruise

This is from Saturday morning when we toured downtown Lima -- an old and beautiful plaza.






Below, we are at Iquitos harbor and La Aquamarina is docked where we can't access it by foot. One of the skiffs picks us all up to take us to our home for the next week.




(More videos coming. I know they take a long time to load and I don't want to slow the blog down by putting too many in one post.)


Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: International Expeditions – Amazon Voyage Aboard The Aquamarina

I am going to try and do a very through review here but for those that want the answer in a nutshell -- this trip was fantastic -- with International Expeditions providing a great experience. I have no hesitation recommending them and hope to be able to take another trip with them in the near future.

Note high water mark on tree in center of picture.

I spent a lot of time researching a provider and time of year for this trip. Deciding the time of year was easy -- end of the rainy season in May. Typically at the end of the rainy season the water is about 35 to 45 feet higher than in the dry season. This meant we would be 35 to 45 feet closer to the canopy and, therefore, to the birds. It also meant being able to get deeper into the tributaries on the skiffs. This year the water was even higher, at about 50 feet above dry season level. For us it was a benefit. No so for the people who lived close to the water and were flooded out.




The skiffs used for excursions were another reason I picked IE. Very broad beamed, with handrails at the bow and seats along each side, they were easy to embark and disembark, comfortable and very stable – allowing passengers to stand and turn without rocking the boat. Even though one skiff could hold all passengers, two skiffs were used, each with a naturalist guide.











Finally, another factor setting IE off from the competition is that IE travels the furthest up the Ucayali River, the only boat that visits Ranger Station # 2 in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. Our guides pointed out to us that the list of tourists in the guest book were all visitors from La Aquamarina.


Service started before we even left home. In our pre-trip package was a personalized trip itinerary. There were extra copies of the itinerary and contact information to pass along to a friend/relative. And there was a list of the names of all of the trip participants.

When we arrived at the Lima airport, we were met as promised by a representative from Lima Tour’s, IE’s local representative. A 45-minute taxi ride took us to our pre-cruise hotel.



PRE-CRUISE

Accommodations were at the Swissotel in Lima. We had booked an extra night pre-IE trip and there was a bit of confusion at the hotel about whether we were booked one night (our pre-night) or two nights (pre-night plus IE standard pre-cruise night). I don’t know where the confusion came from since we had booked the extra night through IE but it was quickly straightened out and we did have the same room for both nights with an upgrade to the executive floor. Plus we had a regular reminder that Lima is in an earthquake zone.


The hotel is located in the business area of Lima and there wasn’t much to see or do in the area – not that we planned on doing anything in the hotel area. We had made other arrangements (see post – In Lima, Birding).

Breakfast was included and was excellent with Peruvian dishes, eggs, omelets, meats, French toast, fresh fruit (my first taste of passion fruit), juices (papaya, guava, grapefruit, etc.), muesli, yogurt, etc. What we noticed was that the selection of pastry was very small. Guess Peruvians do not eat pastry for breakfast. We ate dinner Friday night at the hotel's Gourmet Deli. With the 20% off coupon we got at check-in, we had a nice late night dinner for all of 55 Soles (about $19).








The tour officially started Saturday morning when we all boarded a luxurious bus for a morning tour of Lima. Having already toured downtown Lima on our previous visit, I expected this to be same-old, same-old. The bus took us to the main plaza where we disembarked for a two hour walking tour.



Well we were surprised when one of the places we walked to was a private house, originally owned by one of Pizzaro’s commanders. We got to see the inside of this beautifully maintained home. What a treat!














The remainder of the tour around central Lima were places we had already been to -- the Cathedral and the Catacombs, to name just two.  We simply waited it out, enjoying the people watching. Shortly before noon our bus picked us up and we were taken to the airport Ramada for a very nice lunch to be followed by our flight to Iquitos.

THE SHIP 

La Aquamarina is a small ship, with 12 cabins. One cabin on our sailing was a triple so we had 25 passengers. Cabins are on the main deck and one level up is an open seating area and the dining room.

The cabins are small, each holding two twin beds. But we had plenty of room. Our suitcases fit under the beds. The open “closet” had a hanging area (plenty of hangers), a shelf area below, then two small drawers and two larger drawers below that. Along with a desk and chair, and how light we travel, we had plenty of room. We hung most of our clothes, needing only one drawer apiece. I used the shelf below the hanging clothes for my “dresser top” and Jerry used the desk. There were also drawers in the desk and a night table between the beds.

The room had a safe and there was a key for the door. While we know some passengers used both, we used neither and had no problems. Generally, items could be left around (cameras, binoculars, books, etc.) and you would find them again right where you left them. Many people left cameras in the open seating area instead of taking them back into their air conditioned cabin -- thus avoiding the problem of a cold lens hitting the hot, muggy air and fogging up.

The outside seating area had a bar at one end and there was a cooler next to the bar that held beer, soda and water. Water was free and plentifully available throughout the trip. The cooler was on an honor basis, with passengers writing down what they took on a clipboard located on top of the bar. Also on the bar, during the day, were snacks like chips and nuts. At night, there were hot hors d’ouevres.



The dining room was small but comfortable, with food served buffet style. It was also where we had two power point presentations and where the band played at night. Coffee and tea were always available but I have to admit that the coffee needed a good dose from the nearby canister of Nestle chocolate to be palatable.

Food was mostly Peruvian style. Always a choice for vegetarians plus chicken and/or beef. It was delicious and there was never a shortage.

At breakfast and lunch we had a choice of two juices such as papaya, guava and mango. At dinner it was water unless you got an alcoholic beverage at the bar. The first night we were treated to a Welcome Aboard pisco sour and the last night we were treated to a glass of wine.

DAILY ROUTINE

Of course each day had special highlights but in general, the first part of the trip was strictly nature. From Sunday through Wednesday we made a minimum of two skiff excursions per day. Some days we made three, with an early morning departure (6:30 a.m.) and one night departure (7:30 p.m.). We would return for a meal and after lunch there was time for a siesta.

One day we left early ate breakfast on the skiff. Another time we left ate lunch at Ranger Station # 2 in the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.



The second part of the trip included culture, where we visited a village and had a wonderful time with the children, and also visited a shaman, where we learned about what he does and each of us received a blessing. (Later, there will be more detailed posts on these visits.)

Before dinner most nights there was a “battle of the bands.” Of course it was the same crew members each night but it was fun with the band having a different name each night. Three crew members plus our two naturalist guides entertained us. What talent!!! The story we were told is that one of the naturalist guides “found” the three musicians who were playing in bars, the airport and places like that. He persuaded the boat company to hire them and, once on board, they received training as cabin stewards, etc. At night they played and boy, it was a treat. I will be posting a video and I hope you come back to my blog and take a moment to watch it.

POST-CRUISE

We had a brief tour of Iquitos and a visit to a school. Lunch was at the top hotel in Iquitos. Guests were given their own room for a few hours, to freshen up and relax before flying back to Lima. I wanted to do some last minute shopping and arrangements were made for a guide to go with me to a local craft market.

Upon arrival in Lima, several passengers, including us, were going separate ways. We said goodbye in the lobby of the airport Ramada (where some where staying before their extension to Machu Picchu) and we were given passes to the airport's VIP lounge while we waited for our flight. (I spoke with my TA and she said she has NEVER heard of a tour company providing VIP passes -- IE is definitely a class act.)

--------------------------------


FINAL NOTES

In all fairness, I do need to write that not everything was 100% perfect but it was all minor.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post there was some confusion about our two night stay at the Swissotel. When we returned from our day of birding our key cards didn't work and we had to get them re-keyed.

We did not receive our Welcome letter from IE with departure information for Saturday morning (the day we were flying to Iquitos) until late on Friday. I would have felt more comfortable if it had been waiting for us when we checked in, especially with the confusion about the length of our stay.

Information we received from IE was that there was free laundry on board La Aquamarina on Wednesday. Actually, there was free laundry available every day. (If we had known this I would have brought even less clothes.....).

We were told the bar bill needed to be settled with a VISA card and only a VISA card. That turned out to be incorrect as the bar bill could also be settled with MasterCard and cash (either soles and dollars).

Finally, our lunch at El Dorado Hotel in Iquitos the last day, while tasty, was cold. The rooms, though, were more than adequate and Jerry enjoyed relaxing there while I was out shopping.

(There will be additional posts about this trip. All will have the Label "May 2012" so just click that at the bottom of this post to read more.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jungle Attire

Our Amazon trip added a new clothing description to our vocabulary: Jungle Attire.

Jungle attire was suggested for all of our excursions. Still, it was OK to wear just shorts and t-shirts which many did, including myself once or twice. However, we had several excursions where we were strongly instructed to wear jungle attire – two village visits, our night skiff excursion, and our high land terra firma walk.

Jungle attire consists of long pants, long sleeves, hat, socks, shoes, sunscreen and lots of insect repellent.

We learned to even put insect repellent on under our socks and pants as the bugs would bite right through the clothing.

Some passengers had purchased the clothing that had insect repellent already in it. They claimed it worked. Based upon our personal experience, if anyone is thinking about buying this type of clothing, definitely go for the socks and pants. I don’t know why but legs and ankles were the major sites of mosquito attacks.

And during both our night excursion and our terra firma walk, we tucked our pants’ legs into the top of our socks. Fortunately we had brought socks long enough to do that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our First Day - In Lima - Birding

We had been to Lima before as part of our Galapagos and Machu Picchu trips with (at that time GAP Adventures) G Adventures. For our first visit I had searched for a local guide and found Renato from Taxi Lima Peru. We had a wonderful day with him then so I checked my notes to find his contact information for this trip. Looking at the website, I discovered birding was an option.

I used the Contact form on the website and got a CALL from Renato. He told me he has Magic Jack and it is like making a local phone call. We discussed options and decided to do simply birding and lunch.
Our pickup was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and Renato was a few minutes early. We headed to the Pantanos de Villa Reserve, about 30 minutes south of Lima. For the three of us, including walking with a guide and then the small boat ride, the total cost was 48 soles (about $18). We spent over two hours there. Jerry, of course, was busy photographing birds. I photographed birds, too, but I tend to also take pictures of other stuff.
































The weather was beautiful. We wandered along the beach. Disappointed, of course, to see all the litter.









The reserve was located between an upscale community and a stable of horses for use by the community. Several times we were treated to horses galloping across the sand.










Then headed for our boat ride. Afterwards we were back in Lima in the Barracco district to have lunch at Rustica which serves a buffet of Peruvian foods. I think we were the only touristas in the restaurant and the food was wonderful.





Thursday, May 24, 2012

Packing For Amazon Expedition River Cruise

We traveled with two carry-on sized rolling bags, Jerry’s camera backpack and a two-handled tote for me. I had packed a large and heavy (26 lbs) box of school supplies and we used our allowed one free checked bag per person to check that all the way through to Lima. Everything else went into the cabin with us.

We had the standard travel stuff: cameras, memory cards, sun screen, toiletries, 3-1-1 bags, and daily medications. This was the first plane trip for our new lightweight laptop. Added to this was my “pharmacy” bag because that was the closest we would get to a drugstore when on board ship. It had things like Imodium, Pepto, antibiotic ointment (in 3-1-1 bag), bandaids, ibruprophen, extra toothbrush, throat lozenges, etc. We also had in our 3-1-1 bags insect repellent and anti-itch cream – both items absolute necessities.

For clothing we took:
2 pairs of shorts (J never wore one pair and one of mine was part of my pants – zip off legs)
2 pairs of pants (this included my zip-off leg pants)
2 long sleeved fisherman-type shirt for me and 3 for Jerry
5-6 other short sleeved shirts
rain jacket
hat (J took 3!)
socks (at least one pair that goes well above the ankles – see Jungle Attire)
sneakers (1 for me and 2 for Jerry)
sandals (me)
underwear
slippers

We were told there would be free laundry on Wednesday. As it was, there was free laundry every day. If I had known that, we would have brought less socks (which take a long time to dry after being hand washed) and 3-4 T’s instead of the 5-6.

Our plan for coming home was to leave behind one pair of sneakers each. I also left behind my oversized T-shirt that I use for sleeping plus a bunch of athletic socks I no longer wear. With the room in the suitcases made by leaving this stuff behind, plus using the expansion sections on our suitcases, we had plenty of room for coming home, including all the stuff I bought -- which was kind of significant.

(I explained to several of my fellow travelers – who might have wondered about this crazy lady doing all this shopping – that I was buying things to donate to our local zoo for the Marketplace at a major fundraiser held each year. Based upon their expressions after my explanation, it WAS clear to me that they did think I was some type of crazy shopper.  LOL).

Of course we had to check our luggage on the way home because of its new overgrown size. Even though, our two checked bags TOGETHER weighed only about 26 kg (58 lbs).

(I am pleased to report that even with our expanded suitcases, we had less luggage than anyone else on the trip. But I guess that doesn't really matter because it's not a contest -- or is it??????  VBG)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Carry-on Luggage Limitations on American Airlines 767 Airplane

If you've ever flown, you have seen the airline frames at the gate that say something like "Carry On Must Fit Inside Here." Personally, I have never seen one used -- until our trip to Peru.

Upon boarding an AA 767 airplane, as passengers entered the jetway, an AA employee grabbed every rolling bag to see it it would fit in the frame. If it didn't, it got tagged as a Gate Checked bag. We were lucky and he was busy with several other bags as we scooted by. But once we got on board, we understood why this was being done.

The plane is a 2 - 3 - 2 seat configuration. The overhead bins over the "2" were long enough to stow a rolling bag wheels first. The compartments over the "3" were not as deep and a rolling bag had to be put in sideways -- and that way only one rolling bag would fit per bin. It is a lousy design. With a full plane, we could see why AA was cracking down on the sizes of bags going on board.

Additionally, there were metal boxes under the aisle seats and the middle seats in the "3" section -- what they were for we have no idea but they were about 8" wide and as high as the space under the seat -- meaning that the person in that seat would have no foot room at all if they stowed any type of bag under the seat in front of them. So there had to be space in the overhead bins for those bags also.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Transportation Security Administration - On the one hand ....

somebody is doing his/her job.

We just returned from Peru, picking up our luggage in Miami to go through Customs, rechecking them with AA for the flight to Chicago and then on to our home town. When we picked up our luggage after our final leg, I knew immediately that the suitcase had been opened. For one, the cable tie I had used to lock the zipper pulls together was not there. Second, one of the green luggage straps we had on the suitcase was twisted. Upon opening the suitcase, it was easy to see that my binoculars had been pulled out and inspected as they were very sloppily returned to their case. I guess someone caught the x-ray image of two side by side "tubes/barrels" and decided to take a closer look. Good for them.

On the other hand, when we went through security in MIA, I searched for my quart sized bag that had just 3 "liquid" items in it. Couldn't find it. I knew it was in one of my two totes but darned if I could find it. We had a short connection time and I didn't want to stand there searching for it. I figured "the heck with it", the x-ray machine will find it and I'll deal with it. Point is, it went through security and nobody saw it. So much for TSA.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Back From the Peruvian Amazon

We got home late yesterday afternoon from a fantastic river boat cruise on the Amazon and Ucayali Rivers.

We saw tons of birds (over 100 varieties), monkeys, river dophins (both gray and pink) ... we sailed through the confluence of the Ucayali and Maramon Rivers, considered by most to be the start of the Amazon River ... we visited isolated villages along the river ... basically all the types of things we had hoped to see and do. It was an incredible experience and I will be posting more about the trip over the next week.

Stay tuned ....................

Airline Affinity Credit Card Perks

One way we gather our frequent flyer miles is by using credit cards that are tied to our frequent flyer accounts. Competition between them must really be picking up because some new perks have been added and we had the benefit of one of them during our recent trip to Peru.

We had used AA frequent flyer files for our flights to and from Lima. As is usual with frequent flyer tickets, there were taxes and fees that had to be paid for with credit card ... in this case about $75 per ticket. We used our AA credit card to pay that.

A new affinity recently added to the AA MasterCard is priority boarding when paying for an AA airlines flight with that card. Well, it looks like it also applies to simply paying the taxes and fees on a frequent flyer tickets because all of our boarding passes had PRIORITY ACCESS printed on them.

Very nice being able to board early. No problem with overhead bin space or being concerned about holding up the line. We loved it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Are You Over 75?

In March, four airports in the U.S. started allowing some passengers 75 years of age and older to go through selected security lanes without removing their shoes. This is one of the changes being tested, on a limited bases, by the TSA.

Only one lane at each of these airports is being used for this test: Orlando, O'Hare, Denver and Portland. The results will determine whether or not the TSA "will consider broader implementation."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hong Kong's Octopus Card

If you'll be visiting Hong Kong and touring on your own, travel around the area easily and cheaply using HK's Octopus Card. Cards can be purchased at any Mass Transit Railway station. Initial purchase includes a refundable deposit. For seniors, the initial price is HK$70 which is about $9 US.

Without the card, exact change is required to pay the fare. The MTR is easy to use, with signs in both English and Chinese. There are easy to read maps at most stations and route maps, on each train, light up as you approach a station. The underground concourses are filled with shops and are clean and air conditioned.

You can use your Octopus card almost all types of public transportation in Hong Kong. When you are finished using it, return it to any service center and the unused amount will be refunded to you, less a handling fee of HK7.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Worried About Germs?

Wonder how clean your hotel room is? Even if the maid did a great job, there are some things you can attack with sanitizing wipes when you first get to your room.

Light switches
Desk handles
Dresser handles
Telephone
Television remote controls
The refrigerator handle
Microwave touch-screens
Doorknobs

As for the bed spread, rip it off the bed and throw it into a corner. Unless you stay at a hotel that uses clean duvet covers between guests, you probably don't want to know what could be on that bedspread.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Airplane Safety Instructions Made Interesting

OK ... I too have been bored silly, when flying, by the repetitive cabin safety instructions.

But for a unique look, take a peak at this video

http://www.flightglobal.com/airspace/forums/thomson-airways-safety-video-superb-27746.aspx#33820