Wanderlust with Cynthia Rosenfeld: Amazonian dreams

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“I dream of the Amazon’s less explored Peruvian stretch for its spectacled caiman crocodiles and rare pink dolphins.” Those words appeared in my inaugural Wanderlust column, and this morning, less than a year later, I am realising this exotic animal-filled dream aboard Aqua Expeditions’ Amazon River cruiser, the Aria. It’s our second day on the great South American river and, along with my fellow guests who number 20 and hail from Japan, Greece and Texas, we board four skiffs at 6.30am to explore a tributary called the Pacaya River. Over four mesmerising early-morning hours, we skim the brownish water while peering through binoculars into the soaring tree branches on both banks in search of yellow headed caracara, ring kingfishers and short tailed parrots. Thanks to our guide Julio’s eagle eye, we watch a single capuchin monkey run along a tree branch grabbing food, ogle three rare Taricaya turtles along the riverbank and gaze up at an electrifying flock of blue and yellow macaws, known locally as guacamayo amarillo. Then my dream actually comes true as three caimans poke their beady-eyed heads and elongated scaly bodies out of the water in front of our boat while scores of pink river dolphins, or as Julio calls them delfines rosados, roll dorsal fin first over the river behind us. 

Only three years have passed since I first heard about the extraordinary wildlife accessible from the creature comfort-oriented Aria (which boasts 16 boutique hotel-chic cabins) and its 12-cabin sister, the Aqua. Frankly, back then, I doubted I would ever get here. When I first talked to Aqua Expeditions founder Francesco Galli Zugaro by phone, I was attempting to recover from a still unknown tropical virus caught in the Sri Lankan monsoon. And as Galli Zugaro spoke of rainforest treks, swimming with dolphins and fishing for ‘the river’s most vicious’ red-bellied piranhas, my world was literally spinning from one particularly pesky symptom, an inner ear imbalance causing vertigo. His tales captured my imagination yet in those moments I did not entertain much hope of wading through the Amazon’s wet, uneven earth and swimming with my favourite underwater creatures. 

Thankfully, I have essentially recovered however I still cope with some residual balance issues that would have little impact on a more sedentary life than the one I love. Travel now for me is not about facing my fears with the goal of overcoming them as I find they tag along to some degree wherever I go. Instead, I practice accepting that they are part of me, like freckles or a food allergy, and I try to make thoughtful, strategic choices so I can focus on realising more dreams. When we climb on shore to trek into the muddy rainforest, I ask for a helping hand that Julio and the other impeccable Aqua Expeditions guides Juan, Roland and Ricardo each give without hesitation. To keep my balance on the skiff, I hold on tight even while others stand with their camera to capture a rare bird on film or relax under the sun that the Incas once worshipped. While my fears travel with me almost as often as my passport, they don’t stop me from adding to my wish list Aqua Expeditions’ second river adventure, along the Mekong between Cambodia and Vietnam set to launch in 2014. See you on board. 

For more on Aqua Expeditions see aquaexpeditions.com.

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