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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rolling on the River

Riverboat  Amatista on the Amazon

 

Friday November 18 – Saturday November 19

I knew I was in trouble when Tom and Fen showed up at the airport exactly one hour late.
“Cutting it a bit short,” I pointed out.
“It’s my watch’s fault,” Tom replied holding up his arm displaying the guilty chronometer. “It’s still on daylight savings time.  I forgot to change it back.”
“That was like a week ago, Tom.”
“I know, but this is my travel watch.  I forgot to change it.”
And so it began.

Before we even boarded the plane….
Tom & Fen
“Oooh!  Oooh! I can’t find my boarding pass!”
“It’s in your back pocket,” Fen calmly points out.
“Oooh! Oooh!  My passport!”
“It’s in your fanny pack that fell off under the chair.”

The bulk of the problems disappear when Tom relinquishes all his personal items to Fen for safe keeping.  My wife and friends will point out I’m not much different than Tom, but I beg to differ.  I didn’t misplace one thing on this trip – if we discount leaving my passport on a table in the Dallas airport on the way home.

Five minutes before we’re due to board the aircraft Tom decides he needs a coffee fix.  Not just any coffee - but Starbucks – which just happens to be about 4 blocks away from our boarding gate.


We are well into the -boarding process when he returns.
“Here,” he says handing me the coffee. “Hang on to this. I need to go the washroom.”
“Tom, we’re boarding.  Can’t you wait until we’re on the plane?”
“It’s the coffee,” he says, heading for the can.

Airforce One
The last minute sudden urges to do something totally unrelated with the task at hand turns out to be a pattern that will repeat itself over and over during the trip.    I am relieved when they finally lock  the doors of the plane before Tom decided he needed a donut to go with his coffee.

We are finally on our long anticipated trek to the Amazon jungle – and long it was – about 14 hours in total:  four and a half hours to Dallas, then another 8 to Lima.  The airport in Lima is a zoo because of the APEC conference being held there.   On our way to our gate we taxi by Airforce One, the presidential planes of Russia, China, Japan, Australia and many other countries attending APEC.  Our own Prime Minister Trudeau’s Piper Cub was parked off to one
Trudeau's plane
side well. 

Originally my idea was to have Tom as my roommate, but when Fen decided to come that idea went into the dumper.  When we arrive at the hotel I find I’ve been paired up with Paul, a guy from London, who’s already at the desk arguing vociferously that he has booked and paid for a private room and wants no part of rooming with some bloke from the colonies.  Like most people who don’t speak the local language he believes he can be understood if he speaks louder.  To help matters I point out to Paul that I snore loudly, and have obnoxious bathroom habits, which I’m sure he’ll get used to it.  Paul is now positively screaming at the desk clerk now, who finally concedes and gives him his own room. 

As Paul leaves I saunter up to the desk clerk and in my imperfect Spanish point out I now have no roommate, and since there is no one to pair me up with I guess they’ll just have to give me my own room as well  at no additional expense – which they do rather than go through another screaming match with an unruly tourist.

me and my x in 1967
A few hours later we assemble in the hotel bar to meet the rest of our fellow travelers – twenty- two in total - from countries as diverse as Norway, South Africa,  Britain, Germany, China, the US and Canada.  The ages vary from seventy down to eighteen.    There are a few other Canadians in the group, including a woman from southern Ontario.  It turns out she’s a midwife which twigs a repressed memory.   I tap her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, but you mentioned you are a midwife?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she replied.
“Do you know Bobbi Soderstrom?”
“Yes, quite well.  We serve on several committees together.”
“Well I think I was married briefly to her.”
“She never mentioned she had another husband.”
“Yes, well, here I am.” 
Small world.

The briefing concludes and we’re informed we need to be in the lobby with our bags at 7:00am sharp to catch the bus to the airport for the flight to Iquitos.

 Sunday  Nov 20th 

 I’m in the lobby with my bags along with 19 other people promptly at 7:00am – no Tom and Fen.   At 7:10 the bus arrives and they begin to herd us on board – still no Tom and Fen.  I get on board figuring they’ll be down in a few seconds.  7:15 every one is on board but still no Tom and Fen.  The bus is about to leave.  I ask them to wait and go back into the hotel and call Tom’s room hoping he’s already in the elevator on his way down.  No such luck:

“Oooh! Oooh!  We’ll be right there!  I thought I lost my camera, so I had to unpack everything, but Fen found it. We’ll be right down.”

The flight to Iquitos takes about two hours. Iquitos is the gateway to the Amazon -a city of nearly half a million that is only accessible by water or air.    While the Amazon might be 4000 miles long, the runway in Iquitos is only 8200 feet.   An Airbus 320 needs a minimum of 6000 feet.  A Boeing 737-800 needs over 7000 feet -so there isn’t a ton of room to spare – which became apparent upon our landing in Iquitos when the pilot pushes the thrust reversers to maximum and stands on the brakes.  We come to a stop about a hundred feet short of the end of the runway – just a normal landing for Iquitos.

We are met by Robertson, our tour leader, and   several of the crew of the Amatista who quickly collect our luggage and herd us onto an air conditioned bus for the two hour trip to where the boat is anchored.

The Amatista
If you’re expecting a sleek riverboat like they use in Europe you’re in for a big surprise.  The Amatista and her sister vessels are more like old fashioned Mississippi river boats.  It’s essentially a boxy two story structure built on top of a barge.   The Amatista was built in 1994 and renovated in 2013.  She is 124 feet in length and 28 feet wide and has a draft of 8.5 feet which is important since there are numerous sandbars on the Amazon.   She has a crew of 15 and can accommodate 30 passengers in 15 cabins on two decks: 8 cabins on the main deck and 7 cabins on the upper deck.  There is an enclosed dining room on the lower deck and a semi-open lounge and bar on the second deck.

Amatista's Dining Room
Upon arrival at the boat we are hustled into the dining room for a late lunch and assigned our rooms.  I am told that I am assigned a room on the lower deck with a guy from New York.  I explain to our tour leader that I paid considerably more for a room on the second deck.  Since they appear to have made an error I suggested they give me my own room on the lower deck and I will consider it a fair exchange.  The guide departs to talk to the captain and returns after a few minutes telling me they have found a vacant cabin on the second deck which I can have – at no extra cost.  So I lucked into single accommodation again. 

The rooms are all air conditioned and each has two view windows.  There is a large closet with drawers and a small desk in the corner which is suitable for working at the computer.  The desk has a lockable drawer to keep your valuables.  While the bathroom is small it has a fairly large shower and there is oodles of hot water.
Amatista stateroom

We are given a few minutes to unpack and then meet in the lounge for an orientation session where we met our naturalist, Hulber.

As usual Tom is the last to arrive, it appears he’d lost his ipod and spent 40 minutes searching his luggage in vain until he realizes he’s forgotten it on the airplane to Iquitos.  

During the briefing I learn our cruise will not be the leisurely sightseeing trip down the Amazon I had anticipated.  No, we will be making regular stops along the way where we will have to slash our way through the jungle to view the local flora and fauna.

There’s still an hour or so until dinner so we all depart to the lounge on the second deck for “Happy Hour” where several of the crew perform in a small band.

After dinner most of us older folks hit the sack early, while the younger ones party well into the night.  I go to bed early as we have to be up early the next morning  for  a “pleasant little jungle walk.”  

More in a few days,








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