Monday, January 3, 2011

The Amazon with Lindblad, Lima & NASCA Lines

Randie Rosenberg travelled to the Amazon. Read on for her trip:
Flying with Cormorants

Do you ever have a moment during a trip when you say to yourself, “This is IT!”? You just want to grab the moment and all its details, then save it in your soul in such a way that you can re-live it at will. Sometimes I want to title the trip with that one moment. But then there are wonderful other, unrelated moments that capture the special nature of a destination…a piece of a country different from other pieces. It wouldn’t be accurate to title my Peruvian experience, “Flying with Cormorants”, though I wanted to while in the moment: In a skiff, speeding up a verdant river literally laden with waterfowl. The black cormorants and white egrets took off, tripping along the river’s surface, then airborne, squawking and honking. We were flying!

My daughter, Molly, and I were invited by Lindblad Expeditions to experience their new product in the upper Amazon. It has been many years since Lindblad operated in the Amazon. They’ve been waiting for a vessel worthy of their name and have found it in the Delfin II: an elegant, 14- suite boat created lovingly from polished wood and decorated with local handicrafts and fabrics.
Sleek, spacious suites boast a wall of glass for gorgeous views and all modern comforts, including air conditioning. You feel in touch with nature (in the best possible way!) at every moment of your voyage along the rivers leading to and through the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve.

Delfin II

The two of us had wildlife spotting wish-lists. Molly wanted pink river dolphins, an anaconda and a jaguar. I was much more reasonable with piranha being my main fascination, followed by strange birds and of course, anacondas and jaguars. We were each rewarded by at least one on our lists and many unanticipated delights. Like giant lily pads strong enough to support a small child and a young black caiman caught by our talented guide, Jesus, jumping from the skiff to the river bank in the dark and brought aboard for us to examine.


Molly with her dangerous piranha
Giant lily pads


A juvenile black caiman

Our three days in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve were highlighted with the wildlife viewing, breakfast aboard the skiffs in a quiet cove one day, swimming in a lake among breaching pink dolphins, and visiting river villages. The evenings brought talks with the naturalist guides about the local peoples, flora and fauna, followed by freshly-prepared local cuisine in the dining room, then live music and dancing with the staff of the Delfin II. The food was varied and delicious and beautifully presented.


Shredded hearts of palm used creatively with avocado, tomatoes and chicken

The pink dolphins eluded our cameras so we conjured them with table décor!

Our disembarkation day, though sad to leave the Delfin II, brought a visit to a manatee rescue park and a floating restaurant in Iquitos prior to boarding our flight back to Lima. Lindblad has a few 7-night departures on the Delfin II this year. 2011 will bring many more, along with possible 4-night options paired with Machu Picchu extensions.
Though much of the flora and fauna we experienced in the Amazon is the same as what can be seen in Costa Rica, the river people and the rivers themselves distinguish this area. I did add several new bird species to my list: The Horned Screamer, the Laughing Falcon and the Hoatzin, a pre-historic bird with two stomachs, to name a few.
Nature lovers of all ages would like this trip. There are steps to climb between levels on board, and getting into and out of the skiffs is easy with guides helping you. No opportunity for a real exercise workout; just the swimming day and some walks through the rainforest. Bring your binoculars and practice with them prior to travel to get the most out of wildlife spotting opportunities. Bug spray and sunscreen are important. The Delfin II supplies a combination sunscreen/bug repellant in the suites. It smells really good, is effective and is made from natural products. They also supply rubber boots and rain ponchos.

LIMA-
Lima is a sprawling city with over 7 ½ million residents spread among many districts covering scores of miles. Sophisticated cuisine abounds. The colonial center is not where you want to stay unless you’re on government business. Miraflores to the south and west of the center is where nice hotels, shopping and great restaurants abound. Beautiful condos, the JW Marriott and the Miraflores Park hotel overlook the ocean here; prime real estate. San Isidro district houses embassies, a beautiful and expensive golf course and upscale residences. Barranco is the artsy, Bohemian district with fun nightlife. Stay in Miraflores; a 45-minute, $30 cab ride from the airport.

We spent our first night at the Thunderbird Principal Hotel in Miraflores, a high rise, 4-star property with a 21st-floor restaurant/bar overlooking the district. Plush, pillow-top beds, marble bath with bidet. Friendly, efficient lobby meanders to a business center with free use of computers/internet and available wifi. Location is central to shopping, dining and casinos.

Loved the ceviche (don’t bite into the peppers!) and the “causa”

Attractions we enjoyed in Lima:

Larco Herrera Museum – Interesting collection of pre-Incan pottery, textiles, tools, weapons, adornments, skulls and a body wrapped for burial. Our guide, Sonia, made the history of coastal Peru come alive. There were several advanced cultures making beautiful art way before the Incas took control. Multicolored bougainvillea grace the courtyard. We had a wonderful lunch at the café and Molly examined the baby alpaca knitted items in the gift shop. Located about ½ way between Miraflores and the airport.

Pre-Incan pyramids – We saw two of them in different districts. Basically in the middle of the city. The Huaca Pucllana pyramid has a restaurant next to it which is said to have fine food. The pyramids are lit at night and are quite dramatic.

Casa Aliaga – A Lindblad exclusive: we were served a gorgeous lunch in this historic, private home. Appetizers were served on silver trays by white-gloved waiters while we toured the home: chicken liver pate with elderberry sauce and cheese filled fried pastries dipped in a mild avocado sauce. Once seated at the grand dining table, we partook of asparagus soufflé followed by a fruit & bacon-filled chicken breast. We were beginning to learn that Peruvian desserts almost always incorporate exotic Peruvian fruits. Here we had chirimoya, also known as “custard apple” drizzled with a chocolate sauce.

Dining at Casa Aliaga, an historic home, built by Pizzaro’s best friend, and occupied by the Aliaga Family for several generations.

Artesan Market in Miraflores – If you are into alpaca wool, and my knit-aholic daughter is…this is a good place to buy finished items. If you ask, you can also purchase wool by the skein: baby alpaca, royal alpaca (wool from the throat of the alpaca), regular alpaca, and alpaca blends.

Franciscan Monastery – An active monastery, so no photography allowed. Catacombs with bones of 70,000 people, ancient library.
blends.

NASCA LINES
Flying over the Nasca Lines has been on my bucket list almost 20 years. A travel mentor of mine planned a flyover with friends to celebrate her 50th birthday, and I’ve always thought that was way cool. When the invitation to Peru came my way soon after the March 2010 issue of National Geographic had a great article on the Nasca Lines titled, Spirits in the Sand, I knew the karma was right and we had to fit it into our trip. We made time for one extra day and it took every ounce of the day to get there and back to Lima. Travel agents do the darndest things for sake of experience. In otherwords, I don’t recommend a day trip for clients unless they fly from Lima.
Molly and I enjoyed the drive to Nasca, chatting with our driver and checking out the landscape. We were worried after a couple of hours that the fog encompassing the coast would prohibit our view; would they even fly a small plane in this heavy mist? The sandy desert with great dunes slowly gave way to a rockier, dirt type of desert as we drove south of Ica, and the fog gradually lifted. The land which was occupied by the Nasca culture starting around 200 BC hosts dry, barren mountains interspersed with occasional green valleys fed by rivers descending from the Andes. As we approached Nasca we were silly-grinning with excitement. Little planes were buzzing around like bumble bees. The airport was humming with people waiting for their turn to join the flight pattern. Our names were finally called and we jumped into the back of the 4-passenger plane clutching our maps showing the lines and figures. One pilot and a "figure caller” (my term) sat up front.
Goofy
We took off with the engine roaring, banking hard left then right so that the figures could be seen out of each window. The figure caller would yell “whale to the left!” then “whale to the right!” and so on as we approached each figure. Molly got a couple of photos before her concentration was needed to keep her stomach in place.


Whale

Astronaut

I didn’t bother with the camera; I was too fascinated taking it all in. For better shots, you’ll have to Google Nasca Lines. The 40-minute flight took us over all the major figures: hummingbird, condor, tree, hands, etc. What an experience to see first-hand the dramatic work of ancient people! Why did they do it? How has it lasted all these centuries?
She would have been just fine if she’d listened to her mother and taken the Bonine.

After landing safely, we drove into town for a quiet lunch. Then back on the road toward Lima with visions of ancient cultures as we dozed in the afternoon sun.

Already we’re anticipating our next trip to Peru. Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and Lake Titicaca are calling our names. What a wonderful and diverse country!

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