It's 9 a.m. and the piranhas aren't biting. No matter. Our skiff is backed up to a banana tree in the flooded Amazon River basin of Peru on this warm and sunny morning, and pink dolphins are putting on a show a few feet in front of us. Yes, pink dolphins, which seem almost as happy as we are to be here.
What a great way to start the day. Off to one side is a cecropia tree, its huge leaves making it feel as if we're sheltered in an outdoor room while listening to the chattering birds and monkeys in the tree canopy overhead.
It doesn't really matter if the beef tenderloin for bait just droops in the water from the tree-branch fishing poles. We are here at the end of the rainy season. The smooth, black water that has overflowed the banks of the Maranon River is about 10 feet up the sides of the trees. In a few months people will be walking on solid ground below where we are now, returning to the bare-bones wooden huts they have abandoned for dry land.
For now, the water is high and the sky is big, and watching the dance of the pink river dolphins makes it a magical pinch-yourself moment. There already have been quite a few magical moments on this trip.
It's the morning of our second day of a four-day cruise aboard Delfin 1, a three-story luxury riverboat that has just four passenger rooms on two levels. There are eight of us on this adventure, which is decidedly not your typical cruise. Our fellow travelers are two doctor-colleagues and their wives from the Boston area and a retired businessman and his wife from suburban Chicago.
The accommodations are over-the-top comfortable, with king-size beds, full closets and separate storage areas with satin-lined baskets to hold anything you unpack. Each air-conditioned room has floor-to-ceiling windows and a spacious sitting area with a sofa. Robes and slippers are provided, naturally. But the yoga mat that came with the room was a bit of a surprise.
My husband and I had one of the two lower-deck rooms, which have a private outdoor space with a whirlpool tub and lounge chairs just a few feet above the river surface. This being the jungle, the whirlpool became a bug orgy overnight, but workers cleaned it every morning. There's something incredibly decadent about soaking in the cool-water whirlpool in the heat of the Amazon as the jungle slowly passes by a few feet away. The two rooms on the second level were the same as ours, except they had slightly smaller outside decks and no whirlpools. One of our traveling companions called the trip "gloating," or glamour boating. I liked the sound of that.
As on most cruise ships, life on the Delfin revolved around meals and day trips.
Sumptuous breakfasts, lunches and dinners were served in the midlevel dining room at an eight-person table that seated all the ship's passengers at once. Obviously, an eight-person roster means you get to know your fellow travelers, and on this trip we even celebrated one new friend's 60th birthday with a cake whipped up by the onboard chef. The three walls of windows were the attraction of the dining room's design, but extreme attention also was paid to interior decor, with draperies changed regularly to match table settings.
The excursions off the big boat are not the stuff of more typical cruises either. For one thing, in the rainy season there is little shore to visit. Most of the excursions take passengers deeper into the Amazon rain forest where the larger riverboat can't go. Two or three excursions each day got us up close and personal with an amazing collection of birds, monkeys and even a three-toed sloth hanging upside down from the top of a tree.
One of our fellow travelers was a birding enthusiast. On our first short excursion into the flooded rain forest, he sighted 27 varieties he had never seen before.
On the last day of the cruise, the Boston contingent departed early to make their connecting flight for Cuzco and their trip to Machu Picchu, which we had done before the cruise. So it was only the four of us remaining passengers who again went piranha fishing. This time we headed even deeper into the jungle.
At first, it seemed as if we were just there to feed the fish — the beef bait disappeared instantly as soon as we dropped the hooks into the water. At least we knew the piranhas were hungry. Then John, the retired businessman, hauled a piranha out of the water. Guide Juan Luis Ihuraqui warned him not to touch the fish, then showed us the scar on his hand and the two rows of jagged teeth inside the mouth of the swimming carnivore.
I continued to feed the hungry fish the beef from my hook. Twice, I raised the pole and pulled piranhas out of the water, only to watch them drop from the hook before I got them aboard the boat. Oh, well. Time to head back to the Delfin for a few drinks, our last lunch of this decadent journey, and the first telling of this exotic fish story.
If you go
You will fly into Lima, where you catch a flight on one of Peru's internal airlines for Iquitos. Delfin staff meet you at the Iquitos airport and drive you by van about 90 minutes to Nauta, where you board the riverboat.
Our tour operator, Adventuresmith Explorations (adventuresmithexplorations.com) arranged our flights inside Peru and our side trip to Machu Picchu. You can't go to Peru without visiting the ancient Incan city, so plan for at least nine or 10 days for both the cruise and the visit to the ruins and the ancient city in the Andes.
The cost of the four-day, three-night Delfin 1 cruise, in a deluxe master suite with whirlpool, is $3,600 per person, based on double occupancy, for 2012 departures, which begin on Mondays. A five-day, four-night option, departing Iquitos on Thursdays, costs $4,000 per person for the deluxe master suite. The rooms without the whirlpools are $400 cheaper per person on both the four-day and five-day trips.
We visited Peru at the end of the rainy season (November through March), which allowed us to be close to the tops of trees and get deep into the rain forest by skiff. The dry season is hotter, but you'll be able to do some jungle hikes on land before you return to the boat for time in the whirlpool, a couple of cocktails and a nap in your air-conditioned suite.
Travelers trying to avoid motion sickness have no worries on this boat. It's large and provides a quiet, smooth ride.Copyright © 2015, CT Now