Gourmet Traveler

gourmet travelerWe hear the island before we see it. Raindrops pelt my face like bullets as we zip across the Amazon Basin in a motorised skiff towards the primate sanctuary known as Monkey Island.

A low howl vibrates through the jungle, a sound so otherworldly it could hail from the heavens. But no, it’s coming from that tree over there, where a flame-haired howler monkey heralds our arrival.

The islanders are super-excited because we have brought bananas. To see their reaction is to understand what “going bananas” really means. A rakish black spider monkey somersaults down to shore and strikes Saturday Night Feverposes for our amusement. The howler keeps up a deafening racket. Titchy white and black capuchins cuff the bigger primates and steal their fruit. It’s like watching a family feud, but with more screaming and acrobatics. It’s so fascinating I forget all about the rain.

This is not the Amazon I remember. Three years ago, visiting this region of north-eastern Peru in the dry season, it was a far more barren world. The annual floods had trashed the landscapes they left behind and wildlife was surprisingly scarce for a place renowned as a cradle of biodiversity.

But now in May, at the end of the wet season, the Peruvian Amazon is a jungle of mirrors – surreal and beautiful and breathtaking in equal measure. And this time around, there are animals everywhere.The contrast puzzles me until I stumble across this perfect explanation by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus in the ship’s library: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” How very wise.

It’s not the same boat, either. This time I’m aboard Delfin I, the original luxury Amazon cruiser launched a decade ago by Peruvian couple Aldo Macchiavello and Lissy Urteaga. Today it is one of several riverboats plying the waters between Iquitos, the gateway city to the Amazon, and the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, Peru’s largest wildlife sanctuary.

The boat was renovated in 2010 to provide each of its four berths with deep balconies. It’s this feature, the private viewing deck onto untamed landscapes and exotic creatures, that distinguishes the Delfin from its competitors. The cast and crew are different, too, of course. My fellow adventurers, all American, include a banker, a doctor and a Don Draper-esque ad agency owner. But the most important person in this story is our amazingly talented guide…

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