Amazon jungle cruise

A small ad in ITN caught my eye and my imagination. Who hasn’t dreamed of taking a small boat cruise on the Amazon?

Two friends and I contacted Explorations, Inc., agreed to the $2,295 cost and signed on to what would be one of our favorite adventure trips — and that’s saying something, since we have traveled far and wide, together and individually. We went for a week in March ’05.

After a quick overnight in Lima, we were whisked away for an early morning flight to Iquitos, where we boarded the Rio Amazones, a charming small ship, along with two dozen others. The ship had a capacity of 55 persons including staff and crew.

It was delightfully informal. Meals were served buffet style, and we had plenty of opportunity over food and drink to make new friends. There also was plenty of time to hang out on the decks, chat, spot wildlife and just meditate on the scenery as we sped along.

The concept is great. There were regular guides who were experts in jungle lore, flora and fauna, birds and animals. We might go by skiff in a morning drizzle to see what was out and about, fish for piranha, take an after-dark journey to listen to night sounds or maybe nab a noctural critter to be checked out and then returned to its habitat. Our guides were thoughtful and fearless and never put us in danger.

At villages, we might pick up local travelers, adding diversity among our traveling companions. There was always someone to help with language.

A visit to the home and studio of a famous painter plus visits to small villages where the art was incredibly creative were part of the “scene.” It was educational and social as we learned about life along the river, visited schools and a leper hospital and experienced local dance and music and culture — all with dignity and integrity.

The beautiful, curious children were always waiting. They knew which ships came when, and we felt especially privileged that ours was small enough to pull up right at the dock.

We traveled from Iquitos, Peru, to Leticia in Colombia and Tabatinga in Brazil, where we left some of our fellow passengers and wished them well as they journeyed east. We picked up others, turned around and started off again, exploring the opposite shore. Do you know that the Amazon is brown — everywhere?

Then it was back to Lima with a chance to tour the city quickly before heading home from our never-to-be-forgotten journey with Explorations, Inc. (27655 Kent Rd., Bonita Springs, FL 34135; 800/446-9660 or 239/992-9660 or visit www.

Including airfare from Chicago, the package cost us $2,295 per person. When we first arrived in Lima, around 11 p.m., we were taken to a nice small hotel and stayed there until pickup at 6 the next morning. Returning from the river, we were given a room at the same hotel from late morning until early evening. All part of the package. We did pay separately for the city tour that afternoon.

Oak Park, IL