Watercoloring My World -The Beginning


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2016 has whizzed by. I have travelled shorter distances than usual but my mind was busy coping with loss and I had a need to stay close to home. There was no choice but to find new direction for myself from my position here in central Ontario.

A few years ago my sister gave me a book on watercolours along with paints and paper. They remained in pristine condition for a long time.


First Try!

This year, I took the plunge into experimentation and began to include art in my travel journals. I must say my logs did start to look jazzier but I knew my skill level left much to be desired.


In June, I shared my journal with David Marshak (www.davidmarshak.ca), an artist in residence, on a cruise I took with Adventure Canada . I attended his and Rob Saley’s ( http://www.robsaley.com) sessions and managed to draw a mean wine glass and a hand held radio set. EPSON MFP imageWell at least these items were recognizable! When out on the land, I took a stab at drawing in my journal and finished up once I was back in my cabin by adding a touch of watercolour. That’s progress!

David suggested I should watch some u-tube watercolour videos to improve my game.

The summer came and went. It was hot, hot, hot. I didn’t feel like doing much of anything but in the back of my mind was the revolving message that told me I should look at “upping my watercolour game”.

I did take to watching u-tube lessons before bed. My internet service needed to be upgraded to keep up with the downloads.

In September, the local art shop sponsored a six week course with Greg Maude                         (www.facebook.com/Gregory Maude Fine Art). Off I went every Wednesday afternoon. Each week I seemed to be hauling an ever increasing kit. Apparently there was more to this than water and paint!


Sunrise – Sunset

I learned a lot in those six weeks. Perhaps the most important was that I had more going for me than I thought. My history of oil painting and photography had helped me to see differently and now I was using those learnings in a medium that required me to take a quarter turn and squint. It was similar and a lot could be transferred from one means of expression to another, but no, it wasn’t the same!

I jumped in and, with enthusiasm, turned my mind and brush to our assignments. My snow looked ok, my house and barn passable. Then I began to go off the rails.

“You expect too much too soon”, I told myself. I painted on into the night. More paper. More paint. Even more brushes.

Then I began to be more satisfied with my efforts. I practiced. And I practiced. “ Oh good, the shadows are coming along”, I said, probably out loud.

The class ended. My classmates dispersed to the corners of my county and beyond. I went to my kitchen counter and set up shop. Then I drove to town to draw and paint from the comfort and anonymity of my car.


From my car

I tried to draw people at Tim Horton’s . I went to a different Tim Horton’s.

I climbed the hill behind my house and painted the field and the barn and the century home. Some paintings made me feel I was actually progressing. Other efforts were just that, efforts.


High on a Windy Hill

Rome was not built in a day. Some smart person said that and I know it applies to many things. But I like results, good results. Sooner rather than later.

It’s verging on six months since I started to work on watercolour as a media for self-expression.

On Saturday, I reached a milestone.

I stacked my reference books and thanked Marc Taro Holmes (www.citizensketcher.com) for the inspiration and implicit encouragement found in his book “ The Urban Sketcher “ . Then I went to Staples where I purchased a new Epson scanner, printer, etc, etc. It seems it can do almost anything. The selection process was highly technical. The Workforce WF- 3640 was the only machine I could lift.

Several hours later, I was scanning. The process from unpacking through configuration included much grinding of teeth but the end result was good. I can scan and print but alas I cannot save things to my Mac Pro. Yes, you are right, I should be able to, but trust me, you don’t want to hear about my internet services. You don’t. You really don’t.

So here I am nearly six months into my adventure with pen, ink and watercolours and I’m feeling pretty good. Much has been accomplished and there is more to go. Learning is endless and I choose to look at life that way.

It is December now and it is getting colder in my car, so I am moving on to the creation of watercolours from images I have taken on my travels. I think I will start north and work my way to the other pole.


Somewhere on Davis Strait

Come June 2017 tune in again. I will post an update. More drawing and watercolour instructions are scheduled for 2017 as I make my effort to document Canada 150.

PERU 2015: Day 15 – Back to Home Plate


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Day 15 – Back to Home Plate

Lima to Miami is an overnight flight that boards at 1:06 am. My twenty-two pounds of camera gear feels like ninety when it is time to get it down from the overhead at 7am this morning. The four of us, on this leg, meet at the luggage carousel and wait somewhat impatiently for our hoped for luggage last seen in Iquitos many moons ago.

Immigration is mechanized but I swear I do not look like the black and white photo on my immigration card. All I can say is that there must have been some similarity that I was missing for those with open eyes because the process proceeded without a hitch.

Ron, Janis and Erika head for the car-park and their trip back to Bradenton, Florida. Carol and I head, hopefully, to the airport hotel. We are re-buffed as we are too early to check-in. This seems to be a strange feature at an airport hotel!

Airport waiting is airport waiting. It is to be avoided but when push comes to shove there is no choice but to suck it up and try to smile. We guard the luggage, take trips to the washroom, window shop, eat and eventually head to different gates for our flights to Toronto. Yep, I just want to go home.

The sky train takes me to Gate 5. There is no visible sign of increased security in this airport despite the deadly incidents in Paris this past week, and the upcoming American Thanksgiving long weekend.

I purchase a sandwich – $10.25 US for one ham and gold, I mean cheese sandwich. We board at 12:05 pm just in time to hear the captain say “The overheads will hold three skate boards end to end and you can put coats on top!” I try to find the energy for the humor.

My seat is by the window. I am captive so I fall in and out of sleep for the length of the three-hour flight. My seatmate decides to comb her hair for the hundredth time as we are landing She has just gone to the first class washroom even though we are in steerage. Then to complete her preparation for meeting family and friends she generously sprays herself with perfume which, though not bad smelling, prompts the lady behind me to have a full out asthma attack. It’s a good thing we are nearly at the terminal as the lady bolts to the front of the plane in search of air.My seat mate doesn’t get it!

Amidst all of this I am still trying to get someone to bring me a custom’s form. Apparently there are none left. Nonetheless, I am really, really glad to be home…or almost home. I’m pretty sure they will let me stay even though I do have nuts and berries in my handcrafted souvenirs. I hand my declaration to the young customs officer and she, after questions and further thought passes me through.

In Toronto, it’s about 40 degrees F with light clouds.  I don my raincoat and follow my Ontario Coachways driver to the van. I’m armed with a coke and a chocolate bar .(The Timmy’s line was too long.) I point out that I have been up for 37 hours and ask for a short update. “Has anything good happened in the last two weeks”, I ask. A two-hour chat with a knowledgeable man finds me in my driveway.

I’m home.

As I put the key in the lock and push open my back door, I realize even in my sleep deprived state that I have changed. To be a traveler is to anticipate and welcome opportunity and opportunity challenges me. If I returned the same as I was when I stepped out of my door, I might as well have stayed at home.

Now begins the task of understanding the difference based on my time in Peru.






PERU 2015: Day 14 – Rewind


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Day 14 – Rewind

I rise knowing that 39 hours from now I will be sinking into my own fluffy bed, in my comfy log cabin, near a major highway in a first world country. It seems impossible and I wish I could just be “beamed up”.

It is still dark over the jungle and the early birds are silhouettes. Pink dolphins are showing up on mass off the side of the ship and are doing back twirls like Flipper.

Peru-2015-8529oAs we move into the jungle on our last foray, the smell of hydrogen sulphide permeates the air. As the water rises with the wet season, this is a naturally occurring byproduct. I haven’t noticed many odours on this trip so this stands out. We follow a route that is only open during the wet. It allows the locals to have a seasonal short cut to the Ucayali. When the river is in full flood it will reach the white bark on the trees.

Peru-2015-8536oA few folks board the kayaks and paddle the marshy waters. I decide that getting in would be fine but getting out would not work for me so I cruise in the skiff instead. Discretion is the better part of valor, but darn!

Peru-2015-8196oWe move through hundreds of egrets that are rising and falling in waves. They form white clouds and rest tentatively on half submerged branches while cormorants watch and what I call “butterfly birds” (Jacana) rise from the reeds as we pass.Peru-2015-8163o When spread, their yellow wings catch the light. At rest they appear somewhat drab with black heads and yellow beaks.

Our last, upclose glimpse of this amazing ecosystem is short. By 11:30 we are on board, packed, ready for lunch and will soon be leaving the Delfin I at the dock in Nauta.

Peru-2015-8614oWe pass a busy waterfront as we head towards our mooring. Tuk Tuks and motorcyles are zipping through the riverside market up on the high bank. In the boat yard, the tool of choice is the machete. Peru-2015-8635oThe pace of life struck by the flow of the river is quickly leaving me.

The road to Iquitos is long and hot and more rickety than I remember. Kids sit on the side of the road…and I mean right on the road. I’m not sure why. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps they are waiting for someone or something. It’s just not obvious.

Buses pass us on a blind hill. Rice paddies and swimming holes move by in a blur. Ubiquitous white plastic lawn chairs start showing up the closer we get to Iquitos. About an hour and a half into the journey, we pass through Varellal, one of many small economically poor villages. The main street looks like one long house. Few folks are about. Dogs loll in the heat.

We stop at the “Institucionses Unidas por la Conservacion de la Fauna Amazonica” which is among other things a manatee rehabilitation center. Environmental awareness is a key goal in its work with school children. The importance of recycling and its methods are taught by example in creative child friendly ways. I really liked the talking tree and “flower pot” children.Peru-2015-8645o

The manatee project aims to rehabilitate animals that are injured or ill. Peru-2015-8665oThose in the main pool are friendly and anxious to eat leaves from our sanitized hands. One named “Anonymous” is particularly friendly and cuddles up to the pool deck in anticipation of a treat. The property is also home to turtles , a macaw and small marmoset monkeys Peru-2015-8675othat play like children on the lawn. Nature never ends here.

As we make our way to the park entrance the notion of the cool van seems really nice. It is indeed hot. There is not a breath of wind.

Before long we join a stream of traffic composed of all kinds of vehicles the majority of which are tuk tuks. The streets seem to be coming alive for the end of the day. The temperature is dropping a tad. In the older part of the city we forego a walk in favour of visiting a museum on the malecon. Its exhibit on indigenous people tells me that though I may have seen a lot in my time in Peru, I have hardly scratched the surface of the culture and history.Peru-2015-8710o Spears, jungle drums, finely woven cloaks and headpieces decorated with hummingbird and macaw feathers help to distinquish one group from another. The workmanship is exquisite.Peru-2015-8712oPeru-2015-8709o

Outside, it is still too hot to walk very far so our adventure in the old part of the city is curtailed. Locals wander the Malecon and in the distance the remains of past dreams, ships once functional and vital, rust on the shore with their hull’s vibrant with graffiti.Peru-2015-8703o As we turn in the direction of the van, a billboard screams out “Es Nuestro Derecho” – Education is our right! Perhaps change is afoot.Peru-2015-8722o

By the time we weave our way through supper hour traffic to the entrance to the soon to be “Best Western” (remember it) the sun is beginning to set with a vivid display of orange and blue. We cross the water to the floating restaurant we had visited when we first came to Iquitos. We just have time for a quick meal and then we take our last trip on the Amazon…in the dark in a boat with no running lights.

It’s not far to the airport but the streets are full and corners bulge with kids in school uniforms. The second session of the day is out. I notice that Christmas tree lights have sprouted over the past week as stores and homes dress for the holidays.

The luggage is off to Miami, we are all off to Lima. The soft tropical evening caresses my face and the roar of jet engines insults my ears. Soon these sensations will be replaced by the kiss of snowflakes and the sound of my furnace.

Our clan begins to disintegrate in Lima. Shirley is off to Machu Picchu before returning to New Zealand. LeeAnn and Dean are off to LAX, and the rest of us are headed for Miami and points beyond but not before Carol and I get randomly selected for a complete security check at the gate. After the swabbing and searching are complete, and we are declared safe, we are allowed to board early. This marks the second time I’ve been “suspicious” when trying to exit Peru. Last time, I lost Doug’s Swiss Army Knife to a very exacting security guard. He was right. I was wrong. Lesson learned!

Next stop Miami.

PERU 2015: Day 13 – Monkey Day!


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Day 13: Monkey Day

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp! Well that probably doesn’t do the jungle sounds justice but at 5 am it makes the point that I am not the only one up. This is our last day to explore and coffee and crackers ––someone(s) ate all the Oreos— get me started.

McCaws, vultures, parakeets and parrots accompany us as the sun comes up and we head for Monkey Island. There appears to be a lot of action in the forest this morning.

Not far from where the Delfin I is moored, there is an island populated by free range monkeys that could entertain for hours. Spider, Squirrel, Capuchin and Howler monkeys look like they are having out of control fun. The black spider monkey Peru-2015-7434ostretches from limb to limb exhibiting a full range of facial expressions that were meant to scare us off or entertain….I’m not sure which. A particularly large orangey-brown Howler calls the tune.Peru-2015-7539o

Our watchful interaction with nature is abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a boat from Delfin II. It’s not their presence that is so disconcerting but rather the fact they begin to feed the monkeys by placing bananas on a stick. This is way too much for the creatures to ignore and before you know it one little guy is perched on the gunnel of the Delfin II skiff. Now, wouldn’t you think that the guides for a National Geographic adventure would know not to feed the animals! We are disappointed that the company would allow this infringement on the wild in the hope of keeping the animals “handy” for viewing. Despite my delight in seeing the monkeys in their natural habitat, this experience was probably the low point of the trip.

Time is getting short so as we wait for breakfast all cameras are scanning the water in the hope of getting “the” picture of a pink dolphin. Sea creatures do provide a different photographic challenge and these ones provide little warning of their intent to break the surface or as to where they will resurface. You just wait it out and hope for the best. There are a lot of muddy water pictures and critter footprints to be deleted from my cards. As I head down for breakfast I’m thinking that the expression ”Leave only Footprints” was coined by these creatures.Peru-2015-8013o

At nine we are off again. We are looking for Morpho butterflys and the illusive but dead slow sloth.The water is noticeably higher today and strangely enough its presence makes the landscape seem more jungle like to me. Marks on the trees show that there are many feet yet to go before high water will be reached.

The most incredible blue Morpho butterfly moves by quickly. He or she is not hanging around for a bunch of photographers to get their act together. There are numerous species and subspecies of these magnificent creatures. Their five to six inch wingspans and their iridescent blue colour is striking and helps me see them as they flash through the canopy.

Peru 2015-7750


Our patience is rewarded as a sloth is spotted high on a tree.


Peru-2015-7647oWe are back on board the Delfin I in about an hour and we continue down stream to the confluence of the Maranon, the Ucayali and the Amazon. Over a thousand tributaries will join in as the river makes its 4000k journey to the Atlantic. More species of animals live in the Amazonian Rainforest than in any other place on earth. National Reserves protect the flora and the fauna and provide inaccessible areas where indigenous tribes still live untouched. The Amazon covers over half of Peru but only 5% of its people live here.

As I stare down the river, the fact that I am actually here, stuns me. I can’t help but wonder why I have been afforded this opportunity. Life, here, is so different from what I have experienced in Canada. Terrorists set off bombs in Paris this week. Innocent people were randomly killed. In my daily life I am bombarded by news of horrific world events. At this moment, I wonder whether the people along this river know that the carnage in Paris happened? I surmise that many do not and that says volumes about how I live my normal (non-travelling) life. From the security of my living room, I would have known. It makes me question how I live and how each of us spends our time on earth.

This whole place is a metaphor for life. Some of the logs that bounce off the hull in the night will reach the sea. Others will sink. Some will get hopelessly snagged while others after a time, will float free and become part of something that is changing and that is bigger than themselves. Life is here, but its scale and touch points are unique. I have to figure out what this opportunity to experience Peru means to me and my life. What have I learned? What difference will it make?

In due time, the Delfin I turns upstream. What is below the confluence is not for me to experience on this journey. We are headed back towards Nauta where tomorrow we will disembark.

Peru-2015-7793oClouds are gathering as we pull ashore at San Francisco. We are ahead of schedule and remain on board for awhile. Villagers come down to the shore and watch us as we watch them. Then the rain comes.Peru-2015-7812o Buckets and buckets of rain.Peru-2015-7809o I take cover in our cabin while the residents gather under the thatched roof of a large pavilion. When the cloudburst subsides, out come the mops to clear away the puddles in the reception area. We are now in a steam bath. The sky is very grey.

Peru-2015-7817oAt exactly 3:30 we go ashore and are greeted by warm smiles and hearty handshakes. The village is set back from the water and so we are escorted up a broad flight of cement stairs to an incongruous pillared piazza where chickens roam,Peru-2015-7822o children play and the Peruvian flag flies proudly.

Peru-2015-7829oI watch as villagers demonstrate how juice is extracted from sugar cane, beans are husked and rice separated from its chaff.Peru-2015-7825o On the main street, heads pop out of doorways and we all stop to see a rain drenched baby sloth who is being cared for by a loving grandmother.

Peru-2015-7836oAs the rain comes again, we don our company issue green ponchos. Inside a building on the main street we are entertained with dancing and singing. Heads appear at windows and little ones gather at the door. We are a curiosity but Nelson, the Mayor’s son, steals the show with his enthusiasm and winning smile. It gets him warm applauses and multiple suckers.

Peru-2015-7883oThe main street has one long cement sidewalk with paths leading to the buildings that line the way. At one end a church stands out against the sky and the forest. At the other, the walk passes the school and homes until it disappears at the top of a knoll.  Some of the buildings have metal roofs thanks to the generosity of others. Cement floors and thatched roofs predominate. This village has hydro. As we start our return to the boat we are shown lovely baskets and straw animals and jewelry. Hundreds of hours have been spent creating these beautiful things. Bright, cheery colours predominate.Peru-2015-7885o

Gabriella, a girl of about 8, grabs my hand as I start to descend the slippery path. She has the biggest most beautiful smile and absolutely, no fear of strangers.

I am still struggling with what it means to have been here as I board the tender and head back to our ship which is a mere twenty feet away. The thoughts continue to circulate in my head as I shower and prepare for dinner. I don the last of my clean clothes confident in the knowledge that washers and dryers live where I live. This is a different world. Tomorrow I leave the Amazon. I am sad. There is so much more here to learn.














Peru 2015: Day 12- Cruising the Amazon


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Day 12 – Cruising the Amazon

This is the 6th day on the Amazon River system. It’s Saturday 5:15 am. The Delfin I is nose into the long grass. As on every other day here, my glasses steam up when I exit the cabin in anticipation of taking a shot. This time there are of two Yellow-headed Caracara sitting on the tall reeds.


By 6:00 we are in the skiff following the Rio Zapato in search of the large black bushy saki or flying monkey. Black Ani watch from the branches of the paper trees. Peru-2015-7023oCormorants pass in flights much like the v-formation of Canada Geese. Bunches of bright red bromelia look like nests in notches far up the tree trunks. The folks from Delfin II are fishing in still water.Peru-2015-70310o

As we move upstream, the river gets more and more narrow. Light pink water hyacinths float like candles on the water. Twenty pairs of eyes are constantly scanning the trees in search of wildlife of any kind. The birds are frequently back lit and I find it hard to see colours but I am getting better at identification by shape. Toucans and parrots are easy! A scarlet tanager flits by. Even if one is not a “birder”, in a place like this, it is hard not to be drawn in by their diversity and beauty.Peru-2015-7047o

Despite our constant group scan, no sloths are found. A Saki or equatorial flying monkey sits high in the canopy, his bushy tail swinging in the breeze. Peru-2015-7061oHe takes a flying leap, and I have blurry proof of his effort. Waves of birds keep coming. The black-necked hawks are back. Deep in the trees, the branches sway and squirrel monkeys jump limb to limb. It’s play day!

I have the recorder with me again today but there is not enough close up jungle chatter to warrant trying to tape. The voices of the wilderness are best at dawn and dusk. Strangely, those are the times that our group is most quiet.

On our way back to the ship, we pull into the shore to visit a fishing village. The majority of the homes are down a trail, deeper in the forest and safer from the river’s flooding.Peru-2015-7096-2 But the word is soon out that we have landed and instantaneously and somewhat magically, a group of women and children erect a market in a grove of trees. Necklaces and purses made of seeds are soon hanging for our perusal and purchase. The older children help their mothers and the younger ones look at us with wide eyes.

I wander from stall to stall, looking at the wares and wondering who to buy from. Who has already had a sale and who is still hopeful? I find a small purse made from seeds of various sizes and another bracelet. Both items show the creativity and perseverance of the craftsman. They will remind me of this day. As I make my purchases a little girl looks on. She has strabismus and I wonder if she will ever be able to have her vision corrected. She and other kids seem to smile in a sad sort of way. They are quiet but somehow seem filled with questions.

Back on board we sit topside hoping for a breeze and watching clouds roll by. Short “puffs” of rain freshen the light wind. Peru-2015-7121oRiver traffic moves up and down stream. Today umbrellas work for both sun and rain. I see farmers on shore flailing rice. It’s hard at this moment to imagine the river and its accumulation of debris running like this for 4000 km to the Atlantic Ocean.

Peru-2015-7106o-2At our request meals have been cut back in quantity to prevent waste but nonetheless our lunch includes a fish and banana appetizer, a duck and rice main dish and cherry jelly with mango sauce, chocolate cake chunks and apple in mango cream for dessert. I should be made to swim home!

Resting from the heat of midday is mandatory and works well in that it provides time to reposition the ship. From the comfort of my cabin I watch the storm clouds pass. As we are moving downstream now, we once again pass Requena before heading for shore. Peru-2015-7126oBy late afternoon the temperature begins to drop and we head up Supay Creek in the skiff. Here the rising river waters are clearly infiltrating the forest as the rain in the high Andes makes its way to the sea. Trees that would have had dry feet yesterday, have wet ones today. One can almost see the water rise.

Again I am inundated with new bird species. A chocolat “something” and a “red –breasted “whatchamacolit” zip by with a throaty call and a rush of wings. Really, I have so much work to do with a bird book when I get home!

There are a number of lodges on this creek and I see visitors hanging out on the verandas. There is little time to stare and no time to stop as we race to beat the rain back to the ship.

Peru-2015-7141o-2On board it is time for drinks, dinner and the continuation of our game of leapfrog with Delfin II. Lightening flashes across the sky. The staff lower the rain curtains to protect the wooden decks.

By 8:15 I’m in my pj’s, ensconced on my bed, busily writing journal notes. The cameras are outside sleeping under a towel! I join them in the sleeping part!







PERU 2015: Day 11 – Travelling the Rio Ucayali


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Day 11 – Travelling the Rio Ucayali

An orange ball is rising above the jungle as I move the sliding door to my cabin and let in a blast of hot humid air.Peru-2015-6734o My camera has spent the night on a deck chair covered by a towel and is ready for action. The air is alive with the sound of parakeets. As I watch the river, I realize that the things that went bump in the night were logs and assorted other debris that is flowing down stream. The river is rising and the forest is being flushed.

In the skiff we head up the Bellusa Cano in search of caiman. We are silent but the motor provides a background low decibel “ohm” interrupted by the intermittent sounds of more parakeets and gaggle of white-throated toucans.

We work our way under the overhanging canopy seeing night monkeys ,Peru-2015-6841o

long nosed bats, and a voluminous number of birds including the kingfisher who continues to tantalize us with his speed as he crisscrosses the river in front of us. A high-flying Jabiru stork crosses the mouth of Bellusa Cano as we head back for breakfast.

By nine I am drawing and watching for dolphins from the comfort of my room. Its good to be on board for a while as Montezuma’s revenge has finally caught up with me. Others have been struggling all week. I’m hoping that Carol’s fast acting Imodium will do the trick.

Peru-2015-6767oLate morning finds us on the top deck watching for dolphins and listening to Juan Luis talk about native plants. One, which I think he called Cocana, belongs to the wild tomato family and is used as an insect repellant. Its leaves are used to kill fleas and on snakebites. (That’s versatile!) Another, called “Jungle chocolate” is dried and pulverized to create a cacao-like powder. Later we will taste this in the form of ice cream.

Peru-2015-6880oOn board the Delfin I,we continue to journey upstream past Requena. It’s a city of 70,000 that hugs the shoreline. The river is the only highway to this land locked place. We pass a large lumber mill.Peru-2015-7132o-2 When the river is high, locals capture huge logs that are floating downstream and either float them to the sawmill or use them to produce charcoal. This community has amenities like a school, a hospital and electricity created by a generator. Rice is grown on the low-lying riverbanks. Its production is labour intensive and yet it sells for 60 cents a kilogram!Peru-2015-6886o

In the late afternoon we load into the skiff to explore the Dorado River. It is obvious that the wet season changes the shape of the landscape as we watch chunks of sandy bank crumple into the water. What is lost on one side of the river is gained on the opposite shore.Peru-2015-6888o

Palla palms grow close to the water’s edge. There are over 1.8 billion of them in the Amazon basin. Their fronds are used to thatch roofs and build room dividers and sunscreens. The roofs need to be replaced every 5-10 years depending on the weather and the skills of the workmen.* Today, tin roofs, and plastic sheets are replacing the thatch traditionally used to fend off the rain.

We move up the Dorado in search of Sloth. We find more red bromeliads, people fishing, and the ubiquitous black-ringed hawk. Every once in awhile we would approach a village positioned close to the river but on high enough ground to escape flooding.Peru-2015-6908oPeru-2015-4513o In one case, Vultures sat, waiting, above a community fish holding pen.Peru-2015-6923o Villagers empty their daily catches into this community space. It’s a prickly business and by the look of things a family business. A man swims in a floating cage throwing dead fish over the side. Peru-2015-6928oOthers straddle their boat to protect their feet from the trashing beasts and wear socks like gloves to decrease the amount of damage to their hands. The fishermen smile and work and generously allow us to photograph them.

We are not doing well in our search for Caiman or Sloths but at the end of a narrowing channel, a Hoisin sits high on a branch. It is an odd looking bird. His startling headdress and brightly coloured plumage make him unique. The blue patches around his eyes are set off by his brown and tan plumage. Unique! Beautiful! ….And not only that he is sitting still!Peru-2015-6980o

With the eye of a hawk himself, Juan Luis spots a three-toed sloth high up in the canopy. He’s hanging there like a piece of laundry. Peru 2015-6963-3The leaves of a paper tree obscure much of his body and as we watch he slowly moves his head and gradually moves to a more sitting-like position. How he holds his weight is a mystery to me. This animal is a study in slow motion. He eats and creeps his days away, moving up and down the length of the tree trunk. Once on the ground, he defecates and starts the return trip up another and perhaps more leafy tree.

By the time we reach the junction of the Dorado and the Ucayali it is dusk. We don our life jackets and Juan Luis connects a floodlight to the bow of the boat. We travel slowly in the dark looking for the red eyes of Caimans, watching fishing bats scoot by in front of our craft and listening to a choir of frogs. They only sing after dark.

Peru-2015-6993oThe sky moves through a range of blues and oranges. Despite the low light, a night heron and a boat heron are identifiable. And then it is black and still in the jungle. We search by moonlight and the stars.


Reference:* Earth2mother website.






PERU 2015: Day 10 – Lily Pads and Umbrellas


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Day 10- Lily Pads and Umbrellas

I can almost guarantee if I’m in bed before nine, my body will want to get up long before it should. Surely that is my excuse for falling into the toilet around 2 am.

Peru-2015-6347oBy 5 the sun is beginning to rise over the treetops making an beautiful display across the river. This morning, my mobility is fueled by black coffee and two Oreos. Who knew this could be the breakfast of champions!

Peru-2015-6483oThe forest is alive with chirps this morning…sounds of life that I cannot identify but only appreciate for their freshness and implicit joy. The mist is rising over the grasslands and again the local people are working their lines. Pop bottles act like floats and are hauled into the boats along with the nets and the catch of the day. A Caracara perches precariously on a gunnel. The sounds are of the awakening of the day include the pulsing sound of the small engines that propel some of the fishing skiffs.

Peru-2015-6438oThe diversity of the bird life continues to captivate me despite my poor vision and the fact that everyone of them seems to be back lit or flying against the dark forest. Both conditions continue to make photography a challenge. The little black ones, and the big black ones mix in with the colourful yellow-breasted something that sits high on a tree. The winter months back home will provide ample time to deepen my appreciation of all that is around me at this moment.

Peru-2015-6410oWe pass grand entrances to wilderness lodges as we make our way to our first landing. Some of these places welcome people who come to experience the enlightenment of Ayahausca ceremonies. This native plant has hallucinogenic properties and causes fits of vomiting. I think I shall remain ignorant.

Peru-2015-6411oHanging nests of the Orapendula decorate a paper tree. The birds with their distinctive yellow tails and characteristic call, sit high up. The first Kingfisher of the day flashes past. A black-necked hawk watches from his perch on a broken palm branch. Morning glory vines lay in tangled masses over downed trees with amputated limbs. A tree rat peers at me from the safety of his woodpecker-like home.Peru-2015-6466oA flock or a gaggle or a platoon…. what ever one is supposed to call more than one parrot….dive bomb from a high limb.Peru-2015-6473o This jungle is a busy place!

After a full breakfas, (Oreos can only take one so far!) we head for the far shore to find the landing for a walk to a pond of giant lily pads. An old man in a fishing skiff hugs the shore. A “hola” brings a toothless grin in the shade of a baseball cap. The sky is clear. Toucans rest on the branches above my head.Peru-2015-6493o

At the landing, the skiff is rammed ashore, dislodging some steps in the process. While it is being held against the bank by the engine, we disembark onto slippery, slanted, wooden steps. As we head down the trail, we are met by a man carrying a 70-pound bag of rice that he will plant and reap before the wet. The fact that life is not easy here is reinforced once again.

Before long, the path skirts the end of a pond that is blanketed with giant lily pads. Their platform-like leaves are rippled greens and purples and are accompanied by elegant pink lilies and buds bursting to open. Someone has built benches.Peru-2015-6522o With parakeets providing background music, it is a great place to ponder the many marvels of the Amazon.

As we watch and listen, the moment is superceded by the arrival of forty, yes, forty travelers from the Delfin II. It is a vessel currently being used by National Geographic and with which we have been playing leapfrog all week. There is a not so subtle difference between a group of eight and a group of forty, but here we all are, experiencing, and trying to understand the planet.

When we get back on board, the Delfin I is tied to the shore on the backside of a village of some three hundred persons. From our vantage point, there appear to be about four families living in humble homes.Peru-2015-6553o Small children play at the water’s edge, in and out of boats half full of water. Their older brothers, fish and bail and show us their catch. We provide cokes.Peru-2015-6578o

Around four we head past the “Carlos”. It is a decommissioned and disintegrating cargo carrying riverboat that now acts as a ferry terminal. We turn right into a channel leading to a lake where the water is fresh enough for swimming. Unfortunately, while others played, I had to stay onboard as I knew I would not be able to negotiate the narrow rungs on the ladder and would probably have to live there….in the water I mean.

As the swimmers floated around on noodles, the locals moved past on the way to the Carlos with umbrellas aloft to ward off the sun.Peru-2015-6592o We move in the opposite direction in search of sloth and monkeys. The monkeys were well hidden in the trees so we just watched as Ringed Hawks and Black Ani circled above.

High cumulus clouds rise above the river and pinks and oranges appear over the jungle as the sun goes down. More Pisco Sours are consumed in preparation for dinner. The crew gets the ship underway and several hours later, under the glow of its spotlights, the Delfin I heads into the shore and we tie off to a tree on the bank for the night.Peru-2015-6706o

PERU 2015: Day 9 – Laws of the Jungle


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Day 9 – Laws of the Jungle

It appears that the first law of the Jungle has to do with humidity. As the sun rises, I push back the sliding door to my cabin, camera in hand and immediately, the lens is as fogged as it would have been had I come in from the cold on some northern journey. My glasses are entirely steamed. Not to be deterred and in the hope that the lens in my camera will clear instantaneously, I take “fog” pictures of a father and son working from a wooden boatPeru-2015-6034o as they lift the fine lines and try to disentangle fish. Farther from shore, the Maranon rolls on while larger boats fight the current as they travel upstream.

We are in the skiff by 7am headed for the place in the jungle that will allow a bird’s eye view of the ecosystem. We are surrounded by the sounds of the early morning.  Coming ashore at a research centre that has taken over the site of an old hotel, we trample through what looks like the recycling station for a good sized community. The landing is strewn with boxes and containers of all kinds, filled with parts and pieces, ready to go by river to Iquitos for recycling. There are nuts, large bolts, light fixtures, and old air conditioners. Everything is moving on to a new life.

At the beginning of the trail that hugs a large decaying building, two macaws, apparently the stations “pets” sit near the top of a tall tree. Peru-2015-6048oThey are close up and almost standing still, so what if they are back lit. How could I resist. Click! Click!

We are headed for Delfin Island that is two short catamaran rides and a million pesky mosquitoes away. I do my part on the second lagoon and can now say “I paddled the Amazon”. I am not prepared for what follows.

Peru-2015-6071oIn the middle of the lagoon, truly in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungle


sounds and mosquito slaps, we sit down at a table set with white linens and table decorations. It’s breakfast! I listen to the sounds of the jungle, sip juice, and wonder.

Back in the boat we have one more short paddle across still water. Long nosed bats sleep on tree trunk in the middle of the lake. The sun is up. Butterflys and dragonflys buzz us. There is a twenty minute walk through the jungle. The path is narrow, and strewn with layers of leaves.Peru-2015-6080o Big arrows mark the way. I admit, this is really too funny for me! Arrows in the jungle? What about broken grasses and bent branches?

Part way through, one of our members has a medical emergency and sinks to the forest floor. We stand by anxiously as our paddler/paramedic takes his pulse. Thankfully, he rouses quickly and we move ahead slowly. The temperature is climbing. Leaves become fans.


We start into the canopy walk in threes. Each step reverberates through the wood, rope and cable structures. I look down and assume the netting is supposed to take over when the wooden slats fail.Peru-2015-6098-2o It is quiet except for our periodic expletives. There is something about wanting to hug a tree when you finally reach each platform. We are 85 feet above the jungle floor. The walk stretches for a bouncy third of a mile through a “terra firma” forest, meaning that the forest does not flood in the wet season. The canopy walkway stretches between fourteen of this forest’s largest trees. Vines fit for Tarzan twist their way down to the canopy floor. Birds and flowers are oddly missing.

Like birds on the trail of breadcrumbs, we march in single file over the root strewn terrain, following the arrows, back to Tawampa Lake. We are surrounded by butterflys again as we retrace our path across the still water. White, mottled brown, yellow, they are all around us. Peru-2015-6133oA blue Morpho flutters in the distance. On shore, ants have taken over what was originally envisioned as a handrail for a rough part of the trail. Now, yellow birds and red flowers light the way. Dragonflies are everywhere. And of course there is an opportunity to capture one more blurry kingfisher!

Peru-2015-6151oAt our final landing, there are kids and crafts. We give them gifts. They sing for us. Cognitive dissonance sets in when purchasing crafts in the jungle from a lady with a cell phone. I tell myself that I am probably just jealous as I fear her cell service is probably better than mine at home. There I have to stand at the end of my driveway to get a signal and I am only a short distance from town.

It’s 10:30 by the time we are back on board the Delfin. We head down stream, the current moving us along under fluffy white clouds. We have until 1:30 to watch the world go by as it is experienced here on the river. Pink dolphins leap. I control my need to run for the camera and just breathe.

The heat of the day saps my energy. The hand laundry is hanging off the chairs on our balcony and flapping in the breeze as we continue our journey. Carol and I retreat to the AC and our beds for a siesta. What are we eighty? I try journaling and drawing but it doesn’t last long.

At four, it’s a bit cooler. Slathered with sunscreen and mosquito repellent we head down a stream called Nauto Cano in search of monkeys, caimans, and owls.

Peru-2015-6183oBranches move to the back of the trees that line the river. Monkeys. There are monkeys, real monkeys, right there! Where?

Capuchin and Spider monkeys infest the Peru-2015-6298otrees and eventually we have clear views of their bandit like faces. They swing from branch to branch, they hang, they chatter. It’s our own private show, or so it seems. This is way cool….yet again.

Light rain, brings out our ponchos. Herons accompany us as we head home into a pink and blue sunset. The light rain turns to a downpour. Sitting in the bow seat, means getting lashed as we move forward but after all this is the rainforest!


Back on board, the laundry has been freshly rinsed. The lights of the town of Nauta shine on the far shore.

We have a 5:30 wake up for tomorrow morning so no one lasts much past supper. From today I will remember experiencing a bird’s eye view of the jungle, monkeys at play, water running into my shoes and the taste of the Amazon rain.Peru 2015-6338

Photos courtesy of E Sayers: Ponchos, Me on the canopy walk, Breakfast in the jungle.






PERU 2015: Day 8 – First Day of Jungle 101


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Day 8 – On the River – First Day of Jungle 101

My notes from the bumpy ride to Nauta are almost indecipherable but the sluggish waters of the Maranon are more accommodating this morning as I jot down reminders through my half-open eyes. It is 5:30 am! I am up and ready for my first cruise in the skiff. Coffee, crackers and fruit were to be had on the top deck. Breakfast will follow my first foray on the Amazon.

It becomes obvious that Jungle 101 will have a large segment of the curriculum dedicated to birds. They are diverse. I knew that, but in truth I am not a birder and I am not a morning person but nonetheless I am here and so are the birds and I am up, so why not?

As we pull away from the Delfin, there is a soft breeze in part created by the forward motion of the skiff as it moves from the white waters of the main channel into the creek we are following. It is very hot already. The vegetation is thick and full of plants I cannot name. They grow right up to and into the black tannin laden waters of Nauta Creek.

Ring-Necked Hawk

Ring-Necked Hawk

A Black Caracara, a Ring-necked Hawk, Egrets and what will become known as the illusive Kingfisher ( **!*!!) come into view as we move deeper into the channel. It has only been minutes, but already I have the start of my Amazon blurry bird collection. Maybe my scorecard will improve as my eyes get used to being open.

We wander lazily, trying to connect with the reality of the Amazon river system.  A green Iguana

Green Necked Iguana

Green Iguana

is stretching out on a limb high in the canopy. I hear an “ooh” and an “aah” escaping from lips. “Where is it ?,Can you see it?, Did you get it?” Whispers.  In an amazingly short time, an hour and a half has whisked by and Juan Luis says its time to head back for breakfast.

Surprise! Breakfast is a feast. Enough for a village. There is everything you can imagine including plates of fresh fruits and juices to accompany traditional western breakfast fare. The staff takes their jobs seriously and serve us with elegance and a camaraderie that says they enjoy their work. The dining room is sized perfectly for our group of eight. And as I am to learn later in the trip, there are twenty pairs of curtains changed on a regular basis to match the placements and table décor. Yes, you read that correctly. Indeed, the outside world and the inside world are very different.

Amazon Clown Tree Frog

Amazon Clown Tree Frog

Well fortified, we head into the jungle for a hike. The vegetation is even more lush up close and it is a marvel that Miguel, the local guide, is able to find a Red Poisonous Dart Frog, an Amazon Clown Tree Frog and Least Tree Frog. Apparently there are over 1000 types of frogs in the Amazon. I could be here a long time.

Miguel knows the forest and knees on the earth holding the tail of a Red–tailed Boa while hacking away at its earthen hole with a machete. This critter will not escape! Peru-2015-2483oIn the end, Miguel wins and as he holds it by its tail, it contracts its body, and squirms with fangs flashing. We observe.

Termite nests infest the trees. Juan Luis points out how the locals use the dung based outer coating as a natural insecticide. Nobody, including me, steps up to try. For me it’s “Deep Woods Off” with 30% deet… well, it just sounds more medicinal.

A horn-backed centipede makes its way along a leaf as we follow one another on the narrow spongy trail. It is soft under foot. Steps are almost silent.Peru-2015-2471o

Back at the landing, some local people have set up a display of their crafts. Beautiful wooden trays, bracelets and necklaces are laid out for our perusal and purchase. We distribute the first of the packages that we brought with us. They contain useful but hard to purchase things like toothpaste and soap and fun things for the kids.Peru-2015-2502o

This first opportunity to meet some of the people who live here, is mind expanding. They appear to have nothing, but I think they really may have everything. They are friendly, accommodating, and appreciative. I can’t help but wonder what they thought of us — loud, lacking in knowledge of their world, brandishing expensive cameras and leaving a few sols along with our footprints. Humm. Makes one think.

I am also stuck by the simplicity of life in the midst of such a complex eco system.( No wonder the early explorers were always getting lost.) I am confronted with huge contrasts. I am grappling with the complexity to find the simplicity. I am engaged in a crash course to find new understanding.

Peru 2015-5720We retrace our steps to the water and head back to the Delfin. We pass a group of men with their wooden boats pulled ashore.Peru 2015-5723 One is holding aloft a Mata Mata Turtle. It is a large blackish-brown specimen with tubercles on its back, a long neck and a triangular head. It looks like a piece of bark. Something prehistoric. Apparently, it likes the shallows where it can rest and capture fish using an unusual suction like mechanism for drawing them into its mouth. Gulp!

Out on the main channel of the Maranon, we see that the Delfin has been repositioned. We follow a second and a third muddy stream.

Local fishermen work their nets from their low riding wooden boats with shallow drafts. They manoeuver their craft with leaf shaped paddles or small gas engines fitted with a six to seven foot shaft and small propeller. Their filamentous nets are sometimes heavy with golden catfish. Peru 2015-5765The facial expressions of the fishermen make it clear that disentangling these beasts is not easy and can lead to being pricked by their long “whiskers”. Catfish are big here! There are over 1300 species in the Amazon but this one in particularly ugly and probably someone’s dinner!

My collection of blurry bird pictures grows as hawks soar overhead and more Kingfishers flash past. The current is swift. The boat moves, the birds move. Even the trees appear to “walk” when they send roots towards the earth which offers support at each step.Peru 2015-5780

Back on board, it is time for lunch but it seems like it should be supper. Getting up happened a long time ago. The heat of the day is upon us and I now, really appreciate this “over the top” vessel because, I confess… my cabin has air conditioning! Yes!

From the comfort of our cabin, Carol and I watch a little girl on shore playing like all children do. She is captivated by a plastic bag Peru 2015-5787that is carried on the breeze like a balloon. As it deflates, she pulls it over her head as we watch.  Out-loud and in unison we yell “Don’t put it on your head!” Thankfully there were no ill effects.

The Delfin is nosed ashore with its bow deep in the grasses. We are tied off to the trees.Peru 2015-5598 The village that we are near is small. The houses have flat board walls, square windows and metal roofs. This type of roof is seen as an extravagance here and may indicate that some outside support has come to the community.  Laundry hangs on everything. I can’t help  wonder how long it will take to dry in this humidity.Peru 2015-5790

By late afternoon, the temperature has dropped infinitesimally but we enthusiastically climb into the skiff. The hunt is on for pink dolphins! They surface nearby but only enough to leave their characteristic footprints on the water. Pictures? Maybe later.

We meander to the end of the creek and watch a rainbow. On the way back, we rendezvous with a research team that is releasing five hundred one-year-old turtles back into the wild. Handfuls of them! This is way cool.Peru 2015-6021


I admit, I whispered encouragement as I dumped them over the side. “ You can do this!. Swim! Swim! Swim!” , I said. Admittedly, many will not survive. But some will!

Sardine like fish are jumping. One lands in the boat and disappears into the dungeon below the floorboards to be retrieved when we reach the Delfin.

Swoop! There go the Kingfishers again crisscrossing the waterway. Click! Click! Click! Monkeys can be heard in the jungle. Jungle potatoes, cassava, grow on the higher banks of the river. Yellow beaked Ica Terns line up on the branches and squawk overhead.Peru 2015-5862 High above, I can see a paper wasp nest hanging in a tree. Bromeliads with bright red flowers grow high in the canopy. The riverbanks, and the twists and turns, remind me of kayaking on the Otonabee, a river close to my home. There are moments to take “Freeman” shots of the water coming over off the bow waves and moments to savor the stillness under the overhanging trees. A red-breasted something zooms by. There are parrots overhead and an incoming egret!

Back on board, a refreshing shower, a cool pisco sour, a steak dinner and then I watch the locals gather around a campfire. Peru 2015-6030It’s time to turn in. After all it is 8:30! What an amazing day.

PHOTO Credit for image of the author. E. Sayers







PERU 2015: Day 7 – Onward to the Amazon!


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Nov 16,2015 -Lima to Iquitos and on to Nauta on the Amazon

The reason I am in Peru to start with is because my friend LeeAnn saw a picture of a pink dolphin swimming in the muddy waters of the Amazon and said we should go there. That was two years ago and here we are up and ready to head to the airport yet again. The past six days have just been preamble for this main event. Although Leeann lit the flame, Janis carried the torch and before you could say “Jiminey Cricket” (does anyone really say that?) our friend Aaron Russ, owner of Wild Earth Travel out of New Zealand had us busy sending cheques.

Today, I look out the window of the Hilton in Lima and know tomorrow will be very different. For now, it could be Toronto’s Bay Street down there. Everyone is wearing a dark suit. For the Peruvians the workweek is beginning. Mist is rolling over the Malecon and construction workers are hard at it on the seawall. Me, I’m off to Iquitos and the beginning of a wonder-filled week on the Amazon river system.

As we head for the airport the traffic is building and the west is infiltrating the city. We pass signs for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Scotia Bank. Dog parks have statues of St Bernards that are really garbage cans for “do-do” bags. Totally isolated bicycle lanes trail down the middle of the road between the traffic lanes. It looks like a good design but at this hour it is not getting much use.

The steps up to the flight deck on our plane to Iquitos are much easier today even though it is hot with 90% humidity. Yeah for sea level!

As we disembark in Iquitos, a town of just less than 400,000 found in the eastern part of the Amazon basin, Juan Luis from Delfin Tours is there to orchestrate our journey. There are eight of us now. Shirley and Erika joined us in Lima. We are 96km from Nauta where we will board the Delfin I but nothing will do but we go to the Best Western for the “best lunch in town” before we begin the journey.Peru-2015-5509o

On the way through the crowded streets of Iquitos, my imagination runs away with me and it is all wrong. No one will be eating at the Best Western for some time. But our van with its trailer in tow drops us at its would-be front door and we descend and descend until at river level we are ushered aboard a boat that might float long enough for us to reach the “Al Frio y al Fuego”, Peru-2015-5501oa floating restaurant found mid-stream.

Water transport is important here, even in the city of Iquitos. Founded in 1864, the city is built on an island. Everything is brought in by air or water taxi. Even on the water it is hot and sticky so the chicken and banana pancake things I have for lunch sit like a rock in my stomach. I guzzle coca cola.

Peru-2015-5508oOn returning to shore, it is up those multiple flights of stairs to street level where it is worth my life to step onto the street itself. Here it is not cars but Tuk Tuks, 25,000 of them, that rule the roads.Peru-2015-5485o They are basically open air taxi’s powered by a motorcycle. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Some are more like trucks. Peru-2015-5513oSome carry people, whole families on the single back seat, or furniture or lumber tied precariously on top. Honda seems to have cornered the market but in some cases, the really spiffy ones, look more like a Model T.

As we head out of town, the traffic lessens, houses become scarce and land looks poor. We’re told that some families make charcoal to sell to the Chinese restaurants in town. We pass banana trees and chicken farms. And we see our first hanging orapendula nests high up in the trees. As we near Nauta the soil becomes as red as the sands of Prince Edward Island. Houses are made of this red clay. Occasionally we pass signs for a lodge. We proceed on a two lane highway with about as many bends as the Amazon. Traffic is scarce.  And there, as we round a bend, is an ice cream cart. What?

The Amazon heads off in an easterly direction and travels from its source in the Andes through three countries (Peru, Columbia and Brazil) covering a distance of over 4000 miles. Along the way over a thousand tributaries dump their black water, heavily laden with tannins, into the main white water stream. There is still debate about whether the Nile or the Amazon is actually the longest river but hey… lets not quibble. We will travel on the Ucayali and the Maranon, the two confluences that merge to make the main stream in Peru. Where it empties into the Atlantic in Brazil, the estuary is over 150 miles wide. During the wet season the river triples in size and covers in excess of 330,000 square kilometers of land. Any way you look at it, it’s a big river and it holds a lot of water and not a drop of it can be drunk without first being boiled.

By 5:10 I am looking at my watch and put my camera aside. I cannot hold it up any longer. The drive-by pictures will have to develop in my memory.

In Nauta, our driver navigates a maze of narrow back streets and stops abruptly at a polished wooded door. The stairs, leading up to it, are resting places for the local kids. Peru 2015-5537We are ushered past smiling waif-like children into a place without glass but with plenty of shine.Peru-2015-5539o Alice just fell through the looking glass!

This reception area with its heavy wooden furniture and white upholstery is our holding area as we wait for the tender from the Delfin I to arrive. The contrast to the outside world is enormous.Peru-2015-5545o-2

The sun is setting and grey dolphins play in the glow as we make our way to the boat where our superior accommodation, deluxe meals and shiny, shiny floors, await.

Peru 2015-5555

Did I mention, it’s quite a contrast!


Reference: Wikipedia