This morning we took the little boats to the Yurapa River and on the way saw some incredible birds--bright yellow kiskadees, kingfishers, hawks, a yellow-headed caracara, a woodpecker, herons, a beautiful purple bird called a plum-throated cotinga, and cardinals. Juan, our guide this morning, asked, 'what's the difference between South American cardinals and North American cardinals? Ours don't play baseball!' Of course that made me launch into a long dissertation on how great my St. Louis Cardinals are. I think everyone really enjoyed it. NOT. We pulled over to the bank and hiked up a small hill to see these adorable night monkeys high in a tree. Such sweet faces staring down at us. According to Juan, these are nocturnal monkeys and very rare to see in the daylight. Back to the Aqua for breakfast and then out again to visit a little village called San Jose. The Aqua and its sister ship the Aria stop at different villages in the Pacaya Samira area. This way no one village gets dependent on the gifts from the tourists. Some of us had brought gifts from home while others purchased little gift bags of rice and school supplies from the boat. As we pulled to the shore, lots of smiling children ran down to greet us. Most of the men were away harvesting rice, but the head of the village was there to greet us and show us around. One of the elders in the village, Pedro, and his wife invited us into their house. The homes are raised on stilts to protect from river flooding, and very simple in design and construction. The sides are generally open and no one has much privacy, especialy since many extended famlies all live together. At one of the houses, a little girl was holding a dusky titi monkey on a leash. I can't stand the thought of wildlife being kept as a pet and when I said something to Julio, he said he also thinks it's cruel to have the monkeys tied down. The little girl wasn't trying to be cruel, she was petting her monkey and you could tell she genuinely cared for her little pet, but there needs to be a lot more education to protect the wildlife here. Bless her heart, Lee had to leave and go back to the boat. She's been battling stomach issues and the heat just got too much for her. One of my favorite places in the village was the jail. It was basically a Mayberry-style jail where their local version of Otis would need to go to occasionally sleep one off. Several people invited us into their homes to see how they store and cook food. Everyone was incredibly friendly and open to showing us their way of life. One of the little girls stuck close to my side throughout the visit and the highlight of my day was when she shyly put her hand in mine. I looked down and said the only Spanish word I could think of, Amiga? It made my day when she looked up and said, Amiga! At the end of the tour of the village, we went to the nicest building, the schoolhouse. Most villages have at least an elementary school because all children in Peru are required to go through 6th grade. We sat in a semi-circle and the kids all sat in a semi-circle opposite us. Everyone introduced themselves and then we all sang songs to each other. If it sounds cheesy, I promise you, it wasn't. It was absolutely delightful! All in all, one of my favorite parts of the trip and something I'll never forget. After, the women of the village had spread out some of their handmade crafts. Most of us came back with armfuls of lovely things. After lunch, we headed out to Lake Clivaro to go canoeing. Some of the locals had their wooden dugouts and if you wanted, you could get in and paddle around the lake. Of course I wanted! Lee is still back on the boat with her stomach issues so David, one of the guests from Australia, went with me. What a great guy! We had the most wonderful time paddling around this beautiful lake. Marina, the local woman with us, didn't speak English but she was so nice. It's interesting how you can always find a way to communicate if you try hard enough. On the way back to the Aqua we saw a group of 20-30 pink dolphins, some were so brilliantly pink that they didn't look real. I never tire of seeing them. We stayed on the skiffs after the dolphins headed out and watched what was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. Bright yellows and oranges and golds and purples reflecting off the clouds and the water. Bliss. Absolute bliss. Back on the Aqua, everyone dressed up for dinner. Dressing up on the Amazon means clean khakis and your hair not in a baseball cap. Before dinner, everyone gathered in the lounge and I attempted to make pisco sours for everyone. I'm pretty sure I made our bartender a nervous wreck, but he laughingly went along with it. Then Anna, the cruise director, brought in the entire crew so she could introduce them. All 24 passengers loved the opportunity to acknowledge and thank this amazing crew. Then Juan introduced the Aqua band and the fun really began. They did this beautiful song about the Andean condors that made me think back to a few days ago when we saw these incredible birds flying. After that, they picked up the beat. Edgar, our waiter, came over and grabbed my hand and we started dancing. So. Much. Fun! Then others got up and we had the best time. I have to say, Lisa, my canoe buddy David's wife, does a mean version of the Macarena! Our last dinner was delicious and Cisco, the chef, really outdid himself. I stayed up late talking with some of my new friends--Peter, Steven, Kim, Doris, Helen, David, and Lisa. Such a great group!
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