LIFE

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Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

kind, Julio warned us as he pointed out the spiky-trunked catahua, a tree whose sap is poi­sonous and used in darts (“Put a drop in your eye and you’ll go blind”)—but its bark is good for ward­ing off neg­a­tive spir­its, he said.

At one point, Julio cracked the shell of a ter­mite mound and asked for a vol­un­teer. In­stinc­tively—or fool­ishly?—i raised my arm. “Put your hand in,” he said. I did so and ter­mites en­veloped it. “Don’t worry, they don’t bite… much,” he quipped. Af­ter a minute, he told me to brush off the ter­mites; they left be­hind sticky trails with a pleas­ing woody aroma. “This is a nat­u­ral in­sect re­pel­lent the tribes use,” he ex­plained.

Less ap­peal­ing was the slen­der palo santo, which Julio knew as the “pun­ish­ment tree.” He tapped the trunk and le­gions of bit­ing red fire ants streamed out of a small hole. “When we were young and naughty, our par­ents made us hold the trunk for 10 min­utes— and we learned to not be naughty again.” The two-hour jun­gle stroll was equal parts ed­i­fy­ing, inspiring and alarm­ing. Here ants or snakes could attack but, if you knew where to look, a cure was close at hand. We re­turned to the skiffs, where Julio handed us cold tow­els and chilled Cusqueña beer.

More de­lights awaited back on the Aria, whose sleek black hull houses 16 cab­ins that turn tra­di­tional state­room de­sign on its head. The cab­ins mea­sure a gen­er­ous 270 square feet, and fea­ture a king-sized bed and a wel­come shower roomy enough for two. Three floor-to-ceil­ing panes of glass act as the fourth wall and al­most place you di­rectly on the mighty river.

The ship has three pas­sen­ger decks: two host the ac­com­mo­da­tion and dining room, while the top floor has a li­brary and lounge, a shaded ob­ser­va­tion area, a teeny gym and mas­sage rooms. Each day sup­plies a cou­ple of en­light­en­ing ex­cur­sions, but the pauses in be­tween are restora­tive pock­ets of de­com­pres­sion where you leave the world be­hind—quite lit­er­ally, since there is no in­ter­net or phone cov­er­age on board.

Days set­tle into a com­fort­ing rhythm. A wake-up call comes well af­ter sun­rise, then a for­ti­fy­ing break­fast of fruit, ce­real, yo­ghurt and eggs, fol­lowed by a morn­ing ex­cur­sion. Lunch is light, with cui­sine that cel­e­brates Peru’s wealth of en­demic prod­ucts, in­clud­ing such su­per­foods as quinoa and ki­wicha. The evenings’ fine-dining tast­ing menus come with fan­tas­tic South Amer­i­can wines. Free time, care­fully built into the itin­er­ar­ies, al­lows for post-pran­dial sies­tas, sip­ping of pisco sours on the deck and watch­ing fish­er­men idle in their dugouts, or the op­por­tu­nity to min­gle with the af­fa­ble guides, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble given the Aria’s Lil­liputian di­men­sions.

Ex­cur­sions are planned so as not to be repet­i­tive. “To­day we look for dol­phins, jaguars, caimans and ana­con­das,” our guide, an­other man named Julio, de­clared as we headed to­wards the Pa­caya- Samiria Na­tional Re­serve af­ter an early rise. “And we’ll fish for pi­ran­has,” he added—a state­ment met with gasps of ap­pre­hen­sion. Patches of mist rose from the river as the climb­ing sun heated the air. The still wa­ter acted as a mir­ror, re­flect­ing the ten­der clouds and flank­ing col­umns of green trees. Swathes of wild cane, used for fish­ing rods be­cause it floats, rose from the shal­lows and swayed above the river banks.

One side of the river ap­peared eroded, the other built up, the re­sult of the ac­tion of the cur­rents. Clumps of wa­ter hy­acinth floated by and the fragrance of or­chids scented the air. A pod of river dol­phins ap­peared, their fleshy pink backs rhyth­mi­cally break­ing the sur­face of the wa­ter. Ev­ery­one buzzed with ex­cite­ment some min­utes later when we spied a fam­ily of capy­baras—ro­dents the size of shorn sheep—scur­ry­ing into a thatch of fallen

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