Cruise Con­nec­tion

Cruis­ing the Ama­zon with Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions … and ex­plor­ing Machu Pic­chu with Inca Rail

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What's Inside - BY STEVE LE­LAND

Cruis­ing the Ama­zon with Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions … and ex­plor­ing Machu Pic­chu with Inca Rail

Cruis­ing the Ama­zon

Un­der normal cir­cum­stances, one would be hard pressed to find any com­mon­al­ity be­tween in­trepid ex­plo­ration of the Ama­zon, lux­ury cruis­ing, and culi­nary cre­ativ­ity. Then again, cruis­ing with Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions is any­thing but com­mon. Sched­ul­ing a 4-night sail­ing out of Iquitos, Peru, on the Aria Ama­zon proved to be a bona fide bo­nanza: treated as roy­ally as kings of the Ama­zon jun­gle and, by an enor­mous stroke of luck, sail­ing on what hap­pened to be one of the com­pany’s sig­na­ture hosted theme cruises.

Hosted by world-renowned chef Pe­dro Miguel Schi­affino, this food fest was more than enough to awaken any­one’s seden­tary taste buds. Schi­affino is the highly re­garded pro­pri­etor of Lima’s ac­claimed Amaz and Mal­abar restau­rants, both listed in the pres­ti­gious Latin Amer­ica’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2017.

Per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion with the chef en­com­passed cook­ing demon­stra­tions, pisco and choco­late tast­ings, dis­cus­sions on sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tives as well as ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sions. Through­out the cruise, Schi­affino con­cocted dishes spiced by indige­nous Ama­zo­nian in­gre­di­ents and sea­soned with re­fined ref­er­ences to the revered cui­sine of cos­mopoli­tan Lima. His in­spir­ing tal­ent and tire­less ap­proach to Peru­vian cui­sine has earned him the po­si­tion of ex­ec­u­tive chef of the ves­sel, with his cre­ative pre­sen­ta­tions of­fered on ev­ery

Aria Ama­zon cruise.

In­fused with the an­ces­tral tra­di­tions, color, and aro­mas of the re­gion, the menu se­lec­tions read like a hal­lu­ci­na­tory gas­tro­nomic glos­sary: solter­ito salad with Inca corn and An­dean cilantro, causa with fresh­wa­ter shrimp es­cabeche, yucca gnoc­chi, grilled paiche with chorizo sauce and snake-fruit purée. Com­ple­mented by a se­lec­tion of re­gional wines, the in­ge­nious blend of food and drink ini­ti­ates a union be­tween world cul­tures. While re­fer­ring to the dishes as de­li­cious might be im­plied, la­bel­ing them as ex­otic is a pro­found un­der­state­ment.

How­ever, this is only a de­light­ful bonus for an Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions cruise. The beat­ing heart of the ex­pe­ri­ence comes from in­no­va­tive itin­er­ar­ies and ex­cep­tional cruise ameni­ties. The prodi­gious com­fort of over­sized suites is un­ex­pected for an ex­pe­di­tionary river ves­sel, and the com­pany’s hall­mark floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows pro­vide panoramic views of the pass­ing jun­gle. The bou­tique-styled din­ing room more re­sem­bles an up­scale bistro than a ship’s restau­rant, and the el­e­gantly ac­ces­sorized lounge serves as a splen­did ren­dezvous for con­ge­nial con­ver­sa­tions. Out on deck, a spa­cious canopied area fea­tures a Jacuzzi, and chaise-lounge seat­ing fa­cil­i­tates un­ri­valed Ama­zo­nian stargaz­ing for night owls. Aes­thet­i­cally, the 32-pas­sen­ger Aria Am

azon re­veals an im­age of a chic float­ing re­treat serv­ing as a base for daily in­cur­sions into the re­mote Ama­zo­nian jun­gle. Led by ex­pe­ri­enced nat­u­ral­ists aboard the com­pany’s ex­clu­sively

de­signed skiffs, ex­cur­sions are com­pli­men­tary and run the gamut of flora-and-fauna view­ing, cul­tural ex­posés, and ac­tive sport ex­pe­ri­ences.

The trib­u­tary and back­wa­ter ex­plo­rations delve into the re­mote homes of rare and en­demic wildlife with no more than eight per­sons per guide.

To bol­ster the ap­peal of the com­pany’s themed-cruise pro­grams, they’ve part­nered with A-list celebri­ties to host cruises cov­er­ing a va­ri­ety of spe­cial in­ter­ests. In ad­di­tion to Schi­affino’s sched­uled sail­ings, world-renowned nat­u­ral­ist and con­ser­va­tion­ist Jean-Michel Cousteau will host sev­eral cruises in 2018 on both the Ama­zon and Mekong Rivers. As the ex­ec­u­tive chef of Aria Ama­zon’s sis­ter ship Aqua Mekong, Thai­land-based chef ex­traor­di­naire David Thomp­son brings South­east Asian culi­nary flair to sev­eral hosted de­par­tures. And through­out the year, Francesco Galli Zu­garo, the CEO and founder of Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions, per­son­ally hosts a num­ber of cruises, shar­ing his in­sight and vi­sion while ex­plor­ing the di­verse cul­tures of the Ama­zon, Cam­bo­dia, and Viet­nam. Top­ics such as pho­tog­ra­phy, per­sonal well­ness, and oth­ers are sched­uled reg­u­larly through­out the year.

Mak­ing Tracks to Machu Pic­chu

Any trip to Peru ab­so­lutely must in­clude a visit to the lost Inca city of Machu Pic­chu. Shrouded in the clouds and en­veloped by dense moun­tain­top forests, the mag­netism of this at­trac­tion makes it a peren­nial bucket-list des­ti­na­tion. In spite of the need for plan­ning — and a cer­tain amount of flex­i­bil­ity — a traveler’s per­sis­tence is well re­warded.

The en­dur­ing gate­way city of Cusco stands as tall in rep­u­ta­tion as in al­ti­tude; at 11,152 feet, it’s one of the high­est ci­ties in the world. Hav­ing with­stood the plun­der­ing of con­quis­ta­dors, earth­quakes, and grow­ing tourism, it main­tains a cul­tural blend of Inca and colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture, where streets bus­tle with indige­nous peo­ple in col­or­ful tra­di­tional dress and essen­tial mar­ket ac­tiv­ity.

Train travel from Cusco to Machu Pic­chu is not only the most con­ve­nient way to travel to the an­cient ci­tadel … it’s the only way, save for in­ten­sive hik­ing on the in­fa­mous Inca Trail. A trail with an 11,483-foot as­cent presents an ex­hil­a­rat­ing op­tion if you are pre­dis­posed to or­ganic ad­ven­ture; how­ever, the num­ber of hik­ers al­lowed is strictly lim­ited, mak­ing ad­vance reser­va­tions essen­tial.

De­fy­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions one might have for lo­cal train sys­tems, in­no­va­tive Inca Rail has re­cently in­tro­duced a dis­tinc­tive lux­ury class of train ser­vice to the lofty at­trac­tion, with poshly de­signed car­riages that ap­peal to re­fined trav­el­ers at rea­son­able rates. Cur­rently three dif­fer­ent ser­vice classes de­part from the Ol­lan­tay­tambo train sta­tion. While both Pres­i­den­tial Class and First Class of­fer live mu­sic along with a de­lec­ta­ble tast­ing menu and ex­quis­ite wines of the re­gion, the Pres­i­den­tial Class also pro­vides for an ex­clu­sive pri­vate car­riage for you and your travel com­pan­ions, com­plete with an ob­ser­va­tory lounge, plush arm­chairs, and a wel­come bot­tle of Cham­pagne. Ex­ec­u­tive Class of­fers comfy leather seat­ing and ta­bles plus a se­lec­tion of freshly pre­pared drinks and light snacks, sam­pling lux­ury ameni­ties for less. Sev­eral de­par­tures and re­turns are sched­uled each day but to be as­sured of avail­able space, reser­va­tions should be made in ad­vance at In­caRail.com.

Upon reach­ing the train sta­tion at Machu Pic­chu Pue­blo, guests trans­fer to a shut­tle bus which drives to the jaw- drop­ping com­plex of an­cient ru­ins. It’s vis­ually breath­tak­ing. The his­tory of Inca her­itage is pre­sented by the li­censed guides that are re­quired for each visi­tor. This assem­bly of build­ings, ter­races, and tem­ples, though only dis­cov­ered as re­cently as 1940, was ac­tu­ally con­structed cen­turies ago by the In­cas as a trib­ute to the Sun God.

Cling­ing to cliffs, the re­main­ing struc­tures and ter­races stand as a testament to Inca en­gi­neer­ing. Pho­tog­ra­phy buffs will find a par­adise loaded with vis­ual tar­gets suit­able for tro­phy fram­ing. Machu Pic­chu grabs your at­ten­tion and doesn’t let go.

World-renowned chef Pe­dro Miguel Schi­affino. Machu Pic­chu

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