Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Goldring Travel Cruising the Peruvian Amazon With G Adventures - Part IV (What Group Travel Should Really Be About!)

During the first three parts of this series I have explained some of the ups and downs of going on this G Adventures small group tour in a remote area where you are essentially 100% dependent on your tour company, your guides and your fellow travelers (and tourists).  But even with imperfections some truly remarkable and otherwise impossible experiences are possible.

Of course, where as here, G Adventures simply did not deliver a good portion of what was promised in the itinerary and delivered other portions out of context and time, there is no way around the frustration of the missed opportunities...especially when in an area that most will only visit once in a lifetime.  (I must note, however, that G Adventures is extremely concerned over the failures on this tour and have been extraordinary in communicating with me and working on making things as right as possible. Things happen and G Adventures is an excellent company with a mindset and philosophy that I wish more companies had.  Sometimes out of something not so good, very good things happen.  I will keep you posted.)

That said, there are a few techniques that I use to  assure I am not blinded by the "admiration of  problems", but have the vision to see through the issues and not miss out on all that is still actually there.  I have embraced this after listening to some of my clients that, unfortunately, become so emotionally wrapped up in the problems that are degrading their vacation by 10% that it becomes more like a 75% problem.  (This is probably one of the toughest things for some to accomplish, but it is well worth the effort.)

The first one is to keep things in perspective.   Put into play here:  I AM IN THE AMAZON!  HOW COOL IS THAT!

So while I am sitting in the lounge/dining room organizing and editing my photographs to the din of yet another round of cards, beer drinking and inane conversation, while the recently sunk skiff is still being repaired, I look out the window and see gray Amazon river dolphins feeding and playing.  I take my camera outside and take this photo:

Gray Amazon River Dolphin showing off
Clearly my focus changed from "Ugh" to "OMG!"

The second thing I do is make sure that their loss is not my problem.  On this trip I was truly shocked that some of my fellow passengers were technically well-traveled, but actually were tourists that focus on getting good deals to exotic places so they can say they were there.  I didn't hear one of them tell a story about when they were someplace; only that they were there.  Ironically, the first thing that jumped into my mind was the long, and usually humorously, debated, "Is cruising really travel?"  which I now must expand and restate!

If I didn't love to tell stories interrelated with my travel I would not be able to write this blog and, importantly, I wouldn't be able to see my kids' eyes roll and then say, "Dad, not another story...PLEASE!)

Local Amazon fisherman cleaning fish caught
in one of his gill nets on a creek. 
Creek banks literally lined from one end to the other with gill nets, and then the occasional gill net strung across the creeks.  Those nets trap anything that is big enough to have its gills caught up in the netting.  That got me thinking about the ecology and pressure on various types of fish; if any of the fish were merely discarded as "junk"; if these fisherman were truly fishing for the "locals" or if there is a "mother ship" they are actually working for; how much of the fish is eaten fresh or is salt cured; what effect this sort of fishing has on bird and other wildlife, etc. While the guide didn't give me the answers...or even raise the "travels" have got me thinking and researching this topic of interest to me.

School children we were supposed to be visiting with...waiting to be recognized
while some in my group pose with a baby sloth.
It was interesting walking through was clearly was a "show" school with concrete sidewalks (in the Amazon...really?!) and pristine-ish classrooms.  While there was a "pitch" for us to provide pens, notebooks, etc. I didn't notice any.  In fact, I didn't see a single book anywhere.  It got me thinking about not how long children in the Amazon go to school, but what do they actually do in school and what do that do afterwards as there is literally no sign of industry (save rudimentary fishing, rice crops and the horrific slash and burn charcoal production).

So just as I looked behind what was simply in front of me, while some of my group chatted on the skiff about whatever (which became nothing more than a drone not dissimilar to that of the engines) I looked up (as did some others in our group) and saw macaws:

and, honestly, the beauty of the colors flying overhead will remain an inspirational memory of mine far longer than than those later while sitting underneath some other macaws...and that was pretty special.

A third thing I do is find "alone time"...time to just go "WOW":

Just another awesome Amazon sunrise
Just another awesome Amazon sunset

Looking to Starboard Cruising Down the Amazon River

Looking to Port Just After Looking to Starboard - Amazingly Beautiful
A fourth thing I do is keep things in perspective.  (OK, that is the first thing I do as well!)  I was on a $2,500 per person G Adventures tour which, for that price, had to deliver two upscale hotel nights, transfers, two flights, a six night cruise, a naturalist and meals.  If I expected the best ship, the best naturalist, the best food, etc., I best have my head examined.  (When I started out in the travel business a now good friend of mine said, "If you sell someone a cruise for $399 they will unrealistically expect a white gloved assistant to meet them and take their luggage as well as the captain greeting them at the top of the gangway holding a glass of champagne for them...and it will never happen...")

There are alternatives at varying price points that provide you with very similar itineraries.  For example, Aqua has a true luxury cruise with high tech skiffs, gourmet cuisine and a gorgeous ship. Prices start at $6,650 per person (more than 2.5 times the cost of the G Adventures trip).

Aqua Amazon River Cruise Ship
In between the two is International Expeditions, with prices starting at $4,398 per person.

International Expeditions' La Estrella Amazonica River Cruise Ship
You can compare the Aqua Itinerary with the G Adventures Itinerary and International Expeditions Itinerary and determine if the improved or significantly improved amenities are worth the price difference.  For some they will definitely be...and, in fact, may be the only real option.  For others, not so much.

But remember, I have been to the Amazon on both a river cruise and a land tour.  For me a land tour gives you far more opportunities and allows you to have an experience that is greater in depth..but some of it is quite rustic.  International Expeditions offers a 14 day land itinerary that does a good job of balancing the "get out there" with a respite of modern amenities.  That also helped with my keeping perspective as rarely does a cruise provide the same amount of time (or quiet) to explore.

While it is my job to really analyze any trip I am on and ask if it delivers for me and if it will for my clients, I do not lose sight of the fact that being in the Amazon is - with all of the compromises that need to be made - so well worth it.  This was my second trip there and I know that there will be a third one.  It will be longer (as a week just isn't enough for me).

Comments?  Please post them on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.

If you are interested in visiting the Amazon, please give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732-578-8585 or email me at