Scratch one more off my bucket list . . .

Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to travel the Amazon River.  On September 1, 2016, I was able to scratch that off my bucket list.  My wife, Jennifer, and I spent a week exploring the Amazon and some of its tributaries on an Amazon River Boat called the Delfin I.  It was and will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

sc-blog-4-1First a little background history. The mouth of the Amazon River was discovered in 1500, when a Spanish expedition led by Vincente Pinzon sailed up it to a point 50 miles (80km) from the sea.  Forty years later, another Spanish expedition, of 50 men under the command of Francisco de Orellana, achieved an epic journey from the distant Andes by way of the Napo River and the Amazon mainstream to the Atlantic.  By the 19th century, naturalists finally began to learn the secrets of the rivers and the surrounding rain forest.  Between 1848 and 1859, the British naturalist Henry Bates collected thousands of insect species entirely new to entomology.  Now, the Amazon is thought to have 2.5 million species of insects, 1,300 bird species3,000 types of fish430 mammals and a whopping 2.5 million different insects.  The botanist Richard Spruce gathered some 7000 new plant specimens.  Now, the Amazon is estimated to have 40,000 plant species, 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees.  The Amazon River is by far the world’s largest river by volume.  It has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. We were only able to explore a few of these.

sc-blog-4-2We flew into Lima, Peru then onto Iquitos, a bustling city completely surrounded by jungle.  There are no roads leading in or out of Iquitos.  You can only enter or leave on foot or by boat or plane.  The primary mode of transportation is a motor carriages or “Tuk Tuk”.

After a brief tour of the city, it was onto Nauta, the riverboat port.  Once we embarked, we met our guide and our fellow passengers, two couples from Lima, Peru.  We didn’t waste any time and immediately boarded a skiff (motorboat) to search for pink dolphins.  Even though our guide made no promise we would be able to see any pink dolphins that day, we spotted dozens just during that 2 hour excursion.

sc-blog-4-3The next day consisted of a jungle hike where we observed several forms of wildlife.  We got close to a sloth that really seemed to be posing for our cameras.  Our jungle guide discovered a Tarantula and brought it close for us to view (I hate spiders).  We also got close and personal to a boa constrictor, a small poisonous frog, and a monkey (see photos below).  Even though it was 90+ degrees with high humidity, we all had to wear long pants and sleeves due to the huge population of mosquitoes.  Thank goodness I brought along my Para’Kito mosquito repellent wrist band.

sc-blog-4-4sc-blog-4-5sc-blog-4-6sc-blog-4-7The scariest and most unforgettable excursion of our journey was the jungle canopy walk.  It is a series of several tree platforms around 35 meters (115 feet) high connected by swing bridges giving you a unique perception of the wildlife and vegetation seldom observed from the ground.  For someone who is afraid of heights (me), this was quite a frightening but awesome feat.  Had it not been for Jennifer encouraging me from behind, I would have never conquered that fear.

sc-blog-4-8I can now actually tell my grandchildren (not) that I swam in the Amazon, I fed a Manatee, I kayaked in the Amazon, and fished for Piranha in the Amazon.  Fishing for Piranha is an art that I will never master.  Normally, a fish will hook itself while going for bait.  A Piranha is smarter that.  As they bite into the bait (not hook) you have to pull them quickly into the boat.  Well, we fed a lot of Piranha that day but didn’t catch any.  What we did hook was Amazonian Catfish.  I was so proud that I caught one. Jennifer caught five!

sc-blog-4-9On our final day we visited a local village and spent time with some of its 150 inhabitants.  I will never forget that day.  We all brought the children some toys and school supplies which they desperately needed.  Jen and I purchased some beautiful straw items they handcraft which provide their village with income.  I tried to converse with one of the village leaders with the little Spanish I know.  He just smiled.  Many of the jungle people are very happy and live to be over 100 years old.  When asked the reason for their longevity . . . ”no stress”.

sc-blog-4-10The Amazon is more than just the World’s largest river, it is the life force of the surrounding rainforest which is one of the one of the world’s greatest natural resources.  Because its vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen, it has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet”.   About 20% of earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area, it will be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your life.

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Life’s a beach

You’ve probably never heard the song ‘Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside’ and it’s highly unlikely you’ll find it on iTunes any time soon, but it’s quintessentially British and sums up who I am when it comes to summer. I heart the beach – big time!

For me, summer is an experience for the senses. After we’ve been bundled up from the cold inside our houses and our big coats, it feels celebratory to shake it off and salute the sun, the sky and sea. I adore the feeling of warm sun and a cool breeze on my skin, the sound of the ocean, the sensation of sand between my toes as I walk through the waves. From the bleak midwinter, summer comes with a beauty so perfect it brings a sense of anticipation that anything is possible.

When I was little our annual holiday home was a tiny cottage called ‘Binsey’ in Cornwall that was owned by my Great Uncle Fred and Auntie Mae. I have the utmost respect for my amazing parents making a four hour (or was it eight hour?) journey with three small children, no air con and a constant wail of “Are we there yet?” But once we were there – what an adventure! We lived on the beach; surfing on wooden boards, eating peppery Cornish pasties and clambering on the rocks with our nets in one hand and buckets in the other looking for salty rock pools and the wondrous sea creatures they held within.

When I was five, we moved to glorious Sussex-by-the-sea. First, to historic Hastings, where my Dad would take us climbing on the cliffs and tell us stories about the great battle that took place there in 1066. We’d watch the glassblowers on the pier making colorful creations whilst eating hot donuts fresh from the pan.

Next, we moved to Elmer Sands, which couldn’t get more British seaside because we had a Butlins holiday camp in nearby Bognor Regis where hoards of Brits would flock year upon year to sit in deckchairs eating ice-creams and getting suburnt. Our house was so close to the beach I could see the sea from my bedroom window. We went to the beach every day after school and I even remember one day bringing a tray with a teapot, a jug of milk and cups for all the Mums and Dads after one of them said, they were, ‘Gagging for a cuppa’. Some days an ordinary walk on the beach could turn into an adventure when a trawler had become grounded or we found an unexploded WWII bomb that had washed in with the waves!

In 1999 I fell in love. Not with a person but with a place. It was the first time I visited the Spanish island of Ibiza. I have been lucky enough to work and travel all over the world but there is something quite magical about the island and it holds so many great memories for me from seeing the moon rise to many a sunset. In fact, in 2009, I ditched the city and moved there for the summer. A favorite memory that year was when I was steering a friend’s yacht (as you do!) and, as I looked out at the glittering ocean, I had the thought that this couldn’t be any more perfect. At that precise moment, five dolphins popped up out of the waves right by the side of the boat to say hello!

Still on my bucket (and spade?) list is the Maldives. In our host room, my screen saver/vision board is a stunning picture that appears every time I turn on my computer.

I’ve visited many places and many beaches but, wherever I am in the world, the sea brings both a sense of excitement and peace. The ocean can be as still as a mill-pond or a swirling all-consuming torrent. It is a reminder that nothing in life is constant apart from change.

Here’s just a small snapshot of snapshots from some of my seaside adventures that I’d like to share you with you:

 

Cornwall

Cornwall – the start of my love affair with the beach on one of our family holidays

 

Provence

Provence 2009 – this was a holiday with my parents and my grandmother we had a gorgeous villa up in the hills in the South of France. If I can’t be at the beach you’ll find me at a pool!

 

Capetown

Cape Town 2011 – I shot an American commercial (yes, I can do other accents!) in Cape Town, and the whole trip was magical – from flying Club Class, scaling Table Mountain and even a Hollywood celebrity sitting feet away from me on the flight home! 

 

KoChang

Ko Chang 2012 – one of my BBFs lives in Bangkok in Thailand and when I went to visit in 2012 we caught a boat to the island of Ko Chang. I love this picture as it looks like it’s from a brochure – that’s how beautiful Thailand is – no filter required!

 

Croatia

Croatia 2013 – Croatia has incredible sunsets and the Adriatic sea is like no other. A friend and I went to a festival there and it rained every day – apart from this one!

 

Ibiza

Ibiza 2013 – this is from a holiday with the girls. I procrastinated for ages about whether to pay extra for a room with a sea view but I was so glad I did. This was the view from our balcony. Pure bliss!

 

Brighton

Brighton 2015 – Brighton is very near to where I grew up in Sussex and always has a place in my heart. This is the shell of the old pier that burned down in 2003.  I took this photo last year when I working in Brighton for a few days.

I’d love to hear about your ocean adventures. If you could only go to one beach in the world for the rest of your life, where would you go and why? Which hot spots in the US would you recommend I visit? And what’s on your beach bucket list?

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