Monday 20 July 2009

Cruise Weekly Comment: Don’t Cry Me a River

I’m ashamed of myself; I’ve been an adventure cruise snob thinking that an adventure or expedition voyage had to be at least coastal or even oceanic in nature to qualify. I was wrong and now I’m admitting it.

I had this idea that river cruising was some cushy lark for timid softies with delicate tummies and an inhibited sense of adventure. Well, several recent river cruises have helped me dispel those prejudices and I’m finding myself developing a liking for the inland variety.

First it was Cruise West on USA’s Columbia River, then Pandaw on the Rajang of Sarawak and now I’m signed up for the Brahmaputra in India with Active Travel. Yes, I had to look it up.

Oceanic Discoverer on the Sepik
I really should not have been so surprised because two years ago, I was with Coral Princess when they made one of their initial explorations of the Sepik. This river is one of the largest in PNG and twists and turns for over 1100 kilometres into the wild backcountry inland from the northern coast. It was here that I had one of my most other worldly expedition experiences when the women of Tambanum worked themselves into a black magic frenzy, yelping and flailing around like possessed banshees. The men knew their place, meekly banging their drums and chanting back-ups, careful not to get a beat out of place. These girls were way out there!

Although I’ve never been on the Amazon proper, I did venture up one of the lesser known tributaries, the Rio Negro, into eastern Ecuador, on the other side of the Andes. Our jungle hideout, Sacha Lodge, was secreted deep in the tidal floodplain and completely at the mercy of tiny marauding primates like marmosets and squirrel monkeys. Giant prehistoric birds called Hoatzins would lurk about while Toucans kept their distance and called loudly from the canopy. You could even fish for piranha off the veranda.

While aboard RV Orient Pandaw, I did get a run down from Australian rep, John Boyd, about future plans for the SE Asian river specialists. Well known for their signature voyages along the Mekong from Saigon to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, they’ve also been busy on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy in Burma since 1995 and are soon to embark on the Ganges and Hugli rivers in India starting this September. The other stuff is secret, but look out for exciting new itineraries from this go-ahead line.

Here in Australia, Captain Cook’s Murray River itineraries are a popular, evergreen product, while some of the more locally-focussed Kimberley operators like North Star or Pearl Sea Coastal Cruises spend time upriver on the Roe, Prince Regent or Hunter chasing Barramundi and ancient Gwion Gwion rock art. Then there’s the Volga in Russia, the Danube Delta in Romania, the Dnieper in the Ukraine and the Nile and Congo in Africa. Yes, they all have cruises.

So don’t think that expedition cruising has to mean icebergs, penguins or polar bears. Nor does it have to involve crossing seas in search of remote islands, some of the world’s great inland waterways hold great adventure possibilities.

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