The Island of Lotuses – Sri Lanka

Island of Sri Lanka - Lush & Beautiful

Island of Sri Lanka – Lush & Beautiful

“The Island of Lotuses” sounds like a dreamland right? Indeed, it is one, it is the breathtaking Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is filled with lush landscapes, rising mountains, thick forests, and lakes with gushing waters. It is famously called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. We visited this lovely island a month ago and since I have been waiting to write about it. This post has all the best experiences I had while we traveled through its meandering roads passing through the most dense forests and enjoying the food all along.

Reservoirs of the Island

Moat around Sigiriya

Moat around Sigiriya

“Let not even a drop of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man”, were the words of Parakrama Bahu the Great. It is said that the first great reservoirs ever in the world were built in Sri Lanka. This island today has around 12,000 ancient small dams & 320 ancient large dams together with thousands of man-made lakes. Hence all over the landscape one sees small water bodies with gushing waters that help rice grow abundantly.

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

Reservoirs of Sri Lanka

The Lotus Land

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Offering of Lotuses to Lord Buddha

Since the Sri Lankans don’t waste a drop of water, they don’t waste plucking their lotuses as well. Almost all lakes and ponds on the island are full of lotuses. Bright pinks and purples, serene whites and gorgeous reds flaunt their charm in the abundant waters. I was amazed to see how easy they grew all over and how they were so beautifully offered to the Lord Buddha. According to esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus and is one of the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism.

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A Pond full of Lotuses

A Pond full of Lotuses

Magic of Patangi

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi Wood and its Colours

Patangi wood is used since ancient time for colouring in Sri Lanka. Its the most amazing wood I have ever seen. If added to hot water it provides a red colour; adding lemon will turn the colour into yellow; adding shell lime or Calcium will provide a purple colour. It just doesn’t stop changing colours! It is used as a natural dye to colour rugs or wood carvings which Sri Lanka is most famous for.

Devour, Slurp and Enjoy…

Sri Lanka is a food lovers dream. We were very excited to try different dishes. Spice and flavors, diverse assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, and heavy usage of the coconut was what we experienced through our trip. I am gonna write about the ones I enjoyed the most…

Egg Hoppers!!

Egg Hoppers!!

Hoppers!  I love the name and the dish even more! Hoppers or appa are a typical Sri Lankan breakfast. Thin pancakes with crispy edges made from rice flour, coconut milk and palm toddy or yeast. Wonderfully versatile they work with eggs, curries, chicken and vegetables. My favourite is an egg nestling in it.

Lamprais!

Lamprais!

Lamprais is an exquisite accomplishment in Sri Lanka’s diverse and fascinating cuisine.  This delicacy includes a  savory rice with onions and spices in butter or ghee rice and then cooked in a meat stock. Lamprais which originated during the Dutch rule consisted of lamb, beef and pork. But today most commercially made Lamprais have substituted Lamb with Chicken. And all of the above are lovingly wrapped in lightly toasted Banana leaves to make it a whole meal. Its simply delicious!

Making Kotthu - Street food of Sri Lanka

Making Kotthu – Street food of Sri Lanka

Kotthu was one of the best eats on my list. A typical street food which had flaky roti bread chopped with vegetables, meats, and/or eggs, resulting in a fried-rice-like dish. The chefs make it with a rare rhythm and performance. It’s a delightful little package.

So this was a small post on my travel through the country. All these above things fascinated me and I thought I should share it with you. Along with the rich scenic beauty, we also sailed through the ancient Sri Lankan architectural monuments of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigirya etc.  It was an unimaginable experience and would love to share more on this country soon…

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How We Lived a Day in Istanbul… Food, Architecture & Its Inheritance

This sprawling metropolis with a huge cultural and architectural heritage is a melting pot of Eastern and Western history. The only city in the world which is transcontinental i.e located on two continents, Europe and Asia and has 3113 mosques! Isn’t that unbelievable? We had a a beautiful vacation in Turkey a few years back. We loved this beautiful city of Istanbul with its ample blue waters of the Bosphorus strait and the 7 hills with a mosque each.

Skyline of Istanbul

Skyline of Istanbul

While walking through its streets, it felt so much like being in India. The blaring car horns, the shrill sound of calling prayers from the majestic mosques, its busy streets where people seem all over and beautiful colourful spice filled markets. We experienced the lovely tram ride from the Gelata bridge to the Grand Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar

 

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

Constructed in 1461 Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is quite popular today. It has 3000 shops which store dainty Turkish artifacts in small tunnels which is a complete jumble once you enter. It was such a pleasure to see this labyrinth  complex with pushy merchants and colours which your eye would never know.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

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The most illustrious architecture I have ever seen till today is the Blue Mosque . The interiors are adorned with 20,000 blue tiles that fashion in fifty variations of tulip designs. It also has some extravagant resemblances of flowers, luscious fruits and perfectly grown cypresses.

Foooood!!

 

Street Food!

Street Food!

While walking through the Taksim square one chilly day of our stay in October we saw a man selling steaming muscles. This friendly vendor offered one to us and promised it would taste out of the world! It is called the Midye dolma, sort of a munchy that comprises of muscles stuffed with rice. He told us to eat it with using the shell as a spoon… and indeed, it was the most flavoursome eats I ever had!

Awesome Tradition to Relax and Cleanse

The Famous Hamams

The Famous Hamams

 The age old and popular Turkish baths play an important role in Turkish culture. These often beautiful buildings provide a place to relax, refresh and revitalize, but they are also a place for local people to socialize. These baths have long been considered a place to purify the body and give your overall health and well being a boost. I am not a big fan of massages yet I didn’t miss a chance to walk through these Hamams and feel its luxury.

The Bosphorus

Bosphorus Strait

Bosphorus Strait

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

Oh what a wonder this Boshphorus is! It is a straits that connects Asia and Europe, also connects the Maramara Sea to the Black Sea.  We took a lovely traditional steamboat ride to enjoy the array of colours and scented breezes, its balmy waters and admire the palaces and old mansions commonly called as ‘yalis’ that adorn the Bosphorus waters.

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

While steering through this city…Dusk fell and the setting sun illuminated the everything, gently bathing it in shimmering golds and crimsons. Lights were switched on and the silhouettes of the mosques rose, ready to greet the moon. It was time to go back to our hotel and look forward to the next wonderful day we decided to spend in Trabzon on the Black Sea.

The Inca Marvel of the Machu Picchu on the Ridge of the Peruvian Andes

Peru is a land of wonders! It stretches from the rocky sea cliffs of Lima inward to the deserts of Nazca, climbing high into the Andes and plunging deep into the Amazonia! Its wonderful to see a country have so much geographical richness! And yes, its wonderful to be able to experience all of it! From the treasures of the country, we had a chance to visit the one called the Machu Picchu at 2430 m above sea level. This archaeological ruin is perched atop a mountain, mysteriously abandoned more than four centuries ago. It is a symbol of the power and engineering prowess of the Inca.

The Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu

This urban architecture and engineering of the Machu Picchu poses a lot of questions. How and why was this civilization built on such an inaccessible terrain? How did these people farm its emerald green terraces, and drank from its sophisticated aqueduct system? And why was it abandoned? In this post, I am going to tell you more about how wonderfully the city was planned and how everything made sense!

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The Holy Site
From what we were told, the Machu Picchu is located among the holy peaks. The surrounding peaks of the Wayna Picchu, Mount Yanantin & the peak of Putucusi are worshiped. Perhaps that is why the Machu Picchu was built where it was.

The Andes

The Andes

The Stone Work that with stood Earthquakes
The ancient wall of the Incas were made with blocks of stone which fit together tightly without mortar. They were so tightly interconnected that it is said that even a blade of grass was not penetrable.  These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top but are offset slightly from row to row. Peru is a highly seismic land, and when such disasters took place the stone walls moved slightly and resettled without the walls collapsing. Such was its perfection!

The Structure of the Walls

The Structure of the Walls

 Trapezoidal Doors & Windows
Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward at the top. This design detail help protect the houses from collapsing during an earthquake.

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal Door of the Machu Picchu

Homes & Mountain supervene
The roof tops of the homes and buildings match the mountains behind them. The slopes coincide exactly with the mountain.  What makes me think is if it had some significance because it does not seem like a coincidence!

Houses of the Machu Picchu

Houses of the Machu Picchu

The Innumerable Terraces
The biggest problem here are landslides, unstable earth. Incas built more than 700 terraces which are fundamental to its longevity. Without terraces, the mountain would have slid and the city would have succumbed to disasters. The terraces which were not used to make houses served as farmland. This proves that the Incas  studied their site before building their civilization… most astonishingly without any writing.

Terraces close to the Guard House

Terraces close to the Guard House

 The Rocks Carved like Mountains
The Incas worshiped nature. Everything seemed like it came from what lay around the citadel. Most rocks have been carved exactly like the mountain behind it. The shape of the rock perfectly matches the mountain behind it. The Incas worshiped mountains, and perhaps visibility due to fog or cloud cover must have made them carve rocks to be able to worship them everyday.

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

Rock cut like the Mountain behind

 

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Sacred Waters
The Inca spring, in many ways, controlled the layout of Machu Picchu. The location of the spring was fixed, and the Inca engineers figured out the slope of the canals accordingly. There were 3 fountains and the first fountain was located next to the the Emperors residence who got the cleanest water.  We were also told that outside the walls of the Machu Picchu was a overhanging rock that catches the sound from the Urubamba River 1,600 feet below the citadel. This rock amplifies the sound of flowing water. All these little aspects ensure that water was certainly sacred.

Aqueducts  of the Machu Picchu

Aqueducts of the Machu Picchu

Nature & the Citadel
What we observed that through many windows and gates the Wayna Picchu made a perfect view. The houses were constructed in such a manner that it overlooked an aspect of nature… some could even see the Urubamba river. Even the terraces close to the guard house have been built in curves which makes this site looks mysteriously beautiful.

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

Door of a house overlooking the Peak of Wayna Picchu

It just amazes me to know how Machu Picchu is… also known as the Lost City. We know so less about it yet the theories make this place a mysterious wonder.  According to me the Incas built this city of stone, without the aid of wheels or iron tools with eternity in mind.

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

View of the Machu Picchu from the Wayna Picchu

 

The Chicago Architectonics

Everyday Chicago celebrates its life that runs through its restaurants, movies, music, people and its unique culture. But nothing defines the city more than its creative and technologically advanced architecture which is it’s identity.

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This post is a walk through Chicago’s boulevards exposing its architectural wonders and water ways which leave me mesmerized!

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It is said that Chicago River was a key element in the rise of Chicago from a sleepy lakefront town to the metropolis and major transportation hub that it is today. The Chicago River flows backwards, away from Lake Michigan, and the river is actually higher than the lake. I keep wondering how does a city that has a population of nearly 3 million has 300 bridges out of which 37 are movable and yet life travels normal on roads!

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While taking a river cruise through Chicago, you get to admire the great architecture of the skyscrapers. The view of the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and the striking Chicago skyline is lovely. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice that you pass through 18 bridges in the heart of the city. Isn’t that something?!

 

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The Cloud Gate designed by Anish Kapoor is an interactive sculpture that graces Chicago’s Millennium Park. It reflects the Chicago skyline. Not only does it play tricks with the light and the sky, but allows viewers to become a part of it due to its reflection. Its just fabulous!

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While strolling in Chicago is one thing and admiring a view from the top is another. We had a chance to see this sweeping view of Chicago and the lakefront from the John Hancock Observatory. Apparently the building’s exterior is aluminum and glass with distinctive x-shaped external bracing which virtually eliminates the need for interior columns. It was simply sensational.

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Parading through the city and looking at these beautiful steel giants rise high above you is really captivating. Skyscrapers all along the Michigan Avenue reaching taller and taller is among the aspects and qualities that make Chicago a unique city.

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Chicago is a true demonstration of architecture at its best. I feel it is a wonder city with new wonders rising everyday!

Thanks to my dear brother Kshiteej for taking such wonderful pictures of this beautiful City. He does justice to my writing! 🙂

Puebla – Mole Poblano – Talavera & My Unlimited Memories!

When I think of Mexico, I think of Puebla and then unlimited things come rushing to my mind. Puebla was an experience where I saw, tasted and felt things for the first time in my life. You may be confused about what exactly I mean. Well it means I experienced this city in a very different way. All the things I did here in this beautiful colonial mountain city were the first time in my life! If you have visited this place perhaps you may agree with me.

Postcard from Puebla

Postcard from Puebla

While driving down from Mexico City with my dear friend Trinette whom I visited long time ago, we passed by the volcano of Popocateptl. I’d heard a lot of stories about it and couldn’t wait to see it with my own eyes. I’d never seen one in my life and she couldn’t stop telling me stories….I just wanted to see it and… really desperately! So..finally after a while, I see this imposing Popo as the locals call it! The sight of it was overwhelming. A stream of ash rose above the snow clad peak making it look magnificent and powerful. We waited by the highway and I watched it until my heart felt content. The best part was since it was seen from every part of Puebla since it stands tall at  17,802 feet. I’d decided to write a post on it because it also had a very heart-rending legend behind its stoicism. You can read up more about it on the “The Legend of Popo“.

Volcano Popocatepetl

Volcano Popocatepetl

So…this Popo, stole my heart and it was one of the best memories I carry until today about Puebla even before entering this lovely city!

Streets of Puebla

Streets of Puebla

Then came the warmth and welcome from Trinettes family. Along with it came good food of course! Then suddenly my mind jumps to best lunch I had with my friend Trinette and her Dad of Mole Poblano. On the streets of this city, in a dainty restaurant, a special dish of Mole Poblano was ordered for me. Can you guess what it was? It was a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged sauce and certainly not sweet! I had the pollo en mole poblano which had a deep mixture of chocolate and chilli with chicken, two of the most characteristically Mexican ingredients. It also had a small side dish which I was unaware of. It was  sour-spicy-salty and asked my friend what was it. She said they are chapulines – grasshoppers! For a moment I couldn’t believe I was relishing them….but then..what the heck…I loved them! Food satisfies…Puebla certainly contributed! chapulines mole Until today, I have sweeping memories of this art which I love and still have it adorning my walls at home – the Talavera! This ceramic of Talavera, that garnishes practically every building, every patio, every square and even kitchens in this city! Here when I went to see potters make these beautiful pieces of art, I was told that a potter’s gild was formed and ordinances were laid down, that all of the potters that wished to produce Talavera had to follow. This was done so that the quality of the ceramics called Talavera was uniform and that this earthenware had a distinctive style and excellence. Until today, pottery from Puebla still holds a seal! I will really not do much justice writing about it, check out some of the pictures below…

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

The Original Sealed Talavera from Puebla

more-talavera-frogs-23jan11 So…along the memory road, Puebla plays a very important part in my life. There was so much to experience here that until today I clearly remember every bit of it. Some day, I would love to travel back there and take in every moment slowly and embrace it once again!

Driving along the Streets of Puebla - Trinette & I

Driving along the Streets of Puebla – Trinette & I

Talavera Fountain

Talavera Fountain

PS: Talavera Pottery stills plays a very important part of my life. While I lived in Dayton, USA, a dear friend of mine owned a Talavera store and I still have it all displayed at home. Adding two more photos below to show my fondness towards it!

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Delia & her Store called Little Bit of Mexico at the 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton, Ohio.

Kutchchy Ethos

The charms of Kutch are embedded into its art. Against the backdrop of the white crystal deserts and the yellow grasslands, the Kutchchy people stride in grace with their bold colourful embroideries. We can see this in their clothes, over their walls, on their beds…almost any place around. Overall a fantastic mishmash!

White Desert of Kutch

White Desert of Kutch

There are two distinct forms of art which are typically seen in the interiors of Kutch – Lippan Art and Kutchy ‘Bharat’ meaning embroidery.

Lippan Art - Murals

Lippan Art – Murals

A Gleaming Amalgamation!

Lippan Art in the 'Bhungas' or circular mud houses

Lippan Art in the ‘Bhungas’ or circular mud houses

Among the many Jat communities in India, Kutchchy Jats are nomadic, separated from their fellow families in Pakistan. They rear cattle, breed camels and indulge in exceptional artwork. Through some family connections, we had a good chance to meet a Jat family deep into the Dhodro village. When we entered their courtyard, we noticed a cluster of round mud houses painted white with bright carved doors. They had thatched roofs and looked like the ones in fairy tales. We later learnt that all mud houses, commonly known as ‘Bhungas’ belonged to one extended family and each sub family had its own ‘Bhunga’. Wow…we were impressed because as soon as we entered one, it felt cool as if entering an air conditioning room. Not only that, it glistened with magnificent patterns and murals with mirrors embedded in them. The whole feeling of a warm welcome, the unruffled ambiance, freshness and the gorgeousness of these homes touched my heart. I couldn’t help writing about it.

Bhungas or Mud Houses of Dhodro Village

Bhungas or Mud Houses of Dhodro Village

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While trying to apprehend so much about how beautiful the ‘Bhungas’ are, I noticed how neatly everything was aligned and arranged. Looking at my baffled face the ‘sarpanch’ or the village head explained that murals on the wall are called Lippan. They make simple patterns with a generous use of mirrors and earthy colours. Usually mixture of donkey or camel dung and clay is used to make Lippan murals. It is hard to believe that donkey or camel dung can create such alluring work.

Lippan Art in a Bhunga

Lippan Art in a Bhunga

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Thread and Countless Mirrors

All over Kutch, we saw a spectrum of colours. Locals wear bright colours so that they can be spotted easily in the wide deserts. They have several types of embroideries like Kambari, Niran, Kherk belonging to different tribes in the region, etc. These patterns are known to be the most advanced and intricate. A lot of them indulge in skirt work and coverlets.

Embroidery of the Jats commonly called Kambri Bharat.

Embroidery of the Jats commonly called Kambri Bharat.

Typically, men set out with cattle while women embroider. These ladies prepare for tocher for their little girls. One such exclusive style of needlework that caught my eye was distinct from the rest. Apparently, it is known to be from Sind in Pakistan. There were rugs folded neatly which had small triangular pieces of coloured cloth stitched on the outer side with the actual embroidery being at the centre. This resulted in small and detached design from the interlaced woven fabric that stretched above the surface of the base cloth. I know it may be difficult to visualize what I just wrote but perhaps a picture might do some justice to my explanation.

A sculptor, a weaver and grandmother!

A sculptor, a weaver and grandmother!

I wondered how it must feel to have your entire life revolving around art. Its almost like you live, breathe, create and worship such a gift. I observed how women gossiped, took care of their children who chased goats while their hands moved swiftly over their needlework. Such incredible and perfected work was a boon! Hail to Kutch…inspiration unlimited!

The Walk into the Deep Wild Amazon

From Iquitos, we took a boat ride through the Amazon river spread wide and long. In an hour or more, we were asked to get off without much explanation. It felt a bit odd to expect what we didn’t quite expect! So begin here, are few days in the most dense and diverse jungles of the world – The Amazon!

The Amazon River

So off we got from our boats. We were told that we would have to walk through the jungle to get to our lodge.  The morning sunlight streaming through the dense canopy of the jungle felt warm and mysterious. Leaving the Amazon river behind, we started walking through tall tress embraced with ferns, creepers, dew captured by cobwebs all accompanied by a chorus of unusual birds. It was a beautiful warm day and it all began well. Our eyes tried to see everything around and our ears hearing the calls of the wild.

Walk through the dense Amazon

I am not sure how long we walked but perhaps we did for sometime. The fellow who guided us, brought us to this unusual town, which didn’t really seem like one. We walked into a circle of huts which stood tall, almost 12 feet from the ground. When we climbed up to peer into these homes, it surprised me how basic people can live with! This house had a thatched roof with walls that ran only 4 feet tall. There was no furniture, just 2 hammocks, some pots and clay stove. For a moment, it didn’t look like a home! I asked the guide what sort of lifestyle is this. He explained that the houses were always above the ground to protect them from snakes, rodents and other animals. Due to its warm humid climate all through the year, these houses did not have walls. The flowing breeze keeps them cool. They hunted, farmed, bred animals, cooked and lived simple!

The unusual houses if the tribals

A peek-a-boo into an Amazonian home!

Along the way, we walked listening to the flame-back woodpeckers hammering tree trunks unperturbed by us. Slowly we walked into a denser part of the jungle where the squirming insects and mosquitoes found us. Every now and then, we flapped our hands and thumped our feet to avoid bites. Several times during our walk, our guide rubbed his palms on tree trunks which seemed to be a nest of some insect. These mud nests had holes drilled through them and these insects crawled out after he rubbed his hands over them. After he did it a couple of times, Bipin asked him what was he up to. He casually replied saying that these were white termites and when rubbed against your skin, they keep insects off. We were shocked to know that termites could keep other insects off! Then he showed us the difference between white and red termites, red termites being dangerous. This worked, it was miraculous! We strutted along the way…less bitten and comfortable!

Bipin cautiously rubbing his hands against the termites

Deeper we went, the denser it got yet we came across another house in the middle of nowhere.  There was an old man lying in his hammock and a woman sitting on the ground washing something. Suddenly, between to two, something moved. Something large, yet flat and very slow. I almost jumped because it somewhat camouflaged into the pale white soil. And then it seemed clearer, it was the sloth! Wow…I loved it the moment I saw it. I was scared to touch it though somehow I knew it was friendly! Suddenly the woman grabbed it by its collar which was made with palm leaves and dragged him closer to her. It must have been its fastest walk ever! 🙂

The tribal & her pet – Sloth

Got my hands around the little fella – baby sloth of the Amazon

When we started towards our lodge, we came across a man lying right behind the hut. He looked drunk and wasted. The guide and the old man exchanged some conversation. Curious as much Bipin is, he asked what was wrong with him. The guide explained to us that the night before, there was some occasion because of which all villagers from villages around had gathered and partied hard. They decide such gatherings and prepare ahead of time. They pluck this fruit which looks much like the passion fruit. They all sit and chew it  together, collect it in a large pot and ferment it. Then later, it is guzzled down on occasions. The alcohol content in this is so high that apparently the next day, there is no activity in the villages. And yes,it seemed evident! 🙂

The fruit which is chewed, spat out & fermented & then drunk to celebrate occasions!

So along we went, reached our lodge with so much to share already.  The next few days went on riding through the eerie ponds full of weeds, excursions through the forest at midnight, a hunt for piranhas into the Amazon river and eating & drinking yucca fries, wild boars and coconut water. Loved it and above all experienced it!

Our guide who passionately tried to make us experience the Amazon to its fullest