Travelling South America in style
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Travelling South America in style

It was my first trip to Chile and Peru. It was also my first trip with Abercrombie & Kent.

After 17 days traipsing around these two South American countries in planes, boats, 4Wds, and mini buses and on foot, I can say that the experience was to put it simply, and succinctly, stunning.

I was met at every airport by someone carrying a sign saying “Welcome Brian Crisp’’. Every hotel that was booked for me was the best available in the cities and towns that I visited.

My guides were like friends. Admittedly it was just the two of us, but I could not have asked for a better level of personal service.

On Machu Picchu I not only had my regular guide Juan Carlos, but A&K organised for an expert to escort us on to the site. Alfredo Mormontoy is the former resident archaeologist at Machu Picchu.

Viewing this breathtaking Incan citadel with Alfredo is like talking tennis with John McEnroe, golf with Jack Nicklaus or sailing with John Bertrand. These men are legends in their field, and so is Alfredo.

We didn’t follow the crowds. our trek around Machu Picchu was my chance to discover the real story of this magnificent place.

I listened as the other guides would tell their stories. Alfredo would smile and then tell me the same story but with so much more colour, depth and history. When he spoke, Machu Picchu came back to life.

He kept us on the mountain longer than anyone else so that at one stage it was just the three of us – alone in the mist absorbing the spiritual power of one of Latin America’s icons.

And that was just one example of the extras available on my Abercrombie & Kent trip.

I love cooking. Actually I love eating, so I became a good cook so I could indulge myself.

On this trip I had the most amazing food experiences in Lima and Santiago and on board M/V Aqua on the Amazon river.

Penelope Alzamora and Maria Jose Neut not only took me to the markets to go shopping, but they took me into their homes and taught me how to cook – South America style.

Both women made me feel so welcome in their homes as we prepared Empanaditas de pino y pebre (meat empanadas with pebre, a tradition sauce based on tomatoes and coriander), Ecuadorian shrimps “al pil pil” (shrimps served with chili and garlic) and Pastel de Choclo (Corn casserole).

We prepared it. We ate it. And now they have a standing invitation to come to my home on the Gold Coast where I will return the favour.

My trip took me from Sydney to Santiago, on to Lima, Iquitos, Arequipa, Colca, Cusco and Machu Picchu.

I visited Peru’s three distinctive climates – the coast, the mountains and the Amazon.

I even caught a piranha in the Amazon river and that gives me a lifetime of bragging rights. Here’s what it’s like to land one of the Amazon’s tiniest and deadliest creatures.

Our guide had pulled the boat into a shady spot. Piranhas, and fair-headed people like me, like the shade. We were handed poles with about a metre of fishing line attached and a small hook loaded with fresh meat. The Amazon is not turquoise. It is not even blue. It is brown and you can’t see what is lurking below the surface. Five seconds later, the piranha strikes. A yank of the rod brings the flesh-eating fish out of the water. It swings past my face and I can’t help but duck for cover.

At least I have the photos to prove that I caught one.

I also have photos of our guide from the M/V Aqua, a small floating palace that cruises the Amazon, wrestling with an Alligator.

Roland spotted the gator’s eyes watching us just above water level from about 100 metres away. It is dark. Jungle dark. We were on a night excursion on a small boat that seated about 10 people.

As we get closer, Roland tells us that the eyes belong to a caiman, the local alligator. The lead launch edges toward the gator, which turns and scampers up the muddy riverbank. One of the guides leaps off the launch and wraps one hand around its throat, while the other hand struggles to get the tail under control.

This female gator, about two years old, is not much more than a metre in length but, as the guide brings it on to the deck of our tiny launch, you can see that it already has an impressive set of perfectly formed choppers. The guide’s choppers are also pretty impressive. He has a smile from ear to ear, proud of his night’s work. ...

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