What constitutes a dream vacation spot for Matthew Parris, the British travel writer, political columnist and former Conservative Member of Parliament?
In a recent edition of The Spectator, Parris offered the answer with a veritable ode to the Yavarí, the Victorian coal steamer berthed on the shores of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca.
The MV Yavari was a passenger and cargo vessel commissioned by the Peruvian government in 1861. Its journey to Peru is one of the great Odysseys in maritime history. It was prefabricated, along with its sister ship, the Yapura, at the James Watt and Company foundry in Birmingham. Then both vessels where completely disassembled, and each part numbered and shipped in 2,766 boxes to Arica — then a Peruvian port before Chile took control of the city in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific.
From there, the sister ships were transported by rail 30 miles to Peru’s coastal city of Tacna, where the crates were loaded onto the backs of mules and carried across the Andes 190 miles to Puno. There, nearly 2½ miles above sea level, it was reassembled.
The Yavarí was restored by the Englishwoman Meriel Larken, who became enamored with the ship in 1982 during her first visit to Puno while taking a break from an archaeological project she was helping conduct near Machu Picchu.
Since 2009, the vessel has been skippered by Capt. Giselle Guldentops, the first woman ever accredited with a Master’s Ticket from the Peruvian merchant navy.
Parris and his partner were the first couple to enjoy new services offered on the historic boat, including a candle lit dinner, followed by an overnight stay on board, and a hearty breakfast in the mahogany-paneled mess room in the morning.
It’s an unorthodox setting for a B-and-B, since the first “b” refers not to a bed, but rather to one of seven narrow, but comfortable bunks.
Authenticity and the unique setting make up for the lack of mattress width.
Parris certainly had no complaints. Far from it.
“Candle-lit in the little mahogany-lined mess room, we were wined and dined by Captain Giselle – our dishes brought by waiters from the [Sonesta Posadas del Inca] hotel. Snug beneath blankets in our narrow bunks, we watched a cold moon rise over the reeds fringing the mirror-calm lake, and counted ourselves the luckiest tourists in the world.”
The cost of an overnight Bed & Breakfast stay on the Yavarí is US$45 per person. The vessel has three double bunk cabins and one single-bunk cabin.
Dinner can be arranged on a per-request basis.
One of the last riveted iron-hulled ships still afloat today, the Yavarí also welcomes visitors to tour the vessel and learn about its storied history. All proceeds go toward paying Capt. Giselle and her crew and refurbishing the boat.
The ship is administered by a non-profit foundation, The Yavari Project, which is working to raise funds to make modern upgrades to the vessel. The goal is to achieve certification to be able to accommodate 40 passengers and 10 crew for daily cruises around Lake Titicaca and its islands.