Published: July 29th 2009July 16th 2009
We left Paraty feeling very relaxed and looking forward to heading into the jungle to see a bit of wildlife. We were a bit cautious having heard that Manaus can be a minefield for trying to book tours without being ripped off. I arranged a room through a hotel website, but told them not to bother with a taxi pick up. After 6 hours by bus to Sao Paulo then bus to airport and finally the 4 hour flight to Manaus we were very tired and it was 11pm at night. The first thing to hit us was the humidity, and the surprise at seeing my name on a cardboard placard. I had no doubt we were in for an expensive cab fare. Anyway it turned out alright, only the hotel did not have our booking or room [odd given I was picked up at the airport] and still without any Portuguese and the receptionist no English it was a bit awkward. After a few phonecalls she managed to find the man who had sent me the email and we were set for the night, exhausted.
The following day we had a wander around Manaus and struggled to find a machine where we could get money out [only one in town for foreigners] and we were harrased by all tour companies and we sat with three who all tell you how they are the best and try to show you the best pictures etc etc. We knew what to expect so we basically went with the one we had heard of before. Iguana tours was who we went for 2 days 1 night. After hearing other people in Rio tell us that the Amazon is great in Bolivia for wildlife and a little cheaper so we opted for a shorter tour.
It was a great trip, something I´ll never forget. It really was like being in the middle of nature itself. It has just finished the rainy season here so water levels are at almost their peaks, and this year was historic, the highest water levels on record. The last being anywhere near this high was in 1953. We headed to the port where we were with our small group (a French couple and an Israeli, this is a public blog so Ill leave the jokes), a water taxi took us across the Amazon to a little village on the other side. We crossed the Amazon where the Amazonia meets the Negra, it was much wider than the Thames or the Liffey ahaha. Where the two rivers meet the water does not mix due to the acidity giving a mix of dark tea coloured water and milk chocolate water. On the other side was a hustle and bustle of people moving, meat hanging from stalls (the flies seemed to like it), fresh fish, and all the daily needs. A car took us on the BR919, the only road south from Manaus. The land looked more like flooded flatlands and at a few places we had to drive through the water, the guide said it had not sone that before. Seeing peoples houses out here is crazy, so quiet and not close to anything.
We made our change to a motorized river boat and headed to our Lodge, Juma Lodge along what would now best be described as a tributary of the river, much narrower and almost on tip of the rainforest. This part was fun, weaving in and out of the tops of the trees as the water levels were at rainy season levels and we were up near the canopy of the rainforest. I am no good at describing trees so I won´t try, but there was many different shades of green and the still water created a lovely reflection off the water.
The lodge was a wooden shack with beds and a dining area on the river with a nice deck to take in the River, a bit wider at this point, maybe a couple of hundred metres. I went for a swim, the water was tea coloured, cool and a reasonable current meant that you would need to keep swimming in order to stay near the lodge. And given the caimen we were to see not far from the lodge that night, I was glad I hadn´t seen them beforehand, although the guide says they are not aggressive.
The lunch was a Amazon fish called Pirarucu, a lovely fleshy fish with no bones, they are massive fish, we saw a local come with a catch to sell to the lodge the following day. They even have lungs, thats when the fisherman harpoon them when they come for air.
We went out in a tiny boat, barely an inch from the water in the middle, and we paddled along the river and under the canopy in an out, looking for wildlife (not much at that time of day) and did a bit of Piranha fishing,unfortunately Deb and I didn´t catch any. The guide had the knack and caught about 5, nice teeth on them. Deb only screamed twice on the trip, Once was when the Piranha came off the line and landed at her feet flapping around, I won´t blame her for that one!
We watched the sunset over the Amazon and after dark went spotting caimen, It was pitch black out there, amazing the number of stars out. Our guide caught one in the reeds, about 1 year old, gave us some information and a hold. We went to catch a few more, but I think they were all roughly that size or too big for him to catch. Debs second scream came when a fish about an inch long mistook her torch for a dragonfly and slapped her on the back, but given it was pitch black you do not always know what it is.
The following morning we were woken up at 5am for the sunrise (well I was woken up much earlier to be asked as a personal bodyguard for a trip to the outside toilet). We went around to an open area of water and the sun came up very quickly and a massive size, it was so peaceful out there, only the sound of birds, a pink river dolphin even swam by very near to us. We then went looking for more wildlife, we spotted a group of Howler monkeys and Squirrel monkeys (not a good zoom on the camera meant no pics). It was great to see them in the wild. The number of birds we came across over the days was amazing also, vultures, kites, parrakeets, hawks, kingfishers, egrets, ibis, heron and many others. We did a jungle walk and the guide went through survival skills, showed us how to use ants as insect repellent, vines as smoking cigars, make rope, fans and much more.
Back at the lodge we awaited the trip back and had a torrential rainstorm I have never seem the likes of anywhere, it lasted about half an hour and the rain was absolutely teeming. This made for a good trip back after the rain, as we were on the boat we saw many of the birds resting with their wings out trying to dry out after the deluge. I even got to see two types of toucan and the famous one that likes to drink Guinness as well. And to top it off we saw a sloth high up at the top of a tree (far too tall to climb). Back in Manaus on a high after a great tour we were stright to bed. Our last day we took in the cooler evening by the Teatro Amazonas and even tried a local dish of Tacaca, a slimy shrimp stew that was OK. It is meant to have a leaf that makes your tongue go numb but I had a feeling they saw the gringo coming and went easy on me, everyone else had much more leaf than me!! Photos to come when I find a computer that will take DVD´s