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Published: April 18th 2011
Bleary eyed we set off on our trip to Manaus (we have to get up at 5am). The plane is on time and our airport pick up is waiting... We are tired and have a wander to the Teatro Amazonias, a beautiful theatre built during the rubber boom, and have a quick tour. Then we head to possibly the most frustrating supermarket in the world (we queue for 1 hour to pay even though there was only 8 people in front of us). We have some snacks at the hostel and have an early night to prepare for the adventure the next day.
Again no problems with the planes and we arrive in Tefe airport, where we are picked up and taken to the port and wait for our boat transfer to Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve. To pass the time I play the game of, ‘is that our boat’ with the ever patient guide Eduardo until our boat finally arrives.
With the sun shining we embark on the hour and a half boat trip to the floating lodge that we will spend the next 3 days at. On the way to the lodge
there are a few sites to look at including where a black river and white river join together - the waters are so different (and don't mix) so it creates a very clear line betweenthe two. The Reserve is located in the Amazon Region known as the Middle Solimões, at the confluence of the rivers Japurá and Solimões - here the river levels move by about 15 metres between the dry and wet season and therefore the wildlife has to be able to cope with these changes.
As we approach our floating lodge (we later see the trees that are used to keep the lodge afloat) we see what will be a recurring problem 'floating grass' (grass and reeds just grow on the water). Luckily the boat drivers know their terrain and quickly manoeuver through the grass while we huddle closer to the middle of the boat to avoid the many many weird and wonderful bugs we can see jumping as the boat hits their homes...
We are quickly shown round our new home and given a few ground rules e.g. no going off on your own (as if!!), no swimming due to caiman, piranha and poisonous snakes
in the water etc. The lodge is amazing and we are very lucky to only be accompanied by one other couple so the four of us have the whole place to ourselves (normally holds 16). After a quick snack we head out for our first activity, an interpretive trail to get us used to the surroundings. After soaking our bodies in deet we get back on the boat and take a quick ride to where we can walk. As we are walking quickly (it will soon be dark) and talking we are not expected to see much wildlife, but we certainly see a lot of mosquitoes. Every time you stop they land all over you and whilst I try to listen to the guide I can't help but be distracted by mine (and everyone elses) kung fu thwacks to our bodies. I manage to escape relatively unscathed with 4 bites - poor Si has 5 on his face alone! We all gladly pile back into the boat to escape the little blighters and return to the lodge where we shower and get ready for dinner.
Dinner is amazing - all the food is local, with lots of flavour and
weird and wonderful fruits to try. After dinner Eduardo shows us the resident caiman that is flating about 10 metres from the lodge. Despite assuring us that they generally avoid humans (although they do occasionally jump on the walking platforms) we are slightly disconcerted when we notice that the caiman is slowly, slowly floating nearer to us...
Feeling slightly freaked out we head to bed for an early night (running as fast as we can along the walkways) and begin the obsessive tucking in of the mosquito net... After drawing the short straw I have to turn off the light, leg it to the bed and quickly get under the net so I don't let anything in. We find a few unidentified bugs and spend some flappy moments trying to kill them before finally settling down for the night... Well I say settling down - but we both lie there hearts pounding as we listen to the orchestra of frogs, bugs and caiman splashes and unknown noises which are almost deafening ('what's that noise' becomes the phrase of the evening). I convince myself that a caiman might be able to barge the doors (which we don't have locks for)
and get up to put chairs against them... disturbing about 7 cockroaches in the process and dancing around like a mad woman trying not to stand on them. What is cool is that we have several fireflies in our room which are flying round flashing on and off. Eventually we get to sleep - but it is fitful sleep and I experience the sensation that the lodge is slowly tipping over into the water...
At breakfast Eduardo asks us how we slept and we all (including the other couple) admit to having the same fears of a caiman breaking into our lodges and that the lodge was slowly tipping over. We also have a good old laugh about the strategies we all devised to respond to these fears (me - getting a chair and bashing the caiman over the head, Si - upending the mattress to put a barrier between it and us) and Eduardo reassures us that most people have the same reaction their first night... and that it gets better.
Unfortunately it is raining and because this means that the trips don't really work (wildlife hides when it rains) we stay around the
lodge and watch a BBC documentary. Feeling slightly frustrated about not being able to go anywhere we decide to use the (slightly steamed up) binoculars to do some bird-watching. Having never done birdwatching I thought it would be dull, dull, dull... but we both enjoy spotting a bird and then trying to work out what it is from the book. After lunch the weather clears and we visit a local community that live on the reserve. It is interesting to see how the communities live, and see their crops and school building. Their homes are surrounded by a veritable feast of delicious fruits which we are given to try although our favourite was Bacuri which tastes a bit like a haribo sours! We also spot a humming bird darting about feeding from the trees which is amazing.
Having chosen a silent canoe trip over another hike in the forest (Eduardo says it will be worse mozzie-wize than the previous day) we set off in our tiny canoe, which is barely above the water line, with our guide Francisco. It is slightly terrifying to be so close to the water and Francisco laughs at the look on
my face as I carefully climb into the canoe, trying not to capsize it. We quickly spot a huge caiman in the water only 10 metres from the canoe and the old palpitations are back. Francisco seems blissfully unaware of this and continues to paddle silently up the river. Every time we hear a big splash which sounds like a caiman entering the water, Francisco says it is a piraracu, a huge freshwater fish that can grow up to 2 metres and 220lbs and which has to come up regularly for air.
It is a lovely experience, and as we slowly creep along the banks of the river we see lots of birds (which we now recognise) and howler, spider and capuchin monkeys! The fragrance in the air is intoxicating and the anticipation that you might see another animal makes the 4 hours fly by. The highlight is when we are barely 10 metres away from a howler group, including babies - even though they quickly disappear once they see us, it is thrilling to see animals in their own habitat. I am also starting to really like Francisco as despite his lack of english we seem to silently
bond over our hate of mosquitos - I thought people that lived in the amazon would be immune to them, but Francisco seems almost as bothered as me! Si has a slightly sulky moment when he gets 3 more bites on his face (see photo)...
Before lunch I brave the lodge 'pool' which is a netted area, free of dangerous things, but full of fish that nibble. Si chickens out after he gets nibbled and I spend about 5 minutes thrashing wildly in the water so that nothing nibbles me!
Our final trip is a boat tour to the Mamiraua lake to see pink dolphins and to catch the sunset. After answering a researcher's questions (Marianna) about pink dolphins we set off to the lake. We reach our first stop where the river meets the lake and float about and watch the dolphins feeding, which is amazing and Simon even manages to get a 'money shot,' filming one leaping out of the water (you can hear the ahhs on the video!). We also actually see a piraracu coming up for air, which is great as we have constantly heard them during our stay.
We then head to
another part of the lake where we have have a tropical fruit snack and watch the sunset. Then it is time to go back to the lodge, in the pitch black and Eduardo announces we will be doing some 'caiman spotting' and produces a huge torch which he proceeds to scan the water with. As we spot the first pair of caiman eyes (they glow red as the torch hits them), the boat then slows down to drift alongside it... and I am going, 'no way'! Si tries to take a photo as we pull alongside the caiman but it jumps up before darting under the boat which causes him to let out a girlish scream and he almosts drops the camera. (Si - this was actually my war cry which caused the caiman to back down). As we head further into the darkness we reach the point where the river meets the lake and there are so many caiman eyes ahead that it looks like christmas... At this point I am actually terrified and clasp my hand over my mouth (Si- silence is golden), Eduardo and Si try their best to reassure me and after what feels like forever
we make it through the caiman traffic jam, spotting caiman large and small (and I think maybe running over a few)... Not far from the lodge we hit the dreaded floating grass and the 2 Eduardos have to navigate so that Francisco can make it through. I am just thinking that we are sitting caiman dinners, but thankfully we find a clear path and zoom back to the lodge for our last dinner.
After a delicious dinner Marianna asks us some more questions about the pink dolphins and then Eduardo (#2) gives us a presentation on research he is carrying out to set up community ecotourism in another part of the amazon. That evening we walk to our lodge for the first time (rather than running at break neck speed) and settle in for our final (good) sleep of the stay.
We have had such an amazing time (particularly our last day) and we are so sad to be leaving... Eduardo does us a list of all the things we have seen which includes over 25 species of bird (toucans, egrets, hummingbird, kingfishers, parrots, herons, hawks, comorants, terns - the list goes on), 3 types of monkey and
some of our favourite (and not so favourite) fruits! However another country (Colombia) is calling...
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