Who doesn’t dream of visiting the world’s largest rainforest? To breathe the cleanest air, since they say that the Amazon is the “lungs of the planet”. Seeing this natural wonder was one of the most important points in this trip for Marina. Being a Brazilian, to see something than everyone in the world knows, but so few Brazilians are lucky enough to visit themselves. Now, here we are!
As we mentioned in the previous post, we booked a 4 day / 3 night tour. Many others are available, to different regions near Manaus, but this one suited us best. 2 nights in a jungle lodge, and 1 night camping out in the forest. We got a fair price, after a bit of haggling. As always, shop around and don’t go with the first deal you’re offered!
A minibus took us from the centre of Manaus out to Ceasa port. A small speedboat ferry took us from there, across the Amazon to the south bank. During this journey we crossed the famous “Meeting of the Waters” where the Rio Negro meets the Solimões River. They travel alongside each other for many kilometres without mixing. With different speeds, temperatures, colours and densities, it’s amazing to see this phenomenon. As we floated across the centre line in the boat, we held our hands in the water. The difference between 22° and 28° is felt immediately! On the far side, we took another minibus, and finally a small wooden boat for the last trip, across small lakes and channels, to the Hotel Ararinha.
On the way, we passed many small houses, brightly coloured with boats parked outside. It’s not really wilderness, and not too far from civilisation here. At the hotel, we met once more the German friends who had originally recommended this tour to us! All the other guests were European too, somewhat surprisingly. Austrians, Swiss and Germans being the most part.
The hotel had some great staff, and a great lunch awaited us. Each day something new, all freshly cooked and tasty. That first afternoon we were guided into the forest on a small boat, ourselves and three German girls, along with our guide and boat pilot. Once the loud boat engine switched off, all we heard was the gentle swirling of water, and the calls of birds and distant monkeys all around. Our boat brought us from the main river channels into smaller creeks, “igarapés”, where we tried to see some animals up close. That first evening we found a sloth, some monkeys, iguana, many birds, and even some river dolphins. We stopped for a swim at the centre of one of the wider channels, fortunately not our last chance to swim in the Amazon.
A beautiful sunset awaited us back at the hotel, and after dinner, out front to the bar for some beers. We swapped travel stories with other guests, and with Tucano, the barman. Working hard, serving drinks out of his hammock, and painting the bar in between. A real character!
Up early, ready for the next adventure. After a hearty breakfast, we left by boat to follow a trail through the forest, on foot. Long pants, plenty of insect repellent, and raincoats are essential. Also important, and surprising – black clothes are a terrible idea here, they’re a magnet for mosquitos. It’s hot, humid and sticky enough already, no reason to compound the problem with flies too.
Our guide led us, quietly, between the trees. Giant palm leaves and huge trunks on all sides, we heard and followed some monkeys, running after them like giddy children! Huge spiders could be coaxed out of their nests, from time to time. Highways of ants crossed our path, scuttling back and forth between their huge anthills. We learned how the indigenous people can use the resources of the forest for food, medicine, perfume, or even chewing gum.
Back to the hotel for a short rest – we’d need it, before our eventful night out in the forest.
Our group of 15 intrepid adventurers, Germans, Slovenians, Irish, Swedish, and a Brazilian. Our Guyanese guides, Sean and Janet, and our two boatmen, including Silas, who accompanied us every day during the trip. We left the hotel with everything we’d need to sleep for the night, in two boats. We’d be staying at an existing camp set up by the guides, and used weekly by tour groups. Basically a wooden frame, (barely) space for the 15 hammocks, and covered by a tarpaulin to protect us from the rain. Being a large group, we had to improvise a bit to get everything set up and fit in.
The girls began to help prepare the food and construct plates from large banana leaves. The lads went off to collect firewood. As night fell, we sat around our roaring campfire, two huge Tambaqui fish served with boiled white rice and spices, and well deserved after our hard work. All fed and happy, time to start the party. With crudely improvised amplifiers attached to Sean’s phone, the Jungle was our dancefloor. The freshest Euro club hits, Flo.Rida, and Bohemian Rhapsody. We were our own entertainment for the evening!
Later on, Sean took us out in turns to try and find some Caiman, lurking along the river’s edge. They’re a species of Alligator, and can grow to enormous size. Fortunately we were looking for juveniles. Surprisingly, they’re easier to find at night. In a torch’s beam, their eyes reflect in a reddish-purple hue. If you’re quick enough, like Sean, you can grab one and hold it tight, with a minimal amount of thrashing about.
You’d think the excitement might end there, after a dance party, dinner, hunting for dangerous animals. Oh no. Bedtime was the highlight.
Everything seemed calm and perfect for a good night’s sleep. One by one, the group made themselves comfortable in our hammocks, until Jack got his turn. Shoes off, feet up, lie down – CRACK – THUMP. With a huge bang, we all fell to the ground, in the dark, in total confusion. Luckily nobody was hurt! One of the support beams for our shelter was rotten, and the weight of 7 was enough to snap it. Of course, panic ensued. Would we stay or would we go? Where will we sleep now? Some germans had enough of it, and chose to go back to the hotel, but the rest of us toughed it out. Jack and a bunch of the lads disappeared into the woods for half an hour and returned carrying… A freshly cut tree! We deforested the Amazon a tiny bit more, but it was worth it for a place to sleep.
Later, the Slovenian half of the camp had a similar collapse, but even worse, the ground underneath was covered with stinging termites! The smart Slovenians however used their deodorants as quick flamethrowers, cremating the enemy, and quickly getting back to sleep, with the help of yet another freshly cut tree.
It was a comedy, a tragic farce, but in the end one of the most memorable bits of the trip so far!
Returning to the hotel not entirely rested after our wonderful night’s sleep, we had our breakfast, and set out to catch some Piranha fish. An interesting task, to go and catch something, that can eat you too. A productive trip, we got 6 big enough to eat. For Marina, after catching two, it just got boring, it was too easy! The life of an angler, not for her. Jack on the other hand, just fed the fish, and didn’t catch any at all. Still, we had them for lunch. They’re bony, with little meat, a bit difficult to eat. The hotel guests began to change on this day, most of the Germans left, and were replaced with two Iranian couples, some Swiss, and French.
The afternoon boat trip took us out to visit a local family, and luckily just Marina and I, so we didn’t crowd them with too many visitors at once. A simple house on stilts near the riverbank, wooden construction, palm leaf roof, but of course, with Satellite HDTV and a giant antenna parked outside. Everyone in Brazil watches Globo. No exceptions. Everyone here sleeps in hammocks, but during the day they’re put away, opening up a large space in the main room, for work, or for the children to play. They all attend school here too, something that’s only become common in the last 10 years. The family are farmers and fishermen, behind their house a small plantation of Açaí, Cupuaçu, and Cassava. Most of their production is used at home, but they sell the excess. Together with that income, and some government aid, they live a comfortable life. They told us that nobody goes hungry in the north, with food from nature being so plentiful. We left this peaceful place with a better understanding of their lives, doing well with so much less. Back to our last night in the hotel, along the calm waters once more, with the last light of the sunset giving way to occasional flashes from a distant thunderstorm.
Our final activity, and a fitting end to our jungle trip, was to go out paddling with small canoes. Just Marina and I, accompanied once more by a guide each. A long and winding creek to us through the forest, eventually to a rest stop between some mangroves. Here, we witnessed the bizarre antics of some “suicide Iguanas”, who when they decide to change trees, will freefall into the water and swim somewhere else. Sometimes, these freefalls end with a huge splash, right next to your boat!
Nearby a huge, adult Caiman grunted to warn us off its territory. Our guide grunted back at full volume to try and attract it out, to no avail. All this without the roar of a boat engine, which was a welcome break after a few days. It starts to get on your nerves.
Finally, the time came to pack our bags, head back to Manaus, and “civilisation” once more. Strangely after spending so much time on boats over the past days, arriving in Manaus we felt a bit dizzy to be back on dry land.
A curious feature of our tour company, and throughout the Amazon in fact, is the number of people from Guyana you meet. Not French Guiana, but Guyana the country. Many of our guides, and those working in the tour company offices, were Guyanese. Being an english-speaking country, many of them come to Brazil to work with tourism. The working conditions and pay are better here. And conveniently for tribes living near the border, they have the right to choose their nationality, so Brazil is sometimes the more attractive option.
Overall, an amazing experience, and well worth the trip. Given another chance, we would have spent longer, and probably spent another few nights camping out in the jungle too. Even with our minor disasters, the experience was priceless.
- Jungle tour booking: R$800 / €220