Manaus & The Amazon
Our gateway to the Amazon was through Manaus, a major city built inside the forest. It is a commercial and manufacturing hub due to its tax free status. We spent one night in a crummy hospital like hotel before starting the journey into the forest the next morning. Even by Brazil standards the place was bad (rock hard bed, dirty shower) so we decided not to stay here again when we return.
We started with a ride from the hotel to our first boat which crossed the Rio Negro and Amazon rivers. This is a very famous place in Brazil which is depicted all over the country in art. When the two rivers meet they don't mix together for many kilometers. Each river has a different density, temperature and speed which means just like water and oil, they don't mix but rather float side by side. Our guide mentioned that we could literally swim in two rivers if we jumped into the water! We crossed to the other side of the rivers, hopped in another car and drove another 45 minutes or so. The car reached a little village by another river and we boarded another boat. This boat trip takes us through part of the flooded Amazon forest. The rainy season had just ended so the floor waters were quite high. We took in the sights and sounds of the forest and snapped a bunch of pictures on the way. There was some civilization here with a few small wooden houses along the banks inhabited by families who make their livelihood from the forest and river.
After an hour or so on the second boat we reached our jungle "hotel" which consists of a bunch of small cabins and a central dining area all built above ground so flood waters can pass underneath. It's a pretty well-equipped place given its remoteness. There was no phone service or internet and water was pumped from the river. In fact, many of the locals only got electricity 3 months ago so things like freezers, stereos and toasters are new for them!
With only a few hours left on our first day, we went out looking for caiman (crocodiles) at night on a little boat. The guide found them by shining a flashlight into the dense brush along the edge of the flood waters, looking for the reflection from their eyes which are above water. We found a caiman about 2 feet long and in one smooth motion our guide plucked it right out of the water with his hands. It's just a baby but its teeth are vicious looking. Both Yasi and I hold it with our hand firmly gripping its jaw so it doesn't bite. Besides looking for caiman, we spend much of the time enjoying the cloudless night sky which is alight with stars. You could even see some of the milky way.
The morning of day two we went on a jungle walk to see some plants used by the native people for medicine and weapons. While the walk was informative, it was also excruciating. While we were learning about the plans that can reduce arthritis, help flush kidney stones and poison someone we were being swarmed by mosquitos and sweating rivers. There was no escape from the heat and humidity and I had to spray Yasi from head to toe with mosquito repellant multiple times. We were lucky enough to see poison dart frogs whose poison was used to tip blow darts used by the natives and a tarantula. When we returned from the hike we all but ran to our cold water shower, it was glorious!!
In the afternoon we went fishing for, of all things… piranha! We motored out into a flooded area of jungle and dipped our rudimentary fishing sticks into the water. The hooks were baited with raw beef or chicken, after all these are carnivorous fish! Our first fishing spot didn't yield any piranhas but some people felt a few nibbles on their lines. We repositioned our boat a few meters further away and after a few minutes of trying to lure the piranhas to us….. SNAP! I got the first one!! After that we started catching lots of the little beasts. In the end I caught 2 piranhas and a sardine (no idea how that happened) and Yasi caught 4!! They are actually quite small fish but their teeth are menacing. One actually fell off someone's hook and started flopping around in the boat. Everyone was on edge until the guide skewered it with his machete. Problem solved. For dinner that night the cooks fried our catch and we got to eat them even though there was almost no meat on them.
The next two days were spent doing boat trips around and spotting wild life. We saw countless birds and even spotted pink and gray river dolphins! I can't remember the names of all the birds so just check out the pictures, the zoom lens really came in handy on this part of the trip. Our guide took us into a section of flooded forest to a beautiful massive tree where he told us a fisherman had been attacked by an ANACONDA! Luckily, he escaped.
On another occasion we were cruising around in small canoes when our guide recounts a story about searching and calling out for caiman in this part of the river. He had called a caiman that was so large and aggressive that it attacked their boat. To escape they climbed up a tree and waited for hours until it lost interest. 10 minutes after telling this story he started calling caiman so we can hear them call back in answer and pinpoint where they are. After a hearing a few high pitched answers coming from babies we hear a deep sinister roar followed by loud splashing into the water, it was so close we could see the tall grass moving. With no trees to climb around us Yasi and I both insisted the guide stop calling the things and leave the area so we can get back in one piece!!! He laughed and assured us we were safe.
On the afternoon of the 4th day we headed back to civilization. The Amazon had been a real experience. The whole place just seemed so alive and vibrant. There was life everywhere with trees, insects, reptiles, birds, dolphins and fish coexisting in this vast ecosystem. All of our senses were engaged with new sights, smells, sounds and things to taste and touch. The Amazon is a very special place which we only got to experience a tiny piece of.
We got back to Manaus where we had set aside another 3 days to sight see, we didn't know however that there really isn't much to see in this city. We got to our hostel and walked around the city a bit and found Yasi's new favorite restaurant, Eskina Dos Sucos which is a basic restaurant that serves up delicious fresh juices.
Since we had just returned from the long journey back from the Amazon we were both very tired and were looking forward to some sleep. As the night wore on we found it impossible to sleep since our room was right above the kitchen and our windows couldn't be closed so we heard everything that happened in the place. People were talking loudly, playing music and clattering around pots and pans. We looked at the hostel policy which called for quiet after 11pm and thought things would calm down. At 11 I went down and checked with the guy at the front desk to make sure everything would be quiet and he assured me it would. We get about 1-2 hours of sleep when all of a sudden at 2:30am we heard drunk people stumbling around and yelling. Chairs were being dragged on the roof top above our heads and someone started playing a guitar while beer bottles were opened. Yasi and I are exhausted and this place is supposed to be quiet so I got up and talked to the night manager who came upstairs with me to talk to the people up there. I was up there for all of 10 seconds, looking at the group of 10-12 idiots who clearly have no respect before I lost it and started yelling and hurling expletives at them. This has the desired affect and for the most part they shut up. Yasi was proud. Even though they quieted down we still didn't get much sleep since we could still hear them.
First thing the next morning we gathered our things and left for quieter accommodation. The place we found was beautiful and was double the price of the hostel but worth every penny. The next 2 days were spent chilling out, reading, writing and dreaming about getting out of this crappy city.
We are now at our last stop in Brazil, back in Rio!