The Amazing Amazon

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Where I stayed
Dolphin Lodge

Flag of Brazil  , State of Amazonas,
Monday, March 1, 2010

The Amazon…the name itself conjures up wild and mysterious images of massive jungles, ancient river people, and undiscovered animal species. Although such descriptions are most likely imaginative legends at this point in human history, we were truly amazed by our trip in the Amazon nonetheless.

Utilizing our trusty Lonely Planet guide book, we chose to explore the Amazon with Gero Tours, run by a reputable local who did not disappoint. Because the distances in Brazil are immense, we took a flight from Salvador to the city of Manaus, the largest in the Amazon region.  Speaking of large, the entire Amazon basin is twice the size of India, spanning 8 countries, and dumps 300 million liters of fresh water into the ocean per second—more than the next largest 8 rivers combined!  Manaus sits near the famous "meeting of waters," where the Rio Negro meets the Rio Solimoes and converges to become the Rio Amazonas (more on this spectacular sight later).  Thus, many jungle tours and treks begin in this strategic city.

We spent the first afternoon in Manaus simply walking around the city from our hotel which was conveniently located next to the tour office as well as near the quaint city square.  The crowned jewel of the square was the gorgeous theater named Teatro Amazonas—an opulent European style opera house in the middle of a city in the jungle!  We took a tour of the theater and were blown away by the architecture and design.  The best part was putting on huge slippers over our shoes before viewing one of the ballrooms so as not to harm the original wood floor (we couldn't resist skating and sliding around like kids)!

The following morning we were shuttled down to the port in Manaus to board a speed boat that would transport us across the Amazon River toward our jungle lodge destination.  Luckily, we had some time at the port to wander through the fish market and check-out some of the Amazon's finest.  Enormous tiger-striped catfish and numerous other species we had never seen before were displayed on ice as local buyers and sellers negotiated on prices.  There was one type of bottom feeder that was being de-finned, but kept alive (the way people buy it) by a seller who used an imposing machete with delicate skill.

The highlight of our trip to the Dolphin Jungle Lodge (that included a car ride, two boat rides, and a Volkswagon van ride through red mud) was the dramatic "meeting of the waters" along the Amazon River.  Just across from Manaus is the spot where the “black” Rio Negro meets the “white” (though really brown in color) Rio Solimoes.  Because the rivers differ in acidity, velocity, and water temperature, they are starkly different color yet end up mixing nearly 10 km down river from where we stopped to view them.  You can actually see the color contrast just like a glass filled with oil and water!  Check out the pics!  According to our guide, slower moving “black” rivers in the Amazon basin contain fewer mosquitoes due to their higher acidity levels than faster moving “white” rivers, yet more fish are found in the latter. 

On our second boat excursion and final leg of our trip to the jungle lodge, Mother Nature decided to remind us why the rainforest is named as such by opening the skies and dumping a ton of water on us!  We weren’t quite fast enough to get our raincoats on and got absolutely soaked just within view of the dock.  Some of the other guests who were swimming off the dock had quite a laugh as we arrived looking like we’d been doing the same in our clothes!   The quote of the trip may be when Carla looked over at me in the boat while we were getting pelted with rain and said, “I guess it rains a lot in the rain forest!” 

Despite many mosquito bites, high humidity, and frequent downpours, we truly enjoyed our Amazon experience.  What stands out from our five days is (1) fishing for piranhas, (2) catching caymans (small alligators) at night, (3) paddling through tributaries enjoying the flora and fauna, and (4) swinging in hammocks while hanging out with other travelers.  We are including a short description of each in the following paragraphs.

1. Piranha Fishing—the quintessential Amazon activity!  This is done out of a small boat with simply a bamboo rod, fishing line, a hook, and the key--small pieces of raw meat!  Although the fish are adept at stealing the bate right off the hook, on our second attempt we were able to catch a couple little bastards and pull them out of the water!  According to Rildo, our Amazonian guide, only schools of red piranhas are dangerous to humans as they can get quite aggressive.  Nevertheless, after looking closely at their sharp teeth, we still respected the little guys and though twice about dipping our fingers in the water…

2. Originally, we thought the term cayman only referred to a group of islands in the Caribbean.  In the Amazon, a cayman is a small alligator and the rivers are full of them.  After dinner on our first night, we went out on the boat armed only with a flashlight.  Incredibly, our guide, Rildo, caught one with his bare hands after spotting the reflection in its orange eyes and we all got to hold it and take gratuitous photos of course!  Don’t worry, the reptile was put back safely in the water and didn’t take anyone’s limbs with her.

3. One of the best parts of being in the Amazon is taking in all the wonderful sights and sounds as you drift in a small boat and paddle through hidden canals and watery passageways.  It’s mind boggling to think that at the height of the rainy season, the water level is another 15 – 20 meters high (though last year it peaked at 25 meters above the current level) and the trees nearly become the size of bushes as their trunks are buried deep under the water.  Exotic birds, boisterous frogs, giant lilly pads, and resilient jungle greeted us as we explored various portions of the river.  Hopefully some of the pictures do it partial justice as words definitely do not.

4.  As with most of the places we have visited, we met some great people during our Amazon stint and were fortunate enough to share our experience with them.  First there was Andrea and Khaled who accompanied us on our excursion to the jungle lodge on the first day.  They are both scuba instructors in Egypt in the city of Sharm al Sheik.  Andrea is originally from Austria and Khaled is a native Egyptian.  They are a very entertaining and interesting couple and we enjoyed our long discussions about the novel Shantaram  among other things!  Then there was Kimberly and Trevor, MBA students and friends traveling from the University of Florida.  They were the first Americans we’ve spent a significant amount of time with during our journey and we had a blast laughing at their stories and jokes (we could actually understand every word)! 

All in all, we definitely recommend the Amazon for the adventurous…five days was plenty for us.  The hike through the jungle complete with cobra and tarantula spottings, in addition to countless mosquito bites despite full covering and application of 100% deet, was a challenge to endure, yet our wonderful guides and lovely good made it truly memorable!
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