´The Jungle Nook´ - Or, 101 Ways to Skin a Jaguar
Trip Start May 05, 2011
19Trip End Sep 08, 2011
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Why am I thanking TAM, you might ask? Is it for their friendly smile on check in? No way. Is it there superior food? Nada! I love TAM for one simple reason. That reason can be summed up in one word: Brasilia.
So: Monday morning, 5am (groan), I just about managed to stumble my way to Sao Paulo´s international airport. After a lengthy and exhausting airport wait, I finally got onto my 8:20am flight, headed to Brasilia (Brazil´s capital) to change planes. I settle down into a semi-stupour. In the background, vaguely grating sounds meet my ears, as the plane attempts to manouver its wings whilst on the ground
TAM, clearly obliged to keep everyone happy, were kind enough to give me compensation for my day in Brasilia, in the form of free hotel vouchers. For a five star hotel. With a five star dinner. In one of the most architecturally interesting spots in the world - a place I had felt sadly unable to stop in, due to time and budgetary constraints. Tragedy. Life is so hard, sometimes.
And, thus, a day in Brasilia! In fact, this day was made even better when I found a travelling companion in the same situation: Connie, a German Paediatrician-in-training. Dumping our stuff at ´The Plaza´, we headed out to explore the extremely strange architectural marvels (think: the sixties invaded by terrifying aliens bent on construction). None is stranger than the Brazilian Congressio Nacional - a cool, crazy building, constructed from 2 skyscrapers and two bowl-shaped buildings, one rightside-up, one upside down. Epically sixties! Sneaking into the Congressio, we met yet more bizarre generosity; the staff, terrible apologetic about being unable to offer us a tour in English, gave us each a postcard - to send, free, to anywhere in the world. Sneaking away from the portuguese tour, we discovered (in addition to a huge number of rather important and secret-looking government offices) a cafeteria, where they gave us free coffee and water (Brasilia: city of the spontaneous freebie!) And indeed, at this point, I felt like the day could not get any better.
(I should probably point out, here, that Connie shares my propensity for trespassing in forbidden areas of government buildings - and of course, we immediately got on like a house on fire as a result).
After an afternoon of spectacular sculpture and architecture, we headed back to The Plaza prior to catching our evening flight, for perhaps the best steak I´ve had in years. And as many apples as we could literally carry away from the hotel reception. And although, of course, I curse TAM for the delay, I´m beginning to feel that it might have been worth it...
Onto the main event! Manaus, a totally unreal, ex-colonial city in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon, dripping with atmosphere and soaked in sweat. Arriving in Manaus around midnight, we made our way to the Youth Hostel, where I literally collapsed onto my bed - after a rather hilarious life or death struggle with my mosquito net. The next day, we were luckily able to book a jungle tour after a little wrangingling, and by midday we were off - on a bus for 3 hours over dirt roads, and then upriver on a speedboat for an hour, to a thatched wonder-palace in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to the Amazon!
I am well aware that the following description of the jungle lodge will illicit an unhealthy amount of envy from my mother. I do not apologise for this. Some are born natural amazonians. Others, like me, randomly find themselves in this sort of paradise:
Our lodge: a dreamworld, thatched with strips of palm leaves, constructed entirely from wood. The quietest, most serene place during the quiet times; yet, when activity commences, the centre of a tropical storm of craziness. No electricity, with all the consequent benefits; early nights after delicious candle-lit dinners. My room, at the top of the three-storey tower, with a view to rival any penthouse on the Thames. Hammocks. Galore. At most, three or four guests: so few, in fact, that we each had a separate building (never mind room) Oh, and the amazon, just there, for a refreshing (if slightly unnerving) swim. Yes, these places really do exist.
Right, now I´m through taunting, I should probably record (for posterty´s sake) my path towards becoming an amazon jungle warrior. Day one: canoing through the trees along sumerged jungle channels, followed by pirhana fishing. Sadly, I did not catch any pirhanas (Connie did, but it was too small). Fortunately, our guide - Christopho - caught about 4, and one catfish. Dinner taken care of. Platinum sunset. Night in the jungle lodge. Real man points: 7. Day two: wake up early, canoe to the dangerous part of the jungle. Jungle trek. Animals seen: mosquitos (about a million). Monkeys. Black jungle cats. A tarantula-like spider with a bite that will kill a man in one hour. With no antidote. Real man points: 23. Swim across the amazon. Almost swam to submerged jungle, until warned by Christopho to look out for anacondas. Real man points: 19. Camping in jungle, including making fire, building hammock-camp, foraging from leaf-plates, cooking dinner over open fire. Protecting Connie and newly-arrived Americans. Real man points: 32. Day three: crafting beautiful tools for amazonian hunting with own hands. Real man points: 1 trillion.
The jungle was incredible, like a dream. And though I wouldn´t choose to live without electricity and hot water permanently, in the hot amazonian sun, it cerainly seemed like a fairly nice life. This impression was further strengthened by my current reading choice (Wuthering Heights - not perhaps the most fitting literature for tropical, pumping Brazil - nonetheless, depressing enough to make Manaus seem like a dream). And so, on Thursday, Connie and I were sad to wave goodbye to the jungle lodge, to Christopho, to our new American friends, and to the totally fantastic world we had been living in. We headed back to Manaus, to check out the throbbing, pulsating city, seething with passion and beauty (baroque, with beautiful architecture, including an opera house performing Wagner, crowned by a disco-illuminated dome. Genuinely). We grabbed dinner and a sneaky acai juice (amazonian superfruit) before we parted and I headed off to the airport to catch my incredibly antisocially-timed flight. I was sad to leave: but a warrior, at last, I felt compelled to make my way in the world.
After a rather dull day in a bus station and a shopping centre in Sao Paulo, I decided to make a bit of a change to my scheduled itinerary. Brazil - land of favelas - is also land to the immensely large price tag. Aching at the much cheaper prices offered by Argentina, I felt drawn to the border (plus, after actually reading my guidebook on the plane to Manaus, I discovered a LOT that I still want to do in Peru). And, of course, as a warrior I was feeling the pulsating call of the jungle. Curitiba and Ilha do Mel were fast slipping away, and soon, I found myself jumping on a bus headed for the legendary Iguazu falls on the Brazilian-Argentine border...