Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
147Trip End Apr 28, 2010
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Setting out from Manaus, we headed with Iain, Lisa and Susie for a 3 day tour of the area outside of Manaus (in the Amazon rainforest). Our trip to the lodge involved a car, a speedboat, a van, and another speedboat.
The first speedboat took us across an area known as Los Encuentros, or the meeting of the waters. The Amazon River officially begins when two other major rivers merge together. The first, the Rio Negro, is a "black" river flowing from Colombia and Venezuela. The color comes from the decaying plant material, which gives the river a very low pH. The low pH keeps away mosquitoes, and most species of fish. The dark color absorbs sunlight and makes the river warm. The second river, the Rio Solimoes, is a "white" river. It flows in from the Andes in Peru, collecting suspended sediment that gives it it´s brownish color (so why call it white???) It has a higher pH and a cooler temperature
Other than being random interesting facts, the differences in the rivers come into play when the two rivers meet. Because of the different temperatures and speeds and such, they flow side by side but separately for several kilometers before they finally mix together. When you cross the meeting of the waters, you can easily see the two separate rivers (they´re different colors) and if you drag your hand in the water, you can feel where you switch from one to the other, as well.
So that was the first boat. While waiting for the second speedboat, which would take us up a smaller Amazon tributary to our lodge, John and I popped into a convenience store to buy some cachaça (a local liquor). We were searching for a mixer when someone suggested a guaraná soda -- pop made from a local berry ridden with excessive amounts of caffine and other chemicals, said to have wonderful healing powers... hmmm... Surprisingly, it wasn´t that bad. As we were checking out, someone else suggested that we try mixing the cachaça with a mint candy, chill, and drink. We made up a sample batch at the counter of the little store -- again, surprisingly not as bad as it sounded. (Although, as a side note, future batches attempted were quite bad).
We finally arrived at our lodge, set on a small cliff overlooking a lake. After lunch, we went outside to a tree where Brazil nuts are "falling" (ie, in season) and watched our guide take a machette to the extremely hard nuts and open them. They are clearly a lot of work, but pretty good.
In the afternoon, we set out in a small motorized canoe. Heading up a small river, we saw our first pink river dolphin of the Amazon! These things are fast and elusive -- they pop up once or twice, and they´re gone. We crossed the lake, and headed up a different channel towards the second lake of the day. On that channel, we saw a sloth with brown spots in the top of a tree. Apparently, the brown spots mean it´s a male sloth. We also saw anhingas, herons, egrets, kingfishers, hoatzins, kiskidees, screamers, and several other types of birds. Towards the end of the channel, we saw another dolphin, then a third on the opposite side of us, making it hard to know which way to look. When they left, we headed the rest of the way up the channel, through some floating river grass, to the second lake where there were ooodles of pink river dolphins playing. We sat there for quite a while watching and trying (in vain) to get a picture. It was quite fantastic. Coming back up the river, we watched a group of squirel monkeys jumping between the trees
At sunset, we headed back to the main lake, and found another small river. We put on bug spray, and sat listening to the frogs, bats, bugs and cows until it got dark. At that point, we headed quietly up the river with a flashlight looking for (and finding) caimans. Our guide found a very cute, small caiman, which we watched for a few minutes before heading back to the lodge.
Day Two, January 17th
After breakfast, we waited out a short rain delay within our lodge, then headed out for a jungle trek. In the jungle, we found lots of interesting things -- howler monkeys (heard, but not seen), rubber trees, pretty flowers, a poisonous catepillar, and a plant that apparently has anti-malarial properties. "Try it!" the guide encouraged us -- so we did. Then he mentioned that it was also used to induce abortions -- not cool!. We also came across a few hanging ant nests. The guide allowed the ants to crawl over him, then smooshed them quick to kill them, which apparently acts as a natural mosquito repelent. The ants fell on us from above and crawled up our pant legs -- ick! (if you don´t smoosh fast enough, they bite!).
Our guide also picked a long leafy branch, cleared off the leafs, and carried it around for a while. Eventually, he stopped to poke it in a hole, and out crawled a large, giant bird eating tarantula. Very cool! In another similar hole, we found a dead tarantula of the same type. According to the guide, the live one was a female, and the dead one was a male, that had been killed and eaten by a female after mating.
After lunch, we found out that due to the weather (it kept raining, a lot) our camping trip into the jungle wouldn´t be possible, and we would be staying instead with a local family, so we headed to their place.
The house we stayed at was one in a group of about a half dozen homes, all belonging to the same extended family. The style of the house was similar to what we saw in the Darien area of Panama -- wooden, built on stilts above the ground, with walls that only reach halfway to the roof (although this family had a second room of the house with four full walls, which they used for sleeping). The differences between this family and the families in the Darien, however, were quite striking. In many ways, this house was more "modern" or "developed" -- they had electricity, a washing machine, a refrigerator, and a stove, for example. What they were lacking, though, was any sort of sanitation.
Living in the house, there appeared to be at least a dozen people, including many small children, a paca (an animal that looks like a cross between a rat and a rabbit), a capuchin monkey, a bird, and a cat. There were also a few dogs and chickens living directly underneath the house
That night, John and I had another "first" -- sleeping in a hammock. After the family finished their dinner and went to bed, the six of us (John, Iain, Lisa, Susie, myself and the guide) strung up our hammocks and mosquito nets in a row in their kitchen/dining room/living room area and went to bed. As it turns out, sleeping in a hammock isn´t as difficult or as uncomfortable as rumors say -- it actually seems to work out quite well!
Day Three, January 18th
Departing from the family stay, we went on our last little trip through the jungle -- another ride in the motorized canoe. This time, we set out to see the giant water lilies
Our last stop was for a short hike through an area of forest that is routinely flooded during the wet season. In addition to a different type of vegetation, we saw one tree in particular -- it was huge!!! John walked through a small hole in the bottom of the tree. Compared to the tree as a whole, the hole was maybe 1% of the tree´s height. But John barely had to duck to pass through.
Afterwards, we made our way back to Manaus, to get ready for our next adventure... a boat trip.