Manaus - Amazon Rainforest

Trip Start Nov 03, 2008
Trip End May 13, 2009

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Amazonas,
Monday, January 26, 2009

Week 13/14 Jan 26th - Feb 8th

Monday, so after deciding that Tabatinga wasn`t for me, I caught a flight to Manaus. The flight was nothing short of mesmerising. Two and a half hours of lush, green rainforest only broken up every five or ten minutes by an unknown randomly gigantic river. No, not the Amazon, that`s incomprehensivably huge, but all of these tributaries are rediculously big themselves. I had reached Manaus about four days earlier than originally planned. This gave me a chance to relax, do some reading, catch up on my blog, and wait for the much anticipated arrival of Alison (my girlfriend for those of you that don`t know and haven`t figured it out). I asked the taxi driver to drive towards the centre and by chance I managed to find one of the three hostals in Manaus. After being ripped off in Tabatinga and paying US$300 for a flight out of there I was determined to turn things around here. It was not to be....

My first walk around the city streets gave me the sense that this was a place where I could get pickpocketed or robbed easily. On returning to the hostel I emptied my wallet of evertything except some cash. Later I picked a reasonable looking restaurant for dinner and they seemed determined to get me onto their "all you can eat" buffet, it was the best value I was told. My portugese is non-existant so I just went with it. It couldn´t be that expensive right..mmm about US$30 (pricey for this part of the world). OK won`t be going back there. I landed back in the hostel and was settling into a book when two Danish guys and an English guy sat down besde me and invited me to join them for a drink. We got chatting and they said it was their last night and they were going out to a recommended bar/nightclub with some locals. What harm can it do? I didn`t intend to drink much, but would go along anyway. Five minutes in and some guy pushed against me in the crowd as I walked through the club. Immediately I sensed there was something wrong, pushed out of there and yup you guessed my wallet was gone. Luckily I had only some cash in it but so far the day had cost me a cool US$400 doillars. Brazil hadn`t gotten off to a good start but I was determined not to let it get to me. I kept a low profile for the next few days. Saturday finally came and it was time for to go to the airport to greet Alison after 3 months apart! We spent two days catching up and touring the sites of Manaus. Well to be honest there`s only one thing to see and that`s the Opera House! Other than that it`s a busy noisy ugly city of about 3 million people.

Luckily we were there to see the jungle not the city and on Monday morning we set out on our jungle trip. Firstly, we were driven out of town towards the meeting of the waters, from where we caught a boat across the amazon to the other side. This area is something of an anomaly, it is is the confluence of the Rio Negro (Black) and Rio Solimoes rivers to form the Amazon as they know it in Brazil. The two rivers are different colours, speeds, densities and temperatures (you could actually feel the change in temperature in the water as you pass from one to the other) and the rivers run side by side for quite a distance without mixing. Next up it was a car transfer through slightly more "jungley" countryside and finally a second boat transfer down one of the tributaries of the Solimoes, to our jungle lodge base for the day. The fruther we went the more surreal it got as many memories of Bruce Parry´s Amazon series came flooding back. In the lodge, we got some more details of our itinerary for the next few days. First up was a canoe session up some of the smaller side creeks in search of monkies or anything else interesting. We didn`t spot anything but heard plenty of eerie sounds. After that we had some lunch (rice, chicken, fish - get used to it as this was the staple diet for the next 4 days!) Over lunch we chatted to some of the groups returning from their jungle and heard their encounters with snakes, crocodiles, posionous frogs and the like. This built up the anticipation for our possible dangerous encounters. After lunch it was time for a spot of piranha fishing. After about 2 hours, many different locations and between 6 of us, (2 guides and 2 gringoes and 2 Argentians) we caught a grand total of 2 fish! (all caught by the guides) How pathetic is that! Oh well.. maybe tomorrow..  We returned to the lodge for a well earned rest, ahem!, to watch the mandatory afternoon thunderstorm and later some dinner. After dinner, we were treated to some caipirinhas and then one of the highlights for me.. back out on the water to catch a baby caiman (crocodile). Another Bruce Parry favourite! After the fishing disaster I was not very optimstic about fniding one quickly or even at all given the difficulty Bruce had with his guide. Another surprise.. we had only just settled into the boat and were getting our torches out to search along the bank when the guide spotted one. All in all it had taken about 40 seconds to track one down and only 10 mteres down the bank from the lodge! He went straight over turned off the torch and swooossh pulled it out of the water. Impressive as it was I was feeling a little cheated!! He said it was a female, about 7 months old, and after letting us each handle her and pose for photos he performed a known  trick, scratching her throat to get her to open her mouth wide. She looked far from impressed with us all, so after our fun we threw her back into the river and watched her paddle away.

Tuesday, we set off for the jungle proper! Another 3 bum numbing hours on a boat to an area the guide knew inside out as he had grown up there. We passed a house on the way and there with some children outside waving enthusiastically. These were his half-sisters, he had 14 siblings in all, apparently a small family for these parts! We set up camp and prepared for dinner. I was assigned the job of chopping certain types of leaves to make dinner plates out of. I had no idea how it would work but as you can see from the photo the guide can do anything! He also carved spoons out of some wood! . Afterwards, we settled into our hammocks complete with mosquito nets. I wasnt very happy about the fact I was at one end of the group i.e. first inline for attack! I had a vision of waking up in the middle of the night, just as an anaconda was about to get cosy with me. The jungle really comes alive at nightime. The noise is almost deafening but strangely also quite relaxing and sleep-enducing, so there was a strange mix of being quite relaxed but also apprehensive about falling asleep. After about half an hour I couldn`t take it anymore, put on my ipod and closed my eyes and was soon soundly asleep. About midnight I was awoken by one of the most harrowing noises I have ever heard. I am thankful I was expecting this and knew what it was... howler monkies! When there is a group of them howling, from the right distance away, the sound is a strange mechanical drone, almost alien, certainly not a natural sound and difficult to believe its a monkey! I lay there in awe and slightly uncomfortable even though I knew they didn`t pose any danger. 

Wednesday morning I awoke with an itchy back.. I couldn`t see it but showed to Alison and could tell by the look on her face it wasn`t good. At first I though maybe was mosquitoes but after seeing the photographic evidence (left), I knew it was bed bugs from the lodge. I´m allergic to them and had experienced it once before. I was in for a nasty few days.. grrr. Alison reckoned she was bitten as well but thankfully I dont think she´s allergic so there was no reaction. There was no eveidence of any intruders in the camp during the night (we heard previously the guide of one of the other groups had killed a snake during the night) so we trekked off in search of some. We were warned to look out for anything bright coloured, bright green or red especially, as these are generally the sporting colours of things that can kill you. Right! And if anybody gets stung by a wasp everybody is to run away as they follow you. OK lets go then... The rain started and drenched us to the skin and so the misery began!! Ha Ha! No it wasn`t that bad but it was tough going. First up we saw the dreaded tarantula, Alison has a particular disliking for them so she kept her distance as the guide "coaxed" it out of its hole with a stick. He commented that he had probably made it quite angry so he was going to let us handle it!  We stopped at one of the giant trees (see photo), I can`t remember the name now but the locals use them as jungle telephones, thumping their massive roots sends a very loud bang resonating through the jungle. They also use them to attract monkies to make it easier to kill them. As the rain got ever stronger the underfoot conditions got even trickier, Alison slipped, put her hand on a thorn tree to brace her fall and ended up with a nasty collection of thorns in her hand. Not long after that I got stung by wasps! I wasn`t sure what this meant as the guide hadn`t told us but I took his lack of worry to be positive. It was a sharp pain followed by tingling and stinging for about 10 minutes, then it subsuded. Having just gotten over that the guide spotted a poisonous frog that can kill you within hours by simply coming into contact with its skin. Thankfully this is a defense mechanism so he doesnt go looking for trouble. The frog was tiny so I`ve no idea how the guide spotted him in the undergrowth.  Last up on the trek we finally found a sloth! I had seen many on my trip but had never got to hold one. The guide had to cut the branch down as she wasn`t moving. She awoke when we took her away from the branch and seemed a little sleepy but quite receptive to our attentions.   We returned to camp had some lunch and packed up. We went in search of monkies one last time and managed to find some up a creak but it wasn`t clear enough to get a decent photo. Not a single snake to be had at all.. gutted..! ;)  That night we spent in the house of a local family. Before dinner we went by boat down to the "local shop", a floating cabin on the river. These guys sell everything. They had a snakeskin hanging underneath the counter and snake heads in jars. The snakeskin belonged to a snake that had killed one of their chickens. Just a reminder of everyday life here. There was a boy there about seven or eight years old, playing about in the river, entertaining us. After a while he disappeared and re-emerged in a boat paddling across the river. He returned about ten minutes later with two fairly decent sized fish for dinner. Remarkable a child this young can go and catch food for the family. Really showed up our efforts a few days earlier catching Piranhas! About ten minutes after that his father returned with a much larger version of the fish the child caught! And if that wasn`t  enough he sets off again and returns with a crocodile about five foot long! All in a normal day for a local family!  We returned very impressed to pur home for the night and during the usual chicken and rice dinner, I looked to the ceiling and noticed a tarantula creeping into the house. Luckily I managed to keep Alison`s attention and then when the moment was right informed the man of the house and the guide who were able to dispatch it before Alison picked up on it. Fanatastic she never knew! He was a big bugger too.

Thursday we spent most of the day travelling back to Manaus and then onto the airport for our four leg flight to Fortaleza. I told Alison on the flight about the tarantula and her reaction was.. See! I told ya! They follow me everywhere! Ha ha!
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