We were up just after 5 and the hostel ran us to the airport. We had a 2.5 hour flight to Brasilia and then a 3 hour wait in the airport. We then took our flight to Manaus which lasted about 2.5 hours again - and as we arrived we were treated to superb views of the awesome Amazon. It is beautiful and yes, huge. We got picked up Ļfor freeĻ by a tour company who took us to the hotel we had booked. We dumped our stuff then headed off with Cristiano of Amazon Christian Turismo who sold us with his Brazilian charm and outrageous shirts! We booked a 5 day tour with his company which sounded great and negotiated 50% off his first offer. After we booked it we headed out and walked round Central Manaus. Itīs a surpisingly big city - it reminds us a lot of Asian cities and isnīt that nice to look at - quite dirty and a bit run down
. It started to rain so we found a nice restaurant where Gillian had a nice steak and Stewart had a local fish stew and the local cocktail Caipirinha, which is a bit like tequilla with bits of fresh lime in it.
Day 201 Thursday 19/05/05 Manaus - Amazon
Off to a bad start. A rather average breakfast and Cristiano turned up late to collect us. He then took us down to another hotel where he handed us over (without explanation) to a guy called Armstrong (so named as he was born the day the men came back from the moon). It turns out that Cristiano had sold us on and our 5 day tour was to be with Armstrongīs company - and itīs a completely different 5 days itinerary : ( The new itinerary sounded OK so we decided to run with it - bad decision! Instead of the English & Spanish couples we were told about we ended up with Japanese Nochi (very little English but lovely bloke) and two nice Danes called Olly & Jacob. We were taken to the boat and waited on board while they went off and shopped for provisions. It felt more and more like Asia with every moment! The boat then pulled away and headed for the floating fuel station to fill up - yep, just like Asia. After that they took us past their ugly famous UK built floating dock. We turned around and headed downriver to the Meeting of the Waters
. The Meeting of the Waters is where the dark tea coloured Rio Negro and the cafe au lait coloured Rio Solimoes rivers meet. Instead of merging, the two rivers form a division line (a little curvy) which is black on the Negro side and brownish on the Solimoes side. Both rivers have different properties - acidity, plant life, fish, colour, disolved plant material and temperature! No-one knows why the rivers donīt merge - but it still an amazing sight. You get the chance to put your feet over the side into the water and they motor from one river into the next and you can actually feel the temperature difference. We also saw a couple of pink dolphins here too. We then motored through a smaller river to an area where locals have houses on stilts - it feels very like Vietnam and the Mekong. After a couple of hours we arrived at our next stop - to see the famous huge Amazonian lily pads. Itīs a bit of a tourist trap and you disembark and follow a boardwalk to see the lily area - which are stunning. You then head back along the boardwalk and through the local tat/postcard/craft area before getting to a little cafe/restaurant.....we really do feel like we are back in Nam. We then boarded a smaller motorised boat which took us on a tour of some of the smaller bits of river. We saw quite a few different types of birds - from fish hawks to Jacanas which were our favourite - they have a very funny flight motion and are very colourful. After a while we turned off and headed through an area of flooded forest - the level of the rivers is almost at peak right now and huge areas of valleys and forests are flooded
. It is very beautiful and strange to be boating through partly submerged forest. We stopped and then went fishing for piranhas using bloody meat for bait and making a lot of noise and splashing to attract them! Jacob & the guides managed to catch some but the rest of us didnīt - but Stewart caught a small non-piranha fish by side hooking it - a very proud catch. After that we headed back towards the main boat and went alligator spotting - our guide Daniel spotted a small one (4/5 years old) and managed to snatch it out of the water. We took it back to the main boat where we could feel or hold it before it was released back into the water. After a bite to eat the boat left the touristy dock and headed further up river for another 5/6 hours. We were given hammocks to sleep on and slept in the open top deck which turned out to be bloody freezing. The area we moored had some very loud frogs which helped keep us awake for ages.
Day 202 Friday 20/05/05 Amazon Jungle
We woke up early - all of us on the top deck had had a bad sleep. We had breakfast and chugged even further up river - we were now about 100km from Manaus. We pulled in to the side of the river and stopped by a floating house. The guy there canoed us to shore and then led us on a trek through his familyīs land - open rainforest
. We saw rubber trees (which are amazing to see being sapped), milk trees (they feed the milky sap to kids), fire trees (where the sap can be set on fire and then burn safely for ages), tried forest fruits and nuts, saw rosewood trees, the biggest ants in the Amazon and a tarantula. The tarantulas live in holes (like small rabbit holes - but still fairly big). The local guide used a stick to tease the tarantula out before blocking his hole and let us take pictures of him - the tarantula was HUGE. The trek lasted about 3 hours and at the end we were canoed back to the boat where we changed and went for a swim - it was strange to be swimming in the flooded forest where you can see and feel bushes and trees beneath you. We got back on board and had lunch before heading a little further up river to the Amazon Lilies Camp. We disembarked and the boat headed back to the city. The camp is basically a hut in a small village complex which has a bar and a pool table. The company pays the locals to keep the camp clean and cater for guests when they stay there. They have a couple of lovely monkeys which are sadly tied up in little hammocks and they seem to spend their entire time just swinging away. They also have a lovely green parrot and a couple of evil toucans (who jointly tried to pull a frog apart - but we think they eat fruit??) and a recently captured red Macaw that was very angry and very loud. We were only staying until about 11.30pm when another boat was coming to take us further up river. The hut stank and the toilets were not operational so you had to go in the bush (but itīs a busy village - not the jungle proper). We had about 7 hours to kill and we played some pool where Nochi played his first ever games - and ended up beating us all!!!! After that we just lazed around being very bored - they donīt have anything for you to do so we ended up in the hammocks napping/reading/chatting. We then headed out on a night canoe ride - we all paddled and we headed through moonlit flooded forest
. It was beautiful and very serene. The moon was bright and the reflections lovely. We headed back and were treated to some wonderful sheet lightning in the distance. We had dinner - when we found out that the boat coming to pick us up had broken down. So we had to stay overnight in the shitty camp for the rest of the 5 days. The cynic in us says it was a cheap way to give us a jungle experience but we donīt know. After a few heated discussions Stewart stormed off pretending to be really really upset (not just pissed off) and sat on the steps to the river to watch the fabulous lightning get closer and closer. When the tropical rains started we retreated to the hammocks and cover. A couple of hours later our very drunk guide returned and proceeded to wake us up with his drunken hollering. Nochi caught a boat about 1am which took him off fishing the next day.
Day 203 Saturday 21/05/05 Amazon Jungle
Armstrong had arranged to have food delivered late at night but he failed to either provide fuel or money for the local family to let us do any trips - they donīt trust him and get treated like shit every so often - they want the cash before doing anything for him. Hung over Daniel had a lie in (to avoid the rain - bollocks) and after finally getting up told us that the family had found some fuel for us and we went off on another canoe trip
. We motored through the area at the back of the camp before switching to paddles and going through even more flooded forest. The colours of the trees and some of the plants are lovely. We saw a couple of birds and a bloody huge spider. There are lots of termite mounds half way up the trees (to protect them from flooding) which look amazing. We headed back to the village and arrived back about 1. We had lunch and were told to wait and that at 4.30 we would head into the jungle to sleep over in the jungle. 4.30 came and went and at 6.30 Daniel told us that Armstrong had failed to provide the fuel and money again - the locals wouldnīt do anything on credit (we canīt blame them) and that we would be staying in the camp again and returning early to Manaus the next morning. We gave the family some money for helping us with fuel in the morning and getting some fish for Stewart to eat and with nothing to do we went back to the hammocks and chatted away. Daniel went to the bar and proceeded to get even more drunk than before - returning about midnight again and waking us up shouting at the locals. We would end up paying for this wasted day as a full jungle day - what a shower of crooks. We should say that we did have some wonderful experiences and sights in the jungle but the overall experience is just not what we paid for.
Day 204 Sunday 22/05/05 Amazon Jungle - Manaus
Up just after 6 to get the 7am local ferry back to town but guess what......we had to wake Daniel and he had the time wrong
! The family rustled up a breakfast and we caught the boat about 7.30. The journey back took over 4 hours and we had to pay our own fares. Daniel started drinking as soon as we boarded. Gillian with her blonde hair was a bit of an attraction and had a chat with a family that were on hammocks near us on the boat - one little 8 year old girl could hardly take her eyes off Gillian. By the time we got to port Daniel was very drunk and getting abusive. We got to the port and headed to the office of Armstrong - who wasnīt there.....what a surprise. Daniel had gotten even more abusive by now. We were told that Armstrong would meet us at 4pm in the hotel - thereby splitting the four of us up into two groups. We headed to the hotel and checked in before heading out to check emails and get a drink. Being paranoid we got back to the hotel early to wait for Armstrong in case he turned up early.....which he didnīt. He didnīt turn up at all. At 4.30 Stewart headed down to Cristianoīs office where a neighbour told him that he was out of town - and then tried to sell him a trip to the jungle. We then phoned Armstrong who said that he would refund 2 days and would meet us the next morning. We headed out for food at a pizza joint and guess what - Armstrong came in with some suckers. We had to bite our tongues knowing that if we said anything we would lose our money. We met a weird Indian doctor called HB who is going back to work at Withington Hospital (an Interserve job [grin] - Stewartīs old company). We headed off to the internet and found out that both Rangers and Arsenal had a couple of great results - snatching wins from unexpected positions
Day 205 Monday 23/05/05 Manaus
We got up early, had breakfast and waited for Armstrong and he turned up more or less on time! We had a long discussion telling him calmly what we thought of his tour and his guide. Altough he sort of listened, he wouldnīt budge from 2 days refund but to further complicate matters he informed us that Cristiano (Bastīd 1 who we bought the tour from) only gave him 500 Real of the 1200 we paid. He gave us 200 Real back which he said was his share of the 2 days being refunded. He said that at 4pm he and Cristiano would come and see us. Fuming - Yes. He left and we fetched our washing and headed off to a laundry we had found. It was shut so Gillian headed off to find another laundry - but she passed Cristianoīs office which was open so she went up! He was in and not long awake. The little worm was very evasive, refused to believe we were back yesterday (even though he knew Stewart had been round!!) and wouldnīt call Armstrong. Somebody did call Armstrong and he turned up and was actually very helpful and told Cristiano the story - Armstrong went up in our estimation here but we still would never recommend him. Gillian got 150 Real from Cristiano and a promise of 100 more tomorrow at 4pm. Still not fair in our view but at this point we just want whatever we can get and we need to be careful as they owe us the 2 nights in the hotel and a ride to the airport. Gillian came back to Stewart standing outside the closed laundry and told him about her success. The laundry opened at 9.30, we left our very smelly jungle clothes with them and headed into town. Stewart managed to get a haircut - which cost about 1.80 euro (and left them the same as a tip!) - trying to get haircuts in a foreign country is a fun experience
! We then headed off to the Teatro Amazonas which is a very famous Opera House. We took an English tour and were amazed by the beautiful lavish building. It was stupendous - Italian marble, Brazilian wood, English cast iron stairs, fabulous frescos and beautiful fabrics. There was an Orchestra in the pit practising and we got the chance to listen for a while - the guide told us that they were performing in another theatre that night if wanted to see an opera. After the Opera house we headed down to the docks to see the cast iron market buildings, modelled on Parisian Les Halles, which looked beautiful from the river. Sadly, close up they are tatty and not that nice. You still get a good impression of what they could be like in their full though. On Mondays most things are shut so we spent the afternoon chilling and writing our diaries and checking out some stuff on the internet. We met a nice English couple and scared them off Cristiano who they were about to visit!! We then went for a meal before heading to the other theatre to see the performance. It was a modern Opera called Dessana Dessana which was em.....odd. It is a retelling of a creation myth of a local tribe. The Orchestra had a really good guitarist and a brilliant girl on the cello. About half way through the performance the cast came onto stage in tribal garb which meant that for the rest of the evening the 20 or so females danced around topless. Oh - and at one point almost everyone on stage was involved in simulated sex. Odd country to have nobody topless on the Rio beaches but then topless opera in the jungle! The Orchestra is mainly Russian - 9 years ago the Russians came for the first Opera Festival held here and well...stayed! We met the nice English couple again and walked back to our hotels chatting. We packed before heading for sleep.