Amazon who hasn’t heard about it? It was the last part of my trip in Brazil and I was really curious about it. I heard a lot of stories, also about people getting underwhelmed.
I arrived at my hostel in Manaus, the portal city to the Amazon, at midnight. We had to be careful not to wake people up in the room, as I installed my backpack, daypack and took my place in the bunkbed. The next day I woke up. The plan was to search for a tour to the Amazon. I met the hostess for the first time. She was ferm. “I hate Manuas. Manaus is no good. And I hate the Amazon, the Pantanal is better.” Eh… ok, so much for the marketing section of the hostel. Obviously she used to live near the Pantanal. “But if you want to book a tour to the Amazon”, she continued “we have some great tours.” Eh.. didn’t you just say…? Of course I decided not to go with the hostel, but instead went in town to look for a better tour operator. I was accompanied by a Swiss guy, who was travelling the world for three years. I met him that morning and he was also searching for a tour. You would expect that Manuas would be full of tour operators on every corner, but the contrary is true. These operators are hard to find. I will spare you the hustle, but eventually I booked two tours. One day tour to get acquainted with the Amazon and a two day tour to really get deep in to the rainforest.
The day tour was ok. It was a tourist-type boot with a guy speaking bad english on a microphone with bad equipment. “Sooa gherwhehavethemeetingoffatheriverss and as you can see thisissawherebeautifulspot and… ” Like what did he say!? Haha The boat took us to the meeting of waters. This is the place where the two rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimões come together and form in to the Amazon river. The Rio Negro comes from Columbia, has a black color and is warm. The Rio Solimões comes from Peru, has a brown, sandy-like color and is somewhat cold. Because the Rio Solimões streams faster and has a lower temparature than the Rio Negro, the two rivers don’t mix for more than 6 km. You can really see the stroke of brown water and the stroke of black water flowing next to each other. The boat even stopped on the center line. We could put our hands in the water on both sides, so we could literally feel that the temperature of the Rio Negro water being hotter than that of the Rio Solimões. Crazy experience!!
And I scraped another thing of my bucket list. Swimming with the pink dolphins! These wild dolphins were given lunch daily at the same time at this same bay. And because they are smart creatures they come all the way to this little spot to get there lunch and what a coincidence it was, that we happened to be there at that same time hahaha. We jumped in the water and saw them coming from afar. The guide helt a piece of fish just above the water. The dolpins in the distance then disappeared under water. Then suddenly I felt something big and slippery touching my legs under water, before I knew it I saw a huge dolphin jumping out of the water right next to me, catching the fish. I could actually hug it. A wow moment!!
We also had an encounter with a Pirarucu (the monster fish of the Amazon), helt an anaconda around my neck, helt a sloth and visited the indigenous people. I heard stories about the last one being a show that was set up to cater to the perception the foreign tourists already have. The show was ok though. We danced with the tribe and had a fun time! But I couldn’t help thinking that this Indian man was going back to his room calculate the income of the shows on his macbook, watch a movie and play a game on his iPad after the show was finished. Hahaha LOL!
The next day it was time for the real thing. Going really deep in to the jungle to sleep there. Shut off from internet and all other modern technology. What the guide hadn’t told me was that I needed some form of hat or head cover. Luckily when we arrived at the dock I could buy one. It was a really obvious one: Army Print, Rambo looking tough guy type of hat! Lol hahaha We had to take a car, a boat, another car and then another boat to arrive at the heart of the Amazon. And as we arrived there I felt the soul of the forest, realizing I’m here! The Amazon…
On our way the guide stopped to show us water lilies. However a whole other caught everyones attention. A flower that moved as soon as you touched one of it’s leaves. The Mimosa pudica. I have never seen it before. I also touch it and I actually saw the leaves reacting to my touch as if I touched a living creature. We also sailed across the floating city: A village floating on the Amazon river.
It was raining season. This means the Amazon was partially under water. We where actually sailing between the top of the trees where normally at dry season you could walk at their feet. You could actually see the watermarks on some trees, where the water had been higher. Could you imagine this!!?? A jungle filled with more than four meters of water and we are flowing on it! And the place where we were sailing is the same place you look up to in the dry season, when you walk the forest. Amazing!
The first thing on our list: Fishing for Piranha’s. We went on a small motorized fishermen’s boat with about six people and a guide. We had simple fishing rods made of branches and used chicken as bate! Hahaha. We went to the first spot. No luck. The guide told us about the piranha’s. He showed us a missing part of his finger, due to a Piranha encounter. Then we went to the second spot. The guide told us, that actually Piranha’s were not that vicious as people think. You can even have a swim with them, unless you don’t bleed. Because if one Piranha bites you and you start to bleed, that’s like honey to the rest of the flock. You will not survive. When we went on our way to the third spot, my hope of catching a piranha was affected. There was also a couple on the boat. The guy was a professional fisher. And while he was talking about his fishing experience someone yelled: “Whoaaah, I feel something bite!” From that moment we knew they were here. We waited, and waited. I put on fresh new piece of chicken on my hook. And then suddenly the fisherman’s girlfriend caught the first piranha!! We saw it and it was quite big. The guide helt the piranha and put a wooden stick between the fish’s teeth. Snap! Before you knew it his jaws clipped the stick like it was nothing. Now everybody was driven to catch a Piranha too. We waited, waited and again!!! The fishermen’s girlfriend caught another piranha. We started to make jokes about she being the real fishermen of the two. It was funny, but after she caught her fourth one in a row, the fisherman was not laughing at all. Then one of the others caught one. After that it was my turn. I felt something nibbling at my hook and BAM there it was! A piranha fresh on my hook. Also while we were fishing wild dolphins visited us. They even came pretty close to the boat, jumping playfully. Beautiful! Eventually the fisherman caught one piranha too, but a meager result compared to the seven piranha’s his girlfriend had caught at the end of the day.
We came back at our lodges by dusk to eat and drink something. We ate, something, played domino’s and had some Caipharina’s. Night was falling and everyone was talking about what we were going to do the next day. But as it is a fact that most creatures come out at night, we were surprised by the guide.. “We are going to look for caimans in the river. Now!” Slightly overwhelmed we got in to a small boat. Knowing the night had fallen and all the animals are out, it felt like National Geographic in real life! This is were I realized again where I was. Crazy! The water was just a few centimeters below the edge of the small boat. It felt like a large caiman could easily get in. We sailed across the river. The other guide stood on the tip of the boat like a rambo, pointing his flashlight at the grass of the river bank. We joked a bit about him: “Oh, yeah and now he will catch a caiman from the water with his bear hands hahaha” Then suddenly he went flat on his belly, put his hand in the water and actually caught one! We were in shock! He freaking did it! It was not a large one, it was a baby black & white caiman and these babies can grow to 6 meters. Caimans have no taste or smell, they will eat everything!
The next day we got up early to go in to the forest. The guide told us a lot about the forest. We saw cashew nuts, which are actually poisoned fruits until you bake them. We saw cacao and ate it right of the tree. It does not taste anything like the chocolate it eventually becomes. It has actually a real fruitlike taste. Tucan birds flying above our heads as we got a taste of the Brazilian nut. The shell which contains the nuts can only be opened with a machete. The guide took the shell with him, to open it up for us later. We saw cotton which are flowers in the tree and pineapples growing above the ground. Then suddenly we came across an old lady with a machete. She was one of the indegious people. The guide lent her machete and opened the Brazilian nut. It tasted really good! We also saw rubber trees. The guide told us about the history of the rubber tree, which only grew in Brazil and gave much wealth to Manaus. He was surprised that I added to his story, the fact that an English man stole the seed of the tree to plant it in Malaysia and India, thus taking away the monopoly position of Manaus. This eventually turned out to be catastrophic for the Manaus economy. He laught: “I was going to tell that, but there are English people here.” Hahaha. On our way back I had a talk with the guy who controlled our boat. He was born in the Amazon. Through him I really understand how well they are at reading their environment. For example he swims amongst big caimans, but only at day time. At day time they are not hungry, because they hunt and feed at night time. He also told me how they catch the caimans. The trick is to point your flashlight in the water and look for the reflection of the caimans eyes. Then look at the distance between the eyes to see if it’s a small one. If so, get near and just grab it by the neck. Also he explained how lakes form nodes and rivers connect these nodes. That’s how they find their way across the rivers. His house is build on pillars to protect it from a flood, but also to keep out insects. And finally they hold chickens who kill all the bugs for them. It all actually sounds pretty logic when you here it like this. When we arrived back at the lodges, they served us the piranha’s we caught the day before. Awesome! I was already wondering why we didn’t put them back in to the river. ;-)
The Amazon was nice! I didn’t expect to see any jaguars, so I wasn’t underwhelmed. In fact I thought that I would have a hard time with nature. but I guess it is the same as with a computer. The more you know about it, the less scary it becomes Hahaha.