Travel the Amazon River in Brasil, Manaus
The excitement was palpable. Not always does one cross the Atlantic and land in Brazil. Not often from this part of the world, and definitely not to the Amazon – a bucket-list destination for most travellers.
Our flight from São Paulo, the biggest city in South America, to Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, was not peppered with events that will linger on for long. Though late, dozing off on this flight seemed like a criminal offence. No one, except for the ones who were from Amazonas, was snoring.
The dream of the Amazon kept us awake during the close to five-hour flight. We (three of us — wife, son and me) reached late and spent the night in a hotel. It was winter in Brazil, but Manaus was hot and humid.
We were as excited as my nine-year-old son. We have travelled across India, and abroad, visiting nondescript places and seeking solace in hostile and non-hospitable environs. So, when we stood in front of the mighty Amazon River, waiting for our boat to carry us deep into the rainforest, we knew this was going to be one adventure that can be pickled and kept for posterity to taste.
Meeting of the waters
As the boat cruised through the mighty Rio Negro, we sighted an amazing phenomenon right in the middle of the river — Encontro das Águas (literally, meeting of the waters) — the confluence of the two rivers, Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes. The motor of our boat hummed to silence, with the waters flapping about us, where the two mighty tributaries meet.
Rio Negro in the local dialect means black river, and is the one that originates in Colombia. It is the largest black water river in the world. The minerals, dead leaves and organisms give it this colour. On the other hand, the tributary that originates from Peru is muddy and called Rio Solimões. These two rivers flow side-by-side for nearly 10-20km without mixing because of the varying density and temperature. Once we reached the Rio Solimões side of the basin, an ordinary looking man welcomed us with such warmth that it touched a chord of friendship instantly. An hour later, we realised that he was to be our host for the next four days.
Friends in the wild
After driving for about 70km, we hopped onto another boat, which took us to our jungle lodge. Our boat’s captain, Moises, was as dextrous behind the wheel as was the boat on the waters, steering through the many similar-looking channels.
After about an hour, he pointed out a silhouette to us — perched on top of a small island, bathed in swathes of green. “That’s our lodge,” he said, with a smile, as a school boat whizzed past us.
We were greeted by Rosario, a local boy who would be our jungle guide. We became friends. No, we didn’t speak the same language. But so close was our friendship that we shed a few tears when we eventually had to part ways.
Our other guide was a Venezuelan, Felix. Apparently, he was there because he could speak English. After a hearty and tasty meal prepared by Moises’ sister Romulo, we got ready for our roller-coaster ride in the wilderness.
When Felix asked if we would like to spend the night in the jungle in a hammock, we yelled out in unison – yes! Since boats are the only means of transportation in Amazon, we dumped all of our provisions on board and set sail for more than two hours deeper and deeper inside. Pods of the famous pink river dolphins of Amazon circling and jumping around the boat — a sight to behold — kept us engaged.
As the myriad hues of the setting sun broke on the ripples of the Amazon, the world turned magical. Countless birds were chirping and suddenly, as night approached, the jungle came alive with the sound of the wind, insects and animals.
Our boat lumbered its way up a creek and landed on an uninhabited island. One of the rare sightings on our way was of a marine Iguana resting comfortably on the banks. Night falls pretty fast inside the forest. The thick undergrowth and tall trees with canopy-like shades block the light, and suddenly, we were engulfed in darkness.
Among the numerous insects were some rather testy mosquitoes. With little time to waste, we tied our hammocks before actual nightfall set in (when it can get really dark). We started a fire to cook our meal, and also to ward off the swarming insects. Our feast for the night — sumptuous servings of rice and roasted chicken, prepared with care by Rosario.
Much to our surprise, we dozed off comfortably in our hammocks, with many creaky sounds and numerous creepy crawlies around us. At night, a few tarantulas and giant termites (“termito” in Portuguese) and a few occasional moths and mosquitoes paid us a visit. A handful of giant termites that had already bloodied Rosario’s feet, managed to meander their way under my son’s hammock. But, thankfully, it was okay in the end.
The myth of the Amazon is amplified by gory tales of piranhas and anacondas. Though we did not manage to see an anaconda, we did get to fish for piranhas. Yes, we did! So what if it’s a creature with razor-sharp teeth that loves gnawing at flesh and reducing animals to mere skeletons in seconds? Hah, aren’t we on top of the food chain, we told ourselves, to bolster some much-needed courage.
On one of the afternoons, we sat down with our fishing rods, baits and supply of Brahmas (Brazil’s favourite beer). By nightfall, we had 14 piranhas for dinner. If you’re up for the challenge, you can jump in the same waters to have a swim, as the locals do.
Piranhas are more human than us apparently, and they don’t attack unless they smell blood. So we plunged into the waters. My son, being a very good swimmer, explored the depths, while we stayed back on the bank.
We spent all of day three trekking in the jungle with Rosario. Without a guide, it is nearly impossible to find your way around. Thick undergrowth cuts through your flesh. It’s advisable to wear long pants. And it’s easy to lose your way.
For an unexpected treat, we munched on insects that are supposed to be rich in protein, and we drank from the bark of a tree. We also inserted our hands into ant hills, to use them as mosquito repellent! Well, in the end, it was all bliss.
After diverse experiences from holding an alligator to befriending an Amazonian tapir — one of the most endangered species on the planet — to canoeing in the river, visiting locals and of course savouring each morsel of our meals, it was finally time for us to bid adieu to this exotic paradise.
A night of football
But then, what is Brazil without football? The story is true about the Amazon too. There is no provision for big grounds. So they convert islands into grounds, which double up as night clubs on Fridays and Saturdays.
As luck had it, we had a Saturday to spare in between. Moises asked if we would like to visit a nightclub. After piranhas, alligators, sleeping in hammocks, a nightclub visit in the wilderness was definitely worth a try. Under a starry sky, our boat chugged on through the night. With no headlights, we only had a search lamp to navigate our way — a challenge to many, but for Moises, it was just another regular task. The aroma of barbequed Churrasco, prime cut meat, in small makeshift eateries, filled the air. Men and women with beer in hand were swaying to some Portuguese music. Children were playing football. The men too got a spot of football.
Goalposts were erected in one corner, and nets were spread behind it, so that the ball didn’t fall in the water. A few small bets were placed too.
Acai of relief
Acai, a fruit native to the Amazon, is known as a super food, famous for nutritional properties and considered to be good for anti-ageing and weight-loss. Though we were in the off-season, Rosario took us to his home, where he showed us a tree laden with Acai ready to be harvested. With a scalpel in hand, he climbed the tree and cut down the entire bunch. As the fruits fell on the ground with a thud, the thought crossed my mind, what more can one ask for?
How to Reach Manaus
The main entrance to the rainforest is from Manaus, capital of Amazonas. One can reach there either by flight (from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia) and by boat from close-by places.
Where to stay: There are a number of hotels in Manaus suitable for every budget. It is advisable to book your hotel in advance.
Manaus to the rainforest: You have to go through a tour operator. Most registered operators are safe, and bound to have an interpreter at hand. Be specific about what you’re looking for and tell them in advance.
Packages start from a single day to four-five days. There are boat deals as well.
Where we stayed: Pousada Recanto Do Macarico, Careiro, State of Amazonas, Brazil
Contact person: Moises Rodrigues
Tour operator: Jean Rodrigues
Total expenditure: $500 per head for four nights and five days (all inclusive). To get discounts, contact the owner directly. These prices are only for the Amazon tours, and do not include airfare.