At the heart of the Amazon rainforest!
Since we left Balneário Camboriu, we traveled 4000 km to Manaus, north of this great country. This city of 2 million inhabitants, (70% are descendants of Indians), is located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest along the Rio Negro, the « Black River ».
The day after our arrival, our guide Jose picked us up to take us to spend four days in a small remote area of the jungle!
For practical Purposes, the English version of this blog is Google Translated. If there’s anything weird in the text, it’s probably Either Because of That, or you know, ’cause we are Actually a little weird!
The meeting of two waters
We boarded a boat with two other French tourists. We sailed on the first Rio Negro river that bears its name well. Indeed, its color is a deep black due to the decomposition of the leaves of trees, which come to be mixed with water. It then joins the Solimões river, which is sand color.
The meeting of two waters offer an amazing sight! Both colors are juxtaposed and appear in patches and then nothing more than light brown.
The Solimões River is cooler, faster and bigger, so it wins the clash of the waters ! Thus forming the vast Amazon River. Especially impressive when you consider it reaches a width of 300 km at its delta.
After 40 minutes, we take a short passage that leads to the « electric fish Lake ». Blue and yellow birds fly our way as to welcome us. A rainbow emerges just in front of us.
We arrived at the right time: In the rainy season, this arm of the Amazon is passable by boat as the water rises between 8 and 15 meters, thus covering the plants and trees. We are then just an hour away from our destination. In the dry season, the river thins and it would have taken 3 hours to get through.
We enjoy every moment of this journey. It’s so amazing to be there in the Amazon!
A hotel like no other
Through the trees, we see a pontoon. The boat is approaching to drop us. On the bank, we guess the woven palm leaves roofs of some huts. We are still moving forward and then discover the lobby, restaurant and relaxation areas. Everything is made of wood and fits perfectly into the landscape. This lodge is in an area surrounded by forest.
There are very few residents because it is not a tourist season. Foreigners prefer to come during the dry season (July to December) because you can see more animals.
Our room, a small cabin, is amazing ! For four days, this is perfect. It is dark because the roof is low to protect from the rain. The windows are covered with a mosquito net … That has not prevented a few mosquitoes and hairy spiders from getting in !
The refuge of the Amazon Robinsons
A nice hammock hangs over the entrance but we did not try it. Our roommates, five bats sleeping right above it, have deterred Cecile.
No hot water, no electricity. To read or have dinner, we light a candle!
Candlelit dinner … every night!
The alarm is quite unusual: the sawyers, huge beetles, go to work. They start sawing branches of the surrounding trees at 6am. And we can tell you that the noise is the same as an electric saw!
Yellow eyes in the dark
On the first evening, after a good dinner, our guide takes us on a boat in search of alligators!
We leave all excited (and Cecile is a little stressed !).
The water is like a mirror, the trees are reflected beautifully.
Our guide cut the engine and lets the boat drift among the trees, silently. Then he goes into the water. I can not stop watching either side of the boat if there is not a big crocodile who will jump on us! And our guide comes back with a 70 centimeters (30 inches)-long little alligator .
Still not afraid!
We waited for the night because it is better to spot caimans. In fact, they are easy to spot with a flashlight because it makes their eyes shine, that just protrude above the water. (The alligators can not breathe in water, so they remain on the surface.)
With the animal in his hands, our guide tells us a whole lot of things : you eat the tail of the alligator because this is where the flesh is, it can measure up to 3 meters, the temperature at which eggs are laid determine whether it be male or female … What really caught my attention is that, unlike the male who eats his kind, the female does everything to protect her cubs. And it takes me no more to feed my already fertile imagination!
That did not stop me from touch and hold this little 140-teeth gator !
The sound of drums
On the way back, we hear songs, prayers, drums not far away. José explains that a group of Protestants take a group of young people (12-18 y.o) under its wing for a week to get them out of drugs and crime. It is a common thing here in Manaus, for these young people! It is through religion that they will try to find a healthier life.
The next instant, a guide shows me not far from our pier a yellow eye that shines just above the water!
I realized that here nobody cares because the animals are afraid, fleeing men.
The sound of the guitar and singing remains as a background as we join other tourists to end the evening.
Survival training in the jungle
The next morning, José takes us into the jungle! The vegetation is dense, the trees are high but much less impressive than upriver.
We walk in the forest that belongs to the hotel. It is protected, but hikes are frequent and animals such as jaguars, tapirs and the Black Panthers have fled long ago. But that we do only learn afterwards. Meanwhile, Sebastian makes good use of the compass on his phone, just in case …
Throughout the ride, our guide immerses us in the heart of the Amazonian life! In his accounts of the Indians, medicinal plants and animals, José takes us into another world.
It shows us that we can make a torch with the sap of a « oil tree , » we can make very strong ropes with soft fibers that are found under the bark of trees, we can use the sap of certain trees against cough or against diarrhea …
He shows us mounds, that are home to giant ants 4cm long (almost 2 inches)…
Termites and ants build huge nests!
We also get a surprise encounter with a crab spider, the size of a man’s hand.
It takes us time before getting to see the captain of the forest, a little bird, leaf color, singing to announce the rain from afar. We see a Toucan. And a black monkey jumping from branch to branch.
José explains that Indian cover their bodies with small ants when they hunt, because their eating toxins on the skin, will eliminate the odor. Thus they are able to hunt without being detected by the animals. One of their rites of passage to adult is to put their hand in a pot of giant ants (their sting is poisonous). We discover how they make a trap, a blowgun, use curare.
Today, 200,000 Indians live on the reserve (a special permit is needed to go there). They were one million not so long ago. They maintain their lifestyle while others have joined the modern civilization. At school, they have a specific course to perpetuate their culture.
This arm of the Amazon, where we sail, is somewhat surprising. Here the water level goes from 0 to 8 or 15 meters in the space of six months due to heavy rains and melting glaciers in the Andes. Some trees are completely covered with water, others have some overhanging branches and others have only waterfront. So the mode of transport is the boat! Some shops are floating, some houses too. We also see on stilts. The small village we visit is flooded one meter for 15 days. During this period, people live upstairs in their house.
The owner of the land on which the village resides is a carpenter. We meet an old woman engaged in fishing for dinner. Electricity has been recently installed and a parabola can be glimpsed. On Sunday, residents of surrounding houses meet for a soccer tournament where the trophy is an ox or a pig!
I also remember from this village the beautiful macaws that flew over us when we arrived. It’s so magical to see those yellow and blue parrots in their natural habitat!
On the way back, we had the chance to observe vultures drying their wings on the shore or a lazy slooooooowly joining another lazy eating leaves just as slowly.
Once again, we’re back on the boat ! The guides take us in a corner among the trees to catch piranhas.
According to the brief explanations of our guide, it seems easy. Equipped with our fishing rod, everyone stands up and remains cautious. Everyone secretly hopes no one will capsize the little boat!
The fishing technique is as follows: we need to make noise in the water with the tip of the fishing rod and start the meat (hanging on the hook) and wait without moving. When it bites, pull sharply. And it is this last part that is complicated.
For Sebastianand I, this is our first piranha fishing party, and even our first fishing session of any short. At the end of Sebastien’s line, it’s open buffet for the fish ! Piranhas come to eat themselves full, slyly avoiding the hook. Fortunately, our friends are doing better, which allowed us to see what looks like a piranha.
Then we leave for another fishing area. And there is the heyday of Sebastian! He managed to catch a sardine …! Not bad! Well, he must return the small fish to the water after having removed the hook, not without damage.
After recovering from this painful experience, Sebastian decided not to fish anymore without actually eating the fish.
The Amazon and the Amazon …
So pleased with the experience we made our way back to the city, still savoring the joy of being on this legendary river.
Anecdote: The Amazon River is named after the Portuguese. When they boarded a matriarchal Indian tribe attacked them savagely. These women used to have children with other Indian tribes and kill the boys. The Portuguese compared them to the Amazons of mythology and the name stuck.
Warm evenings in Manaus
A tremendous deluge awaits us when we return to Manaus! We understand now why the river grows so much in this season.
But at the end of the day, the rain stops, making the town quiet . We spent our two nights in Manaus on the nice square in front of the Teatro Amazonas. Here, couples meet, walk, hug and kiss on the benches. At the terrace of a cafe, a Portuguese artist sings romantic songs.
The Teatro Amazonas in Manaus
The first night we met again with a German couple met during our stay in the forest. We had dinner on the terrace with them. The second night, we just enjoyed the romantic atmosphere of the Teatro Square.
Now a long flight awaits us to reach Argentina, the second country on our journey!