When a person thinks of the Amazon they are usually thinking of a grandly thick canopy providing a ray of sunlight here and there to the forest floor. However, the reality is much different from in the movies and in the picture books. The jungle is hot, humid, and every step you take you are followed by a trail of ten mosquitoes that you can feel when they bite, and it hurts! Those who visit the Amazon are recommend to take Yellow Fever shots and Malaria Pills; because, mosquitoes are in fact not only everywhere, but full of opportunity to provide you with some disease. One element that nobody mentions either are ticks. Ticks are not only a pain, but can also transmit disease. If you come in the rainy season your benefits are increased chance of fauna spotting and a lesser chance of ticks, versus in the dry season an increased chance of ticks, less mosquitoes, less fauna to view, but a better chance of fishing. Despite all that information, it is a beautiful place and a corner of the world that should be protected. The challenge lies with the person on whether they wish to visit the Amazon, and then should they wish a “Day Tour” or a “Jungle Tour”.
On the day we did our day tour we were picked up first in a van, and then proceeded to collect the rest of the people in our group. We actually had an extremely dry day which is helpful, and lucky because we were only starting to enter the dry season. It was still considered the wet season in Manaus. After collecting all of the other tourists whom aside from us, were all Brazilian or Hispanic we boarded a nice boat and headed out to see the meeting of the waters. In the meeting of the waters we were explained that the Solimões River (Amazon River) is the richer river for fauna (including mosquitoes), runs from the Andes mountain, and is colder and denser. In comparison the Rio Negro starts in Columbia and is warmer, and moves much slower than the Amazon River. In addition the Rio Negro gets its coloration from the decay of plant life and debris in its fairly acidic water, as such it is referred to as the river of hunger; because, it is much harder to get fish or see life near the river.
While we went around the river we got to see Amazonian Gray River Dolphins jumping and swimming between the two rivers, but all the while we had the most obnoxious man behind us. He was always on his phone recording videos and he talked so loud that it was impossible to tune him out, and his recordings were horrible. For example, he would say in Portuguese, “Here we are everyone in the middle of the Amazon! It is a fabulous day with all good people and you must just be jealous of me!” He did this all day, and would get in front of other tourists to do the video. After the meeting of the waters, we went to see an arapaima, or pirarucu farm. As a tourist you were able to pay $5 reais to a catch an arapaima, at which Adam took full advantage and did it a mere 3 times. From there we headed to a nearby floating restaurant where we saw the Victoria Regia (Victoria Amazonica) or more commonly known as the Giant Lily Pads and more squirrel monkeys, before eating a lunch buffet floating along the river.
Once everyone had consumed a substantial amount of nutrients we headed to see the Pink Amazonian River Dolphins. Adam and I did see them, but we did not get in the water where some other tourists did. I have heard that some of the dolphins are kept in nets for tourists, ours did not appear to be; because, we did not see a net, and they told us prior to heading their that 90% of the time they are there, but it is not a guarantee. One would be able to guarantee 100% if they were kept in a net.
For the final part of the day we visited a tribe of the Tuyuka people. They began by explaining their tribes ways, for example they are taught to speak both Portuguese and their native language, and are given both a “White Man” name and a tribal name. In addition they are not permitted to marry inside their tribes, as they are all considered brother and sister in a tribe. Thus tribes make arrangements for their kin to marry to another. After a brief introduction they showed us a series of three dances: a dance to honor the Gods, dance to honor Mother Nature, and a dance to invite the guests. Adam was the first selected, and I not soon later; however, I was selected by the Chief’s son (which I did not know, Adam had to tell me). After a very welcoming reception we were allowed to explore. I chose to have my face painted, which they do with a red fruit (it is hard to wash off), we held their village sloth, and tried some cooked ants (which were incredibly smoky).
The reality is that these tribes are more designed for a show. They do in fact carry elements of their tribe, but they have been seperated from their original tribe due to a pressure to move closer to a city; because, of the “whites” starving them. The more genuine tribes would be closer to Roraima (another region of Brazil still encompassed by the Amazon). We later found out that many of those Native tribes near Manaus do dances sometimes 10 dances a day! In addition later after their work they head back to a seperate village that the tourist does not see. These houses are all more modern then you would expect and each house has a cell phone, if not a TV as well. The exception to this was found to be the Chief that kept dressed authentically and lived in a traditional hut. In truth it is quite sad, but slowly their culture is dying and they are fighting to keep it alive.
Now, when it comes to the jungle we had an entirely different experience. The day we were picked it up it was raining. Typical for a morning in the Amazon, right?! Then we were the last to be collected before heading to the port where we disembarked, dropped our suitcases off, and killed time by having our guide explain the various fish to us. Once we finally got in the boat we re-visited the meeting of the waters. For Adam and I it was less exciting and not as informative as the day before, but for the other tourists it was new. After a decent boat ride we arrived at a poor village where we proceeded to catch a bus, (this particular village grow crops which they sell at the market in the morning in Manaus). The road we took goes all the way to Peru; however, it was only operational for up to 200 km; because, an American couple were swept under on bridge that collapsed.
After a good 45 minutes in the bus we stopped in another village by the river, where it had begun to rain, but we had to get in the river. So, we all put on our ponchos and over an hour later we arrived at the jungle lodge. My particular boat had the most weight and so we took the longest, but when we got there I found Adam at the bar drinking away and relaxing. Once we all got off the boats we headed to the main lodge where we ate a buffet lunch, then put our suitcases away in our private cabin (you have to pay extra for that or you sleep above the kitchen in shared accommodation). After we had had sometime to relax Adam, two visitors from Hong Kong, and I went canoeing in the evening. The canoeing was by far the best activity; because, not only was it fun, informative and exciting, but our guide was knowledgable. We proceeded through the flooded forest where we saw: sloths, bats, monkeys, gray river dolphins, macaws, heard toucans, saw loads and loads of spiders that walk on water, and falling iguanas. The falling iguanas have the natural predator known as the eagle, so as a response whenever they see something that scares them, such as people in a canoe, they jump into the river to hide. They are so abundant in the trees in the place we went; because, during the dry season they lay their eggs there. After a thrilling day, the plan had been to go cayman spotting, but due to it being a Friday they could not get a local guide, and with caymans they require a local guide plus our guide.
The following day after breakfast we went hiking through the forest, and I can say now no amount of bug sprays keeps away or prepares you for the amount of mosquitoes. They not only hurt, but are constantly buzzing in your ear. Despite the difficulties of mosquitoes we found rosewood which is used for perfume, a tree used for gum, a tree that the locals use to make rope, the communicating tree which is what the Natives bang sticks on to communicate in case they are lost, the walking tree where if its vines snap it literally relocates itself, and the spiky tree which has spikes that are not only a defense mechanism, but also a means of collecting nutrients by any following leaves or debris. We also found some ants which they Natives rub all over themselves as a protection from mosquitoes (Adam was the only one who tried it aside from the guide and it seemed to last much better than the bug spray). Their was a tarantula as well whom we saw briefly, but it was too wet and he did not want to come back out. We tried to see some bullet ants, but to no avail. Our guide also explained that with the Natives they use bullet ants for the men as a right of passage. The boy when becoming a man must be bitten several times by the bullet ants, and left to suffer through the pain. It is suppose to be incredibly painful and leaving a fever for 72 hours. I on the way out of the jungle walked right into a tree branch as I was wearing a cap and did not see it, and in case you have never walked into a tree before, I will tell you it hurts.
After the jungle we relaxed, had lunch, and waited for what felt like forever for the next group to arrive. Once they arrived we went piranha fishing, (they are a nightmare because they always steal your bait), and in addition only one in our group caught a one. It was a red bellied piranha, which is considered the most dangerous because it attacks in groups. Soon after the piranha experience I started to feel a bit unwell in the stomach, and chose not to eat dinner. Our guide then had to explain in addition she would only take us and the two travelers from Hong Kong; because, like the day before there was no local guide, so she was using a guy to drive the boat that is responsible for the bar at the entrance of the lodge. Our guide then managed to take us and find a baby speckled cayman. She collected him from the water and informed us he must be about six months old; because, up until three they stay with their mothers. We took him back to the lodge where she explained his anatomy to the rest of the group, but not before the cayman peed on one the Hong Kong travelers! After that it all went very wrong for me. I felt not only ill, but went straight to bed while Adam went looking for the Brazilian Wandering Spider while I rested. Soon after Adam returned I had to run to the toilet, and sadly we lost all electricity so it was hot, humid, and pitch black. I returned to bed and not long later on I returned to the toilet, but this time vomiting as well. The same thing happened once more in the evening and by the time in the morning I had lost all appetite and merely wanted to go back to Rio. Sadly, I had to wait until 13:30 to be picked up before taking the long journey back on a boat, bus, boat, and then wait until 23:00 to catch a plane overnight to Rio that still stopped in another town at 3 in the morning.
The most impressive things I have taken away from this adventure is that there are no words to traveling with someone you love, because while it is an adventure you have someone there to be there with you every step of the way. I was grossly ill and where was Adam? He was holding my hair in the bathroom and helping me into bed. In addition while the Amazon is beautiful, nothing prepares you for the amount of insects, being out in truly the middle of nowhere, and the chance to be ill (I have traveled a lot and always take a medical bag, but that was the sickest I have ever been).
Lastly, while Adam may be a person that can handle and enjoy the more jungle experience. I preferred the day trip; because, not only did I get to return to civilization later but it leaves me with so many questions in the aspects of how is tourism really affecting these communities. The difference is that in the jungle their is no forgiveness and the people of Manaus knew that during their construction and through now, but it is also a beautiful place that is like nowhere else on Earth we such a diversity that we need to protect. As my final piece of trivia we were gifted with information that Guyana is an excelled option as a place to return to in the Amazon, because unlike in Manaus where your best chance to see a jaguar would be with a local tribe (whom keep different exotic animals) in Guyana you see them wild or their tracks. You also see agoutis running wild, toucans flying above, and a great deal more nature; because, it is practically undeveloped in the way of tourism. In addition the tribes there are incredibly genuine, for example we were explained of a tribe that lives under the mountain and their skin is so pale that you can see their veins through their skin. Another country, in a different situation to learn more about in the future!