What I Actually Did in the Amazon

Our 6 days/5 nights Amazon tour took us to a variety of locations: first night at the lodge, second night with a family, third and fourth nights camping in the jungle, last night at the lodge again.

The description of the tour originally had an emphasis on trekking and jungle survival. While I wouldn’t call what we did a trek – we did some good walks through the jungle but nothing near the extent we were imagining – we agreed that it was better this way. The jungle does get repetitive and the best way to see the Amazon seems to be on the water, so the mixture of activities we did resulted in two very satisfied customers who will rave about this week for a long time.

Day 1 we met our companions for part of the trip – Gwen from France and Carolina from Belgium had scheduled 4 days – and journeyed by boat over the Meeting of the Waters, then by van, and again by boat, before arriving at the lodge.

The lodge was so much better than I was picturing. It was low key, with docks to jump off into the water, hammocks outside our rooms and a big hut we ate our meals in. After lunch one of the guys who works at the lodge took us out to his family’s house, where we learned how to shoot a spear using a bow and the guys played a pretty intense game of soccer. We traveled back as the sun was setting, and ended our night on the early side with dinner and a game of hearts. We had to wake up early for sunrise.

Day 2 we went out with Nelson in the morning to see sunrise, when we saw the pink dolphins swim by, and then for a post-breakfast walk. He showed us important trees and let us play like kids, swinging on vines, climbing trees, and weaving crowns and fans out of palm fronds, as well as using them as props in some entertaining pictures.

After a swim and lunch we all participated in the Amazon tradition of reading and napping in hammocks. I was woken up by our guide, Mathias, who informed me that we would be leaving around 4. Carolina had arranged for a night with a family so we were all going to the family’s house.

It was interesting to see how a large family lives in the Amazon. Their home has one bedroom for the parents, one for all the kids (8 live there now, 6 more are in Manaus), a room that acts as a living room or a guest bedroom where we hung up our hammocks, and a kitchen/dining area. The property is large, and on it they grow mostly what they need to survive. They also have an oversized skillet in which they make their own farofa from manioc. There are ducks, cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, chickens, and so many insects all over the place.

The kids were fascinated by our cameras and by Carolina’s very long dreadlocks. I’ve read travelers stories about kids playing with cameras and felt like a stereotype when I let the kids take control of my not-so-cheap camera just because of how excited they were. But this is a common traveler story for a reason – it’s a small thing to do that brings joy to these kids, and when you can’t speak to them it’s something that you can do together.

That night we took the boat out for the first time searching for caiman. Mathias’s headlamp is pretty much a searchlight, and all we could see was the eyes of the caiman glowing red above the water. He spotted a snake from far away and took us closer to see it wrapped around a tree. As soon as it saw us it moved further up the tree, and even though this meant Mathias couldn’t catch it anymore, it was still fascinating to watch it move.

Day 3 we ate breakfast with the family before going fishing. I caught a piranha! We shared our three small piranha (Carolina, Gwen and I all caught them, Bobby was unsuccessful, but he made up for it later) and some chicken we brought with the family for lunch, who shared their fish with us from their much more successful morning. Then we set out to camp in the jungle.

Finally. I was so excited to get out into the jungle, and judging by how the last two days of the trip went I was right to be so excited. Our first evening was largely occupied with setting up camp, finding firewood, building a fire, and cooking dinner. The structure of the camp was already there, so we just had to hang our hammocks and mosquito nets and a tarp to cover them all. We talked over dinner about a wide range of topics, from political discussions to Chuck Norris jokes. It’s always interesting to hear what people from different countries want to talk about and their opinions on the subjects. After dinner we ventured out on the water again but it was short-lived; we had to race back to camp to beat the looming rain clouds. We made it back just in time – the rain came as soon as we were under our tarp.

Day 4 I woke up last (thank god for ear plugs) and breakfast and coffee were already ready. We set off on a jungle walk with Mathias to learn more survival skills, and apparently to see a ton of scary insects. We saw a tarantula, which he took out of its hole so we could all pet it, and the most poisonous spider in the jungle. Later that night we would see the scorpion spider, which has two arms just full of teeth. This is also the walk when I was stung by a wasp, mere minutes after seeing an ant whose sting is so powerful that it feels like you’ve been shot and hurts for 24 hours. Naturally I was a little worried. But I was lucky, this pain would only last for about 2 hours.

After our walk it was time for Gwen and Carolina to leave, so we all went out in the boat to say bye and so Bobby and I could take a quick swim, aka our shower. Then it was time for lunch and the customary post-lunch hammock nap before trying our luck at fishing again. We had no luck. Dinner was chicken, and this is when it all turned around. After agreeing it was the best meal in a while (I like to take credit for the idea to put the pineapple on the fire too) we set out to try our hand at spear fishing.

We all speared fish! I caught a peacock bass, which ended up being one of my favorite things I ate the whole trip. The only downside was the overwhelming number of spiders we encountered. Have I mentioned spiders are my biggest fear? Every time I went to push off on a tree there was a spider there. And I’m not talking the little guys you find in the states. The smallest spiders were maybe 3 inches. There were spiders that walked on water, ones that had huge webs our boat barely missed passing by, and ones that loomed in holes in the trees. And thanks to the even more terrifying wasps that are attracted to headlamps, we frequently had to turn our lights off and glide past our new friends in pitch black. This was easily 10 of the worst minutes of my life. But hey, we made it out alive, and with a few new fish to eat. At least now when I see a spider I don’t even react anymore. I did learn a valuable lesson: if you don’t bother them, they won’t move. That’s better than the wasps. Those things just attack.

Day 5 was the winner. After breakfast we cleaned up camp and were packing up the boat when a fishing rod that was just hanging over the edge started moving – we had a bite! Mathias rushed us into the boat and we all dropped in our lines. Then Bobby had his moment: he caught the largest piranha you can in this region, the black piranha. He then proceeded to catch 3 more piranha of different varieties.

Feeling good about today, we made our way back to the lodge and spotted all kinds of wildlife, including some howler monkeys playing in the tallest trees. Swim, lunch, hammock nap, and it was time to go on a search for sloths. Mathias took us into the middle of the lake and we slowly searched the treetops. I have no idea how he is able to spot the things he sees, but he found a sloth curled up in a tree and paddled over. He tied up the boat, climbed up the tree, and we got to meet the sloth. What we didn’t know when he went to get her was that she had a baby sloth clinging to her! So we met and held mom and baby sloth, taking so many pictures and videos. We were ridiculously giddy about this encounter.

We said bye to our new friends and went bird watching and sunset gazing before heading back to the lodge to devour our catches from spearfishing the night before and piranha fishing that morning. At night we attempted spear fishing again but the area wasn’t working. What we did find though were a couple caiman – first Mathias caught one and then Bobby grabbed one. So even with the lack of fish, this night was a success.

Day 6 started with sunrise, our last one on the Amazon, and then more wildlife watching – toucans and iguanas this time. We packed up our stuff, got a final beer for the road, and were on our way back to civilization by 9:30 am. I had to catch a flight at 3.

Rereading this post before publishing, I know I’m leaving things out. This is the shortest I could possibly describe this week. We did and saw so much on all our jungle walks and boat adventures that it’s just not possible to relay everything in a blog post; this is already too long.

So in summary, I’ll just say that the combination of activities, led by our incredibly knowledgeable guide Mathias, gave us an excellent overview of life in the Amazon. If you have ever thought about going there, go, and stay for a while; the most exciting part of our trip was the last two days in the jungle. It was hard to say goodbye to the fascinating world of the Amazon. I know this week will stick out in my memory for a long time.

 

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