Desperate by now to actually get in amongst the jungle of the Amazon, we booked ourselves onto a 3 day tour with a company recommended by Anne and Harvard (the Norwegian couple we met on the Salt Flats tour), called Iguana. We were met by the driver and taken to the office where we were then taken off by another driver to the boat dock to take the speed boat to the other side of the river. This experience was cool as we were able to see the crossing of the rivers, where the waters from Colombia, Brazil and Peru all meet as one. It was clear to see the distinction between two of them as the densities of the black water and more yellowy one allowed the differences to be more evident. We were asked to put our hands in the water to feel the different temperature, but if I am honest, I couldn’t feel anything!
Next we continued to the dock where we were met by another driver who took us to his VW van and we all piled in. Andy decided we should take the back as two of our travelling companions looked like they needed more room. Unfortunately this meant a rather puketastic 1 hour journey to the next dock. Despite feeling like I was either going to be sick or be flung off the road by the crazy driver, it was amazing to see the lushness and vastness of the rainforest begin to unfold before us.
Eventually we reached a wee dock in the middle of nowhere and this is when the real excitement set in. I have wanted to visit the Amazon for years, ever since I can remember, and knowing that my ancestor was once paddling down this area, combined with the fact that I knew how much my granddad would love every second of this experience, helped add to the amazing feeling welling up inside of me. This only increased as we boarded the long boat (speedy one at that) which darted about the trees growing out of the river for a good forty minutes. We must only have passed one more boat of tourists and a few small huts and inhabited areas on the way. It truly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
We arrived at our destination on the Juma river and were shown to our dorm room in the lodge at the top of some steep steps, looking out onto the river; river dolphins popping out of the water every few seconds. It was stunning! After some lunch we had a few hours to chill before going out on the boat with our guide Titan. We took this opportunity to hang in the hammocks on the decking of the lodge and try and catch up on some sleep. After a while Titan got us and Filip (annoying German guy) together to head off to look at dolphins and do a spot of piranha fishing (the other couple with us at the start had returned to the mainland after unexpectedly finding out the wife was pregnant. Why she couldn’t stay in the Amazon I have no idea, but each to their own!).
On the trip down river we were fortunate to come across a heap of cayman and witness an array of grey and pink river dolphins jumping out of the water. The sun was beginning to set as we then parked the boat up in the reeds for some piranha fishing. Nearby there were locals going along the river in their own version of a wakeboard, which was causing much amusement to the local onlookers when they fell in. All I could think was how I would not want to be falling into the water here, although it turns out that the piranhas are not as deadly as made out in the films. Still I wouldn’t fancy the risk!
During the fishing I was able to catch a meagre 3 fish, compared to ‘Bravo Mike’ (Filip). Mind you when I compare it to Andy’s catch, and by that I mean only catch of the day, which was a baby about the size of my ear, it wasn’t at all bad. That night was spent heading out cayman hunting, where Titan demonstrated his fantastic skills at reaching into the water and dragging out a one and a half metre long cayman, and then us touching a smaller one. We returned to the camp for dinner and headed off for an early night.
The next morning we arose early, ready for the busy day ahead. We set off just after 5 to go and watch the sunrise from the boat on the river, however were unfortunately met with a cloudy start to the day. It was still an amazing and relaxing experience; thinking that I am usually listening to cds with the noise of the rainforest to relax me, whereas here I was lying on a boat taking it all in…the world was waking up! After some breakfast we crossed the river and headed into the rainforest. Trapsing through the wet leaves, with no idea of what was beneath my feet and what would rear it’s ugly head with every step I took, we ambled on deeper into the forest. Titan took us off into the thicket; cutting down palms and trees with his machete as he went.
We were shown a small nut on the floor containing what was apparently a white nut on the inside. We were offered the opportunity to try this ‘nut’, which looked remarkably like a huge white maggot and had the consistency of one too. “Yes it is a nut, honestly try it!” I was informed. My response clearly stated that I was not stupid and as if I thought that was a nut! So it was with all my strength that I reached to my inner depths, held tight to my fear of maggots, controlled my maggot attack devices and put the ‘nut’ into my mouth; biting down through half of it and swallowing! “Ewww!”Yes it did taste like a nut, apparently due to it’s diet, and non-surprisingly I was proved correct in my classification of species and the lack of ‘nutness’ of the grub.
Heading further into the forest, hot and ridiculously sweaty, we stopped to look at various other interesting flora and fauna on the way; including brazil nuts, a tree from whose branches you could drink dripping water and finally Quinine. For me this was great to see as it was what made Richard Spruce famous, since he brought this back from the Amazon; introducing it to the western world. It turns out that it comes from the bark of a tree and tastes absolutely disgusting if you suck on the bark.
Titan decided to play a bit of a game by pretending that he was lost and we were stranded in the midst of the forest. I must admit there were a couple of minutes where I was dubious about his knowledge of where we were, but all turned out well in the end and three hours later we stepped back onto the boat; me with a newly decorated shoulder and arm of the latest mosquito bite collection! Back for some lunch and then we were given some down time before heading into the forest for the night, with the new arrivals; Mr ‘I never smile’ Ukranian, and the excited by everything in life pretty cool Israeli.
The weather had turned and we managed to just make it to camp in time for the rain to begin lashing it down. No time to waste; we were sent off to collect firewood for cooking dinner on, which allowed Andy’s Bear Gryll’s style skills to fully shine through. Working like a machine, various dead trees were chopped down and macheted into perfect burning sizes, whilst I collected some kindling.
Now that camp was established we needed to go and catch ourselves some food, so we headed off on the boat in the pouring rain with a handful of beers to go fishing. As Titan only had one decent rod we left him in charge, while Andy took on the role of driving the boat and I helped with some paddling (which of course my little chum had to get involved with too, as being a woman I was not at all capable of paddling on my own!!?!).
After an hour or so Titan reeled in a huge fish, which I have forgotten the name of, and must have weighed in at a good 4 or 5 kilos. Unfortunately he didn’t hit it over the head hard enough and it lay there next to me on the boat looking up at me as it struggled for life and finally took it’s last breath half an hour later. I made it a promise that we would eat every part and not leave any of it to waste. Titan cleaned and gutted it on the boat. It turned out that the fish had not long had a good feed and in it’s stomach we found a whole fish; decomposed.
We went back to camp and Titan and Andy got started on the fire. Andy was now the favourite as he had demonstrated his awesome jungle skills and gained the respect of our guide. A whole chicken was spread-eagled in a rather ungainly fashion onto some wood, while the fish was wrapped in palm leaves and rested on a makeshift skewer over the flames. Despite the rain we stayed outside chatting and drinking beer with the smell of wood smoke and the yummy food around us. Eventually it was cooked and what a treat lay before us. I cannot describe how fresh the fish was and so meaty. Although plain, it tasted absolutely delicious and we ate until we were totally stuffed. It was such a great night and I was ecstatically happy feeling so at one with nature and the outdoors. These are the moments that mean so much to me and when I feel so contented.
It was starting to get late – 9pm! So we decided to call it a night and settled into our hammocks, I am not going to lie; I did have a hissy fit that I was going to suffocate under my mosquito blanket (rather than net), but all was fine in the end and I slept like a baby listening to the sounds of the rainforest around us. Waking in the morning with a full bladder I headed behind a tree, worried some kind of creature was going to jump me. I then lay in my hammock waiting for everyone else to wake up just taking in the serenity and amazing sounds all around, taking in each new bird as it woke and sang it’s morning song to the world.
After a short while Titan and Andy arose and rekindled the fire to make some coffee. We sipped on this and munched on some pineapple while Titan demonstrated to me how the locals weave bracelets. I loved this. Especially as in the background Andy was giving a lecture on piracy in the Indian Ocean to the rest of the group, with diagrams being drawn in the mud from twigs and everything!
Another awesome time sat around the fire was had and we decided it would only be right to have a beer at 8am, since we had been up for a couple of hours or so anyway, before heading back onto the boat. We stopped off on the way home to visit a local family where we learned about how they lived and saw some of the local plants and fruits that grow in the area. We made it back to the lodge for lunch and then a very sad Anneliese and Andy boarded the boat back to the mainland, not wanting to leave the serenity and beauty of this place. We retraced our steps, where it seemed that every driver was intent on killing us as the once 40 minute boat journey was completed in 15 minutes, the 50 minute drive was completed in half an hour (with various near-death moments on the way)and the final boat journey we seemed to spend more time in the air than on the water.
Still we made it back to Manaus alive and prepared ourselves for the 4am departure to Brazil by eating a heap of pizza and hanging out for hours on the floor of the airport! But hey…Rio de Janeiro was waiting for us and we were not going to let the inconvenience of a missed night’s sleep hamper our mood.