Phew, we survived the deep jungle. There was no way we were going to get out of there without battle scars, with wave after wave of mosquito making a feast of our European skins. In total we’ve counted about 50 bites, in spite of the gallons of deet we applied. Let’s chalk this one up to a unique experience than, shall we? Besides, we had our capirinhas and cachaça to keep those pests at bay.
We were told to meet our driver at 8AM, for he would take us to the boat that would take us to the jungle. Knowing Brazilian time, we were well prepared for 9AM. The two Germans who would join us for the few days in the Amazon (Feodore and Hartmut) were ready and waiting when we swung by their hotel. The next leg took us to Claudio’s house/hostel. Fem had been in contact with a certain Eduardo for about six months, exchanging information and itineraries, so we thought we would be greeted by him. Instead, Eduardo was nowhere to be found. We found out later that the tour had all ‘merged into one’. All quite strange and a bit of a waste of time and research by Fem. Anyway, we arrived at the hostel to wait for James, our transferee and allround kuk praater. While we waited, a tourist police officer sat and ate breakfast while showing us picture after picture of how good he looked on his motorbike. Not quite sure why he was there?
Stuffing our bags into the back of a taxi, off we went to the port of Manaus. The butterflies started to creep in as we started to get excited for what awaited us! Our boat took us from Manaus to Careiro da Várzea, there we would jump on a 60s Volkswagen van (preferred mode of transport in the Amazon for some reason) and go even deeper into the jungle, eventually ending up at Lago Mamori. About halfway upstream, the Rio Negro and Amazon river meet, however they don’t mix, creating a rather odd looking mix of brown with the one half looking like cafe leite – coffee with milk and the other half looking like black coffee. According to James, the Rio Negro begins in Colombia, while the Amazon river starts in the Andes mountains. The temperature, speed and density of rivers stop them from mixing. Amazing sight!
After some bus and boat rides, we had made it to Pousada Mamori lodge! Wedged on the side of a hilltop beside a lake, there were brick huts and a rather western looking and official check-in desk? Interesting. This is definitely not the tribal hut we thought we would be staying in. The lodge had a pool, a buffet style lunch, and to top it all off, airconditioned rooms! How delightful! At this point we had spent five nights in a hammock, so we were expecting it to be a similar experience. Happy with our choice of tour companies, we settled into our room and prepared ourselves for the upcoming afternoon, because we would be heading out to do some piranha fishing!
Armed with nothing more than a stick, a hook and an two entire KFC bucket meals, off we set to find us some of these buggers. Myths would tell us that these fish are vicious animals, stripping the the flesh off of a fully grown man in a mere seven seconds. Well truth be told, they’re not as keen to gobble as we are made to believe. In fact, the story of evil devils comes from a time when Theodore Roosevelt paid a visit to the Amazon and witnessed a school of Piranhas gnaw at a cow carcass (heres a link to the story). Horrified to learn that such a small fish could do such things, he anxiously wrote down the tale in his letters back to the United States. Thus was born the story of the piranha. Damion, our guide, was quick to debunk these stories and mentioned that they were quite shy and clever fish. They’ll first investigate the bait to see if it’s not a trap, before having a nibble or two. That’s when the frenzy starts to happen and the biting begins. I managed to catch two and Fem one giant one. We ate them for lunch the next day! Ironically, they taste like chicken, I guess the myth you are what you eat is true!
The next day, I was up early taking some photos. Meandering about the lodge, snapping a few photos of sunrise, and some birds (secretly, I was hoping to see a jaguar, or a boa constrictor, or a lost tribesmen – but to no avail). As I made my way down to the docked boats, floating peacefully in the river mouth, I heard the scariest noise I’ve ever heard in my life (probably more scarier than the hyena noises in the dead of night in the Kruger Park). It sounded like deep hollow sound, guttural and shrill at the same time. My god, what on earth makes such a racket? I had no idea what the sounds were. Turns out, they were damn howler monkeys (here’s a youtube video of how they sound). Small, and oddly tiny for the noise they make, I was somewhat relieved it wasn’t King Kong!
Later that morning it was time for a bit of jungle trekking. We were told to wear longs, as it had rained quite heavily the night before. The mosquitos do love a bit of moisture. We thought we would be clever, both packing our tights, thinking we would be cool but protected at the time time. Ha! Not these Amazona mozzies! In fact, they must have taken one look at us and saw full English breakfast was on the cards that morning. As we made our way, Damion pointed out tree after tree, explaining the medicinal properties, as well as various fruits and nuts. It was fascinating to learn how every inch of the jungle could be used for curing all sorts of ailments. From stomach pains to lung infections and from blisters and cuts to toothaches and kidney stones. The list was endless. We got to hack at Brazil nuts and foraged for ginger roots. Despite the constant slapping of Maggie the Mozzie, we’ve come away with much respect for mother nature.
Spot the sloth!
The rest of a journey consisted of canoeing through the lakes and the mangroves in search of wildlife, as well as spending one night in the jungle. We managed to spot a few sloths, the odd hawk, a rather large tarantula, a Leptodeira snake and a flurry of birds. Our new guide (because Damion wanted to go to Manaus carnival) was a rather odd character. ‘Smoke weed everyday, you know what I mean, we wake up in the morning, eat fish, smoke weed and have babies, what more in life do you need?’ – were some of his favourite sayings. Or ‘Where’s this fucker, that fucking sloth. Hey Chinaman (he was Japanese), you take photos’. Not the most politically correct individual, but he did make for a rather entertaining time.
Cucumber or banana?
Our four days sadly came to an end quite quickly. We had made good friends with the two German guys. Both retired, they had a wicked sense of humour. Feo, always referred to anything uncomfortable as ‘ah this was East Berlin for me, I’m comfy’. Hard wooden seats on the boat? East Berlin Sofa. Black coffee with dried up milk clumps? East Berlin cappuccino. Favourite artist? An East Berlin star, Helena Fischer. They told us of a time when East Berlin was isolated from the rest of the world and thus didn’t get the same produce. There was a news article about a girl joking to hold a cucumber when really holding a banana. Memories we’ll never forget I’m sure! They have known each other for the better half their lives, some 30 years. Every year, they spend about three weeks travelling to a spontaneous destination, spanning the globe. Feo, 75, is a retired it-engineer and worked on some of the very first coding (both Russian and Western). Hartmut, a television cameraman for one of the biggest German television stations, had recently retired. As we said goodbyes we promised we would meet up again in Rio, as we would be there around the same time. Funny how people from completely different walks of like, countries and generations have so much in common!
All good things must come to an end, and now for a bit of booty shaking for carnival! RIIIOOOOOOO!