The adventure we’d hoped for, but sensed we’d have to leave on our bucket list for a little longer, suddenly became a reality when promotional flights luckily gave us the pass we needed to disappear into the thick of the Amazon forest.
We felt as though we were floating, dreamlike, as our plane flew over the green blanket far below. Clearly and stunningly visible was the ‘Meeting of the Rivers’, where the black waters of the Rio Negro meet the white water of the Amazon.
Arriving in Manaus late afternoon, after a 4-hour flight from Rio, we stopped overnight at the Tropical Hotel, a maze of dark wood corridors exuding a mysterious and magical air reminiscent of Hogwarts. It’s an odd feeling being in a city, in the middle of the world’s largest rainforest. Pinch us and we’ll wake up?
With unimaginable excitement, we were up bright and early for our transfer into, what felt like, the unknown.
As a little campervan puttered to a stop in front of us, we were over the moon to realise that this was the first of our day’s transfers! Seeing as we love campers, it couldn’t have been more perfect!
After an hour or so, the van pulled up alongside a river. Here, we changed transport. Transferring our rucksacks onto a small motorised wooden boat (also carrying food supplies!) time slowed as we disappeared into a labyrinth of waterways flanked by hundreds of green shades, shapes and textures.
Another hour on and a vision of tropical colours greeted us ahead. Nestled behind an island of towering trees, on a tributary of the Rio Negro, was Manati Lodge, our hidden home for a few nights.
After a delicious lunch of fried fish, salad, rice and farofa…
…we kayaked around the lodge and swam in the warm coca-cola-like water.
Beneath the water lies an invisible tangle of trees, vines, roots and life. At this time of year, after the rainy season, the water has risen by around 10m, keeping the forest floor and the lower layer of the forest hidden. Wierd huh?
Once the heat of the day had subsided our guide took us out to a local village, where we learnt about Brazil nuts and how to make tapioca.
Later, we stopped to swim (Lola and Albie’s faces were a picture of indescribable joy!) with the freshwater pink river dolphins that inhabit the Amazon waterways.
Interestingly, the Amazon river dolphin (boto) is the largest river dolphin species in the world.
Another species is the grey dolphin, which is darker and smaller, with a shorter snout, and unlike the boto, jumps out of the water. We saw the grey but could never capture them on camera!
We learnt that boto swim alone or in small groups of 2-4, and, despite living in small groups, they’re still incredibly curious and outgoing animals. Fact 2: Unlike other dolphins, they have unfused vertebrae in their neck, which means that they can turn their head 180 degrees! Fact 3: There’s lots of mythology surrounding them – one story claims that during the night the dolphins morph into handsome men to seduce women, whilst another claims that if you swim alone, the dolphins may whisk you away to a magical underwater city. Honestly, you could believe it!
The next morning, we motored off with Igson for a jungle trek.
Advised to stay one behind the other as Igson cut – with a very sharp and very large machete – a pathway ahead, we dodged spiky trees and tangled vines.
Watched over by a varied canopy of leaves interwoven high above, camouflaged creepers bound tightly to immense trunks, shifting shadows draped amongst dense foliage and seemingly hazardous but totally harmless termite nests clinging on for dear life, we trekked deeper.
Upon reaching a clearing, we crowned Lola and Albie king and queen of the jungle…
Swinging on vines, we felt like Tarzan…
As expected, we didn’t see much wildlife. At this time of year, when the forest floods, there are less insects and fruit for birds and monkeys, so they disperse. Equally, the dense forest hides any lurking creatures, unlike Brazil’s Pantanal where the rainforest has been cut back and reveals more. Knowing this before our trip, we were totally happy to simply hear howler monkeys in the distance and glimpse the odd toucan, squirrel monkey, macaw and eagle.
Travelling around in a small boat, we truly felt like we were in another world. The overwhelming grandeur lies in the subtlety. Mirrored reflections, clear skies, the silence and tranquility of an ever-evolving eco-system.
A sunrise trip along the river was serenity itself. Nothing but still waters, an emerging light and an over-riding calmness lulled us all into a contemplative mood.
The same day, we weaved through hard-to-describe tiny channels of water, amongst the flooded forest. Ordinarily these would make up the forest floor and there would be no water to traverse by boat! With low-hung leaves tickling our heads and branches snagging us like prey, we navigated a path, until once again we reached a wider river.
Trying our hand at piranha fishing wasn’t easy! With bamboo fishing rods, we learnt a technique to trick the razor-sharp toothed fish…
Were we really swimming in these waters amongst such dangerous swimmers?!
As the sun set that day, we were treated to the most beautiful and mesmerising skies of shifting blue, pink and purple.
The following day, we visited another local village and were surprised at the infrastructure and buildings given its location!
Here, we were we were thrilled to chat to children in a school and heartened to see the resources and equipment available to them.
We felt extremely privileged to have experienced just this tiny piece of the Amazon jungle that spans an incredible nine nations.
Despite learning about it at school and reading plenty of books, I don’t think anything – except the experience itself – could have prepared us for the magic. Our photos don’t do it justice, sorry, seeing is believing in this case!
Without exception, we all unwillingly left this special place with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes. I write this blog now with the same feeling. It will have forever left an indelible imprint in our hearts and left us wanting to explore more of its hidden depths.
This is the positive impact such adventures have had on us as a travelling family: we want to understand the issues affecting these important ecosystems and help protect them, we are curious to find out more, we need to keep learning.
With only a few days left of our year-long adventure, our next blog post will be our final one from Brazil. Until then…