The AMAZING Amazon Jungle AGAIN! – August 2004
I think that I once wrote that when my husband enters the room the theme to the "Raiders of the Lost Arc" starts playing so this will give you a little insight into how we define the word "vacation" in my house.
This is the 3rd time we’ve been to the Amazon. The first time was to the Peruvian side on our honeymoon [yeah, you read that right – there’s a previous posting on that trip in my Adventures Page archives someplace]. The second time was the Ecuadorian part so we, of course, had to go to the Brazilian side this time.
It took us about 14 hours to get to Manaus the town we were to meet up with the boat that we were taking which kinda looked like a slightly bigger version of the boat from "The African Queen". It was small, clean and basic. We did, to our surprise and glee, have air conditioning in our bunks but supposedly only from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., just to cool off the rooms so that we could sleep. The rest of the boat was open. Our crew was George the captain - his wife Svanya, our cook – a sweet young man named Jackson - our guide Agi and George and Svanya’s 9 year old son, Daniel who I totally fell in love with. He looked like two spiders were sitting on his face his eyelashes were so long!
The other guests on board were my brother Pete and his wife Julie, two teachers; a fun guy from South Africa named Lester and 2 not so fun 60 something ladies from Italy named Witch and the Witch’s girlfriend or as my husband referred to them "the psycho whiners". While traveling with family can be "interesting", traveling with strangers is SO difficult…especially when you’re on a boat for 8 days sharing one bathroom which, incidentally doubled as our shower room [water from the Amazon]. We all learned a new word, KAISER – which is a local beer down there!
Svanya proved to be an amazing cook. Breakfast was backed goods [it was amazing what she could cook on that boat in that kitchen] and juices and the best tasting eggs I’ve ever eaten. Lunch AND dinner consisted of two proteins – some amazing local fish and some mystery meat "beef" or chicken [we ate Tapir one night and Piranha, that we caught, another night]. Also on the table were two carbs…rice and potato, salad and fresh fruit. Lots of Coca Cola [of course] and this local very sweet soda we were told was good for the libido – NOT in my cabin but that was a blessing under the circumstances!
The first day we went up river where we saw where the Solimones River meets the Negro River and it was literally a clay-like brown looking water meeting with pitch black water. When you put your foot into the water – the clay-brown water was very hot and the black water was very cold. It’s hard to describe but it looked like a little kid’s coloring book where he used brown and then black straight across the page. What keeps the water from mixing is the level of acid in the clay-brown water. It acts like oil to water with the black water and it takes almost 10 miles for the two rivers to actually start to merge and that’s where the mighty Amazon begins down river. It was fascinating.
In the evening we’d all hang around, literally, in hammocks and they were very comfortable although not all that easy to get into and out of. Much to our surprise again, they left the air conditioning on until 6:00 a.m. so we slept well. We were, however, eaten alive by mosquitoes. My husband seemed to be my best bug repellent as they really, really liked him. He also accidentally stepped into a mound of red ants and got bitten up pretty badly but had the good sense to run into the river to get them off of him. He’s a pretty brown man from sailing and being Japanese he’s very tan but his legs looked like a tattered piece of leather. I felt his pain. He was so itchy but we had lots of Caladryl with us AMEN!
FISHING…seemed to be Agi, our guides, favorite thing to do and since my brother and husband wanted to fish and Julie, Pete’s wife, would do anything the boys did [you go girl!], they fished A LOT. I like fishing and have been a pretty good fisherperson in my lifetime BUT – it’s SO hot (and I’m so pale) and going in a very uncomfortable canoe from the boat to under the canopy took about 3 hours so I did it only one day and crossed stitched Christmas presents the other days on board when they all went to fish. While this was my choice, the Italian gals felt like Agi just wanted to fish and didn’t want to deal with them and what they wanted to do – SHOP ??? – No malls in the jungle gals - so they complained to me the entire day about how inconsiderate my family was, etc. I told them that we were guest too and that they needed to speak to the guide and then they just stopped talking to me for the rest of the trip. Not ABOUT me mind you. They’d just sit there and talk and talk in Italian about what a rude American I was. You know how you just know when someone is talking about you? Like the gals in a Korean nail salon!
Oh, this was another thing people…Brazil is NOT TOO KEEN on Americans these days and obviously Italy is even less crazy about us it seems. It was the first time in my life, and I’ve traveled all over the world, that I was ever uncomfortable showing my passport. These women were all over Lester too and were incredibly rude to him in some of the things that they said to him. He also told them to stop so he was second on their list. By day 5 even my husband said something at dinner – which, if you knew Kenro – is SO out of character for him but he had it with the complaining too. They wanted air conditioning at dinner…we’re in the jungle gals and we actually HAVE air conditioning in our rooms so…ex-squeeze me?! Now we were all on "the list". My brother, the diplomat, tried to redeem us all but it was to no avail. HATED US!
Lester is a very large man and I’m no itty bitty myself so one day while fishing when Lester freaked out about the water pouring into the wooden canoe that he, Kenro, Pete and Julie were in, he insisted that he be allowed into the metal boat where I was with the witches. Picture this…in water where we had just caught about 15 large piranha…Lester and I are swapping places in two very shaky canoes. NOT my idea of fun folks. If you’ve read my previous postings you know that I once tipped over in alligator infested waters in a New Orleans swamp and this was NOT something I wanted to repeat unless I was getting piranha lippo-suction. Lester also had a thing about spiders which was cracking us up…and you’re in the AMAZON JUNGLE because???!!!
We took a 6 hour trek in the jungle and, let me tell you, there wasn’t one part of our bodies or clothing that wasn’t dripping wet. I have arthritis in my left knee which acts up in humidity which was 100% of the time there and I also have bone spurs on my right ankle which I have to have operated on next month after my Ella shows so I was done in at the end of this trek. The ladies however, to their credit and remember, they are 60 something, did it! One of them had an operation a while ago that left her with one leg slightly shorter than the other one and she trekked with the best of them. HOWEVER, they’d stop to talk and lose the way the guides walked in front of them so the rest of us behind them were following them blindly through the jungle. Now the reason that Guide #1 is first and Guide #2 is second is because the 1st guide jostles the snakes and the 2nd guide is the one who gets bitten if any strike [vs. a guest you see] so, now we had Margarite and Ebi leading the pack…while I didn’t mind if either of them got bitten at this point, I didn’t want to be behind the one who fell…ya know! So, we are all fighting to stay in front of them but, because they were older, they really needed to be up front. Then, they started to slap the tree branches at the people behind them. What a nightmare. Also, the guides were both under 5’ tall so they were chopping 5 foot passages through the jungle for people where the shortest of us was 5’8" tall! My poor brother is 6’5" so he was basically doing the limbo or the commando raider’s crawl to get through their paths. I almost didn’t make it but I was proud of me when I did. Then, my brother who is very thin said, "Man, I was so proud of you…me and Julie are half your size [?!] and you made it through." Is this a compliment? Do they think that I actually weigh 300 lbs.? Nice!
We stopped in a village too and there was one little girl there that was SO beautiful I couldn’t believe it. The kids are all so cute down there. They all came up to us in their canoes with all these pets that they wanted us to give them money to take a photo with. I had brought candy, Barbie dolls, Spiderman coloring books/crayons and the gift they seemed most excited about…combs so they let me hold all the animals for free. I have this not so great shot of me with a sloth which has the cutest, saddest little face. My brother held and got bitten by the monkey who seemed to really like Jolly Rancher candies!
My favorite part was sleeping overnight in the jungle though. We canoed 3 hours through spider infested low branches to a hilly camp site. You should have heard Lester SCREAM like a 12 year old girl when this nasty looking spider crawled on his arm…he almost tipped us all over. We set up our hammocks and ate chicken that Svanya prepared and sent for us to eat which we grilled over an open fire…chicken never tasted so good…and then we slept. Well, some of us did. The boys and the two guides went hunting with spears & machetes and almost caught this rodent type critter that looks like a big rat on stilts with a dear marked pelt called a Paca. It was supposed to be a delinquency. Kenro said he felt like Martin Sheen in "Apocalypse Now" coming out of the water to go kill Kurtz. What was funny was hearing them in the pitch black going up and down the river shouting and hooting and scampering. I think there was some "firewater" involved. Kenro said that he was glad that they didn’t catch it because he wasn’t too keen on having a dead, fat, wet rodent on this lap all the way back to the boat no matter how good it tasted…this coming from a Japanese man who will literally eat anything!
By the time they came back, Julie and I were just about to fall asleep when they all woke us up. Then, FINALLY, we all kinda start to fall off and Lester starts to snore like – I cannot even describe it but I’m sure even the animals were afraid to come near us. Kenro described it as a giant howler monkey but you’d have to have heard a howler monkey in the jungle to know how frightening that sounds. It sounds more like a Jaguar than a monkey. Surprisingly there were no bugs. Even more surprisingly…we were FREEZING in the jungle! I woke up about 3 a.m. shivering and just tried to wrap myself up in the hammock but by 5 a.m. we were all up anyway because we were all so cold. It was dark when we took off so we got to see the sun rise on the Amazon…what a sight…second only to seeing the most glorious sunsets each night.
Oh, gator hunting…we caught alligators. We’d get into the canoes at night with Agi up front and at one point, the man steps out of the canoe in his bare feet and goes to the bank where we are shining our head lights into the evil red demon eyes of these creatures and Agi grabs one and brings it back to the canoe for us. These weren’t all that big mind you but there were HUGE ones on the banks. This man was nuts! My brother gave him one of his head lamps and you would think he gave Agi $100! He was so excited because this meant that he didn’t have to hold his flashlight in his teeth as he tried to capture a gator for the tourists! He was one tough little, sweet man. We all loved him.
The ladies and Lester were all leaving one night before our gang was so when we got back to Manaus, we invited the boat crew and Agi out to dinner in town and we had the most wonderful time. Agi said it was the first time anyone had ever asked them to join them at dinner. We ate Italian food. Not so good. While we all agreed and told Svanya that her cooking was better, I think she really dug not having to cook that night. The best was that Kenro FINALLY caught a fish on the last day. A 3 foot, huge-mouthed tiger cat fish. The ugliest fish I have ever seen in my life! He was so proud and presented it to the Captain. It was a nice way to leave.
We smartly took two nights in Rio so that we could wash our clothes and take a real shower. I ended up with what I was calling a flesh-eating disease all over the backs of my legs and it spread to my arms so I’m thinking that while using the Bano de Jungle that something ivy-like hit me on the back of the leg but it turned out to be that I just overheated…prickly heat! What was funny though was that it showed up only after I showered in "real" water at the nice hotel in Rio. Now I was itchy! Kenro and I learned a long time ago…to ALWAYS end an adventure trip in the lap of luxury. $40 for a 1 hour full body massage at the Sheraton ya’ll. We saw the Big Jesus that over looks the city and took the cable car to Sugar Loaf…a breathtaking view. A great city. Not as dangerous as we were told but then again, we’re from NY and know about that kind of bad rep thing. If you’re smart, you’re safe.
So I believe that this will be my last trip to the Amazon although Kenro wants to organize another fishing trip. We own a travel agency [MAC American Travel] so I told him to go ahead and organize a nice, macho, male bonding fishing tour and that my girlfriend and I would go to the spa that same week. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you see the Amazon at least once in your life though if at all possible. It cannot really be described in words to do it justice. Bring OFF though!