Friends, you’re getting a double post today because I’ve been monstrously terrible at updating. I wish I could use the magazine as an excuse, but alas, I’ve just been forgetful. So here, have a little story about the Amazon as a humble apology from yours truly.
When I was younger, I was always an avid learner. In primary school, my auntie across the pond would subscribe me to the National Geographic Kids magazine (which would become part of my initial desire to be a journalist). In one issue, there was a special article on the Amazon and the creatures that inhabited it. They all seemed rather strange and wonderful, but one always stood out at me – the poison dart frog. I don’t recall whether it is right or not, but I distinctly remember the article saying that if you touched it, you would be dead within twenty minutes. That day I vowed I would never go to the Amazon, but of course, what eight year old child keeps their promises about such things?
My friend and I, fresh from our stint in the eerie capital, arrived in Manaus, barely mentally prepared for the loss of civilisation and the sheer amount of bugs about to swarm us in the rainforest. After a leisurely break of an afternoon and a quiet evening, much needed after being on the go for the last week or so, we awoke fresh the next day ready to tackle the jungle. We had a small tour of the fish, fruit and vegetable markets, a lucrative business in the heart of the Amazonas state before taking a boat to our first marvellous sight of the trip.
The Encontro das Aguas, or the Meeting of the Rivers in English, is a spot that is not entirely known by tourists, but one of the most iconic aspects of the Brazilian Amazon river. Just up the river from the port city, the Rio Negro on which the city lies and the unforgettable South American river meet – however, due to the sheer amounts of light mud in the Amazonian river and the acidic properties of the darker Rio Negro, both bodies of water clash together without mixing to make it a new colour. Therefore, one is left with the amazing spectacle of the rivers side by side, touching but never swelling together to make a new one.
Further up the river, we switched to a car for an hour before finally arriving at another stretch of river – the one that would deposit us at our Jungle Hotel. We were shown around our accommodation (including our hammocks for sleeping – a first for me) then were given a traditional Brazilian lunch of rice, feijão and meats – and I was right in believing it wouldn’t vary much for most of the trip; of course, being in the Amazon, fish were aplenty, and some of our fellow tour do-ers had managed to wrangle some piranhas that afternoon, which were promptly cooked and served to the rightful catchers that evening. Before dinner, though, we were treated to a boat trip down the main river in the area – we were fortunate enough to see iguanas, caymans, a sloth and even a bush baby. Such beautiful animals would be rarely seen even in British zoos, so the awe of it was not lost on us.
The next day we awoke bright and early, ready for a day full of nature, beauty and way, way too many mosquitoes. These little blighters will fly anywhere and everywhere, and it takes more bug spray than should really be breathed in by the human body to keep them at bay. However, at times it’s just easier to ignore it and just gaze at the beauty surrounding you – there’s a gorgeous plant one side, an exotic animal climbing up a tree on the other – and it makes life a little easier.
Our morning was a jungle hike around the back of the hotel, and we were led by our tour guide who, armed with a machete, led us round a barely beaten path to show us the wonders of the area. We came across many different types of trees, including that of the Brazil nut, or as the Brazilians call it, the Pará but (it is a tree mostly native to the state in the north of the country). We were even lucky enough to try the fresh ones, and they are marvellously different to what one can find in their local supermarket; their trees are old too, most likely dating back to before the first Portuguese colonisation in the 1500s.
On our way around, we also managed to happen on a tarantula. Now, don’t get me wrong, friends, I’m not one to be afraid of the creepy crawlies: they just mildly annoy me. But of course, a tarantula isn’t just any little bug. They’re scared, that’s for sure, probably more of you than you are of them, yet I still shiver in terror every time I see one on TV. So you can imagine my reaction wen our guide is coaxing one out of its hiding place out into the open air. No, I did not scream – I simply squealed a little and took a few steps back. However, as you can see from these pictures, I managed to conquer my previously paralytic fear of these giant spiders and even touched it; however my sense of sensibility kicked in when asked if I wanted to hold it, and we moved on to walk along a channel of the river. What’s incredibly interesting about some of these barely-there walkways is that they disappear during the wet season; the river level will rise significantly, in some places reaching up to ten metres higher than in the dry season, explaining why most paths are so new and fresh.
The three hour hike ended on us looping the lodge and finishing at one of the bungalows, much to my surprise; I had honestly thought we had much farther to go. A hearty lunch later, we set out to find the perfect spot for a little bit of piranha fishing – a common leisure activity among jungle explorers like ourselves in these parts. The fishing itself is a little more fast paced than the usual fishing, not taking long at all to lure the river predators in. However, because they are so much quicker, it becomes more difficult to pull out the hook from the water in time – or the piranhas will simply take your bait and leave you empty handed. A few dejected tries in, I managed to catch my first piranha, a red-bellied variety that are some of the most ferocious, along with the sharpest teeth. After my first success, they began to flow a little more; I managed to wrangle a white piranha, a tamer species (if you can really say that about them) and even hold it so I could throw it back into the water. Most are too thin to try and catch for eating, but I was able to catch two bigger ones that were put in for the night’s dinner. Having never gone fishing before, it was a satisfying feeling eating my own catch.
The evening held even more activities for us, as the night was the perfect time to go Cayman spotting. These smaller types of crocodile are around at all times of day, but somewhat easier to spot at night due to the reflection their eyes give off: a bright and brilliant red. Although the picture here doesn’t show it, the colour was rather gorgeous, and our guide told us about the three membranes which are part of the reason we actually get that colour. Caymans are, in actual fact, liable to live up to 75 years or even more, and are left by their mother at just 3 weeks old to survive in the river on their own. It really is times like these I thank God I’m human; I can barely look after myself at 20. There was a lull after we arrived back, everybody just too tired from the day’s events and a unanimous agreement to sleep, even if it was only 9pm; after all, the bar was closed, so what point was there in staying up?
As we pulled away in the boat on our final day in this marvellous ecosystem, the heavens finally opened, unleashing a storm we’d practically been waiting for the entire time. Our slow journey back to Manaus was a perfect time for me to reflect on this wonderful experience I’d been fortunate enough to have. I have seen waterfalls, countless animal species, sprawling cities and beautiful vistas. I could not have been more emotional in that moment; I felt, even if it is cliché, like the luckiest girl in the world. Of course, what made it even better was the knowledge that soon, I would be in La Paz, Bolivia; somewhere that, although was not anticipated in the same way as Rio was, I was apprehensive to get to – a whole new way of life was to begin when I arrived.