What words dance across your mind when you think of the mighty Amazon Rainforest…excitement, wildlife, sloths, flooded forest, monstrous and magnificent?
These were the words bating me ahead of my boat trip down Brazil’s famed Rio Negro with Amazon Nature Tours. We saw no planes, boats, or life apart from local villages forging their livelihood from the land.
Flying into the jungle city of Manaus with a population of 2 million, we landed on a runway surrounded by thick forest and humidity. I wondered whether Manaus would keep swallowing the jungle, or if the forest would reclaim what was stolen by the city.
Manaus is a buzzing city of dilapidated grandeur where kids tout the streets, and groups of men swat the heat with a cold drink. When strolling the downtown markets, I find the cities rhythm. The market place where locals buy fruit, vegetables and fresh fish from the boats is the perfect introduction to a new city. It is the centre and a guttural necessity or business meeting point.
The old and new of Manaus stand proudly side by side; the glory of history against the backdrop of a future promise. Buildings boasting ornate plaster work and gold leaf, converge with those held together by vines and tree trunks.
The Rio Negro – Amazon Rainforest
The following morning having met our guides and 11 travelling companions in reception. We boarded motorised canoes for the Tucano, an 18 passenger boat with ornate wooden cabins and viewing deck. Large enough for space to move around, yet small enough to manoeuvre the Rio Negro tributaries. We set sail for our eight day exploration of wildlife, birdlife, intricacies of the forest and thriving ecosystems. Apart from the heat, I was mesmerised by the magnificent vacuous trees, rising out of the black waters of the Rio Negro.
The forest of the Rio Negro goes by the name Igapó, a word used in Brazil for blackwater-flooded Amazonian forests. They flood seasonally with freshwater and have learnt to survive the acidic waters of the Rio Negro for 6 months. It is strange to see trees, plants and the forest stretching towards the light from the depths of the black water.
There are two choices for boat trips from Manaus, the first being on the Amazon where wildlife is in abundance but with a heavy flow of traffic, tourists and mosquitos. The other is the Rio Negro where there are no humans, few mosquitos due to the water acidity but less wildlife. That is not to say that I didn’t see everything I wanted, but when we saw a slot, monkey or hummingbird, there was one instead of many.
Having visited the Amazon previously, I enjoyed the thrill of scouring small water channels and sunken waterways for the prize wildlife sighting. Throughout the eight days, we spotted sloths, bird life, monkeys, iguanas, caiman, snakes and pink or grey dolphins.
My favourite parts of the Amazon
For me the most incredible aspect of the trip was the forest itself which cascaded as far as the eye could see. This powerhouse of activity and noise was so loud it actually gave off a hum. The fact it has learnt to survive flooded for 6 months at a time is astounding. Every day we would strap on the gaiters and walking boots to forge our track under a carpet of greenery. This is when the forest came alive thanks to our guide Sousa that I nicknamed ‘Dr Doolittle’ due to his ability to replicate bird calls.
Seeing the canopy layers and how each tree works to support those beneath was incredible. Fallen trees with rotten trunks, became the catalyst for ferns, mushrooms, vines and formed an integral chain in the forests survival.
We came across a Bullet Ant nest, used in one of the most bizarre coming-of-age rites where boys become men within the tribal community. The boy is fitted with a glove made of Bullet Ants and needs to withstand the excruciating pain. Each any is 2.5 cm long and packs a punch.
We saw tarantulas, whole trees absorbed by ants, endless bird life and flora. However, the most memorable parts of me were the forest walks when the forest came alive with all manner of noises.
Each dawn we set off in motorised canoes as the forest came alive with bird song. Mid-morning was a daily forest walk followed by an afternoon canoe trip in amongst the flooded forest. Followed by a night canoe trip in search of the elusive caiman who is king under the security of the darkened sky. It was on these night excursions the air was rife with the sounds of the forest, frog mating calls of frogs and stars blanketed the night sky.
We stopped at small villages where the genuine kindness from the locals was obvious. I felt privileged for the opportunity to see people who have learnt to live with the land instead of trying to conquer it.
I enjoyed the caiman fishing canoe trip where these jaw-toothed fish mocked and stole bait. I loved see the ‘meeting of the river’ where the brown of the Amazon, and black of the Rio Negro Rivers, meet to create a perfect straight line. Of course, lets not forget those magnificent mirror-image sunsets.
Of course on a trip like this, the guides are instrumental in making this a magnificent trip. They delivered information with passion and drive, and were faultless in the enjoyment of all on board.
For anyone looking for an unforgettable trip, I cannot recommend Brazils mighty Rio Negro enough!