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xEurasia Odyssey

A Week in Amazonas, Brazil

BRAZIL | Monday, 28 August 2023 | Views [106]

A Week in Amazonas 

I had been looking forward to finally getting to the Amazon River. I’d been in the Amazon basin in Bolivia, Columbia, Peru and Suriname, but had not been on the river itself. I was looking forward to seeing some amazing wildlife and to learning about the local indigenous cultures. It turned out neither came to fruition. Nonetheless, the week in Amazonas was interesting. Let me say at the outset, though, that the forest itself seems healthy, but the mammalian wildlife has moved far away from the human populations that surround the river and its tributaries.

Manaus is a huge metropolis in the middle of the rainforest. As my flight arrived at 7am and I couldn’t check in until 2pm, I decided to head straight to the Museum of the Amazonas, MUSA.  The outdoor site is about a half hour taxi ride from the center of town and costs about R$90. When I got there, they said that I needed to wear other shoes; they had rubber boots for rent for RS10 and socks to buy for the same price. Thus equipped, I was free to wander the paths of the museum’s forest. They have a number of unique buildings with special exhibits, e.g., one for snakes, one for insects, one for fish, one of bromeliads and orchids, and one for butterflies. There is also a section where they have replicated skeletons of a few dinosaurs. At one end there is a large tower overlooking the canopy with platforms at various levels of the forest so that the visitor can get a sense of how the vegetation differs by height. I specifically say vegetation as there were a few birds, but not many, and no other wildlife to be seen. Humans were very evident, however, and the noise level from their presence was at times deafening. After leaving the museum and heading back into town, I stopped at a Sunday morning market near Teatro Amazonas heading down to the port. The stalls sold some tourist items, but mostly it was a market for locals with lots of middle of the street food venues. On the way back to Teatro Amazonas, I passed a little green shop that houses the best bookstore on items related to the Amazon. It was closed until Monday at 4pm, and I planned to go then after a day trip to swim with the pink dolphins the next day. My hotel was around the corner from Teatro Amazonas, and I was glad I chose that location as it really was in the center of things. The Piazza in front of the theater comes alive in the evening with street musicians, eateries, ice cream shops and bars. The feel of the evening’s entertainment changed each night, sometimes the music was more melodious and folksy, at other times more Brazilian samba.

The next morning, I was picked up at the hotel for the “Pink Dolphin Day Tour,” which consisted of swimming with some of the pink dolphins in the Amazon River, passing through the “Meeting of the Waters,” feeding pirarucu, a walk on a boardwalk lined with begging monkeys, and a ‘cultural show’ at an indigenous village. The people on the tour were all Brazilians, with the exception of one Venezuelan woman who was shooting her vlog with pictures of herself the entire time. This tour and the others like it were for tourists, not travelers. They weren’t intended to be educational, but simply entertaining. When we arrived at the place to swim, I got right in and the dolphins came almost immediately to play between and on the side of my legs. It was a strange feeling, but their skin is so soft, and they were so gentle. As soon as the masses of people entered the water, I got out. This was when one of the staff members got a bucket of fish and started teasing the dolphins with the fish. They would rise up to get the food and she would yank it away until the dolphin was pretty high up out of the water.  The people in the water next to the dolphins thought this was wonderful, but to me just looked like she was teasing the sea creatures. To get to the next stop, we passed through the “Meeting of the Waters,” which is the official beginning of the Amazon River. The Rio Negro and the sandy Rio Solimões meet and flow alongside each other for six kilometers without mixing as the dark one from Columbia comes through the jungle and doesn’t have the sediment the other does. The Rio Negro flows slower and warmer than its partner from Peru that stems from deep in the Andes. One of the largest freshwater fish is the pirarucu, which is one of the mainstays of Amazonian cuisine. These fish are in a variety of dishes on most restaurant menus throughout the region. The next stop was to feed a few of them that had already been caught and kept in a penned-up area. The large fish, a few meters in length, barely had room to turn around. Next to the feeding area, was a typical artisan’s shop selling local and Chinese made products. The straw hats for sale were all from China. From here, our speedboat took us to the lunch location, which was a large buffet filled with local foods as well as the obligatory beef, chicken, rice and spaghetti noodles. The place was packed with at least 10 separate tour groups all with upwards of 25 people.  After lunch, there was a short walk over a wooden boardwalk to an overlook by a large lily pond. The lily pads were over a meter in diameter and supposedly hold up to 14 kg. The best part of this jaunt was that there were monkeys at the side of the path, even if they were begging.  It was good to see some wildlife! The last stop was to an indigenous village, where they put on a ‘real’ cultural show for the tourists. I can understand that this is how the tribe needs to make money, but there has to be a better way to do this. The show consisted of perhaps five dances, and at least one where audience participation was expected. While the other dances had perhaps some elements of the real cultural dances, the one with the visitors certainly did not. After they finished our show, the next group arrived, and they repeated the entire show again. This probably went on all afternoon. It was an eye-opening day. It was sad to see how the dolphins are treated, although, they are wild and do live in the river and can leave if they want to, and to see how the indigenous tribe was put on display. This day trip took place in locations west of Manaus.  For the jungle trip, I headed 200 km south of the city.

Getting to the jungle lodge where I was going to spend the next four days was an adventure. It entailed a van to a speedboat, then another van, that had to cross two rivers on ferries as the bridges were washed out, and then a final hour plus motorized canoe ride. I was accompanied by three very young Frenchmen who were on their first overseas trip, (I believe they had just graduated secondary school), a young Spanish couple living in Hamburg, and two men in their mid-twenties from Uruguay, although one was working in San Paulo. The lodge we stayed at was on the Lago do Marmori and was run by a local family. Luckily, they had hired a translator, who turned out to be from Venezuela, so again, it was time to practice my Spanish. Come to Brazil and refresh Spanish. Hmmm, hadn’t intended that, but it turned out to be a good thing. When I really couldn’t understand something, the Spanish couple, both of whom had lived in English-speaking countries for a while, as well as the translator could help.

The first evening in the lodge the group split with the three Frenchmen going off on a solo tour for three days, while the rest of us were there for four. Our first excursion was to the other side of the river to see the shorebirds with a stop in the middle of the river for those who wanted to to jump in for a swim. I chose not to play with the piranha or jacaray, a form of biting caiman, and stayed in the boat. In the evening we went jacaray spotting, and we didn’t have far to go for that as one lived right by where the canoes were docked. The next morning, we got up at 5:45 for a sunrise cruise on the lake. It was stunning. After breakfast we went for a walk in the forest and the guide showed how a worm lived in a particular nut and that it was good to eat. The others participated, I’m not partial to wormy delights, so didn’t. The guide also showed how the local people (local Brazilians, who may have learned from the native peoples, but no indigenous tribes live in this area), get glue from a particular sap, make ropes out of the bark of a tree, and use the kapok tree to communicate. At one point he tried to get a poisonous monkey spider to come out of its hole, but it just didn’t want to. It clearly just wanted to be left alone. We could hear howler monkeys in the distance but saw no other wildlife. This was also true over the next few days and subsequent excursions and canoe trips. There simply were no animals to be seen.  On the last night, there was a trip to a local family’s house for dinner and the guys in the group spent the night. The house was a simple wood construction that had three rooms, but what was surprising was that they had electricity, internet, a tv and gaming console for the three kids, the oldest was 9. There was, however, no furniture other than beds for the tourists. The meal was good, consisting of rice, spaghetti noodles, chicken and beans, and three of us left after dinner when it was already dark. The ones who stayed went harpooning. After a couple of successful harpoon catches, our group asked how the fish were going to be prepared. Only one of the fish they had been encouraged to harpoon was edible. The harpooning was an event for tourists to wantonly slaughter fish. The guys who unknowingly did this felt terrible about it once they found out.  The next morning the guys also told us that the meat from the night before had been left outside and while the dogs at the house ate some of it, almost all of the meat was left untouched by the morning. It wasn’t that we couldn’t see any animals, it was that they simply weren’t there! There were, however, piranhas in the river and we all fished for them. A couple small ones were caught and released, but one large one was kept and served for lunch. The reports came back that it was quite tasty. On the last morning, we went to a local village of about 30 people. There was a school for students up to the sixth grade and two churches, an evangelical as well as a Catholic. The entire region seems to be based in these two forms of Christianity. Students going on after the sixth grade need to take a long boat ride, there is a school boat, to the middle school. For high school, local students must stay in a boarding school in Manaus.

On the way to the lodge, I had noticed the small cattle farms on the side of the river. On the way back, I was able to understand why we didn’t see wildlife. The forest had been cut back along long swaths of the riverfront. That had not stopped the mosquitoes, however. All of us in the group were covered from head to feet in mosquito and chigger bites.  The cabanas where we slept were nice, but the lodge is in the jungle and insects and amphibians get in. Frogs lived in the toilets, and I had four over thumb sized cockroaches in my room. I’m convinced that insects are going to take over the planet after we’ve destroyed it. 

For the last day in the Amazonas, I wanted to go north of Manaus, and headed on another group tour to Presidemte Figueiredo. This is a very lush area and quite different from the much drier forest around Lago do Marmora. After about a two-hour drive, we came to Caverna do Maroaga. This entailed a walk through the woods to a couple of caves where there was enough water to wade it. It was a beautiful area.  After that we headed to lunch at Parque do Urubui, a local park on a river with cascading waters. The highlight of the day, however, was the Cachoeira da Iraceme waterfalls.  We were able to sit under the falls, swim in the basin in front of it and lie in the sula-like pools of water that flowed over the rocks. It was absolutely delightful. This tour was well worth it, and it would have been better to only spend three days in the jungle and two here, but I didn’t know that ahead of time.

My time in the Amazonas came to an end. It was an interesting, partially disappointing, but always educational trip. Now I’m curious to see if there will be any wildlife in Chapada Diamantina National Park, which is the next leg of this journey.








Tags: city, rainforest, waterfalls

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