As frequent travellers the Amazon was on the top of our “exotic places to go” list. We both had no idea what to expect apart from snippets taken from nature documentaries. Would we be trekking though deep jungle fending off vicious wild animals, swatting insects the size of our hands or wrestling giant unsuspecting anacondas while swimming? Would there be a thousand eyes staring at us in the night?
The Amazon Basin encompasses 2.7million square miles and spans over eight countries with the majority of the forest located in Brazil. The rainforest represents over half of our world’s remaining rainforests and is home to a number of different species and indigenous tribes. It is essential to our planet but unfortunately faces destruction (deforestation) on a daily basis.
While booking our trip we came across an area of the Amazonas State called the Anavilhanas. The Anavilhanas archipelago includes hundreds of islands in the Rio Negro (a tributary to the Amazon River and the largest blackwater river in the world). And most importantly it has NO MOSQUITOS! That’s right, the water is apparently so acidic that mosquitos cannot survive in that part of the Amazon – perfect – we were sold!
Now, where to stay? Well, once again TripAdvisor came in handy and we chose the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge. It got great reviews and advertised luxury accommodation. It’s located directly across from the Anavilhanas National Park and sits on the edge of the Rio Negro. The price included transfers from Manaus and all activities throughout your stay plus all meals included. Sounded perfect, and it was!
To get to the Amazon we had to fly into the city of Manaus. Manaus is an ugly industrial town (where there used to be really nice rainforest I am sure). We had to overnight there and found the Holiday Inn to be a good choice. Our hotel had warnings about walking in the streets so we made sure to keep off them.
First thing the next morning after breakfast the driver from Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge picked us up. The trip to the lodge took about 4 hours. We thought it was going to be a long one but in the end it wasn’t all that bad and we got to see some of the countryside. In fact, the distance to the lodge was a positive factor – the further we were away from industrial Manaus the better!
The Lodge was in a truly beautiful location – right on the banks of the Rio Negro and surrounded by a lush tropical rainforest. Lovely quaint little bungalows were scattered throughout with a main area used for lounging and dining. At our arrival briefing by Jean we were told about our planned activities and then shown to our room. As advertised it was luxury in the jungle – a comfy bed, hot water and air-conditioning!
It was sweltering hot (as expected) so we headed straight down to the river. We were told we could swim safely near the jetty during a certain time of the day (when the dangerous critters are sleeping I guess?!!) The Rio Negro was ginormous and looked amazing with its still dark tannin coloured water, we had never seen anything like it! The water was warm and refreshing but at the same time kind of creepy because it was so black prohibiting us from seeing anything below us.
Later that afternoon we were introduced to our guide Alvarado aka Elvis. He was a pretty cool character, a native of the Amazon with a bag full of exciting stories to share. We along with 3 other guests took a boat out and went Piranha fishing.
Cruising down the Rio Negro was spectacular! We made our way through what looked like impossible passages thick with foliage. Thoughts of snakes and biting insects definitely crossed our minds as we squeezed passed trees. When we finally found a nice secluded spot amongst the mangroves Elvis gave us some makeshift rods with hooks and we baited them with fresh bloody meat. Next we were told to put them in the water and shake them vigorously, like mimicking something dying.
Not long after, maybe seconds really we started feeling nibbles and then we heard “I got one!!” One of the guests pulled up this vicious little fish clamped down hard on their bait. Elvis carefully took the Piranha off and showed us its teeth. It was actually quite small but those chompers were sharp and fierce! We heard in some parts of the Amazon they can get up to a kilo in size (I don’t think I’d want to be fishing for those guys).
We all happily ended up catching a few each with Elvis of course doing the release every time. That was a pretty cool experience but on our way home I couldn’t help but notice how close to our jetty we were and where just a few hours previous we had been happily splashing around…!!
Later that evening we and two other ladies went on a night boating excursion with guide Elvis. We had a slight delay due to removing a little boa constrictor that had wrapped itself on the prow of our boat, but with a gentle nudge with a stick in dove into the water and disappeared into the river. The night was pitch black and lovely and warm with a plethora of brilliant stars sparkling amongst the dark velvet sky. The water was so still we could see the reflection of the stars in it making it seem like we were floating through space. That was one of the most magnificent sights we’ve ever seen, it was definitely a magic moment!!
Our boat silently cut through the massive Rio Negro as we made our way over to the farther banks of the river. Elvis was armed with a spotlight and slowly scanned the banks and trees in search of creatures. It wasn’t too long before we spotted some small Caymans hiding in amongst thick brambles. Then we saw some movement high above in the treetops, this turned out to be our first Sloth sighting. From what we could see he was pretty cool looking and seemed to move in slow motion as he turned to look at us.
Next Elvis veered us towards an old lone rotted log that was sticking out of the water. As we ventured closer it became apparent why he had paid it so much attention. Sitting in plain view was a giant amber colored giant tarantula!!! And then out of other little rotted holes peered a few of its babies, holy nightmares!! It had obviously become stranded there when the river rose.
Elvis thought it would be pretty funny to get really close and rest our boat against the log. A number of different scenarios played out in my mind, like them all jumping on board and attacking us like something out of a bad Spider movie. During all this Elvis gave us a short (thank god) spider lesson saying that they really are nice docile creatures and that we shouldn’t be afraid… yeah nah, trying to convince someone (me) who has an extreme case of arachnophobia was like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo…not gonna happen mate!
Thankfully we didn’t hang around my worst nightmare for very long and continued up the river. Warm wind blew in our faces and every now and again we could hear a chorus of frogs singing to each other. Watching Elvis standing on the prow with his torch in hand methodically scanning the landscape looked so surreal just like something out of a Pixar movie. I still couldn’t get over that incredible sky and the perfect reflection off the water. I think that that easily had to be one of the best nights we’ve ever had.
The next day we went on a short trek though the rainforest with our trusty guide. We were in full survival mode and ready to face whatever animalistic dangers that may come. We’d watched our fare share of Amazon documentaries where everything has an eat or be eaten mentality with creatures great and small teeming throughout…funny enough we didn’t see one thing?! Okay that’s not true we did see one tiny weird little insect but he scrammed as soon as he saw us. Go figure? Not one thing?! We did hear birds overhead high up in the forest canopy but unfortunately we didn’t see one of them either.
Walking through the jungle was also pretty easy, “Weren’t we supposed to be hacking our way through thick vines with machetes or something?” Just another assumption of ours squashed (or maybe it was just that particular area?). Elvis pointed out things about the fauna and showed us how to survive in the jungle (something we found very interesting but hoped we would never have to put to the test!).
At the end of our trek we all got into small wooden canoes and made our way back home. The heat was intense but the whole scenario around us was so overwhelming it numbed the senses (in a good way!). We still can’t get over how still the waters were, perfect reflections of the beauty that surrounded us.
The Anavilhanas is also home to the famous Pink Dolphin, which is also known as Boto. We met these friendly creatures at a place not far up the river from the lodge. A local family had made it their business to feed the dolphins and earn money from showing the tourists. Now, I know this might not sound like the most eco-friendly activity, but compared to the alternative, where families exploit and pollute the river to survive, this is a good option in my opinion. Those who once hunted the creatures of the Amazon now earn money by showing a small number to tourists.
Right now Brazil is going through a boom created by a strong demand for their resources and produce. Good for them – but that makes Brazil a little expensive for travellers. Their currency, the Brazilian Real is very strong and that is pushing up prices for anyone with foreign dollars to spend. That being said, even though this trip was short it was expensive but definitely worth it.
We came into this journey a little tentative and left more than content with some of the best experiences we’ve ever had. The Amazon is like no other and its beauty mesmerizing with its lush tropical forests and grandiose river system. The Amazon tops our list of “Must Sees” and if you’re not partial to mosquitos the Anavilhanas is a great place to start.
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!