Seeing the Amazon by Boat

IMG_0114There’s a reason the word Amazonian exists. Indeed, everything in the Amazon is supersized, from the football sized avocados to the trees and bugs. The biodiversity is amazing, with wild toucans flying around and a rich variety of plants, animals and frankly, people. It’s one of the few parts of the world that even today, has not been completely explored. Who knows what tribes or villages might be further downriver and yet to be “discovered.”


Look, a toucan kept as a family “pet”

There’s only one (civilized) way to see the Amazon, by boat. It’s basically a floating hotel, restaurant and transportation in one, letting guests off at villages and for specific activities and moving us around to the next event. It can be close quarters, though, so booking the right boat is critical. And having the right mix of people on board – an even tougher issue – can make or break the trip.

We were able to book on the Desafio, which is a smaller boat with very high-end accommodations. There were more staff and crew than guests, and our guide was extremely knowledgeable. He was able to gauge the level of interest and sophistication of the group and then offer additional information to those – like G and me – who were more engaged.

Heading back home to the boat after a jungle excursion

Heading home to the boat after a jungle excursion

Not surprisingly, I had been a little worried about our fellow guests, whether we would be forced to spend too much time with them and frankly, whether they would annoy us. I had flashbacks to our South African safari, which was wonderful, but marred by the annoying American twit who would comment on how dangerous everything was, even as she refused to obey key safety rules, such as sitting down as we approached the animals. But this group –  an Israeli couple and their teenaged son as well as a middle-aged Chinese-Canadian couple – was pleasant and friendly, while being laid back and at ease. So we could chat with them over drinks, but also feel just as free to sit at the bar and watch World Cup games or torch ourselves at the deck while reading our books.

The highlights? The water lilies as big as small skiffs. Indeed, these would have given me nightmares as a child … some sort of preternatural fear of being eaten by oversized plants.

primordial water lilies that I can easily imagine being carnivorous

primordial water lilies that I can easily imagine being carnivorous

Swimming with pink dolphins that live only in the dark water of the Rio Negro, dark from the rotting vegetation of the jungle. What a strange feeling to stand on the little ledge and feel something slick, yet muscled graze your leg like a cat looking for attention, then seeing the dolphin get to know you. Sure, the man in the water next to us with the bucket of fish was the main attraction. Still, the dolphins are quite curious.

a very pale tourist and a pink dolphin in black water

a very pale tourist, the dolphin handler getting splashed and a pink dolphin, all in black water

Piranha fishing was another highlight. Sitting in the still, muddy water, sweating buckets, rods in the water, waiting for a hungry piraña to nibble on the bait. I’ll say this, it was terribly exciting when I finally caught one. And even more fun when this first-time fisher caught more than anyone else in our group. Of course, I give full credit to the crewman who took pity on me and baited my hook.

Black water and white water meeting, yet not quite blending

Black water and white water meeting, yet not quite blending

And this as well, the meeting of the waters where the dark, acidic water meets the cooler white water of the Andes. Amazing to see the waters meet and mingle, yet not quite merge as they travel down the Amazon.

So not quite as majestic as seeing lions on the African plains, but pretty darn cool. And with Manaus only a five hour flight from Miami, much more accessible to us than I had thought.


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