Apparently we didn’t get enough of the river during our marathon boat cruise from Colombia. It’s almost necessary to get out to the Amazon when you’re in Manaus, so that is what we did. As our flight out was actually for a couple of days later than it needed to be, we had a day or two spare, and decided to head off on the river.
There are seemingly thousands of jungle trips, tours, agencies, and lodges operating out of Manaus. The selection is truly overwhelming. As we ended up planning it last-minute, time wasn’t on our side either, so our research certainly wasn’t complete. Many of the operators were charging vastly inflated prices over the World Cup period, which made the search even more frustrating.
We ended up booking a two-day, one-night trip with David from Amazon Jungle Tours. His price seemed fair (if, in my opinion, still a bit steep), and he was helpful and timely with his e-mails. We paid 225 USD per person for the trip, including transport, accommodation, a guide, and meals. We had been quoted around $500 for the same sort of trip, but also spoke with others (who had booked well in advance) and paid a lot less.
We were picked up from our hotel in the morning and driven to the port. Here we got on a small boat that took us to see the Meeting of the Waters. This oft-touted tourist attraction of Manaus is still, in my opinion, a phenomenon worth seeing.
Here, the Rio Solimões and the Rio Negro meet to form the Amazon. Due to differences of speed, sediment content, and temperature, the two waters do not mix seamlessly together. Instead, they run side-by-side for six kilometres. You can sit, on a boat, on the seam of the largest river in the world, and see the distinct colours of the two tributaries, flowing together, but separate, for longer than seems possible.
We then returned to land, where drove through the sprawling metropolis of Manaus, past endless midrise apartment buildings, and then past large motorcycle and television factories. We drove over the enormous bridge that spans the Solimões, reaching its bone-white arms for more than 3.5 km from shore to shore. This is a bridge where you stop to think, “But where does it go?” upon first seeing it reaching away from Manaus.
We drove for around an hour and a half after crossing the bridge before we got to a small dock and piled into a long, narrow, motorised boat. It was another hour or so on the Rio Negro before we pulled up to a dock at the base of a rickety staircase. We found out later that we were on an island in the middle of the river, though you would never know it from the size as we approached. We clambered up to the top of the stairs and stopped a moment to take in the view.
From the dirt at our feet to the reaches of the highest clouds, all we could see was nature. As a distant boat motor engine faded, the only sounds were those of the living, breathing forest surrounding us. The river was almost soundless. We (we being Tim and I, and an Australian couple who were staying at the lodge for a few days) made our way to lovely yet extremely basic and rustic accommodation. The lodge was primarily solar-powered. The water was supplied by rainwater catch barrels that, incidentally, had been drained by the large group that had just vacated the place. There was a barrel outside of our room with buckets if we happened to need water for anything. We settled in, had a tasty lunch, and had a little while to relax before our first activity.
Our group headed out on a couple of long, narrow, non-motorized canoes. These boats had to be balanced, almost perfectly, less a side dip below the surface of the water and the bottom of the canoe get flooded. Even with perfect balance, our canoe had enough leaks and holes to require almost constant bailing. We drifted along the river, through the flooded forests that the Amazon is at the end of rainy season. We spotted countless scores of vibrant birds, no monkeys, and, luckily, river dolphins. We were feeling it in our arms after working the heavy, rough wooden paddles along the river for a couple of hours.
The second day of our adventure started with a hike through the forest with a 65-year-old man who had grown up in the Amazon. Despite the fact that he was missing all of his teeth, his cheeky smile and spryness made him seem many years younger. He taught us about the uses for a handful of plants that grow in the Amazon. A single tree could be used for everything from plugging holes in canoes to curing headaches. The knowledge of our guide and the incredible offerings of the forest were truly amazing.
The highlight of our trip was right at the end. The Amazon is home to incredibly unique pink river dolphins, and we were lucky enough to get into the water with a group of them.
The river dolphin operation is set up in the centre of the river, and the wild dolphins come around to take advantage of the fish on offer. It was just the two of us in the water with one of the men who worked there, and a handful of the small, bulgy, pink dolphins. They were incredible strong in the water, and had no qualms with rushing into and alongside you as they went for the fish. At one point, one of the dolphins jumped out of the river, as if for a fish, but headed more in Tim’s direction than anywhere. The animals probably weigh well over 100 kilograms, and to avoid getting crushed into the water underneath him, Tim essentially tackled the dolphin away from him. The dolphin easily flipped away and dove back into the water. The dark waters of the river made it almost impossible to see them until they were breaking the surface, and it was a bit unnerving being so close to such powerful animals that you couldn’t even see.
We somehow managed to dodge the thick rain clouds on our way back, and the sun came out for the long boat ride back.
We had a final night in Manaus where we caught the amazing Brazil vs. Chile match in the square, saw some of the Amazonas Jazz Festival, and then travelled overnight down to Rio de Janeiro. We had two weeks to spend in the state that would culminate with a few days in the city over the World Cup Final.