Amazon Rainforest – A trip of a lifetime
One of the main destinations for Shuchi and I in Brazil was to see the Amazon rain forest. We have watched so many documentaries about rich flora and fauna at Amazon on Nat Geo and Discovery channel that it was a must see place for us. We wanted to have first-hand experience being in the rain forest. Majority of Amazon rainforest is within Brazil followed by Peru, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. To give an idea of the vastness of Amazon – these forest spans over 6.7 million square km - almost twice the size of India.
Manaus is a major city that is in the middle of Amazon rainforest – this city is the main entrance to visit Brazilian Amazon. We flew to Manaus from Rio de Janeiro. There are hundreds of tour agencies that can take you to Amazon with services ranging from tough jungle survival to resort style living. We took a 4-Day 3-Night tour, which included camping in the rainforest, piranha fishing, dolphin and Cayman spotting along with hikes to explore the jungle.
Day 1: Reaching Amazon rainforest and dolphin watching
On the first day, we left at 8 am from our hostel to Ceasa port on the right bank of Negro river about 20Km from Manaus. We were a group of 6 including our guide. It’s great to meet people from different cultures and background – there was a couple from Latvia and another backpacker from the US. Our guide was very knowledgeable, spoke perfect English and was doing these tours for more than 15 years.
We took a speedboat from the port and crossed the place where Negro river and Solimoes River meet. It’s an amazing sight where we saw black water of Negro and muddy water of Solimoes trying to merge. Due to the difference in temperature and speed of water stream when these two rivers meet we clearly saw a division line between the two.
We rode the boat for another 30 min and reached the village of Careiro. Next, we took a van and drove for around an hour to reach Paraná do Mamori. Here we took another boat for 45 minutes. Finally at around 11.30 am we reached Juma Reserve Area of rainforest around 100Km south of Manaus. For 2 nights we stayed in a floating lodge, which was a clean and simple - perfect for people who want to explore the forests.
After having a nice lunch, we started our afternoon activity to explore the rainforest. Our guide took us in a canoe to see lots of pink river dolphins. These were freshwater dolphins that are endemic to the Amazon rain forest area. We also spotted some toucans, harpy eagles and macaws along the way. Later we stopped at a small village, saw their school and enjoyed seeing locals playing soccer. On our way back we watched the beautiful sunset over lush green Amazon forest.
As dinner was being prepared, we went for Cayman spotting at night in our canoe. Caymans are small alligators inhabited in Central and South America. It was pitch dark at night and our guide was expert enough to literally catch a Cayman out of the water. He explained us about their species and hunting behaviors. It was amazing to see how Caymans use a protective lid to cover their eyes while submerged in water. We took some pictures and released it back in the water.
Later we had dinner and slept in our rooms as we had to wake up early next morning.
Day 2: Piranha fishing and hiking the rainforest
Next day we got up at 5.30 in the morning and went to see the sunrise in our canoe. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day but we saw lots of wild monkeys, eagles, and sloths along the way. Later we came back to our lodge for breakfast and got ready for our hike around 10.00 am. We canoed for an hour and reached deep into the rain forest where we began our hike. This was our first experience walking in the rainforest with trees so thick that sunlight hardly reached the ground.
We were amazed to learn the facts about the rainforest in Amazon. These rainforests help in fighting global warming by removing more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. It plays a crucial role in weather patterns around the world. Amazon is not only the single largest remaining rainforest in the world but also have 10% of the worlds bio diversity. As we walked through the jungle we saw lots of medicinal plants, tarantulas, and exotic birds. Finally, after a 2-hour hike exploring the forest, we all were very hungry and returned to our lodge for lunch.
After lunch, it was time to go for some piranha fishing. We boarded our canoe and went again into deep waters. We spent 2-3 hours fishing but I had no luck – most piranhas were smart enough to eat my bait then escape. Shuchi caught a couple of big piranhas. We had a nice time fishing and then returned back to our lodge to relax for rest of the evening.
Day 3: Camping in rainforest and visit to indigenous village
After having our breakfast in the morning we boarded our canoe to visit the indigenous village. There are around 400 tribes in Amazon with an estimated population of 30 million people with few tribes still isolated from civilization. The family we visited owned a majority of the land and mostly produce their own food and crops. They mainly produce soya bean, palm oil, corn, rice, and manioc. We learned the traditional method of cooking and creating spices from the plants of Amazon.
Later we went back to our lodge - a couple of people from our group returned back to Manaus while we got ready for camping in the forest. Around 3 pm we loaded our canoe with our camping gear, food and utensils to prepare dinner and breakfast. We canoed for 1 hour to find a perfect place for our camp deep in Amazon.
Shuchi and I helped our guide to set up the tent, start the fire and gather some woods from the jungle to keep us warm at night. Our guide warned us about huge mosquitoes so we took nice repellant with us which was really helpful. Later we set up our hammocks to sleep with mosquito net around it.
As the sun set, it became pitch dark in the forest. While preparing dinner (yummy grilled chicken with vegetables and rice) we talked about the nocturnal deadly animals in the rainforest. We were told that Jaguar was the most deadly animal in the forest but it's not that common to see one. We should be worried more about tarantulas, wild pigs, and snakes. We all had nice chat at dinner talking about horror movies, supernatural experiences, political and cultural state of Brazil etc.
After dinner, it was time to do some spear fishing at night. As we boarded our canoe it was absolutely dark and quiet. We could hear fish jumping in the water, creepy insect sounds as we were rowing in Amazon water. It was a unique experience that is hard to describe. We were partially frightened and partially excited to see what’s next. After canoeing for an hour passing through water full of piranhas and alligators, we started fishing. We had to be very quiet and careful with spear fishing - this time I successfully hunted an Oscar fish.
Around mid night we returned back to our campsite and were ready to sleep in our hammocks. It was hard to sleep after hearing stories of jaguars in the area. Creepy insect sounds and noises made by monkeys and birds added a dramatic effect of a horror movie when we were trying to sleep. As far as I remember both Shuchi and me were awake till 3 am flashing our lights in the jungle making sure there was no Jaguar around us. Our guide and neighbor were both sleeping peacefully snoring all throughout the night. Then suddenly it started raining – it rained so heavily that we all had to get up and straighten our tarp so our hammocks won’t get wet. Heavy rains were a big relief as it dwarfed the creepy noises and both of us slept till 9 am next morning.
Day 4: Return to Manaus
When we got up it was still raining heavily – the downpour at Amazon is very unpredictable. By the time we woke up our guide had already made breakfast and coffee for us. We were supposed to go for another hike in the jungle but as it rained heavily we decided to skip the last hike. Once we finished our breakfast we prepared to go back to our lodge.
Without any doubt, Shuchi and I both agree that this was the best experience we had in our entire South America trip. The moments we spent and memories we made in the Amazon rainforest, we will cherish for our entire lives. It was a phenomenal experience and we highly recommend this trip to anyone who wants to be close to nature and enjoy the true thrill of being in the jungle.
Later in afternoon after having lunch in our lodge, it was time to return to Manaus. We took the same route - started with a boat ride, then drove in a van and finally took a boat to reach Manaus. We spent another night in Manaus and then took our flight for Paris – to begin our Europe tour.
 Map courtesy: http://wwf.panda.org/whatwedo/wherewework/amazon/abouttheamazon/