Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
By Voula Kosmopoulos
|An alligator camouflaged against large water lilies.|
My first impression of the Amazon was the “meeting of waters”. This is the junction point of the Rio Negro and Solimoes. There were six additional travellers, plus myself, on a 17-metre regional boat. All of us had been recruited by Armstrong, or his representatives at the airport, to join this tour.
As we neared the point, the captain slowed the engine. Our guide was already on the lower deck. We joined him. If we looked directly at the water, we saw what seemed to be two separate bodies of water. Each one held its stance firmly against the other, ensuring that none of its contents entered the wrong side. One was dark. Although it’s named the Rio Negro, it is not black, but a shade of brown. It has been described as a coffee colour. The second was creamy and murky, resembling tea with milk.
Their inability to mix is due to the differences in ionic concentrations, creating a contrast both mesmerizing and perplexing. We were asked whether anyone would like to dangle their feet in the two rivers to experience the difference in water temperature. Everyone was rather hesitant because of the mere fact that nothing was visible. Needless to say, all of us kept our feet dry.
The boat turned towards Manaus. On the upper deck, each person reserved a corner, looking silently at an area that represents over half of the rainforests still existing in the world today. A blanket of wild green loomed far into the distance. The mysterious water of the Rio Negro offset it.
We saw a dock up ahead. A luncheonette and tourist shop was set on this floating fixture. Slightly beyond, there was a wood paneled path that led to the gigantic water lilies. An observing dock was set above the marshland, most likely to avoid contact with the animals that lurked beneath. Pieces of raw meat were thrown onto a makeshift floorboard. Suddenly, a large alligator in a swift and strategic motion ate the food, and then retreated to its hiding place.
On the walk back, there was silence. The only noise came from the forest. Back at the starting point, we took a canoe out to go piranha fishing. The bait we hooked onto our rods, made out of a thin slice of wood, weren’t worms, but pieces of raw beef. Not really interested in catching these carnivorous fish, my meager attempt resulted in absolutely anything. However, we were able to examine them closely, after one was caught. It was glossy silver, dangerously slim, with razor sharp teeth.
Our last activity of the day was alligator hunting. In the motor powered canoe, with our guide balanced on the front with a spotlight, we raced through sections of thick, tall grass that swiped against my skin. This became a problem only after our guide decided to tie the alligator, put it in the front of the canoe and imprison it with an empty plastic fuel container. Luckily, my position on the canoe was furthest from the front but as loose grass slid across my arms, my toes curled tightly. Any effort at keeping my composure was slowly slipping away with the thrashing sound of the alligator. The reason for bringing him or her with us was to show them to two Swedish travellers who were joining us.
Once we arrived at our boat, we had dinner, while making our way back to Manaus. The reason was to switch guides and let one of the passengers off. That night the group banded together with beers. Two German gentlemen were extremely intriguing. They had been on similar adventures in the past, travelling through Botswana, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
|Netto showing us a tarantula.|
In the morning we ventured by foot into the Amazon. It is a region that has 2.5 million insect species, almost 2,000 birds and mammals, and tens of thousands of plants. Scientists have classified not all of them. Here we were, protected by Netto, our new guide, a bushman and the machetes he carried. The path was wide but as we worked our way further into the forest, it became much narrower. The guides swatted at the dense bushes and we flailed our arms trying to keep away the mosquitoes, but to no avail.
The humidity and steep uphill climbs had me drenched in sweat. Thankfully, perspiration dripped from everyone’s chin, except, of course, for the two who led the pack. We were introduced to the rubber tree. Netto swiped it with the machete and it leaked a thick white substance, natural latex. This latex was responsible for the rubber boom in Manaus in the early 20th century, which declined after synthetic material replaced it, and Southeast Asian cultivation of the same tree was successful.
More daunting were the ants that Netto disturbed by creating an echoing sound along a tree stump. They are known as Tucandeira. If these ants bite, they cause a temporary reoccurring paralysis. This little piece of information stimulated a sense of self-hysteria. From that moment on, my head was glued to the track, avoiding anything that was moving. My body was clenched together, in an effort to avoid any living organisms, which meant everything.
The second source of self-panic occurred when Netto picked up a tarantula. It took a lot of self-restraint not to plead with him to take me back to the safety of the boat. Inside, my heart was pumping at an alarming rate. In a stroke of luck, light raindrops slipped through the thick canopy of leaves. Soon after, their strength increased and we returned to the small canoe, which took us to the boat.
That evening we canoed into floating forests. Prior to this trip, we discussed anacondas. The canoe was my savior. The atmosphere definitely added to my lack of anxiety. The moon shone bright against the night sky, reflecting beautifully off the black water, where trees sprouted from the depths of it. The sound of the currents rustling created a soulful serenity.
Since Brazil is a country of great contrast, that same evening we were serenaded by a major thunderstorm. It roared loudly, lighted up the sky every three to five seconds, smashed against the tarp covering our hammocks. The boat rocked heavily against the water for three hours. No one said a word, trying to feign sleep because the struggle to overcome the terror of this natural phenomenon was internal.
In the morning I was relieved because it was my last day. Even with all its untamed beauty, the Amazon couldn’t convince me to stay and frolic in the unknown. I wasn’t an honest adventurer but a mere tourist paying respects to one of the most wondrous jungles that still exists within a sea of global urbanization.