I am usually a mountain person when it comes to trips. However, there is one place in the tropics that has always captured my interest, and that is the Amazon basin in the rain forests of Brazil. The Amazon basin is the largest drainage basin in the world. The river is larger in volume than the next 10 largest rivers in the world combined. At dinner one night, a friend mentioned the movie, Aguirre, The Wrath of God, by Werner Herzog, and described the epic of Herzog filming and camping in the Amazon rain forests for several years while trying to make the movie. After seeing the movie, hearing the sounds and seeing the sunset over the river, I made the decision to go.
I wanted to stay at a jungle lodge near the river and get a taste of the sights and sounds of the jungle without being in a cushioned “tourist bubble”. After searching on the Internet, the Amazonat Jungle Lodge seemed a great fit for me. I picked the lodge partly because it was outside of Manaus, Brazil, and I wanted an authentic, close to Werner Herzog, experience. The Amazonat offered a variety of activities, jungle walks and river trips to learn about the eco-system of the jungle and the nature of the Amazon basin. It was clean and simple, with a covered wooden, open air dining pavilion and rustic, but air-conditioned cabins, each with their own name and pool. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I had visions of snakes and spiders jumping out at me amidst the plants and trees of the forest.
My 4 days were action packed. I trekked through the primary growth forest to a jungle camp that looked like an extra large kid’s jungle gym. I slept in the traditional bed of choice, a hammock, tied between 2 poles of the elevated structure. Although I did not see any creepy crawly creatures on the walk in, by the many sounds emanating from the jungle around me, I knew they were out there and I think there was a reason that every jungle guide carried a very large knife. The jungle was like a huge apartment complex with different layers of plants and fauna. I learned that most of the action takes place at the top, called the canopy. The canopy is where the sunlight stops and most of the birds and the monkeys hang out. Along the ground, as I walked, I saw all the green, vine type plants that I see sold in the plant section of my grocery store. These vines are comfortable in the dark nooks and crannies among the large trees. I walked by huge, sawdust-strewn mounds of termite homes and the guide poked his knife into the hole of a tree to show me where tarantulas lived. I was happily surprised there were no mosquitoes to speak of because the lodge was next to a black river, called the Urubu. Black rivers are very acidic and don’t support much plant life, hence no food for the mosquitoes. The owner of the lodge had strategically built the lodge next to a black river for this reason.
The next few days included touring the rivers by boat. I accessed the Amazon River by a small tributary near the lodge. The Amazon, originating in the Andes of Peru and ending on the East Coast of Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, is the river equivalent of I-90 to most of the surrounding villages of the basin. The river was full of ferries, with hammocks strewn throughout the boats for the local people to sit, sleep and eat in. I motored through the shadowy, shallow areas along the river in a little boat. I was in a dark, cave-like area created by all the trees around me. I put meat on my fishing line and was successful in bating the pink-bellied piranhas swimming around the boat. I was happy I was not the one taking the hook out of their jagged-toothed mouths, but they practice “catch and release” even in Brazil. Down another tributary, as the sun set in hues of orange and pink along the wide horizon, I waited for the sun to sink so I could look for the glowing red eyes of the caimans (mini-alligators) under the water.
The next day, on another river trip, I saw giant water lilies that were at least 4 feet in diameter. The variety of trees was staggering. I really gained an appreciation for plants. I stopped at a local farm to see a tapir, an animal the size of a small donkey with a very long snout like an anteater. On another of my river trips, I ventured down smaller tributaries to see the local cassava farmers processing the poisonous cassava root so it could be eaten.
It seemed that every local child I saw was kicking a soccer ball. No wonder Brazil produced Pele.
In the end, I did have my own Herzog experience. Being on the river at sunset, with the pink, purple, yellow and orange hues in the sky, and seeing the vibrant river life was incredible. I actually felt like I was in the middle of a movie because it was so different from any that I have ever experienced.