Saturday, November 24, 2012

Manaus, Brazil

Manaus, Brazil is in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Manaus was truly a unique port because we spent two days sailing on the Amazon River after entering the mouth of the river in Macapa. After several months on the Atlantic Ocean, traveling deep into the Amazon rainforest on the famous Amazon river was a distinct change of pace, and noticeably different, with brown water, the smell of burning and smoke in the air, and a closed food deck as a result of the plentiful and large bugs. Sometimes immensely wide, other times narrow enough for us to wave at the local village tribes on the banks of the river, the landscape continually changed as we wound through the river, with seemingly endless channels and mazes deeper into the rainforest. Upon arriving in Manaus, I boarded a small riverboat for a 2 night, 3 day, relatively rugged riverboat adventure deeper into the Amazon rainforest, which turned out to be a definite highlight of the entire voyage. After recently coming from South Africa, Patagonia, and Rio de Janeiro, every day seems like a highlight, but the remoteness of Manaus, the isolation of the Amazon Rainforest, the interaction with indigenous Brazilians, and sleeping in hammocks on a riverboat, certainly made the rare experience a highlight. The days and nights quickly passed with endlessly new adventures. We traveled to the Meeting of the Waters, where the black-colored water of the Rio Negro and the brown, sand-colored water of the Rio Solimoes run side-by-side, but don't mix. We sailed under the Manaus-Iranduba Bridge. We learned more about Amazonian culture from our funny, interactive, and experienced guides, as well as the village where we stopped to witness daily life. Our guides made the experience educational, interactive, and fun, welcoming us into the communities we visited. We saw giant water lilies. I held a small sloth in my arms, which is possibly the cutest and wildest looking animal I've ever seen. Our cooks on the riverboat set up the first of many delicious buffet-style arrangements of fresh fish, rice, and plantains. Our guides hung hammocks inside the boat, where we spent the first night listening to the sounds of the Amazon as we fell asleep, or at least tried to fall asleep given the fact that hammocks are more suited for naps than a good night's sleep. The next morning we went on a ridiculously hot hike through the jungle. (Even our guides admitted the heat and humidity was a little higher than usual.) Despite sweating more than I've probably ever sweated in my life, which is saying a lot since it doesn't take much for me to start sweating, I was fully in the moment, as I felt all my senses alive during the hike, with the sounds, smells, and feel of the hot Amazon jungle. Our guides passed along survival tips while explaining the culture and life in the Amazon rainforest. We cooled off with a swim where our riverboat was docked, and then traveled to the Acajatuba village, where we played soccer with kids from the local community. I'm pretty sure they went easy on us, as they moved around the field and passed and kicked with ease, clearly able to dominate us if they didn't hold back. Their welcoming nature and the joy they all had was definitely memorable. After the game we had a couple drinks at their local bar, and watched the sun start to set over the village. We were visiting in the dry season, and the church, market, and homes exposed the stilts built to keep the buildings above the flooding waters during the rainy season. Being there in the dry season made it difficult to comprehend how much water floods into the villages. The canoes at the base of the homes were signs of how walking where we stood would not be possible in several months. The evening canoe ride in search of caimans, an alligator species, was beautiful, as we slowly started to become immersed in the jungle at night. Although we didn't catch a caiman, the ride was absolutely scenic, and I'll always remember the loud chorus of frogs. We ended the night with a barbecue on a beach, and then went fishing for piranhas in the morning. I'm deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to experience life in the Amazon rainforest. I was humbled to realize that while back home in the United States I live with an abundance of probably unnecessary amenities, these Amazonian communities are living their daily life in a completely remote area, with very little, in a rugged and unforgiving environment, and doing so with fulfillment and joy. I'll forever look at a map, see the Amazon rainforest, and think of those communities, and feel a sense of wonder and awe that for several nights and days, I was there, sleeping in a hammock to the sound of the rainforest, learning more about the economy, life, culture, and community of the Amazon rainforest.      

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