By Marilyn Diggs
June 9, 2008

During my last two trips to the Amazon I stayed in a posh hotel and did the routine tours. This time would be different. I wanted to live the Amazon,” as the slogan of Amazonat Ecotours says. National Geographic magazine’s rating of Amazonat enticed me, awarding it 95% in spirit of adventure and 92% in quality of service. From the Manaus airport my small group of six traveled 160 km east in an air-conditioned van to the jungle lodge. In a clearing smack dab in the rainforest, we walk past the thatched-roof reception area (see photo below) to our duplex bungalows, beautifully decorated with hardwoods and local handicrafts. The jungle lodge is one of three options, the survival camp and the riverboat being the others.

Trekking in the Amazon Rain Forest
After a buffet breakfast, red araras (parrots) send us off on hiking trails under a closed evergreen canopy. Our guide splits open the jenipapo fruit, squishing the seeds with his machete and finger-paints our forearms with Indian tattoos whose indigo color is visible only hours later. So begins our initiation. We proceed through giant tree-lined, leaf-carpeted trails, listening to the capitão do mato bird as he alerts the forest of our intrusion. Enrico, our bilingual Peruvian guide, stops and puts his hand against a tree trunk. Instantly it is covered by tiny, red tapiva ants. He rubs them into his skin and asks us to note the pleasant odor. Indians do this all over their body when hunting to disguise their human smell. We are silent and watchful of swaying branches that hide monkeys while our eyes dart back to the path, mindful of snakes. A 2-meter jibóia cobra relaxes behind a fallen trunk along the path, with only his head visible. Our guide’s sharp eyes and lightning reflexes suspend the snake with a metal hooked rod for our perusal. Its black spots on beige stripes writhe and contort until it is safely lowered into the woods where it vanishes.

Eventually we arrive to the second lodge option – Jane’s Place, the jungle survival camp with two decks supported on stilts. Palm-sized blue butterflies and lime green dragonflies are curious to see us. Campers can spend the night in hammocks or enjoy it as a rest stop for lunch and wade in the tea-colored stream. Amazonat is on a black water tributary – due to the chemical composition of the water there are no mosquitoes here. There is also a nearby lake with a white-sand beach and a swimming pool at the main lodge.

River Adventure
While jungle forays expose us to the fascinating macro-mosaic forest world, boat cruising takes us to three Amazon tributaries, as well as the great dame river herself. Gray dolphins play near the dock as we board long motorized canoes that sit close to the water. It is the end of the rainy season, so floating houseboats bob along riversides and tall, submerged trees have their roots some 40 meters below. We make our way through inlets, temporarily disturbing a sloth on a tree top who slowly moves further into the leaves and turns his back to us. A giant tree lizard gets spooked and splashes into the water. Parakeets chatter, toucans clatter, and parrots swoop to neighboring refuges. We stop at Dona Zaza’s modest wooden river house and fish off the tiny dock for piranha. Next is a visit to an Indian village along the river where dogs languish near smoking pots. A pet parrot accompanies our interview with the cacique’s sister, whose shy child hides behind her.

Our boat maneuvers into a lake filled with gigantic green Victoria Regia pads and bright pink flowers. We are so close to the water that we touch their plastic-like surface. At dusk so many white heron fill the trees that they look snow-laden. Our approach frightens them and the sky is filled with flapping white. Sunset on the Amazon brings a light-show spectacle of orange, yellow, pink and purple. Lanterns shine into the black night as caiman eyes reflect it back. In an instant the guide leaps over the boat into a swamp and brings his bounty back to us: a 75cm long baby caiman that is returned after our curiosity and adrenaline subside. The boat docks; I leave the Amazon River still thirsty to see and know more. I have never felt so close to its essence.

CONTACT:
Amazonat Ecotours SP. Av. Paulista, 2073. São Paulo. Tel. (11) 3253-6114 or (11)3253-7878. www.mdiggs.com

Previous articles by Marilyn:

Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

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