The Amazon jungle covers 7 million square kilometers over 9 nations in South America: Brazil (60%); Peru (13%); Columbia (10%); Venezuela; Ecuador, Bolivia; Guyana; Suriname; and, French Guiana.
Since we arrived in South America last October, I have dreamed about experiencing the Amazon. Our path across Ecuador and Peru verged so very close to it, but we could never work out the itinerary. However, now in Brazil, home to the largest percentage of the Amazon, we finally plunged into the jungle to explore its secrets and mystique.
Initially, we considered cruising 1,000 plus miles on a small river boat from Manaus, Brazil to Iquitos, Peru. What could me more romantic than sweating in our hammocks, crammed onto the deck with hundreds of people, and no cold beer for days?
However, the logistics of such a voyage just weren’t working out. But then we happened to talk with a French couple in Ilha Grande who had just returned from a 4 day/3 night tour of the jungle with Amazon Gero Tours. They had opted for the cheapest of accommodation choices, sleeping in hammocks. This of course appealed to Cory’s frugality and soon we had booked ourselves a tour.
When we landed in Manaus, Amazon Gero picked us up and brought us to our hotel, as promised, despite the late hour. At 8am the next morning, a driver picked us up to begin the start of our tour. Day one began with a driving tour of Manaus, through the crowded market, past once extravagant remnants of the late 19th century rubber boom and the crowded favelas perched above the Rio Negro. On our way to the port, we passed through the free trade zone, a post rubber boom project created to boost the economy that has attracted companies such as Yamaha, FoxConn and Procter & Gamble.
Soon we arrived at the port, which houses the fish market and numerous food and juice stalls where we embarked for the jungle. After about 10 minutes, we reached the Meeting of Waters (Encontro das Águas) – the confluence between the Rio Negro, a river with almost black-looking water, where the Lower Amazon begins, and the sandy-colored Amazon River, or Rio Solimões, as the upper section of the Amazon is known. For over 6km (4 miles) these waters run side by side without mixing.
We headed up into the Rio Solimões until we reached a small fishing village where we boarded a VW bus for a 2.5 hour ride further into the jungle. Our ride began on highway 319, which connects Manaus with Bolivia. Apparently this road is impassible in certain locations in the rainy season. Luckily, during dry season, we had no issues.
Into the Jungle
After a bumpy and dusty side road, we finally reached Rio Paraná do Mamori, where we loaded a small boat for the final leg of our journey. The Ararinha Jungle Lodge sits beautifully in the jungle and offers more than anyone might expect deep in the Amazon jungle. But we weren’t there for fancy accommodations, we were there to experience the jungle. And day one wasn’t over yet. With our amazing guide Janet, our group headed out on the water. So began our jungle adventure.
Every day we explored the jungle, sometimes in the boat, sometimes on foot, sometimes at night. Sitting low in the water, feeling, hearing and smelling the river became my favorite experience. At night, the jungle explodes with sound. Even when you don’t see any animals, you sense they are there.
We didn’t expect to see any animal in particular. After all, the jungle is not a zoo! But we saw and experienced amazing things – pink dolphins swimming at sunset, spotting Tucans while paddling through jungle moss, fishing for pirañas, spying on caimans in the dark, sloth spotting from the river, swimming in the Amazon at sunset, and watching fireflies light up the lily pads at night. We also witnessed and tasted the medicinal values of the Amazon jungle such as iodine, natural mosquito repellant (ants!), anti-malarial bark (yes, we ate it) and a tree that produces milk.
We would definitely recommend an Amazon Gero tour, with a few caveats. If you need a hot shower, don’t like bugs, and expect more than rustic accommodations, then this is not for you. If you need access to WiFi, this is not for you – this is a remote lodge in the middle of the Amazon. If you don’t like to be on or in the water, this is not for you. Most days we were in a small wooden canoe, filled over capacity with people, the boat taking on water, with no life jackets. There were times we felt we had negotiated our lives away for a mere $200. All without having to sign a liability waiver!
Our Amazon jungle tour satisfied all of my curiosities and my desire to feel I was deep in the jungle. We experienced the wonder of its immensity, the diversity of its inhabitants and its beautiful mystery. However, I sensed the foreshadowing of a very different Amazon of the future. Today’s Amazon is disappearing. Once abundant wildlife, now threatened and endangered, are almost impossible to spot in the wild. Precious jungle forest is disappearing due to deforestation and oil development. Indigenous tribes fear further displacement or worse, poisoning and disease. One day we might wonder what this magical jungle looked like. I feel lucky to have witnessed it. Our experience of today’s Amazon is most certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.