A taxi took 3 of us from my hotel to the boat port where we joined a much bigger group already there. Our guide for the day was Renoir. He spoke excellent English and seemed very proud if having a French name!
We started on the Rio Negro – which means black river. First stop was the floating petrol station where everybody jumped off and stocked up with crisps, chocolate and fizzy drink – the Brasilians have no sense of healthy eating that’s for sure!
On the way we passed the stilt house where fishermen and their families live. They never leave their houses as another family could move in – apparently the houses here cannot be owned.
The amazon floods right up to the houses in June, which is why they are built on stilts. I am so glad we didn’t come here before as it was bad enough dealing with a flooded Ganges when we were in India. But on second thoughts the Amazon is probably a lot cleaner!
Renoir pointed out an island once inhabited by tribal people. They used to live on it then it became a place just for their ceremonies. Manaus takes its name from this tribe. The island is no longer used as the water levels now cover it each year.
First stop was the meeting of the waters where Rio Negro, which comes from Colombia, meets the Rio Solimões, which starts in the Andes in Peru.
The two rivers run parallel for 4 kms – never mixing because their temperature, density and speed are different. The Rio Negro is 28 degrees the Rio Solimões is 22 degrees. The rivers are 72 mtrs deep here and deep enough for the big container ships and passenger cruisers.
You can see the two colours of water very clearly as the rivers run side by side, although I’m not sure how clear they are in the photographs. The Rio Negro is black due to the decomposed vegetation on the bottom and the Rio Solimões is yellow as it is muddy. Both are clean and unpolluted.
Together they form the Amazon and apparently they do mix further down the river but they take on the colour of the Solimões. It takes 4 days to get to the ocean by boat from here. Did you know there are 1400 different types of fish in the Amazon? Nope me neither but I do now.
Our next stop was a floating house. The wood used to build the float is like a balsa wood. Once cut, it lasts for up to 70 years in the water yet only 4 on land. Interesting. The man who owns the house has giant catfish you can pay to see and pay to feed. He’s quid’s in. He lives here on the island and the locals named him the German because he has blonde hair – no he isn’t German! The nearby village is all floating including the church and the school. In November this area if the river is just mud so the village moves itself further up the river where there is still water. There is also a little yellow school boat which goes around picking all the kids up for school. How cool is that?
As we ride up the river, it is so calm, flat, almost like a lake. It is hard to believe this is the longest river on the planet. I expected to see crocodiles and many more animals. Not even very many birds to see. I expect they are all hiding from the tourists though.
We arrive at a place that does have animals and it really wasn’t what I’d hoped for.
Bearing in mind our boat holds about 70 people, as we pulled in there were 69 people all scrambling to hold the sloth, an alligator and an anaconda. I was horrified as they were pulled off one person and passed to another until all 69 had their desired photos.
Our guide confirmed they are wild caught but only held by the family for a maximum of 4 days then they must be returned to the wild. I am not entirely convinced that they are but the guide says they must and the rangers check.
If you consider there are about 4 boats a day coming through here each Saturday and Sunday, if they are roughly the same size as ours, then this means each animal is subjected to approximately 560 people handling it each time it is caught. Shocking!
Of course the crocodiles stand a better chance of not being caught again but the anaconda cant move as fast. And the poor old sloth won’t even have made it past their garden gate in the course of a week so unfortunately it’s probably the same one that gets caught over and over again.
Not good at all and I found myself apologising to the poor little sloth for being put through that. Trouble is he was adorable which makes it all the more difficult to educate people.
But I can see the age-old dilemma. The family cannot fish when the river is low and turn to other ways of making a living. Each person that gets that selfie holding a sloth, anaconda or crocodile, has to pay the family R$2-5. Times that by the 560 people and that is considerable income for them. It means they can buy thinks like oil and rice – things they cannot produce themselves. The family needs to pay its way I agree but I hope they find a better way to bring tourists into contact with these creatures.
Lunch was next – on another floating island. A very nice setting – one we’ve seen in many places before.
Before lunch though, we took a short walk. It was searing hot and just got hotter as we headed into the jungle. I say jungle but its “jungle for day trippers” really – not really proper jungle thank goodness. There was a nice wooden walkway that took you high up across the vegetation and over to a small pond at the side of the river.
Here another very nice walkway with thatched canopy had been built for tourists to gaze across the lake and look at the giant lily pads below. They were amazing.
As we walked along the wooden walkway, a troop of squirrel monkeys was playing nearby. Now these were definitely not laid on for tourists and were an added bonus.
Lunch was ok. Not much except salad for us vegetarians yet so many choices of meat and fish for the carnivores. Lets face it though, if a tourist hot spot like Rio finds it hard to cater for us, some little floating river restaurant are going to find it much harder!
There was lots of lovely fresh fruit to make up for it afterwards though and most of it I hoped grown here in the Amazon.
Both here and at the German fish mans floating place, there was a gift shop selling ‘Amazon crafts’. Some if it for sure was made locally and its rustic appearance was easy to spot. The plastic birds and jaguars definitely had more of a “made in china” appearance to them but who knows!
We then had a 1 1/2 hour trip up river to where the dolphins live. I was really looking forward to this bit as a swim with wild pink dolphins was promised. I sincerely hoped it was not going to be some sad pen they were kept in, that they truly had the choice of whether they wanted to mix with humans or not but after the setting for the sloth, I tried not to get my hopes up too much.
The day remained overcast as we rode up the river. Actually I was really grateful for that as the previous day was very sunny and had been an absolute scorcher.
We pulled up to a small landing stage and were encouraged to get changed ready to swim. We were given floatation aids and I was told “stay with the group – do not swim off – this is the amazon and anything could be in there!” Ok don’t worry I’m not going off on my own when you put it like that!
I was expecting the water to be cold as we had been told it was 22 degrees earlier. But it was like stepping into a lukewarm bath. Yellow lukewarm bathwater actually it was a very funny colour. But it was lovely.
Then once a group of us were all in, a man wiggled a fish and swimming right up through the middle of us came a dolphin. Oh wow!
My first instinct really wanted to reach out and touch it but I didn’t – not like everybody else who clambered all over the poor thing.
I got out of the water at this point because I obviously hadn’t taken my camera in the water with me and wanted to capture some pictures of the dolphins. It’s another dilemma – stay in the water and have the experience or get out and take the photos? But then a lovely lady who was also staying in my hotel and on the trip with me, offered to take pictures for me so I got back in. Problem solved!
I tried to stay on the periphery of the crowd in the water around the dolphin but the current was moving me around a bit so I kept drifting into the group. Then I felt something rubbing along my feet and legs. For a good half minute it was like having an underwater cat rubbing around my legs – a rubbery cat at that! So much for trying not to touch it.
At least it had the choice not to if it didn’t want to. Then it made its move – straight between my legs and up to the surface the pink dolphin swam. Wow!
These are truly wild river dolphins and are not confined to this area, they are free to come and play with tourists or not – whatever they chose. But I noticed they rang a little bell when we started to get in so maybe they have just learned to come for food when the people ring the dinner bell!
I wasn’t ready to leave as I would have loved to just sit and observe them a bit longer. But the boat was blowing its hooter and off we had to go.
Next stop was to see some tribal people further up the river. They came here 25 years ago from several days away further up the river in Venezuela and Colombia. The Brasilian Government gave them the land and so it belongs to them properly now. It is theirs legally and by being here they protect it and prevent illegal logging and hunting.
They live on the land with their traditional customs and hunt wild pigs and capybara to eat, they fish and capture ants to eat too. They had a whole pot full of ants on the barbecue and they generously offered them to us to try – sorry mate I’m a vegetarian!
Phew! a ready made excuse.
They took us to a big barn (which is why the video maybe a bit dark) where they sang and danced for us showing us a typical dance for a celebration when they get together with other villages eg for a wedding. The celebrations usually last 24 hours and they feast and drink and sing and dance.
Usually when I see something like this, I have to say I find it a bit of a ‘cover your ears” moment. But this was so lovely, such a lovely song, I could have stayed and listened for hours. See the video here keep an eye on the little boy in the foreground – he was very funny
They were such lovely people, so friendly and happily posed for pictures with us that it seemed as if everyone in the boat wanted to buy something from them. I certainly wasn’t ready to leave when our guide called to us but we were rushed along again, the boat blowing its hooter – time to go back to Manaus.
It took about an hour and a half for us to get back again and back to my hotel room. What a dramatic contrast from the way these villagers live. It does ram it home just how privileged we are living as we do.
Then again, maybe they are the privileged ones. Living so close to nature in a wonderful community.
I don’t think I will be moving in with them any time soon though – I just couldn’t face having to eat ants and having to sing and dance for all those tourists…!