When I got to Manaus after a 36-hour boat ride down the Amazon, I didn’t even want to do any exploring. It was a long trip, and even though I was stuck on a boat the whole time, I just wanted to relax. Manaus, to me, is very much the gateway to the Amazon jungle, situated right in the middle of the river in the north of the country. In fact, Manaus is the capital city of Brazil’s Amazonas state. I got off the boat and walked 15 minutes to Local Hostel Manaus, where I would be staying for a day before heading out into the jungle for three days. I was able to stop in a pharmacy and restock on some toothpaste and soap, which I had finally run out of from my initial packing. That night at the hostel was Super Bowl Sunday, and the hostel cooked a large barbecue. It was a good opportunity to socialize and I met a nice guy from Bosnia named Zlatko. We got to kick back and drink Brazilian caipirinhas and watch the game.
Luckily, the hostel had lockers where I could store my belongings while I was in the jungle. I mistakenly didn’t pack any clothes except for an extra pair of underwear, thinking I would wear the same thing the whole time…it’s the rainforest, I got rained on. My clothes were soaked on the first day. I walked down to Iguana Turismo with a small bag from the hostel, not really knowing what to expect. There, I met another traveler from Israel named Alon, who would be spending the same three days in the jungle with me, so it was nice to make a friend right off the bat. The actual trip into the wilderness was a combination of cars and boats of various types. I should mention that although my Spanish has improved quite a bit, my Portuguese is nonexistent. Communicating with the different individuals who took me to the middle of nowhere wasn’t really an option. I had no idea where exactly I was heading, how I was getting there, or how long it was going to take. Alon and I would get in a car or boat with a stranger and get handed off to another vehicle with another stranger; perhaps we were too trusting?
We started with a car ride down to the port. This was a quick transport as the harbor was close by. We hopped out and grabbed our bags and were handed off to a gentleman on a small speed boat. What’s interesting about Manaus is that the city sits on two separate rivers that feed into the Amazon river, the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões. Where these two rivers meet, the water’s actual color and temperature change immediately. You can dip your hand in and actually feel the difference. We continued for a good half hour to another port, and I have no idea where this was. It was definitely a small village compared to Manaus, with individuals selling fruits and other odds and ends. We hopped into a van with yet another stranger. We rode for about an hour on dirt roads into the increasing green rainforest and eventually ended up at a small building with a screened-in porch and steps down to another small river. As I said, communication was hard, but we gathered we were supposed to wait there for a boat. The building was closed, so we sat on the porch, applied bug spray, and waited. Luckily we weren’t there too long, maybe 25 minutes or so when another small speedboat came along. We hopped in and took another 45-minute ride into the jungle, to what would be our final destination for the following days.
We finally arrived at the Hostel Juma Lake, which is a small collection of huts right on the water. I stayed in the main room, which was a giant room with beds and mosquito nets. There was a smaller main hut, where we ate lunch and docked the boats. There, we met a few others who would be joining us for a couple of days – a Dutch family, a New Zealander named Henry, and his Chilean girlfriend Nicole. We had a bit of time to relax, so we all decided to swim in the river. Afterward, we hopped on a boat and went on a waterway tour through the jungle. Much of the wildlife we saw were birds and monkeys, but we also glimpsed a large caiman, a cousin to an alligator. We ended up getting caught in some pretty nasty rainfall, but once that passed, we used sticks, strings, and hooks to create a fishing rod to catch piranhas. I didn’t catch anything, although some others did. It made me question why I was swimming in that water earlier.
We headed back to the lodge for dinner, which is an excellent opportunity to go ahead and mention that all I ate for an entire week was Amazonian food. Leticia? Amazonian food. The boat to Manaus? Amazonian food. In Manaus? Amazonian food. In the jungle? Amazonian food. Try it once, but don’t eat it for a week. After dinner, we took the boat out once more in the night to hunt for caimans. Similar to people wrestling alligators in Louisiana or Florida, in the Amazon, they wrestle caiman. We didn’t get to see any of that, considering we were on a boat in the darkness, but we got a few babies to hold. After that, Henry, Nicole, Alon, and I had a few beers in the lodge to chat about our travels, life, and all odds and ends. I’ve really only been on the road for a month, but I can already say that these are the moments I really love – connecting with strangers.
Early morning the next day, we took the boat out to watch the sunrise and caught some glimpses of pink dolphins. After breakfast, we got to go on an actual tour through the jungle, where our guide pointed out various wildlife and taught us some survival skills. Throughout this, our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable and taught us about some of the forest’s recent political implications. The amazonian people are incredibly passionate about the integrity of the rainforest. The recent burnings to make way for farmland have been an emotional event for them. I can’t even begin to type out all of the things we learned; I encourage you to go and discover for yourself.
When we returned for lunch, Henry and Nicole had to leave as this was their last day. Alon and I partnered with the newcomers for the day, and we were scheduled to go out to the rainforest that night to camp. I became close with several individuals in this crew: two more Israelis, Mayan, and Noa. And also really connected with a German guy named David. We took a boat out to a secluded spot in the jungle with an open shelter where we could hang hammocks. We also brought some food and beer out there to enjoy ourselves. We used tree branches to create a table and built a fire to cook dinner that night (chicken, fish, and vegetables). After setting up, we went out to swim and, of course, got rained on yet again. After dinner and a moonlight boat ride – where there was an extensive debate between David and me over which star was the north star (spoiler alert, we’re both idiots, and you can’t see the north star in the southern hemisphere), we came back to our campsite. So, camping in the jungle is LOUD. Monkeys, bugs, frogs. I wear hearing aids and didn’t have them in while I was trying to sleep, and it was still noisy. I also fell out of my hammock after having a beer too many, which was funny but miserable because I broke my mosquito net.
Not going to lie; when waking up in the middle of the night to pee, I was absolutely terrified. I had nothing but a headlamp to see, and the last thing I wanted to do was run into a jaguar. I also generally don’t sleep well in heat and a hammock, but I made it through. The next day, we made breakfast and packed our stuff. Before heading to the lodge, we stopped by a local village. We learned how the cassava shrub is processed to be used in their local meals. This stuff is used in all Amazonian dishes and is poisonous if not processed correctly. That afternoon, Alon and I headed back to Manaus. After finally showering and changing clothes, we met up for dinner, and I caught up on some emails. The next day, Noa, Mayan, and David came back from the jungle. We stayed in the same hostel, so we had one final evening together before parting ways the next day.
I’m currently en route to São Paulo, where I will be for twelve days in preparation for Carnaval. David will be in Rio de Janeiro for the main event along with me, so we plan to connect there. Happy to have made a new friend!
Until next time.