Manaus is not what you expect in the middle of the Amazon jungle – sprawling and home to two million souls it seems strangely placed. Until that is you realise it is at the intersection of two of the largest rivers – the Rio Negro which flows into the Amazon proper.
Although somewhat expected, the humidity was absolutely stifling and with no wind it felt completely airless. Without much time to see Manaus it was off early the next morning along with Laura and Dan – both from Switzerland but Laura visiting from time studying in Buenos Aires.
First we needed to cross the Rio Negro and Amazon and see the meeting of the waters. To call it a river is an understatement – I have never seen gas tankers anchored in a river before!
The meeting of the waters brings the dark, warmer but less life rich waters of the Rio Negro and mixed with the lighter, mud coloured waters of the Amazon which is more oxygenated and has far more species. Holding our hand in the water the temperature difference was noticeable as we went from one to the other.
A 45 minute bus ride brought us to another tributary and a final speedboat down the river to our jungle lodge perched high above the river on stilts. The river rises over 10 metres seasonally and floods so in dry season everything seems oddly placed.
A quick fried fish lunch (lots of fish!) later and we were off with some sticks and hooks to catch what we could. The small piranha-like fish were well adept at tearing off our bait leaving us empty handed except for Daniel who managed to hook one.
After dark we went Cayman hunting along the river bank where our guide managed to scoop a baby cayman right out of the water. He was passed about until he had enough in Laura’s hands and a scream and cayman toss later he was back to freedom!
Our next day started with a jungle walk, I had been forewarned that while there is a lot of wildlife it’s not always visible or around during the day. Our real remote experience started when we headed for a couple of hours upstream and clambered up the embankment to a forest clearing with open-sided huts.
Our guide for this whole time was very much the silent type and spoke in Portuguese monosyllables so we didn’t get much information about the surroundings or how to put up our hammocks and mosquito nets. Our first try wasn’t all that successful with the net hanging off the ground but we got there in the end.
And did we need them – come sunset the mosquitos were out in force and they seemed to take a liking to me in particular. Over the course of dinner beside my best attempts of standing in the smoke I must have been bitten ten times before an early night.
Our guide was the complete opposite of what I was looking for – silent during the day and snoring like train at night!
Given our limited supplies we headed out to catch the lunch and dinner for the day. As the water is so opaque the only clues to life underneath is the occasional large splash on the surface. We laid down three net about 20m across the river. Within an couple of hours we had over 15 fish and decent sized ones at that.
Our guide was no animal rights campaigner our guide descaled them and hacked off the fins with them still alive which was a bit excessive to our European sensibilities. We were then set to making skewers and preparing fish for the fire.
By this stage I was quite hungry as so my compassion had waned and it was a tasty fresh fish and rice lunch for all.
We switched guides as the older man was replaced by a younger and chattier man who brought us to a local house where we sat with an extended family and toured their farm and shook a few mangos off the trees.
I had never seen a mango tree or indeed a cashew tree. Since these things just appear by the checkout in Tesco magically I had never realised that cashew is actually a fruit and what we call the nut is actually technically a seed. There looks to be only one per fruit which might explain their expense.
Also on hand was a Brazil nut – called a Pará nut, from the name of the Amazonian province. These actually come in a large coconut casing themselves.
I took the opportunity to take a swim in the Amazon as the sun was setting before heading back to the mosquitos who were waiting for their dinner!
Our last day of five was heading back to Manaus and strolling around the riverfront with the armada of passenger boats which ply their way from the ocean up as far as Peru and Colombia.
Manaus was the centre of a rubber boom and some fine mansion houses and an opera house have been left in its wake. We also stopped by the local fish market where enormous tambaqui fish in their thousands awaited keen buyers.
I said goodbye to Dan and Laura and headed off before my flight to French Guiana to tuck into a fish rib supper of Amazonian proportions!