Day #11,053: Our alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5am. The jungle was still dark, and the first birds were just beginning to shriek when BAM! Something big hit our roof. Mr. M & I looked at each other, eyes wide and still foggy with sleep. Whatever it was scrambled around up there, banging about, and then… nothing. I kinda think it was an iguana that dropped down from one of the nearby trees. But it could’ve been a jaguar. Just a thought, friends.
In my book, pre-coffee excursions require Good Reason, and we were up to watch the sunrise on our final morning in the Amazon. We putt-putt-ed off into the inky black morning in silence, through the waterways of the flooded forest that we had explored with Prakash, and out into a wide open swelling of the river. One of our boatmates had brought along his smartphone and that Google app that lets you ID constellations… apparently we were looking at Venus and Jupiter shining brightly down on the Rio Negro.
Slowly, bands of pink appeared on rippled water like an oil slick. The sun, a fluorescent pink ball of fire began its journey above the horizon. The day was beginning, and it was magical.
Over breakfast we learned that another family departing around the same time as us had arranged for a guide to take them to see the sights of Manaus (the largest city of the Amazon) before heading to the airport. Mr. M had just told me the night before that his only regret was coming this far and not actually getting to see the Amazon River (which merges with the Rio Negro just outside Manaus). So of course we asked if there was room for two more and suddenly had a much more exciting day than just kicking it at the Manaus airport for 5 hours.
After jumping and bumping our way down the dusty road back to Manaus, we headed for the docks and the boat waiting to take us to the Meeting of the Waters.
This confluence is where the Rio Negro (where we’d been staying) and the Rio Amazonas merge together to form what is known as the Amazon River. The Rio Negro is very acidic, which is why we hadn’t encountered hardly any mosquitos; the Rio Amazonas picks up the slack and is teeming with skeeters year-round. The Rio Negro is almost about 15 degrees warmer than the Rio Amazonas and tea-black because it doesn’t contain silt; the Rio Amazonas contains dissolved minerals from the Andes and thus is more of a pale brown cream color.
Where the two rivers meet to form the Amazon River, there’s a seam of clear dark and muddy brown… like someone continually pouring cream into black coffee! We put our hands in the water as we crossed the confluence, and you really could tell the temperature shift. Now, Mr. M decided- we could move on. Our hands had officially been in the Amazon River.
Because we still had a few more hours till our flight, we motored up the Rio Negro to a floating village featuring a huuge craft market (all floating… kind of wild…) and the giant lily pads famous in the Amazon.
The giant lily pads were just okay (granted, it was off-season… although the local reserve had preserved a few for visitors to see). I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’d heard that they could support the weight of an adult capybara, and once I saw a picture of a woman with child sitting on a lilypad like a raft. Maybe I was secretly hoping that a lone capybara would be employed to sit on one and prove its superior strength to tourists.
In any case, our fave part of the excursion was the swaying wooden boardwalks that took you from the floating village through the flooded jungle and out to the lily pads. It felt like we were in some sort of treehouse.
We still arrived at the airport with plenty o’ time left over. Enough time to realize we were hungry and engage in a ridiculous attempt to communicate in Portu-Spanglish with the cashier at Casa do Pao de Queijo.
Like fast food charades, with a hungry line of highly unamused travelers behind us.
As we took off bound for Rio (does everyone else in the world already know it’s actually pronounced “Hee-you”? The pilot came on to announce our destination, and I was like, say what? Are we even on the right flight?), it was bittersweet leaving the Amazon behind as the sun set beyond the wings of our plane. As our unexpected tour had proven, the jungle is the sort of place where there’s always one more adventure around the corner. But I was beginning to think that was Brazil in general…
To read about the next day’s adventure running out of money in Brazil, click here!
Details of the Day:
Tips & Tricks: As we learned from Robelan at Analvilhanas, the impending World Cup and Olympics soon to be held in Brazil mean there are a whole mess of up-and-coming tour guides… some of which should have their “tour guide” label in quotations. The legit ones (at least around Manaus and the Amazonas region) go through an 18-month course on local ecology, history, language, etc and have a badge to denote this level of knowledge. Just something to keep in mind.
Language: This fact was re-emphasized many times in our trip, but the attempt at fast food at the Manaus airport was the first inkling: you don’t need to know Portuguese to visit Brazil, but it really REALLY helps to know Spanish. I can speak Spanish and found that I could read Portuguese (well enough to read a magazine, no prob), but the spoken language is SO ridiculously different that it was impossible for me to understand what people were saying (at least at the beginning- two weeks in there was a chance I could decode the main point). Knowing Spanish allows for some communiqué.
Portuguese is like English in that there are so many different ‘rules’ on how to pronounce certain letters that seriously at one point, a lodge representative meeting us at a hotel was calling Mr. M’s very common, very Gringo first name (Ryan), and we bypassed him, thinking he was saying “Hee-Young” and looking for an Asian man.