Day # 11,051: Our second day in the Amazon, and breakfast proved to be much more entertaining than I had imagined: the lodge does a great job of serving up local Amazonian cuisine, and breakfast was one of the highlights. Fried plantains, tapioca pancakes made from the ubiquitous local manioc plant (points for style, but thumbs down… they’re definitely an instance of function over taste), coconut cake, and rolls made from beetroot (they looked like sweet pan dulce and tasted like, well, beet).
The true stars of the breakfast table were the assorted juices in the corner. Thick black acai juice; creamy banana milkshake; mildly apple-y cashew fruit juice. I just kept filling up my juice cup with different nectars. Verdict: Acai was the clear winner. I don’t know what kind of watered down nonsense they bottle and sell us gringos back home, but the good stuff is THICK, black, and sweet.
We learned that we’d be spending our morning with Prakash on… drum roll, please… a private boat tour of the nearby archipelago! Not sure which gods we pleased in order to get that gem, but the rest of our group got placed on another tour, and one doesn’t question good luck. Like Jungle VIPs, we headed out in our little motorboat along the great black waterways.
Prakash taught us all about the Amazon and its waterways: the Rio Negro can rise and fall 36 feet between the wet and dry seasons. The islands of the archipelago (of which there are over 400!) separate and coalesce as the water rises and falls.
Because we were visiting near the end of the wet season, many of the islands were flooded. The real fun came when our driver cut the motor, and paddled us into the tiny waterways of the flooded islands, searching for the caiman and anaconda that call the tree roots their homes.
It almost felt like floating in the Louisiana bayou. Beautiful and serene. With the ever-present hope of reptile spotting.
When we returned from our private tour, spoiled by getting to ask a never-ending stream of animal-related questions sans censorship (“Are sloths solitary creatures? Do red and white termites ever share a hive? Are there really armadillo in the Amazon?” Poor Prakash…), it was siesta time. Books in hand, Mr. M & I retired to the hammock room to read, and promptly fell asleep. Ahh, vacation.
Our afternoon’s activity was a trip downriver to visit a local community called Tiririca. I imagined the village to be a jungle façade set up to appease us tourists with a taste of the ‘local flavor’ but was up for the adventure nonetheless. After a 25 minute cruise along the river… during which we found a 8 foot long dead caiman, bloated and washed to shore- hashtag circle of life- we pulled into a little village of stilted homes.
Our guide Leandro invited us off the boat and told us about the local Coboclos community, people of mixed tribal and Spanish descent. While they used to make a living cutting down wood from the Amazonian rainforest, the government has worked to provide incentives not to do this: for each child that attends school, the family receives a stipend; they’ve been given a boat via which they can access local markets; plus, tourism provides them an outlet to sell their handicrafts. In the past decades there’s been a notable decrease in the amount of rainforest that’s being destroyed for immediate monetary gain.
After being invited to join a very intense soccer game played by the local schoolchildren, we made our way through the red dirt to the community’s small manioc plantation. Leandro taught us about the difficulty of preparing tapioca flour, the Amazonian staple.
Because the root itself is poisonous, the plant must be 1) shredded; 2) squeezed and separated from its cyanide-containing juice; and 3) roasted over a hot skillet for 2 hours to be made into the flour used in the manioc pancakes we’d eaten earlier in the day. Mr. M & I had a newfound respect for our styrofoamy breakfast.
We wound our way around the periphery of the community and never actually stopped to interact much with the local people. In some ways this was good: the stop seemed much less touristy than I had imagined, and the village inhabitants went about their daily chores as if we weren’t even there.
Meanwhile, Leandro taught us all about the local flora and fauna: tiny flowers that yielded a local anesthetic when chewed (that Leandro mentioned only after telling us to eat it, as my tongue was going numb… best not to pop random Amazonian things into your mouth)… cashew fruits, each of which produce a single cashew nut at one end like a thick, dangling comma… and a medicinal plant that smelled of garlic and was used to ‘sweat out’ fevers or headaches.
At the end of our walk, we passed by the women’s handicrafts, made mostly of local acai berries painted in various colors.
And surprise, surprise… found a Blue and Yellow Macaw watching us up in a nearby palm tree!
As we sped through the black water with tea colored wake kicking up along the bow of the boat, I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually IN THE AMAZON. The world never ceases to amaze.
To read about the next day’s adventure swimming in piranha-infested waters, click here!
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: Mr. M & I were both consistently surprised that a place like Analvilhanas exists out in the jungle of the Amazon. It’s gorgeous, amazingly bug-free (not once was I to be found screaming from on top of a chair for Mr. M to take care of an insect situation for me), and comes complete with a really helpful staff- most of whom know English. It’s not cheap (largely because it’s all-inclusive, see below), so stick with a standard room; the standard room was more than perfect and even had air conditioning.
Anavilhanas includes all activities, transfer to and from Manaus, and food & drink minus the alcohol- but the caipirinhas are strong and more than worth shelling out for. My caipirinha was so yummy the first night, I gulped my drink down, got tipsy, and was making drunken passes at Mr. M all night. Beware the strong sugary drink, my fellow cheap dates.