Thursday, October 10, 2013

Amazonia - A River Journey into Paradise

Hey all,

As promised, today's blog, and probably the next two weeks will be about our amazing adventure going up the Rio Negro River in the Amazon Rainforest. It was one of the top places we've traveled, and not only do we recommend it to anyone with an adventurous soul, we loved it soooo much, we'd go back and do it all again in a heartbeat!  That's how awesome this vacation was.

I could spend hours telling you about this journey, but I'll only hit the highlights.  But I can say, without a doubt, the time we spent cruising up the river, traversing the flooded forests in a canoe and then hiking among some of the most spectacular trees I've ever seen (and remember, I lived close by to the California redwoods) were some of the best in my life.

In this first blog, I'll give you an overview of the journey, and then in the next couple weeks, I'll be more specific about the actual things we saw and heard.

We started out by flying into Manaus (pronounced Ma-nouse).  Easy trip from where were are in Belo Horizonte, and we got to the hotel in plenty of time to meander around the area, visit their zoo and then having a quick swim in the pool before we sat down to a sumptuous dinner at poolside.  We were even treated to the dance of the swifts (birds) and bats as dusk fell.  First the swifts then the bats as they swooped through the sky after their nightly meal of mosquitoes.  (Thank you, my friends!)

The rooms were so-so in this hotel.  Huge, but basic, yet the hotel itself is quite lovely.  It sits on the Rio Negro river and is right down the block from the popular Rio Negro Beach.

There you can sit and drink away your day.  You can take a quick dip (you aren't allowed to swim, we think because of critters--there is a net up) and count the concession stands on the beach.  It cracked us up.  There is beer served at EVERY stand, yet a sign (see the one below with Jonathon in it - click to see closer) says NO ALCOHOL.  I guess here in Brazil, it's considered a food group.  *snort*

Wandering around and sightseeing was a lot of fun.  It was a very relaxing way to start our vacation and since we had to be up and meeting our guides at 7:00am, we decided to make an early night of it.

We were up at the crack of dawn, and since I'd forgotten we gained an hour, I had PLENTY of time to get myself ready. *sigh*  I hate time zones.

But our bags were packed, breakfast eaten, (check out the buffet) and we were in the lobby to meet the rest of the passengers and our guides right as the clock bonged the hour.

We were a decent sized group.  The Tucano, which is the boat we cruised on, is set for 18 people and we were only 16, so the two singles had bunks to themselves.  It was a diverse group, with a 15 year old boy being the youngest (who was a delight and I adopted him for my own) to the oldest, a 75 year old lady with the heart of a twenty year old. (I want to be her when I grow up!!!)

We climbed in the canoes (which we were to spend several hours a day in) and headed out to the boat.  You saw a picture of it at the beginning of the blog. 

Jonathon and I had a great room on the second deck with twin beds we pushed together.  Here's a pic of what it looked like when we got there.  Private bathrooms, and while they'd warned us the boat was primitive, we thought it was quite adequate for our needs.  Comfortable and private when you wanted it, but the top deck had a huge observation area you could spend as much time in as you wanted.

The crew did everything for us and I felt guilty as I watched them tote our bags across the water in the canoes.  But by the end of the journey I'd realized how happy they were to do it for us.  Their jobs are VERY important to them.  The difference between poverty and a decent life.  They genuinely enjoyed the work and it showed.

Anyway, we met our guides, Souza and Edje, who had been working this boat and tour for many years.  They were as expert as you can get and they were wonderful.  I could go on all day about how much I enjoyed these men.  Souza was a joker and told us wonderful tales and legends about the area.  He was so learned about the Amazon, I could have sat at his feet and listened to him all day long.  Edje amazed me.  He could see a bird in the sky--just a speck against the sun and know what it was in a moment.  I asked him how, and he said it was many things.  The way it moved it's wings, the curve of the body.  Or just where it had been seen.  He'd been up the river so often, he had an instinctive knowledge of what was what.

After a quick introduction of the crew, all of the passengers introduced ourselves.  As I said, it was a diverse group, and I made some real friends during the week's voyage.  And it was really nice to be able to speak English, since it was the official language on board and all by two of the passengers were English speakers.  And a huge plus was a good two thirds of the passengers had more travel experience than we did, so we were all able to ask questions of each other and get ideas for more travel destinations.  It was nice to share stories about where we'd been and not feel as if we were bragging.  

Some of you have asked if I was afraid going into such a remote wilderness, but I have to say, at no time was I frightened.  Not only did I feel as if I were in good hand with Souza and Edje, the land spoke to me in ways I can't really explain.  Not only wasn't I afraid, I was excited.  Each and every day I was up at 5:00am (which as Jonathon can tell you is TOTALLY unheard of) and almost jumping out of my skin to get out and experience what was around me. 

I'd grab my bananas (they had two bunches of them up on the observation deck for us to munch on as we wished), my binoculars and my pack and was usually first in line to jump in the canoe.  I never wanted the trips to end.  I could have sat there for days just enjoying the beautiful land around me.

By the end of the trip, the crew (I overheard them talking in the pilot house) called me something along the lines of mulher mente ocupada.  At first I thought they were saying I was mental, which, as you know, is not very far off, but when I asked one of the guides about it later, he laughed.  He said they were complimenting me, because I was always asking questions, picking their brains about things.  They knew, because of that, I was having a good time, so that made them feel good.  They'd in fact, given me the nickname, "woman with the busy brain".  And since they'd nailed it, I could only smile!

The entire voyage was so chock-filled with inspirations for stories, I'll be beyond old and gray before I use them all.  But I can tell you my Brazil story, for the Wandering Star series that will begin being published at Christmas time, will be set in the Amazon Rainforest and was inspired by one of the wonderful legends Souza told us.

Anyway, that's a quick overview.  I'll be back next week with more pictures.  This time of not only scenery, but of some of the birds, people and critters we were fortunate to see.  Until then, check out my FACEBOOK page.  I put pics up there of the trip all the time.  

The highlight for me?  Stay tuned next week to see what I thought was the most AMAZING thing I saw on my journey into paradise!

Hugs to you all,

CJ England

Follow Your Dreams



Ray said...

Beautiful pictures for a wonderful narrative.

Makes me feel as if I were there.

Can't wait for more.

CJ England said...

Yay! Thanks, Ray. I'm glad you're liking the narrative so far!

D. Musgrave said...

Great start in this adventure-log! Can't wait for the next chapter.

CJ England said...

Thanks, D. I'm happy you stopped by. You'll enjoy the rest too, I hope.

Phylis said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip. I love everything so far. Thanks for sharing CJ! Look forward to the rest!

CJ England said...

Glad you liked it so far, Phylis. It was an amazing adventure.