Falls, frogs and fireflies in the Amazon

kayaks2Day 1
We set off at 7.30am after meeting Rinaldo, Josue and Charles. We left Manaus on a rough, dirt road thinking it was going to be a long 180km to the place where we would start our kayak trip. And then we turned on to a main road, just outside Manaus (after an hour) wondering where we had just been! We spent the next 2 hours driving on a beautifully sealed road and I was wondering just how many of these roads existed in the middle of the Amazon (and how much forest was destroyed for them).

It was hot. And I mean HOT. Around 40 degrees with ridiculous humidity. We were so thankful when we got to the river that Kim and I walked straight into the river fully clothed to cool down. So did the other guys!

So we filled up the kayaks with all the stuff 5 people need to survive in the Amazon jungle for 5 days. We didn’t bring much stuff to be honest, the cameras took up most of the space. But there were eggs in Kim’s kayak and pineapples and other fruit in Ben’s. I just had camp chairs in mine πŸ™‚ It was funny to see Josue in his big canoe though, it was packed to the rim with an huge esky and a plastic picnic table that just made it look comical!

All packed up and water-sealed, we each get into our kayaks and onto the water. Ben first, he rowed straight into the bank on the other side. Rinaldo was telling him to brake left, but he kept paddling right (maybe I’m not the only one who struggles with left and right?). Kim was next and although he was able to turn ok, he ended up in a tree. I was last and after seeing the last two, I was only slightly panicked but kind of wondering why I was there when plenty of other people laze about at a retreat for numerous days as their experience to the Amazon. But I survived, after I realised that the rudder pedals do actually need to be negotiated if you want to turn.

So we spent the rest of the morning coming to terms with these floating beasts. It was not nearly as difficult to paddle these things as it was the last two times we did it in Africa and I was pleasantly surprised that my arms were not going to ache for 5 days straight.

kayaksFirst stop was lunch at a local’s house. This guy lives off the land (and tourism). At first it seemed kind of strange that this house was out in the middle of nowhere with dogs, ducklings and real toilets, until I realised it was kind of similar to the Murray River back home. We watched the butterflies feed off the mud from the little stream nearby as we waited for our whole fish to cook for lunch.

After a yummy (and large) lunch, we headed out on a walk to some nearby caves. Now we thought we were hot in Manaus, but we were thinking again after walking in the middle of a rainforest uphill. It wasn’t so much the heat as the humidity which felt like 100% (and probably wasn’t far off it). But we soon reached the caves which were lovely and cool. Only problem was that they smelt putrid and it was difficult not to flinch from the bats that would fly within 2cm of you constantly. Into another cave we went, which is apparently the honeymoon suite as this is where babies were made and babies were sleeping. Outside was a nice waterfall though, but we opted out of a swim. Probably a bad idea!

So we were back in our kayaks when we encountered our first rapids. Now this is nothing like the class 5 rapids we went down at Vic falls in rafts (thank goodness), but given you only have yourself to blame, it was almost as scary. We ended the day on a rather long rapid where we had to cross it again to get to our campsite. I almost capsized getting out of the kayak, but Josue came to my rescue πŸ™‚

Once off the water, we first realised how sun burnt we were. Ben was pretty bad, but all of us had massive dark tan lines over our thighs! We then setup camp – a tarp and 3 hammocks with mosquito nets (Rinaldo and Josue set theirs up later minus the tarp). We sat down while dinner cooked while Josue made me a local cocktail which tasted a lot like a Pisco Sour from Chile. It was strong, but pretty good!

We chatted to Ben about how on earth we convinced him to come along with us given that he NEVER camps. He was unsure himself lol!

As I wandered off (not too far) into the jungle as nature was calling, I noticed what looked like a cigarette lit up. I thought it was someone walking nearby with a smoke in their mouth. A wave of confusion (and semi-fear) came over me as there was literally no one out where we were – we hadn’t seen anyone for hours along the river. Then the ‘cigarette’ took a sharp turn upwards and I realised they were fireflies! I had actually thought that fireflies were just a fictional thing you only see in fairy tales (shows just how ignorant I am), but to my fascination, they were everywhere! I was like a little kid in a candy store with excitement πŸ™‚ Next came the frogs – there were tiny little fellas everywhere! It was a little worrying actually because it must have meant that I had accidentally killed a few by treading on them πŸ™

Anyway, all this excitement teamed with the fact we were actually in the middle of the Amazon amongst the wild animals meant I was back in my ‘hippo’ watching moments from Africa. I wanted to stay up all night to see what might wander by our hammocks! But instead, Ben and I kept Kim up because our hammocks were so close that every time we moved, we would clash bums with him! He said it was like playing ping pong.

Day 2
Next morning, I woke up naturally, but the mozzie nets were so dark, I didn’t realise it was so light outside! Unfortunately no animal sightings to report overnight (but I got the feeling there was a pretty blatant reason we stayed next to the rapids on the river). We watched as Kim almost fell into the creek as he tried to fill up our water bottles using a kick butt water filter. On the way back, we saw a lovely surprise left by one of our guys on a log…

kayaks3After a big breaky, we were off on another hike into the jungle. This time it started pouring rain – tropical style. We walked to a waterfall and given we were already drenched, we figured we may as well get wet. So we jumped in and climbed up the waterfall 2 levels. It was about this point that they told tell us about the electric eels. We went for a swim, got a pretty full on massage under the waterfall edge and lost a few years of my life when Josue scared the bejesus out of me, but we had a ball! We also saw where the locals leave offerings to the waterfall as they believe they are magical. All the while, Rinaldo told us all about the fauna and how most of it is used by the locals as medicine or other remedies.

We walked back to the kayaks, packed up camp and spent the day navigating rapids down the river. On one particular rapid, however, there was a large tree across the river with a fair gap, say 15 metres wide, that we could easily paddle through. So we get in our single file formation, this time Rinaldo, Kim, Ben, then me. Only Ben was taking a photo of the tree that was across the river, and I didn’t have a chance to slow down or overtake him, so I of course ran into him which meant I then couldn’t paddle into the 15m gap and got stuck in the tree. I tried to go through it, but a huge branch whacked into my arm (leaving a bruise that I still have 3 weeks later), so I instinctively grabbed onto it, only to gracefully tip and capsize into the drink. It all happened in slow motion for me (and from Kim and Ben’s perspective too I hear), but the next 10 minutes consisted of me running into another branch and tipping the kayak right way up then fishing around for my bag that I didn’t quite keep hold of when I fell out. I gathered up all the things that had fallen off the boat, found a steep bank to climb back in after emptying the kayak of water. I blame Ben for that one πŸ™‚

So after realising that I’d survived the caimans, piranhas, electric eels and other predators, I was ok! It wasn’t until the next day I’d even realised my nice shiny bruise!

It wasn’t long after my capsize before we pulled up at a little tributary with a waterfall for a BBQ lunch. We named this ‘Thong Cove’ as Ben broke his thong here after wearing them through a fast running stream. That was before Kim climbed down the waterfall and put his hand in a dead toad that was crawling with maggots. Ahh, gotta love the Amazon in all it’s beauty πŸ™‚

So next we pulled up at another rapid on the other side of the river for the night. We had a quick bath after setting up camp and I spent some time in my hammock admiring all the fireflies, including one who hovered on the tarp for about 30 minutes – I was mesmerised. The boys were playing dominoes while dinner cooked… ahh the life! I got called for dinner, then we played some more dominoes. Josue lost by a single point to Kim (which was hilarious) as we all were swarmed by bugs (thankfully not mozzies – they can’t survive on the highly acidic water of that river). We listened to Rinaldo who talked so passionately about the Amazon and how to protect it by changing people’s attitudes toward it before we headed off to bed.

Once we got up the two hills to our hammocks, Ben gave a huge yelp before taking off his thong to investigate. We saw THREE massive ant-like things that were full on trying to savage his thong from 3 angles! His foot had a huge cut on it that started bleeding. We took a look at where he stood when he was bitten and it was infested with these things! He patiently and quietly went down to ask Rinaldo if he’d tell us if they were Army ants who were coming to eat us. He told us they were nighttime termites, that they don’t eat flesh and they wouldn’t climb our mozzie nets. He also told us they easily get angry and to avoid stepping on or near them!

So we were a little freaked (ok a lot), but it only got worse when Kim and I realised the population increased exponentially under our hammocks! I nearly passed out from shock when I realised there were so many of them under my hammock I could actually hear their pitter patter as they walked. YUK. We managed the huge giant steps over them to our beds and Kim and I kept quiet to Ben after we saw that they were INDEED on our mozzie nets, albeit only a few of them. To be honest, we were terrified. We had no issues with the jaguars who were probably lingering around or the caiman’s or piranha’s that could eat us at any minute, but throw a few trillion vegetarian termites at us and we freak out. Kim made a ‘Blair Witch’ video of it – very funny… now. All we could do was try to sleep so daylight could come quicker and they’d disappear! I woke up at 5am to investigate the situation – as promised, they were all gone. Thank goodness, cos I really needed to pee!

Day 3
After a good giggle about our night terror, we headed out again on the river. Today we had sunshine and with it came the butterflies and the dragonflies – LOADS of them! They’d fly along the river beside you and sometimes hitch a ride on your boat, head or shoulder. Most of them were mating as they did so lol!

anacondaAbout mid morning, we were admiring the views and sounds of the jungle when Rinaldo spotted something shiny on the bank. We immediately followed him over to check it out only to discover a HUGE 6 metre anaconda curled up on the bank! FREAKY! There was no way I was getting out of my kayak, but Rinaldo and Josue were up for it, so we handed over our cameras for them to take a closer shot. Just when they got some good ones, it woke up and started unwinding… It was going into the water… Right where we were. Rinaldo assured me it was scared of us, but I think the evidence in my jocks proved I was more scared of it πŸ™‚

Not long after this, we got to a waterfall that was too big to kayak through, so we had to get out and walk our kayaks down the rapids. It was pretty slippery, but we got through it relatively dry. While lunch was cooking away, Kim and I sat in a small rapid to fill up all our water bottles while Ben had a nap as he wasn’t feeling so great. We also hung out all our washing as it was the first day the sun was shining enough to dry anything! Amazingly, all clothes were dry in about 30 minutes! Given that if you hang something damp out overnight at a camp spot, it is actually dripping wet in the morning, this was a great thing! We spent a good few hours snoozing in hammocks while the guys visited some local fishermen. It was lovely!

Our next challenge was the most difficult rapid on the river. It was technical in that it involved 3 x 90 degree turns to avoid huge rocks. Rinaldo told us that it was normally the guides who capsized on this one as they were the ones testing the water. Josue had some particularly funny stories about capsizing in the large canoe! So we started out in our new single file line (Kim first, Phillipa second and Ben third), but after I struggled a little on the first bend, Ben overtook me. 1st and 2nd bends down and we were going good, but Kim mistook Rinaldo’s pointing at a rock as a direction of where to go and ended up being lodged neatly on top of a nice big rock! This was good for Ben and I, because it pointed out exactly where the last big rock was πŸ™‚

Anyway, after Ben and I got passed this, I was busy telling Ben how many logs and rocks I hit along the way while not really paying attention to where I was going. Then all of a sudden, my rudder cable latched onto a nice little log in the middle of the river and I was stuck. Meanwhile, Ben was trying to pull over to the side of the bank to wait for Kim and he almost capsized! All the while, we could see thunder storm clouds drawing closer to us… After Rinaldo paddled like crazy to help me dislodge from my log, we were finally off and going again to our next camp site.

We just pulled up on the banks when the heavens opened and down came the most torrential rain I have ever experienced (well I think so anyway). We could easily have brought the soap out and had a shower, but the boys were busy arguing over where to put the tarp and hammocks! It was amusing to watch them argue, then agree, then change their minds and repeat. All in Brazilian πŸ™‚ Josue was climbing up trees, cutting down trees and hanging off trees – monkey style!

We finally get everything set up and of course the rain stops! But we were glad for the tarp being up as the raindrops fell from the trees all night long!

Day 4
We were meant to wake up at 2am for a night time kayak, but everyone slept through. Well, Kim didn’t, he woke up, went for a pee and then considered waking up Rinaldo and Josue, but thought better of it when he had visions of waking them up and getting attacked by a machete.

kayaks4So we woke at 7am instead only to just miss seeing some otters playing nearby, but we did get to see monkeys swinging through the trees in the distance which was cool. We set off with the usual paddling down the river amoung the birds, dragonflies and butterflies before we stopped for lunch at a house. The lady here was so beautiful! She had 2 gorgeous kids (a girl and boy) and they were very friendly and welcoming. It was so hot here, so we went into the river for a dip and to fill up our water bottles before going on a 2 hour hike through the jungle.

During our walk, we heard about the telephone tree (because if you hit it, it echoes very loudly) and fire starter sap from trees amongst many other things. We reached a creek after an hour and were hesitant at first to go for a swim, but I was just so hot I jumped in. The boys were ewwing over the muddy part, but there was sand in the middle where they could stop whining! It wasn’t until we were all in the creek that they told us there was an electric eel that just swam away a minute before we got in. Awesome… not.

We didn’t realise at the time, but this is where Kim got himself a heel full of prickles that his body desperately tried to reject and a nice little tick that attached to his hip.

pirahnaOnce we got back, Josue was fishing for piranha’s where he caught some. We all jumped in our kayaks, said goodbye to our hosts and started off down the river again. It wasn’t long before we stopped to attempt to catch piranha’s ourselves, but without success. Because we had left too late, however (and the boys had been drinking a little too much while fishing), we ended up paddling in the dark… without torches. I can’t say I was happy with this situation, but had very little choice! We eventually arrived out our camp – that we never ended up seeing in the light – well after dark where Kim capsized as he pulled up on the bank because he couldn’t see anything and got his foot stuck in a rope or something. He wasn’t a very happy chappy!

We had a good chat that night as the guys drank some more. We were wary of a storm that was nearby as we didn’t put a tarp up that night – which was awesome to see the stars as you fell asleep – but it passed around us as Rinaldo predicted.

Day 5
So after a very short night, we get up at 2.30am and have packed up and ready to leave at 3am. Kim had to wake us all up twice and basically tip us all out of bed.

As I was leaving, I untied my boat and the branch hit me in the face – nice wakeup call! So here we are, leaving in the dark, tired and thinking of the story that Josue told us where he drank too much the night before a night kayak, fell asleep in the kayak and fell in with the caiman’s.

To say the very least, I was terrified. I had with me 2 shit torches, I couldn’t see jack, not even see which way river was going. I was counting down minutes until 5am when it would get light. We did end up seeing caiman’s in the water when shining your torch in their eyes, but we didn’t catch any. I was secretly relieved as any quick motion (ie my terror) would surely land me in the drink.

However as dawn approached, the scenery was beautiful – spectacular – unforgettable. The birds were waking up and singing sweetly and I stayed back from the rest of the group to hear the silence and see more birds (as I was quieter on my own) including hummingbirds everywhere.

We eventually got to our last stop where we had a nap in some hammocks at Barak Obama’s house (he was a spitting image of him) until breakfast was ready. We had a tour of the property where they showed us how stuff was done (I was tired, ok?) and the dam where they grew fish for eating. There was a beautiful (but loud) cat, I think she was hungry.

We then set off for our pick up point. We unpacked the kayaks while a beautiful BBQ lunch was cooking. It was smotheringly hot – so I kept going in and out of the river to cool down… Kim tried his hand at piranha fishing again and caught one – whoo!

The funniest sight was seeing what we dubbed the ‘upgrade’ come along which was a motor boat with 2 yuppie women and a man inside. The women held umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun and waited while the man walked into town to pick up their air-conditioned car to take them home. They looked so out of place! It was a sight, that’s for sure.

We then drove back to Manaus via a small town where the locals go for their weekends. Small huts surround a portion of a river and apparently they get packed on weekends.

Once back at the hostel, we say our goodbyes to Rinaldo, Josue and Charles and hit the showers. We found Kim’s ticks and prickles in his ankle and start our first aid on him while desperately checking each other for ticks! We desperately need a washing machine as we STINK, but after walking around the town, we give up and end up hand washing ourselves πŸ™ We realised later that a lady had approached Ben earlier and probably offered to wash our laundry for us there at the hostel – DOH!

We met some interesting people at the hostel from England and Denmark – the girl spoke about 7 languages, and the English guy couldn’t afford food apparently. When we left the next day, we gave him some 2 minute noodles and stuff we had left over and he was thrilled!

We spent the next day at the shopping mall in the air-conditioning. It was a challenge to find the right bus, but we got one eventually and ended up getting off too far after the mall, so had to walk back in the scorching heat!

We were so surprised to find chicken parmas on a menu for lunch that we had to try them. They were horrid. Processed meat, processed tomato paste and processed cheese. Ew. But we followed it up with McFlurries from trusty old Maccas. We then wandered around and ended up seeing a movie – Juzio Final (or Doomsday in English) which I thought was ok, but Ben and Kim thought it was terrible! At least it was in English (with Portuguese subtitles)! And don’t forget air-conditioned πŸ™‚

We had another 2 hours to kill before our airport transfer, so we spent as long as we could in the supermarket, then realised that HSBC was air-conditioned, so we headed to the ATM area there. (You need to understand that this place is HOT and damn HUMID.) But the air-con was off, so we went back to the hostel and asked if we could sit inside to wait 2 hours, but he said no. A bit annoyed, we went outside the hostel and sat on the street and played cards while we considered the bad write-up of the hostel we were going to put on trip advisor. But then the angry guy came out of the hostel and asked us if we wanted to sit inside. So we did and realised it was our bad Spanish that landed us outside in the first place πŸ™‚ Forgot to mention that this guy was dubbed ‘angry guy’ because the first night when we arrived at 3am, Ben accidentally flicked the top of a pen and it got him in the face. He was not at all amused.

So anyway, at the airport, Kim counted down the minutes to my birthday. When we got on the plane, it turned 12am and he was proud to be the first to wish me a happy birthday! He and Ben then told me about how they’d been hiding my birthday card from me all day long and I was oblivious! Ahh the joys πŸ™‚

It was a great trip through the Amazon, that’s for sure, but as we have already decided, we’d be picky about who to recommend it to as it wasn’t for the feint hearted!!!!

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