Cruising the Mighty Amazon
The mighty Amazon River is the largest drainage system in the world. Originating from the Andes in Peru and also spanning through the countries of Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and famously into Brazil and includes multiple tributaries. The river got its name from the Spanish soldier Francisco de Orellana who explored the Amazon in 1541. His expedition was constantly in pitch battles with tribes of female warriors, whom he compared to the Amazons of Greek mythology.
When I put together my Itinerary for my Amazon expedition in October 2012, I had no Idea there were cruises available. There are a variety of choices from small boats, reminiscent of turn of the century African riverboats, to a miniature cruise ship. I chose the Iberostar Cruise ship, opting for a higher quality accommodations, for the opportunity to see more of the Amazon. Staying at a lodge would have allowed me to probably see more wildlife but a cruise allows you to see more sites. The guides also held daily lectures to insure all your questions and curiosities of the daily expeditions were answered. This was going to be a unique adventure.
The cruise departs from the city of Manaus Brazil, the gateway to the Amazon, home to 2 million people and situated in the middle of the jungle.
I stayed one night in the old town area of the city within walking distance of the Amazonas Opera House which was inaugurated in 1896. The opera house is home to Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra and has hosted several important opera and theater companies. Unfortunately, the opera house was under remodeling during my visit so I wasn’t able to experience the interior of the building.
The route of the 4 night cruise is on the Rio Negro (black river), the largest tributary originating from Venezuela and joining the Amazon in Manaus. The color of the river is more of a strong coffee tint and gets its hue from the incomplete breakdown of vegetation in the river. The darkness of the river may make it look unsafe but it is actually very clean with a PH (acidity) level similar to a backyard swimming pool.
One excursion involved a day at the beach along the river where we had the option to swim in the river. We were all hesitant to do so in fear of caiman or piranha. The high PH level is not conducive to most fish or caiman so a swim in the river was another of the bucket list. Mosquito larva can’t live in it either so the cruise was mosquito free.
One of the highlights of the trip was the pink dolphins, endemic to the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. These were wild fresh water dolphins that first befriended a little girl playing at the river’s edge. Now, the little girl is an adult but the dolphins still return everyday interacting with visitors. I was able to pet them as if they were my own pet.
We also took the tender boat out to tour the Anavilhanas Archipelago which is the largest archipelago in the world for 6 months during the dry season when the waters recede. Taking the small tender allowed us to see the wild life up close including the caiman and multiple other species, too many to mention.
The itinerary also included a short hike into the rainforest. It was a little disappointing since we didn’t see much wildlife. At this spot on the river, civilization encroaches on nature and the wildlife is repelled by this. You would have to hike further into the forest to experience the true Amazon rainforest.
The guide did a wonderful job educating us about the flora we did see. One tip, which I already learned during my time in the Belize rainforest, is don’t touch the trees. Some trees have paralyzing sap and you may also touch a paralyzing insect sitting on the tree or branch.
Another highlight was Piranha fishing. One humid morning, worse than the others, our tender ferried us to a tributary river.
On the way, we were greeted by a pack of monkeys along the river. We came to a stop where a tributary creek met the river. Here, there were so many Piranha, the other fish were jumping out of the water to escape the sharp bites of the Piranha. Our fishing pole consisted of a bamboo rod with a fishing line tied to the end. The guides brought a container of meat scraps from the ships galley and we used it as bait. All you needed to do is drop a line with meat on the hook and just wait a minute or two and you’ll have one on the hook. That’s the easy part, getting them off the hook is the hard part. Letting the experienced guide do it is my idea of safety first.
Monkeys on the river banks, parrots and parakeets noisily playing in the trees, locals passing by in river taxis, and the excitement of fishing for piranhas all made me forget how humid it was.
The end of the cruise culminated with a morning drifting along the “meeting of the waters”. A natural phenomenon caused by the merge of the dark waters of the Rio Negro and the brown waters of the Solimoes River to form the Amazon River. The waters run side-by-side without mixing for four miles. It’s not known what the cause is but it’s theorized that it could be due to the different speeds of the currents, the volumes of water, and the density of the two rivers.
The mighty Amazon was as advertised and is now an epic story I’m able to tell.
for an additional Brazil blog from Expedition Hobo, see Rio de Janeiro