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Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Carnival, Iguassu Falls and the Amazon -- A Travelogue

  • Submitted by: Mark S. Nowak
  • Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005

Index of days:

February 7, 1997: Chicago -> Miami -> Rio de Janeiro
February 8: Rio de Janeiro: Copacabana
February 9: Rio de Janeiro: Corcovado, Ipanema, Hippie Fair
February 10: Rio de Janeiro: Sugar Loaf, Carnival
February 11: Rio de Janeiro: Fat Tuesday, recovery
February 12: Rio de Janeiro -> Sao Paulo -> Foz do Iguassu: Itaipu, Paraguay
February 13: Foz do Iguassu: Safari, boat trip, Argentina
February 14: Foz do Iguassu -> Sao Paulo -> Manaus -> Ariau
February 15: Amazonas: Ariau, jungle walk, aligator spotting
February 16: Amazonas: Ariau, piranha fishing, swimming, village, dolphins
February 17: Amazonas: Ariau -> Manaus
February 18: Manaus -> Belem -> Miami -> Chicago

My fiancee and I recently returned from a 12-day vacation to Brazil which included Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Iguacu Falls at the Paraguay-Argentine border and the Amazon. Travel and flight arrangements were arranged by EarthWise Journeys ( In Brazil, South American Tours took care of us and handled most additional arrangements. Prior to our departure, international and domestic airfare, hotels, pre-booked tours, various taxes, meals at Ariau Jungle Lodge and breakfasts cost $2618.00 per person. I spent another $506.59 using credit cards and another $390.00 in cash while travelling as well. Additionally, the Brazilian visa cost $25. The yellow fever and hepatitis A vaccinations and the anti-malarial Lariam (mefloquine) cost another $48.09. Developing 13 rolls of film cost $137.92. All that comes to $3725.60 just for me. That still doesn't include film, some clothes we bought specifically for the trip and mosquito repellent, but it should give you an idea of the costs involved.

I carried various travel brochures, printouts of the wealth of knowledge I collected and compiled from the more than generous people on the net, Fodors Brazil, The Lonely Planet Brazil (great overall info). As far as luggage went, I had a backpack with a hipstrap (in which I placed a smaller backpack).

February 7 Friday: Chicago -> Miami -> Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro
The locker at O'Hare aiport in Chicago for our winter jackets cost $11 for the time we'd be away. We had some trouble figuring out how to leave enough money for the entire duration. An older man who I think manned the nearby shoe-shine stand helped us out -- probably when he saw the clueless looks we had. It was so much warmer and humid when we arrived in Miami. We found we could only carry one bag each on the Varig flight, so my backpack and Sara's bag had to be wrapped and collected. Checked baggage going on our Varig flight to Rio could be wrapped in plastic. I had never seen such a thing before. They had a machine that would wrap your backpack in plastic (presumably to prevent theft) before it was taken away. Luggage wrapping in Miami cost us $7.

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February 8 Saturday: Rio de Janeiro: Copacabana

Rio de Janeiro
We had seats 15A and C on the 767 that took us from Miami to Rio (Varig flight 815). The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:30 PM. The service on Varig was quite good. Sara describes it as wonderful. The in-flight movie was 'Matilda,' but I fell asleep before it ended. When we arrived, an exhuberant man with a thick accent from South American Tours named Ibo met us at the airport. Sara and I each changed $100 in travelers checks before Ibo had a driver take all three of us to the Windsor Palace Hotel. We arranged to go on a Corcovado tour on the 9th and a Sugar Loaf tour (R$35) on the 10th through him. We tipped the drivers R$3 and the bellboy R$2.

We were in room 405. We really thought the hotel was great. We highly recommend it. The location was hard to beat. The roof had a bar and a pool that seemed to be taken out of a movie set. The view from there was wonderful. We could see Copacabana beach just a few blocks away in one direction and scenic hills in the other.

After settling in, we went for a walk which took us by a nearby park and McDonalds. We visited a church and stopped by the South American Tours office on the 5th floor of the nearby building. We then headed north along Copacabana beach taking in the sights. There were many beach goers out.

At the end of the beach where we rested Sara bought us two coconuts (R$1.50 each). Sara accidentally used the OK sign we were told had an obscene meaning in Brazil to the saleswoman. We drank out of the coconuts with straws. We hadn't expected to be out in the sun as long as we were, so we hadn't put on any sunscreen. Sara had put some on but not on her shoulders where she ended up getting burned. My knees and the tops of my ears became a little tender. There were many women in small thong bikinis but no women were topless. Some people were selling various items on the beach. We only saw a few tourists which were easily identified by their video camera. The waves crashing on the shore were huge and looked like they'd be a lot of fun to swim in. We don't have any pictures from that walk because after all we heard about crime in Rio, on our first day there we were too afraid to carry a camera or anything that looked valuable on us.

We walked by some shops and restaurants about a block away from the beach on our way back to the hotel. I bought us four 1.5 liter bottles of water (R$2.80) at one shop. Sara bought some conditioner for her hair (R$1.90) at another shop. When we got back to the hotel, we showered and napped. We were able to watch CNN from our room and pick up several radio stations.

We made 8:30 PM reservations for dinner at Moenda, a restaurant at the Hotel Tracodero off Atlantica Avenue not far from our hotel. We went to 7:00 PM Mass at the nearby church. We stopped back in our room before going to dinner. I changed into shorts, and Sara called her father's friend Eraldo who lives in the area. We had a very big seafood dinner for two. Our table was next to a window that looked out over Atlantica Avenue and Copacabana Beach. From there we could see men dressed up as women and some other costumed characters roaming around -- a few playfully chased some girls. The staff was very attentive. We tried using some Portuguese from our Berlitz guidebook on them. After dinner, we had a sweet peanut dessert and coffee. I put the R$55 on my MasterCard while Sara paid the R$8 tip.

After dinner, we walked southwest on Atlantica Avenue where we observed quite a few dancers in groups. There were also small groups of musicians. Sometimes the crowds got pretty thick. Many were cooking and selling things on the sidewalks. When we reached the end of the beach, we could see Alpha Centauri in the sky. It's the closest star outside of our sun. It was quite a treat because we can't see it from home in the northern hemisphere. We saw more characters, sights and musicians on our way back to the hotel. Once there, we went up to the dark roof to take in the sight of Rio at night. While there, we saw a banda go by on Atlantica Avenue. Since the beach is 4km long, we figured we must have walked over 5 miles along it that day. It was around 2:30 AM when we finally got to sleep. The air conditioning in our room made me slightly cold.

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February 9 Sunday

Rio de Janeiro
I got up first at 7:05 AM and showered. We ate a complimentary breakfast before going down around 8:45 AM to be picked up by a Grayline bus for the Corcovado tour. The breakfasts at the Windsor Palace Hotel featured a large variety of fruit including mango, papaya and pineapple. We always enjoyed them. The tour was running late, and we still had to pick up more people. On the way our route took us through a 3km tunnel. The line for the tram to the peak was very long. We talked with some people from England and later with an older man from Texas. I ended up riding backwards both ways on the tram. Sara and I were separated during the tram ride up. The huge statue of Christ with its open arms was quite a sight. We could see birds sitting on one arm. There was a small chapel in its base. Helicopters would often fly by giving other tourists another perspective. Many birds (hawks?) were flying about as well. I was glad we had brought my binoculars. We were less fearful of getting mugged today, and we ended up taking a lot of pictures. I didn't buy the picture a girl took of me on the tram. There were many tourists. Below the statue there were many shops. The view of the city and the ocean below was beautiful. On our way back we saw Rocinda, the largest slum in Brazil. It contrasted greatly with the area in which we were staying. I ended up falling asleep on the drive to the hotel.

Sara ordered a club sandwich with fries from room service for our lunch. I took the opportunity to write down notes of our trip.

Eraldo and Katia picked us up in their car around 4:10 PM. Although Katia was 7 months pregnant, she was dressed as in as little as everyone else seemed to be. Most people walked the streets scantily clad. It was not unusual to see people just wearing bikinis. We thought the casual attire was part of Rio's charm. People seemed to be very comfortable with their bodies. Another difference was the lack of overweight people that you'd normally see in the United States.

We drove to Ipanema just southwest of Copacabana and parked in Eraldo's mother's garage. We stopped by the Hippie Fair flea market where I bought a bird made out of quartz (R$10) for friends back home. We walked southwest along the beach for a while before turning inland. We saw the bar where 'The Girl from Ipanema' was composed. A banda was playing outside. Across the street Eraldo and Katia treated us to some cold mango (suco mango) juice after we tried their very sweet sugar cane juice. Rio is known for its fruit juice bars. Sara couldn't get enough of them.

We then went to Eraldo and Katia's apartment in Leblon which was just southwest of Ipanema where Eraldo played on the piano and Katia sang 'The Girl from Ipanema' in both English and Portuguese. They introduced us to a soft drink called guarana which we thought was great. Sara seemed to order it everywhere we went after that. After a quick tour of their apartment, Eraldo drove us further southwest to Barra de Tijuca. We stopped in the hills on the way in Tijuca Park where we took pictures and saw huge jaca fruit the size of watermelons hanging in the trees. We saw the sun setting behind two hills that were fabled to be brothers somehow. It was a great and beautiful drive down to the beach where we stopped and tried coconut meat. A shopkeeper broke open a coconut after we drank the juice, and Katia showed us how to eat the 'meat' out of it. It was a beautiful drive back to Rio.

After Eraldo and Katia dropped us off, we ate all we could eat at Carretao, a churrascaria less than a block from our hotel. The food was basically barbecued, and the variety was wonderful and delicious. I ate a lot more meat back in those days. My dinner included beef, possibly lamb, chicken hearts and other chicken parts as well as salad including palm hearts. Sara had some ice cream for dessert. We took a short walk on the beach before returning to our room and watching the ongoing carnival parade at the Sambadrome on television.

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February 10 Monday: Sugar Loaf, Samba Parade

Rio de Janeiro
This morning after breakfast we went to Copacabana beach. We were a little nervous from all the crime stories about leaving even what little we had brought with us alone, so we took turns going into the water. There were young boys nearby, but they too took turns going into the water.

The waves were huge and cold. I got quite a noseful. My sinuses were still draining salt water later in the day. A woman came up to Sara to express concern for her pale skin -- we stood out quite a bit from the locals. We were there for over an hour -- enough for me to get sunburned on my back where I hadn't applied the SPF 15 lotion. When we left, one of the younger boys behind us said tchiao to Sara.

Back at the hotel I showered. At 2:10 PM we went on the Sugar Loaf tour. Rosemary met us in the lobby. We saw two British women we had met on the Corcovado tour. The bus collected more people from different hotels on the way. I'm not sure if our route took us to Botafogo or not.

We had to take two cable cars to reach the summit. The half-way point was like a plaza where we could walk around and enjoy the wonderful views. Sara was stressed out by the other tourists. There were some loud and obnoxious Americans around -- yes, they annoy other Americans as well. At the top there was a small park which included a bamboo forest that was a treat to explore. The bamboo was so thick that it blotted out the sun so much that it was like being in a cool forest. At one point we saw a small monkey (Tamarin?) scampering between tree branches.

By the time we got back we decided we would try to get tickets for the second night of carnival samba parades at the Sambadromo. We hadn't been sure we wanted to spend the money, but we decided it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we went for it. We were able to get tickets and arrange transportation at the hotel desk, but for a while it seemed like the prices kept changing which very much annoyed Sara. Eventually, we ended up paying about $200 per person in cash and travelers checks. Rounding up the money was a bit of a hassle, but it all worked out. Sara used 3 $100 checks. I cashed a $50 check and used $80. It was $150 for a sector 11 ticket and $40 for transportation.
We were pressed for time, so dinner had to be fast food. I ran over to McDonalds (which did not make Sara happy) and bought us a couple of McChicken value meals for R$9.70.

We were in the lobby after 7:00 PM waiting to be picked up. We met a man whose name was something along the lines of van Bruckner. He was from Detroit working in construction in Brazil for the past 1 and 1/2 years. He said he might soon be in California.

Our transportation to the Sambadrome was a van with a woman and a driver. They were a little late. We drove around to pick up four others. Traffic to the Sambadrome was pretty hectic. When we approached it, we had to change vans to one with a special permit to get inside the grounds. We each got stickers stuck to our shirts that served as tickets for transportation back to the hotel when we wanted to leave. We would just have to make our way back to the area where the vans waited.

I think it was around 9:00 or 9:30 when we actually got there. There was quite a crowd. An usher looked at our tickets and helped us get our bearings. A parade of ornately dressed samba dancers was making its way down the long way through the Sambadrome past the crowd on both sides. They and their floats were brightly illuminated by overhead white lights which lined their path. The music was loud and rhythmic. It was quite a scene. I could hardly believe we were actually there. With some difficulty we climbed the crowded steps all the way to the top of sector 11 where vigilant police lined the back railing without smiling.

The parades would go on all night. There were sixteen samba schools competing. Eight had gone the previous night and the final eight were going today. We weren't sure how long we would stay. Unfortunately, we had to stand much of the time. It was hard to take a bad picture. Each float and its costumes were unique. The costumes were amazingly ornate and colorful. We took a lot of pictures. There was time between individual schools to sit and read from our guide book to make sense out of as much as we could of what we were witnessing.

Just in front of us were a Brazilian woman and her 14 or 15-year-old daughter named Fabiola(?). They noticed us reading and helped to explain much of what was going on. Their English was much better than our Portuguese. Fabiola told Sara we made a cute couple. We ended up talking quite a bit between parades. Fabiola told us that because she looked older than she really was she was able to get into night clubs often. Often the parades would spread out quite a bit before they reached our sector, and each lasted about 80 minutes.

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February 11 Fat Tuesday

Rio de Janeiro/recovery
While in the stands, we also met an older American man, a widower who beat cancer. We also met an American woman around my age (I was 30 at the time) from New York who went to Rutgers like Sara had. There were also a couple of Asian guys near us, one of whom looked exhausted.

Fabiola's uncle was in one of the schools. After his school finished, he ended up sitting with us. One of the highlights for us was when two of the costumed dancers came up and posed for a picture with Sara. We stayed until the end watching the last school go by as the sun came up. Fabiola and her mother didn't stay that long. It turned out that the music from the last school was our favorite of the night. The crowd had thinned quite a bit by then. It was 7:30 AM when we left. I was falling asleep on the drive back to the Windsor Palace Hotel. I had taken over two rolls of pictures during the night.

On our way up to our room, we stopped at the restaurant to pick up some breakfast food before we went to sleep. Sara, who does not do well on less than 8 hours of sleep, surprisingly got up before I did. I got up around 2:30. Sara went up to the pool. I joined her after a while. We both had guaranas. I wrote some notes before joining her in the pool. We took a few pictures and called to have our room done. Ibo had called to confirm details for tomorrow.

We tried to find a good inexpensive restaurant that took credit cards and ended up at Mab's on Atlantica. Sara was exhausted, so dinner was pretty quiet. She had eaten a lot of candy earlier which did not help. We had to wait a long time for our veggie pizza which didn't help. We also had an onion, tomato and lettuce salad and coffee. It cost about R$19.

On our walk back along the beach we shopped for T-shirts and shorts. We ended up at an outdoor cafe where we drank quite a bit. We were probably dehydrated since we first had strawberry fruit drinks (R$2 each). Then I had a mango juice and Sara had a mixed fruit juice. Then we shared a bottle of carbonated mineral water. By the time we were finished walking along the beach, I bought a Rio T-shirt, and Sara bought a pair of short shorts (one size fits all) that were the style there.

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February 12 Ash Wednesday

Rio de Janeiro -> Foz do Iguassu
We were able to see Alpha Centauri from the street and the hotel rooftop again before we returned to our room and packed. I got to bed around 3:00 AM after Sara and was up before 7:00 AM to shower. Ibo met us at 8:12 AM as we were settling our bill in the lobby. He and a driver took us to the airport for our 11:15 Varig flight 251 to Iguacu.

We were very early, so we spent time window shopping. I exchanged $150 in travelers checks and gave Sara $100 worth. Our exploration of the airport took us to the chapel and observation deck there. We eventually sat down to wait for our flight. Sara crashed in her seat while I read from our Lonely Planet guide book. I was falling asleep myself when I noticed we weren't at the correct gate -- the lack of people in the room provided a major clue.

We were in seats 5K and L (Sara got the window). Our plane made a stop in Sao Paulo. The meal we had on the second flight was pretty bad, but the pilot made up for it by giving us a flyby around the amazing waterfalls. The view was great and revealed the lush vegetation of the region.

It definitely felt hotter and more humid here. A woman named Tina (Ernestina) met us at the airport. She and a driver of a rather nice car took us to the San Martin Hotel where we checked into room 418. The hotel reminded me of a lodge. We had to rush (which Sara didn't like at all) to make a decision on spending $86 per person for private car touring with Tina and her driver for the rest of that day and tomorrow. It was an unexpected expense, but I didn't want to take a chance on depriving ourselves of some sights we might otherwise not easily be able to get to.

We had to quickly settle into our room to be able to visit Itaipu Dam. We had some difficulty figuring out how to lock the room door, and I also ended up throwing a towel out the window of our first-floor room with a moth that was 'bugging' Sara.

Tina and the driver took us to the dam where we missed about half of the 20 minute 4:00 PM movie presentation on the dam. I'm not sure if Tina was just pushy or well connected because she made sure we got front seats on the dam tour bus (#6). The bus ride took us over the dam and gave us awesome views of it and the water thundering through it. The bus route actually took us into Paraguay as we drove over the dam. I ended up taking a lot of pictures here.

Later Tina took us into Paraguay over the Friendship Bridge for some shopping. The language in Paraguay was Spanish which fortunately Sara can speak. Sara looked at sunglasses and leather bags. I ended up buying 12 leather coasters, 3 postcards of the dam and a cute small leather box for R$20.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was pretty tired. Sara ended up going for a swim in the hotel pool where I joined her (after getting better settled in the room) but didn't go in. I wrote a little more. We took some pictures by the pool as the sun was setting.

At dinner in the large dining room we chose to order from the menu instead of going with the popular Italian buffet. We each had fish and shared a bottle of wine. Unfortunately, it took such a long time before our meals arrived that we wished we had gone with the buffet. We ended up talking late in the restaurant. We weren't sure how we were supposed to pay for the meal, but the waiter chased us down as we were leaving to sign for the bill (R$50). We followed the crowd and didn't tip as none of the other guests seemed to.

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February 13 Thursday

Foz do Iguassu
We got up around 7:00 or 7:30 AM. Our breakfast was included in the hotel, so we had some fruit before meeting Tina and our driver at 9:00 in the lobby. Our first stop was a Macuco Safari. Again, Tina made sure we were well taken care of -- Sara and I sat in the jeep while the other tourists sat in a pulled trailer. I sat in the front with the driver. It was actually somewhat uncomfortable to be given preferential treatment. It made me a bit self-conscious.

Our guide seemed to translate into English for solely our benefit. He pointed out various plants and a black caterpillar that would hurt you if you touched it. We saw pineapples growing wild and hiked down to a beautiful hidden waterfall.

When we got to the pier, we removed and left our shoes (and socks) and donned life jackets before getting into a boat. At this point we found ourselves with some other Americans. They were older people from New York.

It was a wild and beautiful ride up to the base of the falls. We passed several smaller waterfalls before actually getting into the midst of the main falls where we got pretty drenched. My passport even got a bit wet. We were carrying them because our plans included crossing into Argentina this day. We were right in the middle of the falls. The sight was amazing. We could see people on overlooks enjoying the Brazilian Falls (the view is better in the morning) at the top of the falls. We exchanged waves with them. Our driver paused the boat for a while before turning back.

After we got back, we drove some distance to take in the Brazilian Falls for ourselves. There were quite a few large weasle-raccoon-like animals about that people were playing with and feeding. I took a few pictures of them, but we never did quite figure out just what they were. ]
We walked along the path followed by quite a few other tourists and got even wetter. There's a point where you can walk out under the falls that we visited. The view was great. While we were standing there with water from the falls raining down on us, we met Marvin, a Latin teacher, author and speaker, and his wife Karen, a public school teacher, from New York. We helped each other out by taking pictures of each other. It turned out that they were also staying at the San Martin Hotel, so we agreed to meet for dinner at 8:30 PM. Here we were 4 hours ahead of Chicago time.

We continued along the path and took the elevator up to get another view of the falls before stopping for lunch at a nearby sandwich place. Sara and I both had carbonated mineral waters and hot chicken sandwiches. We also shared an order of fries. Sara paid the bill which came to R$12 before we moved to our next stop.

Our next stop happened to be a bird park very close to our hotel. There we saw toucans, egrets, parrots, macaws, what we thought was an ostrich, flamingoes and turtles. Sara was worried about a turtle that seemed to be under water drowning.

We decided to stop back at the hotel to pick up some more film before crossing into Argentina for another view of the falls. I ran in to get the film.

After we crossed the bridge into Argentina, our first stop was a spot on the bank of the river. Here a boat service took us to what was left of bridge that used to go all the way from the bank to a point overlooking the Devil's Throat. We wore life jackets, but it was pretty scary to think that we were in a fairly small boat with quite a few others so close to the falls. The bridge used to go all the way to the bank, but it kept falling apart. I don't think this kind of thing would have gone over well in the States. From where the boat dropped us off, it was a short walk to the overlook. The views here were amazing.

After we got back to the river bank, we checked the nearby expensive souvenir shop. Inside I noticed a woman wearing a Motorola half-marathon T-shirt. I work at Motorola. I struck up a conversation. Her name was Jennifer, and she works for Motorola in Libertyville, Illinois. She was visiting another female Motorolan friend who was there with her and would be in Brazil for 1 and 1/2 years.

Sara and I then took the upper walk by the falls with Tina. The views here were great as well. I took a lot of pictures including some of butterflies and a huge spider. Tina didn't join us for the lower walk where I got soaked again standing by the falls. We saw the Motorolan women again before we left by some more of those weasley raccoons.

Crossing back into Brazil, we stopped at a very expensive souvenir shop where they also sold chocolate, but we only bought postcards. Sara bought 5, and I bought 10 (5 for R$1). I ended up using wet money to pay.

After we were dropped off at the hotel and I put some things away in our room, Sara and I went shopping at some stalls across the street. We only bought from non-pushy salespeople. We each bought a colorful beach towel (R$10 or $10 each). I bought 2 more quartz birds (R$10 each). Sara bought 6 agate coasters and a holder for them for $R25.

Dinner with Marvin and Karen was fun. Our conversation included our jobs, marriage, Marvin's books, my thesis and the strength of the letter K in names of people. We tried the buffet this time which cost us R$38. We continued our conversation in the lobby until around 11:00 PM when Sara and I went back to our room and packed.

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February 14 Friday

Foz do Iguassu -> Amazonas
I showered after a very early wake-up call at 4:30 AM got me out of bed. We checked out at 5:00 AM. We were accidentally charged for a mineral water out of the room refrigerator, so they gave us one from the restaurant. Tina and our driver picked us up around 5:15 or 5:30 AM. Sara paid the departure tax. We had to check our bags since only 1 carry-on was allowed.

We walked onto the runway to board the 737 for our flight (#161) to Sao Paulo in beautiful twilight. Our seats were 5K and L -- I sat by the window this time. We had trouble with the snack that was served.

At the Sao Paulo airport, I was quite cold in my beige long-sleeved shirt and blue shorts. We had great seats (9J and L) on the DC10 for the Sao Paulo to Manaus flight (#200). I'm not sure how we ended up in first class, but they were the best seats I've ever had on an airplane. Sara generously let me have the window after having it briefly. We both ended up napping for most of the flight to Manaus, taking a break to eat a wonderful lunch.

My dreams included being wild, being hard to hurt yet being hurt, not being able to get out of a woman's bathroom, not being able to stop a small boy from another place from transporting himself and his belongings which included a white teddy bear in a box. A flight attendant woke me during that last disturbing one. Taking mefloquine to prevent contracting malaria always seems to give me bizarre dreams.

Manaus was two hours behind Rio and two hours ahead of Chicago time. We were picked up by people from the Ariau Jungle Lodge. Our traveling companions included a Russian couple (who were also at Iguacu), a Brazilian couple, three guys from the United Arab Emirates and Alan, a Lucent employee from Florida.

We were driven to the dock at the Hotel Tropical from which a boat took us and an Asian group to the Ariau Jungle Lodge. During the trip on the Rio Negro Sara and I drank beer, used our binoculars and took pictures. We learned from the Arabs that they paid $1000 each for their box seats for the parade at the Sambadrome in Rio.

When we reached the hotel 35 miles northwest of Manaus, we saw monkeys everywhere -- spider monkeys, woolly monkeys and squirrel monkeys. There were also large tropical birds in a huge cage as well as flying free around us. The hotel was a group of towers elevated to the level of the tree tops and connected by catwalks. There was a welcome drink. Our room was #420. We had to walk down a catwalk and up some stairs to reach it. The view outside our room was wonderful. The rooms were arranged in a circle in a tower leaving the center as a common area.

Before sunset, Sara and I explored the hotel. We climbed the highest tower for an excellent view of the sun setting. It made for some great pictures. Our buffet dinner was at 6:30 at our guide's table. Our guide was named Edvan. We spoke with Alan for a while. Throughout dinner monkeys would cling to the grating of the dining area hoping we'd give them some of our scraps. It was quite a sight. After such an early start, we ended up turning in by 9:30 PM.

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February 15 Saturday

I dreamt of a corner of my friend Marta's house was cracking off. Bruce Willis was in the dream too. I got up at 6:30 AM and showered in cold water. Breakfast was at 7:00 AM. Then, Edvan and the driver of our boat took us on the river to visit an Indian village. Altogether there were ten of us on the boat. It seemed that only the chief, his children and maybe his wife were there. They lived in a large dwelling made of materials from the jungle. There was a small hut that was about the size of a tool shed that was built to house poultry while protecting them from snakes.

Edvan told us about their lives and the jungle and about how anacondas smell strongly of fish. If we ever smelled fish strongly in the jungle, we were supposed to run away. The chief used a machete to cut open a large nut for us to sample. There were markings high on the trees indicating just how high the water level would rise later in the year. Edvan told us that the Amazon only had two seasons -- dry and rainy.

Sara was always hoping to see toucans in the wild. Alan's camera got wet in the boat on our way back to Ariau.

We met a slot machine maker from Nevada during lunch at noon.

At 2:30 PM 21 of us gathered together for a jungle walk. We first went on a long canoe ride to where we would actually walk. We were able to see a tree with strange nests which seem to hang from the branches. Edvan told us that those were the nests of birds highly valued for their ability to mimic other birds. The walk was hot and humid. We wore long pants, but we had amazingly enough forgotten to put on mosquito repellent. Fortunately, an Asian woman let us use hers.

In the jungle it was dramatically dimmer. You could see slivers of sunshine streaming through the tall trees. The path we took gave us views of a variety of trees. Edvan would often stop to point out their medicinal value. There was one that would give you water to drink if you cut it. He didn't demonstrate so as to preserve it for the long term benefit of others. At the base of one tree Edvan used his machete to bang on the trunk. This had the effect of causing quite a few large insects to come running out of the ground at the base of it. They looked like 1-inch long ants. Edvan told us that if one of them bit us, we would have a fever for 24 hours. We also saw what looked like two flies having sex on a leaf and a giant beetle in the jungle. I swang on a jungle vine before we got back. We took quite few pictures on the walk. There was an opportunity to buy something to drink before we headed back. The sun was low in the sky on the trip back which made for some excellent pictures on the river.

The buffet dinner was again at 6:30 PM. This time we sat across from the Russian couple.

After dinner, we got back into canoes for some aligator spotting. The stars far from city lights were spectacular. The canoes split up as each tried to catch their own small aligator. Our guide would shine a flashlight into the grass. The light would reflect off aligator eyes. The aligator would be so transfixed by the light that the guide would be able to bring the boat alongside it and catch it.

It took quite a while for Edvan to get ours. It was pretty small. Edvan held its mouth closed by holding the top and bottom of its mouth in one hand and the body with his other hand. He made sure everyone had a good view while he told us about it. Then he let some of us hold it for ourselves. Sara took my picture when it was my turn.

Before we went back. Edvan had the canoe stopped and the lights turned off. In the dark silence we could hear the sounds of the jungle and see the wonder of the skies above. Edvan was from the area, and he made a moving speech about how much he loved it here before the lights were turned back on and we headed back.

Back at the hotel we ordered wooden name plates (R$10 each) for ourselves and friends at home. We each had sodas and were in bed before 10:30 PM. I wrote in bed for a while before falling asleep.

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February 16 Sunday

I showered again at 6:30 AM. Breakfast was at 7:00 AM. After breakfast, on our way back to the room a small monkey climbed on my back and was determined to stay for a while. It was very cute. Sara eventually had to help coax it off of me. I wish we had our camera with us.

This morning's adventure included piranha fishing. We got into canoes, and Edvan took us to a spot where we could fish. Our fishing poles were little more than long sticks with a hook tied to one end. Bait was nothing less than raw beef. Sara didn't want to try it because she didn't want to kill any fish. I caught one fairly early, but it was pretty small. It was still neat to see a mouth full of teeth on a fish. I caught another one after that which was also pretty small. Edvan caught quite a few, but his fish tended to be much bigger. He used a different technique sending his line out far from the boat. Some people didn't catch any.

It started to rain while we were fishing. Sara and I hid under her new beach towel until it passed. Fortunately, it didn't last long. Edvan collected the piranhas caught for the electric eels back at the hotel.

Then we got the chance to swim in piranha infested water. We moved the canoes to deeper water not far away from where we were just fishing. Edvan said that it was safe as long as you weren't bleeding. I was up for it, but I didn't want to be the first in the water. And then, I entered the water. Sara joined me after a while. It was fun swimming and treading water in the river. We were grateful that someone took our picture with our camera.

The electric eels were in a small pool at the hotel. They also had a carnivorous turtle in another pool. Soon after we returned to the hotel, it started to pour heavily. Some newly arrived tourists who spoke French were completely soaked.

We ate lunch at noon. Then at 2:50 PM we took the canoes to visit a nearby village. Only one couple sat in front of us on the way there. I wore my wind breaker, but we only had a few raindrops. Edvan told us an anaconda story on the way.

The villagers had a church, a medical post, a dance hall and -- if you noticed -- sprouting from the tops of their houses ... television antennas. One of the three Arabs bought a large container of honey. He generously let us try it. I was the first to try it, but Sara declined.

We took a very grassy way back to the hotel. It was really neat to see densely packed grass all around you but know you were in water. It was very beautiful. We saw a quite a few birds and DOLPHINS! It was quite a sight to see them swimming in the river.

We got back around 6:15 PM. We took pictures of three squirrel monkeys playing together on the catwalk between towers. Dinner was at 6:30 PM. I took a picture of our little group -- the Arabs, the Russian couple, the Brazilian couple (actually we weren't sure if they were together in a romantic way) and a guy from San Francisco who danced in the Carnaval parade at the Sambadrome on the first night of the parades in Rio. The Asian group had apparently cooked some of the piranhas.

After dinner, Edvan (with some trouble) started a video for us on fishing for spotted peacock bass before he took another group out for aligator spotting. The video was pretty hilarious, and we ended up fast forwarding through it.

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February 17 Monday

At 5:00 AM I heard wake-up knocks for others. This morning I dreamt of not smoking pot and watching a movie with Sara about a man whose wife leaves him. I got up at 6:00 AM and showered. Breakfast was again at 7:00 AM. I took more pictures before it was time for us to leave. I took a catwalk out alone to reach a small beach on the main river to take a few more pictures. I paid R$43 on my MasterCard when I checked out. We ended up getting three wooden name plates because I had made a mistake in writing out what I wanted written on one of them.

Our 8:00 AM boat left late, but we saw more birds flying and more dolphins before we left sight of the hotel. At first the water on the river was very calm, but soon clouds rolled in, and it began to rain. There were a number of doctors on board. We ended up going below to get out of the rain that kept getting blown under the above deck cover.

After we docked, we checked into the Hotel Tropical -- room 2125. The room had double beds and was damp from the humidity. It smelled mildewy or moldy. Otherwise, it was a very nice and very large hotel. We confirmed our flights on Varig from our room to avoid paying something like $5 to have someone at the travel desk do it for us. The woman at the reception desk called South American Tours to confirm our transfer to the airport -- pickup would be at 2:00 AM.

Having taken care of that, we explored the magnificence of the hotel, took some more pictures and shared a club sandwich at the Coffee Shop. Sara had a guarana while I had a carbonated mineral water. Then we did a little shopping. There were a number of shops right outside the hotel. Sara bought a T-shirt (R$25 on VISA) with toucans on it. I got a dried and mounted piranha for R$12. Sara couldn't believe I had actually bought it.

We toured more of the hotel and walked through their mini zoo which had birds, jaguars and monkeys. It made Sara sad to see the animals caged. We ended up napping from 4:00 to about 5:10 PM. We followed that with a walk on the grounds going through the Orchid Garden, their mini jungle walk path and by the riverbank. I took a few last pictures of the river as the sun was setting.

Back inside the hotel we had drinks and ate a lot of nuts at a small bar. Sara had a pina colada while I had a strange yet potent fruit daquiri. All that cost about R$13. We had dinner outside by the pool which consisted of pizza, salad and carbonated mineral water. We could see a small girl and a just turned 5-year-old playing by the pool with their family nearby.

After dinner, we walked around the hotel some more. We looked into a huge aquarium, played with a friendly black and white cat and saw at least one turtle in a small pool. Our walk took us on an overpass that looked over the pool. Back in our room Sara took a bath while I took a shower. Sara was very concerned about the caged animals we'd seen in the zoo.

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February 18 Tuesday

Manaus -> Belem -> Miami -> Chicago
We didn't get much sleep. We ended up falling asleep with the lights on and with CNN on television. A 1:30 AM wake-up call got us up. At 1:45 AM or so our ride from South American Tours arrived. It was raining. I paid the hotel bill with my MasterCard.

Sara and I checked in at the airport only to find that we were given identical boarding passes. I had to get mine fixed. We were on Varig flight 800 to Miami which made one stop in Belem in seats 20A and C. The movies were 'Chain reaction' and 'Matilda,' so I was able to see how that movie ended after all. We were relieved to find our coats still in the locker where we had left them on our arrival at O'Hare airport.

Sara and I had a wonderful time. It was an amazing vacation. We had no crime problems, didn't get sick and enjoyed the beach and sights of Rio. The rooftop pool was wonderful, and Copacabana beach just a block away was very convenient. Corcovado and Sugar Loaf were very scenic. I'd definitely recommend them. Even though we didn't decide to go to the samba parade until the very last minute, we are so glad we did (even if tickets and transportation ended up costing us about $200 each).

Iguassu was beautiful. Itaipu Dam, the shopping excursion across the friendship bridge into Paraguay and the trip into Argentina for the Argentine view of the falls were welcome unexpected additions to our itinerary. The Macuco safari with its water trip up to the falls was fantastic. We were soaked on both sides of the falls as well.

The Amazon experience was also spectacular and full of activities. We played with monkeys, saw dolphins, caught piranhas and swam in piranha infested waters. I even got to hold the aligator our guide caught while aligator spotting in one of our evenings at Ariau. The richness of the wildlife was amazing as were the views.

We also had unbelievable luck with the weather. It hardly ever rained on us. Even in the rain forest it tended to pour while we were eating meals and not during our excursions.

The itinerary was great. Despite how varied it was, each place had its own charms, and it'd be hard to place one spot over another. It felt as though we spent just the right amount of time in each place for the amount of time we had.

Any comments, feedback or corrections are most welcome. Please email me at

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