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Avoid Amazon Lillies Tour Agency

  • Submitted by: Laura St. John, United States
  • Submission Date: 15th Oct 2005

Manaus is a modern city of 2,000,000 on the Rio Negro. The first day of our tour took us by boat to the head of the Amazon River. This place is called the ``Meeting of the Waters`. The cold, cream colored water of the Solimoes travels beside the warm, dark water of the Negro for several miles with out mingling as it becomes the actual Amazon River. On land we hiked in the wooded areas with our guide, George, and a young man from Sweden. He was struggling with the heat and humidity. (95 degrees and 80% humidity)That evening we fished and caught piranhas. George caught a cayman (small alligator) with his hands. This is the dry season and on top of that the river is lower than it’s been in 60 years. There are no tributaries and no water near foliage. So there is little chance to see much wildlife besides birds, and we were fortunate to see this cayman close up. Later that night Eric the Swede left us for a flight to Rio. We slept in hammocks on the river boat.The next day we were joined by a couple of guys from England. They managed the heat just fine as they have been traveling the world for a year. For the next several days we motored up and down the river by large boat and canoe. We hiked and fished.During our hikes in the forest we saw squirrel monkeys and a giant poisonous toad called the Cururu. We saw many parrots, a few hawks, some hummingbirds and a couple of macaws. Our guide showed us the vine which when cut provides fresh drinking water. It tasted "green" but good. We saw the plant that is used to make menthol. It looks like what I call a butterfly bush, and its sap smells just like Vick´s Vapor Rub. Amapá is the Indian word for the tree that provides the basic ingredient for Milk of Magnesia. The Sorva tree’s sap becomes gum base and is an ingredient in banana soup. They call it the cow of the jungle because of the milk like sap. We saw rubber trees. The dried sap feels just like a tire. It’s called seringueira. The cinnamon tree is the cipo cravo. George chipped some wood from a tree called carapanauba. It is steeped in water and is used for all kinds of stomach upset and blood disorders. We know it as quinine and use it for malaria.By the way. The Negro River where we were has relatively few mosquitoes. They say it is because the water is too acidic. One happy inhabitant of the river is the pink dolphin. They have very long and pointed "beeks" and a body that more resembles a manatee. We were allowed to swim with them and feed them in an area where they are protected. The ones we swam with are free to come and go. Back in the forest we saw how rope is made from strips of wood from one kind of tree and how cigarette paper is peeled from another.Our river boat pulled up to an Indian village called Jaraqui. It ended up being our least favorite place. Their dogs were starving, they kept two miserable monkeys on chains, and the children were not interested in the visitors. The men were in the process of building a bar and the church was only used for weddings. The door was locked. Our guide was involved in a heated argument over the use of a couple of hammocks for one night. We were to use one of their motorized canoes for a fishing trip and it was in disrepair. Glenn assisted in making it work across the river and then invited to "watch" the repair of their generator. The people were loud and rude and we felt very unwelcome.
Shockingly our tour operator had planned for us to spend five days there. We would have none of that and convinced our guide to alter the itinerary. After a few more mishaps with the Jaraqui´s motor we made it further up river to another Indian village called Terra Preta.It was an amazing and almost self sustaining place. Everyone was less than five feet tall. They were beautiful, pleasant and very very muscular. They live a simple yet strenuous life. The four of us plus our guide had brought our own food, and a wonderful family took us into their home. They cooked for us. The food was good, but it was always a version of one meal. Rice, cucumber and cabbage, spaghetti noodles and a meat. We had some fish, less beef and a lot of fish. Even fish heads. Yummm. They served an exotic juice from the cashew tree. The mother (mamai) and the father (papai) had 12 children. One boy and 11 girls, 8 of which are married. We spent three days with them enjoying their hospitality and activities. The facilities were simple. Their home was one room built on stilts and their down stairs open air kitchen is where we slept (in hammocks). The out houdr was something to behold. It was a wooden shed with a wooden floor with a hole in it. It was situated over a hole in the ground. You cannot imagine the smell and the bugs. Out of the four of us only one managed to hold out the three full days.With the river being so low, there was a dense population of fish. Glenn managed to get bitten by a piranha.One night we camped out in the woods. We cooked chicken over an open fire. It was big fun. We weren’t able to see or hear much wildlife because the snore coming from George scared everything away for a five mile radius. We did manage a few fireflies and bats before the deluge of rain filled in.After a couple of days with nothing to do but lie awake listening to the sound coming from George, play with the Indian kids and try not to think about using that out hose the two English buys gave in. They hadn’t paid in full and hoped to cut their losses. We had paid, so we stuck it out.I keep referring to "woods and forest" because to this point we were located on large islands in the river. This was not the jungle with canopy and howler monkeys we had expected....had been promised by the tour operator. In fact, it looked a lot like Texas.The night our tour was reduced to just the two of us we were scheduled to move 200km up river. We expected there we would get into what we had seen on National Geographic. But we discovered much too late that this is only possible by hiring another guide and paying a lot more. Read Scam. To add to the disappointment to get to see the primitive Indians requires permission and a month long quarantine. After that you have to travel for many days for a visit that lasts only a few hours. No photography and no overnights.
Meanwhile, back at the lodge we were taken by canoe to the other side of the river to catch the taxi boat. This canoe was one of many canoes we had been on that was under powered and overweighed. We survived 2 foot waved and running aground in the pitch blackness of night. The ride took half an hour. This is a big river even in the dry season. This is not my idea of adventure. The tour operator had promised many things that did not materialize and we were required to pay for things out of our pocket. Our guide had poor communication skills. I don’t mean he couldn’t speak English, I mean he chose to keep us on a string until not producing the promised product at the last minute. Then saying it wasn’t his fault.After an 8 hour overnight boat ride we arrived at another "Indian village". It ended up being another modern (ugh) city. We waited all day for a canoe and guide to take us to another camp out spot. Finally at 3:00pm after roasting in the triple digit heat we boarded our canoe. We waited another half o hour for fuel. Immediately after shoving off the boat began to sink. I don’t mean leak, I mean sink. We calmly pointed this out to our guide and hurriedly returned to shore.This was the last straw. We collected our packs and climbed over dear ole George to exit the boat and walk back to our host house. We sulked the rest of the afternoon until Mr. "Wait-don´t-leave-or-I-won´t-get-paid"offered...get this...a night time motorcycle ride. No Thank You. Our lives have already been risked too much. We could’ve taken a bus back to Manaus, but we decided to give him another chance. It was only two more days, what did we have to lose? So, the next day we made it to visit another Indian family. They were the poorest we’d seen yet. The six children worked all day and were not able to attend school. They subsisted on fish, some chicken and rice and their staple manioc flour. They had chickens, pigeons, dogs, cats, a goat (for a pet, not for milk) and ...yea!...a sloth! The sloth was the cutest thing we’ve seen. We hiked near their home and saw two giant tarantulas.The last day was more fishing and a five hour bus ride home. It’s true, the fact that we hear of that many acres of rain forest are destroyed every day. We walked thought many scorched and smoldering fields. We could hear chain saws and saw huge trees fall. One day our hike was through a dense cloud of smoke. The people of the region live in total poverty. Every couple begins having children when the girl is 15 or 16. They have up to 15 hungry mouths to feed per family. There are thousands of square miles populated by these poor and uneducated people. The pollution in the rivers is terrible. It’s drying up. We saw mile after mile of charred land. Back at the hotel after 10 showers I still smell like smoke. Thus ends our Brazilian "jungle" adventure. Off to Rio tomorrow.