Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Amazon Jungle, Day 1

The Urubu River

We spent three days exploring the Amazon and didn’t see an American the entire time! It was great! It’s one of the challenges when traveling with Semester at Sea. When 700 Americans embark in a city at once you’re bound to run into each other, so we were excited to find a place where no one else was at.

We started the morning early rushing around to pack last minute items for a 3-day excursion in the Amazon Jungle. We met a driver from Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours at 7am for a quick ride to the bus station. There we boarded a public, intercity bus for a 3-hour ride to Lindoa. The bus was one of the nicest I’ve ever been on and was so comfortable, not what you’d think of for a public bus in Brazil. We were especially appreciative, because we were so tired. By the time we arrived in the tiny town of Lindoa we were well rested and ready for a 40 minutes boat ride upriver to our lodge.

A fruit stand in Lindoa (notice the young boy with a coconut)

When we arrived we were introduced to Francisco our guide. He showed us to our room in the tower. We had a nice view of the Urubu River, a tributary of the Amazon River. Our accommodations were simple, but clean and adequate. We had a private bath with a toilet and sink and a shared shower downstairs. They pump water right out of the river. It goes through a filter system to remove any particles, but it’s not potable. There’s no hot water it just sits in tanks in the sun and warms up a little, but not much. The good thing about having swam in Lake Superior and living in Wisconsin is that your concept of cold water shifts drastically. It was quite hot out so when we did take showers the cool water felt great.

The tower we slept in

In the afternoon we went out canoeing with our guide and an English couple who was also visiting. They were great fun. All the canoe paddles were handmade and quite heavy. I was surprised at how heavy they were. Later our guide told us they keep them thick and heavy because the tourists break them if they don’t. Made me miss my nice lightweight canoe paddle at home! Fortunately, our guide was such a strong paddler we could slack from time to time and take photos of the gorgeous trees growing out of the water. The water was about 2 meters deep and would get up to 8 meters during the rainy season making the trees look like little bushes sticking out of the water. It would be cool if you could scuba dive under there and see all the trees trunks under the water with fish swimming through the leaves.

Strong, heavy, hand carved paddles

On the way back to the lodge we stopped for some piranha fishing. It’s a very simple process, just a hook, a line, and raw chicken. No pole or reel needed. The toughest part is snapping the line when the piranha bites to secure the hook in it's mouth. When we put our lines in Julie and I both caught a fish almost immediately.

The piranha's sharp teeth (shown with a leaf in it's mouth)

Julie and Amy with our piranhas

I though, wow, this is going to be fun. Well sadly, my luck ended there. I couldn’t seem to get the snap just right again. Julie, however, proved to be quite the fisher and brought in at least 7 fish. The English couple we were with caught a few as did the guide. We took them all back to the lodge and we ate them for dinner. They were great! Who woulda thought piranha would be so tasty.

A plate of grilled piranha and the rest of our meal (rice, pasta, veggies, chicken)

After dinner we grabbed flashlights and went out again to look for caiman (alligators). This time is was just Julie, me, and Francisco. It was a beautiful clear night and the trees were reflecting in the water. We sped along in the little boat as Francisco shined the light along the base of the trees. He was looking for the reflective eyes of the caiman. After a while we saw some. I couldn’t see them as clearly, but he was so well trained to spot them. We motored into the trees to the shallow spot where the eyes were. He stopped the motor, pushed the boat along with the paddle, then stepped over us to the front of the boat, and hopped barefoot into the water. He slowly and sneakily crept up to the caiman then WAM! He reached in and grabbed it around the neck, yanking up a young, two foot caiman. He carried it back to our boat and sat down with us to show us the little guy. With Francisco’s hand around his neck he was very still, didn’t struggle at all. He figured the cayman was about a year and a half old. They grow to be several feet long. We each got to hold it and feel it’s smooth belly and rough back.

Amy holding the young caiman

Francisco and Julie with the caiman

Then Julie gently released him back into the water.

Swim caiman, swim!

We went back to the lodge and quickly fell asleep. It was a long, but wonderful day.

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