If we thought the Amazon was wild yesterday, we were in store for a treat today. It was a back-to-back lineup of animals, adventures, and more animals. Some were planned encounters, and others, not so much…
We woke up nice and early at 5:30am to catch the sunrise over the river. Normally, this would be torture to get up so early, but given the rough night we had sleeping, filled with dreams/nightmares of multi-legged invertebrates and amphibians crawling into bed with us, our alarm couldn’t have gone off sooner. We were back in Tarzan’s canoe, near the point where we watched the sunset the previous night, to watch one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen. Words don’t do it justice so here are some pictures.
After breakfast, we took Thiago’s speedboat out to an area that the botos vermelhos, or pink river dolphins, frequented along the river. Here, we first tried to fish out the pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish in the Amazon, knowing full well that no innocent bystander was going to pull the 150 pounder out of the water. The biggest challenge I had was to make sure he didn’t pull me in first! Around the corner, the people who worked at this floating dock had a supply of fish which they splashed around for the dolphins, and the dolphins would swim right up for lunch. There was a platform for visitors to stand on and while we couldn’t feed the dolphins firsthand, we got the chance to get up close and personal, even petting some of these dolphins. While Doug was off swimming with a few of these guys, Tarzan suggested that I use my hand to splash around a little to attract the dolphins’ attention. Well, I certainly attracted something – but it turned out to be a giant fish (maybe one of the pirarucu??) – that barely missed my hand before I leaped out of the water.
We then took the boat out on the water to look for more wildlife, this time a bit more unpredictable. From across the river bank, Tarzan instructed Thiago to pull over toward some trees because he thought he saw something in the trees. As we got closer, despite my many attempts to follow where Tarzan was pointing, it wasn’t until we were smack dab under the tree that I saw what he had seen from across the river – a three-toed sloth! We thought we would just appreciate nature from afar but before we knew it, Thiago was climbing up the tree to bring the sloth to us. Having no idea what a real sloth looked like, I was really surprised by how cute it was – despite surely being annoyed at being disturbed from its home, it still wore its dopey smile. Its claws were no joke though – in his initial state of panic, he dug his claws pretty deep into Doug’s poor hand!
Feeling blissful and excited about having seen a sloth and some dolphins, nothing could prepare us for the next stop. We got out at a very small village where we first saw locals working on a number of handicrafts – bracelets, jewelry, and knives decorated with dried pirarucu scales – and learned about some medicinal herbs and plants. What we didn’t know was that we were in prime anaconda territory, as they like to build their homes in the shallow water dams near the river banks. While we were engaged in this lesson, some of the local men had returned from the riverbank with one of the many anacondas that was frequently seen in the area. Having pulled it right out of the water, they convinced us to hold it by telling us that “it’s on the smaller side” (true, as they grow to be 29 feet and 550 pounds but this one was still about 10-12 feet long) and “this one is not aggressive” (how does one know for sure?!). And the best way to hold it? By keeping one hand around its neck, firmly but not tightly, and the other hand to hold up the rest of its body. It was probably one of the most terrifying minutes of my life, especially when the man handed him over to me and then WALKED AWAY. I still get flashbacks to how cold and wet it was.
Amazingly, it was only getting to be lunchtime by this point. We were only halfway through this crazy (yet fun) day! After a relaxing, animal-free lunch back at the lodge over some more World Cup soccer, it was time to take a break from the water and go inland for a hike. The original intent of the hike was to observe the various trees and their medicinal uses, but the highlight – which easily could’ve turned into a lowlight – came within the first 5 minutes of our hike. Tarzan was hacking away with his machete to clear a path for us (there are obviously no trails here) when he stopped suddenly and exhibited the closest thing to fear we had seen from him during the entire trip. Just a few meters into the forest right behind our lodge was the most poisonous snake in the Amazon! Unlike the anaconda, which is deadly for its ability to constrict and suffocate their prey, this snake had venom so lethal it could kill a person within 30 minutes. Not that another few minutes would’ve mattered since it would easily take several hours to even call for any semblance of medical help. To make matters worse, it was known for being aggressive and for its attack range that included the area where we were standing. Tarzan gave us two choices: he could move the snake, or he could kill it. At the risk of angering the Amazonian gods and Mother Nature, we told him to kill it. Because otherwise it would be there on our way back, and if we didn’t kill it, it could’ve killed us…so Tarzan took a stick and WHACK! 5 whacks later, the snake was definitively dead. I still wasn’t completely convinced, even when Tarzan pinched its neck to show us its fangs.
Needless to say, I was watching every step during the rest of our hike. We did see the outer layer of skin that the same species of snake had shed further in our hike, but didn’t see any more snakes here. The rest of the hike consisted of learning about a number of trees – the rubber tree, “music” tree (it echoes upon being struck as a way for people to communicate in the forest), a milk tree (can tap into for a milky liquid to feed you if you’re lost in the forest), incense tree, etc. I’ll be honest, it was pretty hard to concentrate after the snake incident as I was too focused on not dying the rest of the way.
Then, it was back onto the speedboat. Since it was later in the afternoon, Tarzan felt our odds of finding monkeys was even greater today. But before we found any monkeys, we found a cobra in the treetops. Similar to the sloth incident, Tarzan spotted him from far away, and we took the boat into a heavily forested area. Next thing we knew, Thiago and Tarzan were at it again, leaving us in the boat and scaling the tree. Unsure of what was going to happen next, we sat there, anxiously awaiting, when all of a sudden, the cobra went flying out of the tree! Thiago had climbed up way high, shook the branch that the cobra was coiled around, and the cobra landed in the water RIGHT NEXT TO OUR BOAT. Almost into our boat. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve if it landed in our boat. Doug probably would’ve had to take one for the team there. The good news was, the cobra sped away in the water quickly; the bad news was that we didn’t get to snap a good picture or video since it all happened so suddenly. Did I mention how amazed I was that I was still alive by this point in the day?
Once everyone was back in the boat, we sped off to another area along the river and saw an entire group of smelly monkeys. We came prepared this time, having brought crackers, and actually got to feed the monkeys! They were so cute and pretty fearless, as they jumped right into our boat to eat crackers right out of our hands. I could’ve watched these guys play all day.
This was where the night got a little weird. We stopped at a couple people’s houses as we were waiting for the sun to set, so that we could look for more caimans. The plan somehow changed and turned into a bar crawl of sorts, as one woman hosted us for several rounds of beers as Thiago ventured out after dark to look for a more manageable (aka not adult) caiman for us to hold. We thought we were done, but we made another pit stop at the floating convenience store to hang out with the owner over a few beers there, as well. It was all very confusing and a little unnerving but hey, we got pretty much the 360 degree Amazon experience. Unlike most countries where lights are required on boats at night and waivers are signed, our experience had neither. By some miracle (and presumably a lot of skill and experience), Thiago expertly navigated our way back down the river to the lodge, avoiding the various clusters of halfway submerged trees, in the pitch dark.
After all that excitement, we were exhausted, and despite the occasional frogs in our bathroom, fell right asleep under the safety of our mosquito net.
HOW WE DID IT:
Entire tour was booked through Amazon Tarzan Tours. Not only was Tarzan a terrific and knowledgeable tour guide, but he was great to work with over email as he helped us design our itinerary based on our schedule and interests. He took care of everything – pick up/transportation, lodging (which included all meals), and personally took us out for all tours.