Up the Amazon

01.12.2022 San Antonio, Chile to Manaus, Brazil

We disembarked AIDAmar at the port of San Antonio and got a car to Santiago de Chile airport. The flight was first to Sao Paulo where we collected bags and cleared immigration into Brazil. Once again, our Apple Airtags gave a sense of security, possibly entirely false sense of security, about the physical location of our luggage. We arrived at Manaus airport in the early hours and took another taxi to the Juma Opera Hotel where we ordered room service food and many caipirinhas.

02.12.2022 Manaus, Brazil to the Amazon/Solimöes River

In the morning we did a tour of the nearby famous opera house, the Teatro Amazonas building, and walked the Christmassy streets around the hotel. Manaus was once a very rich city from the natural rubber trade and could then afford to build this large opera house until more efficient plantations were developed in parts of the British Empire. There are other impressive buildings in Manaus, but it is clear that everything came to a screeching halt after the 1890’s. We left the bulk of our luggage in the hotel and took yet another taxi to the noisy and scruffy port to join the Iberostar Grand Amazon riverboat which was having a three-day round-trip cruise upriver.

03.12.2022 Amazon/Solimões River

The ship has a fleet of fast launches on the deck for excursions in some of the narrower river tributaries. One in the afternoon was a piranha fishing trip. I caught the first fish which turned out to be a less-than-deadly catfish but thereafter I bagged several species of very snappy piranha. You can eat piranha, and the natives do, but all these were thrown back with care as the can do some damage to tourist fingers and toes with their teeth. 

04.12.2022 Amazon/Solimões River

There were a couple more launch trips during the day. In between we watched shocking-pink Amazon River dolphins surfacing in a surreal way close to our balcony.

05.12.2022 Manaus to Juma River

In the early morning, the ship crossed the “Meeting of the Waters” where the cloudy cream-coloured water of the Solimões River joins the clear brown water of the Rio Negro to form the Amazon. Both rivers are already huge. The junction is very clear with just a few swirls and eddies separating the two types of river water as they flow downstream side by side for something like 20 miles. A short while later we disembarked back in the busy, chaotic, port of Manaus. 

The journey to our next accommodation was an adventure all by itself. We were met at the port by our driver who took us to another port downstream of Manaus. There we had a speedboat waiting for us to take us 7 kilometres across the Amazon to Porto do Careiro da Varzea. Here we were met by another car to take us, mostly on red dirt roads, to meet another speedboat on an unmapped tiny river which took us through the jungle, sometimes creeping through narrow tree-root filled channels and sometime racing at 30-40 knots across wide lakes. The entire trip was over 100 km. The rare buildings at the water’s edge are all floating and with some of the more permanent structure on stilts up the side of the mud banks to cope with the massive seasonal flooding in this region. The Juma Amazon Lodge was no exception, and all rooms are on 15 metre stilts rising from the water and the cabins sway when you walk around.

The first boat trip was more piranha fishing but with less success. A night boat trip had us hunting caiman using a flashlight and lasso on a stick. The ranger caught a small one for a show-and-tell but most grown-up caiman are substantial crocodilians who would not take kindly to being hauled into a small boat.

06.12.2022 River Juma

As H has developed an allergy to group travel with noisy Americans and children, she persuaded the guides to take us on a private sunrise canoe trip on the river. The quietness of paddling gets views of a different class of wildlife than you get with a large outboard motor behind you. There were some monster fish of several metres long in the deeper water. After a breakfast of coffee, tapioca, cheese and eggs and strange tasting fruits we declined a lengthy forest walk and retired to our tree-top cabin to watch for lizards and fish from our balcony. Capuchin monkeys watched us. Later, we had a swim in the lodge’s floating river-water pool. There is netting separating pool water from river water, which presumably keeps the larger predators from eating the guests.

07.12.2022 River Juma

 An early start for a sunrise view from a tree-top platform followed by a boat-ride through the river islands. Toucans, Ospreys and Scarlet Macaws obligingly showed up, but they kept their distance. There was a tapir sniffing around under the boardwalk on the way back to our cabin, but this is a semi-wild creature adopted by the lodge. Some river dolphins came by later for a brief visit.

08.12.2022 Juma River to Manaus

A busy day.  We were up early for our personal transport back to Manaus. This was the reverse of our outbound trip. The first leg was a speedboat through the jungle for about 60 km. We stopped once or twice to photograph caiman on the bank. We changed to a van at a muddy port where a rust red dirt track intersected with tiny river branch. There was a van ride to our next speedboat on the south bank of the Amazon then another fast ride for about 7 km and the remainder of the trip was another van through the outer parts of Manaus to our hotel, the Juma Opera. H had booked just about the finest suite in Manaus and there was an excellent view of the opera house. The hotel was once the US Consulate and President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed there after a river expedition. It didn’t say so, but we were probably sleeping in Teddy’s room.

We were met at our hotel by Leon, one of the guides from the river cruise ship we were just on.  We had hired Leon to organise a trip to take us swimming with river dolphins. Leon got us a speedboat to take up the Rio Negro to a floating house where they had dolphins they could call up by slapping the water with a plank of wood. The river dolphins are friendly creatures if you have some fish for them. They were a bit bigger than I was expecting when in close-up.

We had hoped to see a show at the opera house that evening, but we had been misinformed. Instead, we went to a restaurant near the hotel and finally got to eat piranha.

After a couple of hours sleep, we took a taxi to the airport in the early hours, and we were off on our next trip to the Caribbean.