A big perk of watching games in Manaus (the largest city of the Brazilian Amazon), was the ability to actually trek into the Amazon. In between our two games, we had the perfect amount of time to spend 3 days and 2 nights in the rainforest. We took a bus about 270 kilometers west of Manaus to a town called Itacoatiara, and then an hour speed boat ride up the Rio Urubu, a blackwater tributary to the Amazon River. I’ve done my fair share of camping growing up including a similar trip into Canada, and Keith and I were able to spend a similar amount of time going into the Sahara Desert (from Morocco), but so far nothing in my lifetime prepared me for how surreal spending time in the Amazon would be.
Going into this trip, I purposely kept my expectations low, at least in terms of seeing wildlife. Based on our experience in Costa Rica four years prior, I knew that seeing all of the amazing animals like sloths and jaguars and toucans was rare. And that was a good thing; we saw ants, some eagles and bats, but we were not on an Amazon safari.
I was surprised in part by what the forest actually looked like. I expected it to be dark and dense. I remember growing up and learning about the layers of the Amazon: the emergent layer (top), the canopy, the understory and the forest floor. I read books with pictures of the Amazon depicting every tree trunk being size of a dinner table and big-eyed, brightly colored frogs on every huge leaf. There was plenty of all that (minus the frogs), but the forest was much more light-filled than expected, and the forest floor was much more diverse.
We spent our time fishing for piranha, going on night canoe rides in search of caimans, sleeping in hammocks and hiking into virgin rainforest. We had a ball, despite not seeing any animals and only catching one lone piranha. Part of the reason we didn’t see much wildlife was because we were visiting in the wet season—animals are much more concentrated along the river when the water is at its lowest. But what was truly amazing was the fact that we were literally canoeing on top of the Amazon rainforest each and every day. The river was so flooded, and we could go deep into the forest, floating on top of trees. Every now and then we saw what looked like a bush floating in the middle of the river, but in reality was the very top of the emergent layer of the forest (meaning we were floating on trees 30-50m high).
Eating in the Amazon wasn’t exactly a gourmet experience, nor was it full of variety. But it was pretty good! Every day, we had some sort of chicken, spaghetti, rice and cucumber salad, plus a never ending assortment of fruits like pineapple, bananas, papaya and oranges. Given that it was all cooked over an open fire, and we were miles away from any sort of grocery store, it was impressive and we were grateful for the decent quality given our days of spent out in the sun, fishing for piranha with raw chicken.
One of the best parts of our trip was our full day hike into the forest where we found a place to throw our hammocks and spend a very peaceful jungle night (previously we were based at a cabana on the river bank). We hiked with all of our gear about three to four hours to a spot where we played in waterfalls, swung on jungle ropes and spent the night in our hammock listening to the daily torrential rain shower (and praying that our tarp would more or less hold).
We also had a very memorable dining experience at the real Rainforest Café. Our lunch consisted of some more of the same chicken/rice/spaghetti/salad/fruits spread we had been subsisting on, plus the two fish we caught the prior day. But the fun part came in how it was all prepared.
Outside of the relatively well-equipped cabana kitchen, we had our meat speared onto freshly whittled Amazon trees, roasted over a fire made underneath a palm tree hut. And our side dishes were made in pots hung on a makeshift rail. Our guides Fabian and Seb did their jobs very well, carefully basting the meat with just a little bit of oil and salt, and ensuring that the rail could support the pots and the sticks. Every so often the rail did fall, but it only helped to add a nice smokey and charred flavor to the chicken.
Later that night (but not much later, since the sun sets so early), once it was ridiculously dark and the rain had let up, we had another meal of guess what: chicken, rice, macaroni, cucumber salad and fruit! We stood around the dim fire, eating by the light of head torch, and listening to the sounds of the forest. And since we needed some more water for the hike back to the cabana the next morning, we boiled some river water over the fire, and cooled it in the rushing river that demarcated our campsite. [It was slightly yellow and very smokey tasting.]
In all, it was so much fun and such a change from the average vacation. We could have gone to a resort, eating fresh fruit and native fish off palm trees in a similarly exotic setting. But we didn’t. We went into the Amazon ourselves and we ate fish we caught from the river, plus other staples that we prepared in whatever way we could. We slept in hammocks and fell asleep listening to the wildlife we never really saw. And we saw more stars in the sky that we’ve probably ever seen before, all above a rainforest silhouette. What more could we have asked for?