Saturday, December 13, 2014

Meeting of the Waters

Greetings All,
After our visit to Mamiraua, we flew from Tefe back to Manaus.  It was fun taking the slow boat on the way out but once was enough.  We were picked up at the airport for our 4-legged transfer to Juma Amazon Lodge.  A van drove us across town to a marina where a small speed boat was waiting to take us across the Rio Negro to the Solimoes (Amazon) River.  After the crossing the river, we were dropped off at the dock in Careiro da Varzea, picked up by an old 4x4 and driven on a paved road for about 20 miles before turning off on a red clay road which we followed for about 7 miles until it ended at a river.  Our fourth and final leg was in another motor boat which took us along the river into Juma Lake and the lodge.  We arrived an hour before sunset and settled into our little chalet on stilts, 50 feet above the level of the lake!

50 feet over Juma Lake

We were now high above the water but when the floods return in May our chalet will be just above the surface of the lake.  It had been a long travel day so we turned in early so we could be up before sunrise the next morning.  We didn't go on the organized boat tour to see the sunrise but were treated to a beautiful view right from the lodge.

Sunrise over Juma Lake

We heard some loud squawking and went to investigate.  A pair of Orange-winged Amazon Parrots were in the trees just above the boardwalk and were making quite a racket.  Apparently, they come out every morning looking for a handout from the kitchen staff.

Orange-winged Amazon Parrot

We headed over to the kitchen to see who else may be hanging out looking for a handout and found 3 very unusual monkeys in the nearby trees.  We were told they were Saki Monkeys and when I looked them up discovered they were the Rio Tapajós Saki Monkeys (Pithecia irrorata).

Rio Tapajós Saki Monkeys 

The lodge guests are asked not to feed the animals but the kitchen staff weren't adhering to the rules.  I must admit it was great getting such a close look at these monkeys and photographing them at such close range.  

Rio Tapajós Saki Monkey 

The resident Scarlet Macaw was also perched in a tree overhead squawking loudly for his breakfast.  Apparently this bird has been visiting the lodge for the past 12 years.

Scarlet Macaw

After breakfast we joined a group of six consisting of 2 couples from Montreal and 2 women from London for a hike in the jungle.  The rainforest was actually a primary forest having been protected by the Brazilian military as a jungle survival training facility.  Our guide Francesco taught us a few survival techniques in case we ever found ourselves lost in the jungle.  One technique used resin from a tree to create a torch and another technique found edible larva in the nuts of a palm tree.  Most of us passed on trying a larva once it was washed and its head torn off.  We watched as Helen and Francesco tried one claiming it tasted like coconut.

Larva, Anyone?

The next day we visited a local house.  The only residents were a 16-year old girl and her younger brother.  Her husband works at the lodge as a watchman.  She was already expecting her first baby and did not appear particularly happy.  We walked around the grounds touring a small plantation growing bananas, manioc and pineapples.  To our surprise we were joined by a 9-month old Brazilian Tapir.

Brazilian Tapir

She is being raised by the family after being orphaned when her mother was killed by hunters.  Bridgetita followed us around becoming particularly interested when we stopped to watch Francesco press juice out of sugar cane.

I'm Waiting!

I tried a few sips but it was too sweet for me and I gave the rest to Bridgetita who was anxiously waiting.

Here you Go!

After breakfast the next morning, we left the lodge returning to Manaus in preparation for the final leg of our journey, a 3-day cruise up the Rio Negro.  We had booked a cabin on the M/V Desafio, an 109-foot long schooner that holds up to 24 passengers. 

M/V Desafio

For our cruise, only 4 passengers were booked - the 2 of us and a mother and daughter from Spain. We'd have almost a private cruise!  We settled into Cabin #1, small but very comfortable, a far cry from "The Box" on the Rei Davi a couple of weeks earlier.

Our Cabin

That night we went out in a smaller motor boat in search of caiman.  We spotted many along the shore, some small and some large.  Our guide Rubem was able to grab one of the smaller ones so we could get a close look.

Spectacled Caiman

Early the next morning we went piranha fishing.  You can't come to the Amazon and not try piranha fishing.  I didn't catch one but Marc managed to land a small one.  Rubem caught the largest, a Redeye Piranha with those sharp teeth piranhas are notorious for.

Redeye Piranha

To his dismay, we requested that all the caught piranhas be released.  We returned to the ship for breakfast before heading out again to visit the Pink River Dolphins or Boto as they are commonly called.  A local family has created a business where tourists can come and "swim" with the dolphins.  Actually, you stand on a platform just below the surface of the water where the owner feeds a group of wild Pink River Dolphins.  Normally, I don't condone feeding wild animals but it gave us a chance to get a close look at these ancient mammals.

Pink River Dolphin
I was able to touch one on his chin.  His hide felt like velvet, so soft.  Two young men from Manaus that were also on our cruise to make a marketing video got in the water to film the dolphins with a GoPro.  They got some amazing underwater footage of these creatures that are able to navigate through these murky waters using echolocation.  They also have unfused neck vertebrae allowing their necks to be flexible when navigating through the flooded forest.
The family also had a wooden enclosure containing pirarucu, those gigantic fresh water fish we had heard splashing around the Uakari Floating Lodge.  Here you could actually try your hand at catching one.  Well, not really.  You were handed a wooden pole with a fish tied to the end.  The pirarucu circled around in anticipation.  Once the fish hit the surface of the water, smack!, a pirarucu would try to latch onto it.  Marc tried to lift one out of the water so we could get a good look at it but, they are too heavy and it dropped off the line.

Marc Pirarucu Fishing

We headed up river toward Anavilhanas National Park, the world's largest river archipelago.  Created just 4 years ago the park contains about 400 islands which extend for over 350,000 hectares / 875,000 acres of untouched native forest.

Anavilhanas National Park

There isn't as much wildlife here as at Mamiraua due to the acidic waters of the Rio Negro.  The average pH of the river is 4.5 caused by humic acid from the incomplete breakdown of phenol- containing vegetation.  The humic acid gives the Rio Negro it's characteristic dark coloration.  We did see some birds like these beautiful Blue and Yellow Macaws and a Sungrebe that we did not see in Mamirura.

Blue and Yellow Macaws

The following morning we headed back toward Manaus, stopping off at the local village of Terra Petra along the way.  The community contains 36 families of the Bare, Baniwa and Tucano tribes practicing a subsistence lifestyle.  They do have electricity created by a generator as well as a church and a school.  The children were attending bible school with much singing and laughter going on.

Bible School

The two film makers from our cruise brought out another toy, a drone!  The local kids had never seen such a contraption, heck, neither had I, and were eager to get a closer look.

Can I see your Drone?

For our last night on the river we were treated to a glorious sunset

Sunset over the Rio Negro

Early the next morning we continued down river.  When we awoke we were already near Manaus.  We stopped to check out some giant water lilies (Victoria amizonicas) which have leaves that can grow nearly 10 feet in diameter.  At this time of the year there were few lilies in the lagoon and they were in poor shape.

Giant Water Lillies

The last stop on our cruise was the "Meeting of the Waters".  Here the black water of the Rio Negro meets with the "white" water of the Solimoes to form the Amazon River.  The waters don't readily mix as their pH, temperature and velocities differ.

Meeting of the Waters

All too quickly our Amazon exploration had come to an end.  We had to return to Manaus to prepare for our flight home later that night.   I came to the Amazon expecting to find a vast jungle wilderness where humans don't venture.  Instead I found a rich mosaic of uninhabited rainforest and riverside communities whose inhabitants have come to rely on the rivers and forest for their livelihoods.  Somehow in this part of the Amazon humans and wildlife appear to be coexisting.  At least there was no large scale commercial exploitation going on.  I hope that life in the flooded forest continues in a sustainable manner and that this remarkable ecosystem continues to endure!
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc