For the following two days after the England vs Italy match, I stayed in Manaus, relaxing, watching World Cup matches on the big screen in a plaza near my hotel, and bidding “Tchau” to most of the boat crew as they moved on to greener pastures. I cried myself to sleep for several nights after saying goodbye to my loyal Sip Captain, Game of Life Extraordinaire, and the man who renamed me “Daphne,” the pasty and poorly-dressed Englishman John Duggan (There, you got your mention, Duggars. Now leave me alone.).
The masses of English were gradually replaced by Americans, and by the evening of June 16th, there was quite a nice little contingent of stars and stripes-bedazzled fans in Manaus to watch USA’s first match against Ghana. I had my nails painted red, white, and blue for the occasion, and I screamed myself hoarse throughout the match. It was so exhilarating to be a part of the spectacle, if only while watching a big screen, and in the grips of emotion I promised myself that if the USA won, I would go to their match against Germany on June 26th. We won, and thus prompted my change of plans that kept me in Brazil for six weeks instead of the previously intended two weeks–more on that in the future.
Early the following morning, Graham and I began our four day/three night Amazon Jungle Safari, something I had been dreaming of my entire life. We had to take a bus to the river, a boat across the river, a van to another river (where we waited for three hours because of mis-communication–another sign of Brazil’s unpreparedness for tourism onslaught), and finally another boat that took us along the river to a “Jungle Lodge.”
I admit that my overactive imagination had pictured this to be a hulking mahogany thatch-roofed structure, standing majestically in the midst of swaying rubber trees, a stuffed anaconda outlining the main entry, with a massive fireplace (What kind of Lodge doesn’t have a fireplace?) overlooked by a giant crocodile head. Yeah. Not even close. The lodge was in fact a rickety plywood structure straddling the river on moldy stilts, with clotheslines sagging with yellowed panties and tattered towels lining the creaky walkways. Nevertheless, Graham and I were pleasantly surprised to have our own room and bathroom, but we made a pact to not take a shower for the remainder of the safari, just to keep things authentic (I’m pretty sure he broke the pact the next morning. Prissy Englishmen.).
After a hearty lunch of white rice, spaghetti noodles, and meaty things that I can’t eat (here we go again…), we took a boat to see some Amazon Pink River Dolphins. They were ugly. Then we went back to the Lodge/Shack for a dinner of white rice, spaghetti noodles, and cucumber and tomato slices (and meaty things that I can’t eat) before climbing back on to the boat to search out the elusive caiman. This essentially involved our fearless guide shining his flashlight across the water, driving like a maniac across the river to the small glowing orbs of the caiman’s eyes, and then grabbing the baby caiman out of the water. I had a feeling this wouldn’t exactly be a move approved by PETA, but I still embraced the cute little toothy reptile for a photo opportunity.
Our group was a mash-up of Americans, English, Germans, Dutch, French, and Chinese…and similar to my trip to the Bolivian salt flats, a group that just didn’t click. First impressions: everyone was nice enough, but it was just a bit awkward. Perhaps this is because other than Graham, an American guy, and myself, everyone else was part of a couple. Couples=Funsuckers. More on that later!
The next day, our group saddled up in the boats and headed to terra firma for a jungle trek. As we wandered through the dense forest, our guide gave a passionate description of the many exotic plants and animals we encountered along the way; as I was in the back of the line fighting off evil thorny vines and bloodsucking mosquitoes with my crutches, I didn’t hear a word he said. I did momentarily break my vegetarianism in the form of a white grubworb that tasted like coconut–it was pretty delicious, once you got past the pop of its head snapping between your teeth. We then made our way back to the Lodge/Shack for a lunch of white rice, spaghetti noodles, and meaty things that I can’t eat before jumping into the mighty Amazon for an afternoon swim/hiney-cleaning/potential piranha-feeding.
Later, we made our way to the “Amazon Village,” where we would be sleeping for the night. Tiffany’s Imagination: A small dusty clearing, deep in the jungle, surrounded by a circle of ramshackle bamboo huts. Topless men and women with bones through their noses, clutching mewling babies while slow-cooking monkey-brain and yucca stew over a crackling fire. Maybe a shrunken head or two on poles. Reality: A pair of wooden houses on stilts with a working kitchen and bathroom and a family fully-dressed in western clothing who were too bored and unimpressed to even look at the group of camera-clad foreigners that was crashing for the night. We hung 16 hammocks throughout the living room, front porch, and kitchen (Read: tight squeeze), and after watching a World Cup match on the big-screen TV while eating white rice and spaghetti noodles (and enviously eyeing meaty things that I can’t, I shouldn’t, no don’t eat it!), I snuggled up into my hammock for a long wide-eyed night of a cacophony of snores.
The next morning it was pouring rain. We waited for a lull in the downpour, upon which we climbed onto the boat for a river excursion. Soon enough, the rain was again coming down in sheets. As I had not had the brains to bring my rain jacket to the Amazon, I got soaked right to my spleen. We did see loads of dolphins, though. Our boat eventually made its water-logged way back to the Village/Shack for a rice-noodle-rific lunch (I’m chronically hungry by this point) and waited for the rain to subside while watching football. Finally, the weather cleared, and we hopped back into the boat and rumbled back down the Amazon for more jungle fun. The highlight was when our guide pulled a sleeping pregnant sloth from the trees and passed her around for photo opportunities–again, not very eco-friendly, but how many people can say they’ve hugged a wild sloth?
Just before dusk, we arrived at our home for the night: The Jungle. Camping in the jungle. Finally, my imagination matched reality, except for the large wooden structure that would serve as a welcome roof over our hammocked heads. At the same time our group arrived, another large group of mostly Americans arrived. I was bored with my grumpy group of complaining couples, so I was excited about some new meat and fresh conversations. Unfortunately, a few members of my group decided that they didn’t want to be anywhere near this new group, and somehow the decision was made that we would build our own structure deeper in the jungle and away from the newcomers.
I was surprised and a bit annoyed by this decision, as I felt it was unnecessary and extremely snobbish (especially after some American guys from the other group came over to offer their help and were rudely turned away/ignored by our group). Regardless, I must admit that I was thoroughly impressed by the brilliant jungle Macgyver skills of our guide as he cut down trees and lashed together poles and a tarp to build a temporary structure under which to hang ten tents for the night. Nevertheless, this event was the start of our group dynamic going from awkward to pure shit.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I suppose the combination of people being out of their comfort zones, being “hangry” (hungry/angry), personality differences, mosquito bites and heat, and good old-fashioned snobbery finally collided. By dinnertime I was ready to throttle two or three throats, and I couldn’t believe the air of Anti-American sentiment coming from several members of our group toward the clearly-happy and celebratory group of “loud and obnoxious Americans” in our jungle surrounds (who were again blatantly ignored when passing by our campfire later that night to say hello).
Note: Not everyone in my group was a jerk…just some of them. Anyway, on a positive note, I did get some eggs with my noodles (which didn’t come without snarky comments from a couple of the assholes/vegetarian-haters/our bellies are consistently full with meat but we will still judge you for being hungry and weak even though you keep eating these massive 28-calorie rice meals!), so at least now I had some sustenance to replenish my energy and keep me going. Oh, and I got to say hi to a newborn monkey who had fallen out of a tree and who probably died the next day…
All murderous feelings aside, I was in my element camping out there, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else that night other than sleeping in a hammock under the stars in the middle of the Amazon jungle. I could have stayed forever. Nevertheless, the next day was our last, so after taking down the campsite (all that work for one night…hmm), we went piranha fishing with chunks of raw chicken. Unfortunately, the little carnivores weren’t hungry.
Finally, we headed back to the Lodge/Shack for lunch, which was packed with members of that other horrible, terrible, obnoxious American group–it’s safe to say that I was like a kid in a candy shop, immediately breaking away from the confines of my permanently-scowling group for some much-needed laughter. I made some new friends on the way back to Manaus (I ALWAYS end up in the wrong groups!), another adventurous boat-van-boat-bus combination out of the jungle (which included seeing the famous “Meeting of the Waters,” the confluence of the black waters of the Rio Negro and the “white” waters of the Amazon River…the two rivers flow side by side without mixing, resembling a chocolate-vanilla soft-serve ice cream).
All in all it was an awesome adventure into the Amazon jungle. Of all the items on my To-Do list, catching a piranha was the only thing left unchecked, so I’d say I did pretty well for myself. I also didn’t kill anyone or collapse from hunger, so two more points! I will definitely be back, and next time with a nicer group and some trail mix.