For years, when contemplating a new adventure, I’ve let my mind ruminate on the Amazon region of South America. All the conversation about climate change today only deepened my resolve to someday explore the world’s largest rainforest for myself. It finally happened.
There I was, lounging on the deck of a riverboat, reflecting on the fulfillment of my fantasy while watching birds flying overhead. A warm breeze kept the humidity and insects at bay as we drifted along the world’s longest river. I was finally enjoying one of my most sought-after destinations, the Amazon.
Amazon cruises are available from ports in either Peru or Brazil. Facts and opinions about which is best came at me from every angle and I was sure either country would treat me well. But ultimately, I chose Brazil.
The long flight to Manaus, Brazil was a slight inconvenience, although I took a certain comfort in knowing that I was traveling during the period when Brazil did not require visas. It was a promotional thing for the Summer Olympics and saved me money. This lucky benefit didn’t make the late-night arrival and four-hour time change any easier, however.
The next morning I explored Manaus, the capital city of Brazil’s largest state, Amazonas. This unique metropolis is right in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, but isolated from much of the world because it’s accessible only by air or water. Ecologists fear that roads or highways connecting the villages along the Amazon River and its tributaries would soon decimate the rainforest as we know it.
Despite its isolation, Manaus teems with activity. The vibrant population of more than 2 million grew exponentially in the late 1800s during the rubber boom. Entrepreneurs flocked to Manaus to buy latex from the Brazilian rubber tree. Great fortunes were made and the trappings of a gaudy culture were imported from Europe.
I toured the Amazon Theater, a remnant of the period’s investment in culture originally built as the Manaus Opera House. The Renaissance style was a bit overdone for my tastes, but I could see how impressive it was in its day.
Another product of the rubber boom was the Rio Negro Palace. The opulent home was first built as the residence for a German rubber baron in 1903. With the decline of the rubber industry, the property was acquired by the Amazonas government and used as the governor’s residence for many years. Today, it’s a little tired, like all of these grand old buildings, but it’s an excellent representation of wealth from those days.
To experience the rainforest up close, you have to go by water. The Amazon Clipper Premium was perfect for this journey. There are only a few dozen passenger cabins and the accommodations are friendly. All cabins have air conditioning and large windows to enjoy the scenery.
Activities on the river boat followed the same general routine every day. We rose before dawn and took little trips in canoes to explore the spectacular flora and fauna. Later we returned for breakfast and another canoe excursion to the jungles. Afternoons were for naps, and sometimes after dinner we were back in the canoes for a completely different adventure. Local English-speaking naturalists made sure all our activities were worthwhile.
One of our first adventures was to go piranha fishing. I rate it an “E” ticket. The naturalist showed us the procedure and soon everybody in our little canoe was reeling in one of the little aquatic monsters.
Catching my first piranha was only the beginning of a great Amazon adventure. My story will continue in Part 2.