On Friday morning, the last day of school, Harry and I decided to go and spend the first week of our Easter holiday in Manaus, Brazil. 19 hours later, at 5am on Saturday, we were leaving our apartment in Sand Creek to begin our journey. This is the story of the most spontaneous holiday I have ever taken…
We reached Lethem a few hours later, quickly exchanged some money into Brazilian Reais and then hurried across the Takatu bridge to Bonfim, Brazil. We got a taxi to the bus station and managed to catch the bus to Boa Vista literally moments before it left (it had actually started moving before we even found seats). After the 1½ hour journey, we killed an afternoon walking around Boa Vista before catching the 6pm bus to Manaus.
The bus to Manaus was a 12 hour overnight journey, clearly intended as a “sleeper” bus. This would have been fine, save for one thing… it was bloody freezing! The driver had the aircon turned up far too high, so Harry and I spent the majority of the journey shivering instead of sleeping!
We arrived in Manaus early Sunday morning, took a taxi to the town centre, then set about finding a cheap place to sleep and organising a jungle tour for the next day. We succeeded in both (see note at the bottom of the page), and on Monday morning – less than 72 hours after deciding to go to Manaus – we set of on a 3-day jungle experience.
We were picked up from our hostel, driven 20 minutes through town and then we had a speedboat all to ourselves to visit the Encontra das Aguas – the meeting of the waters. Here we saw two rivers – one deep black, one sandy brown – run side by side for several miles without mixing. After we crossed both rivers we were driven another hour or so to a second boat, which took us on an hour-long journey through the rivers of the Amazonian rainforest to arrive at Juma Lodge, perched on the edge of Rio Juma (it’s a river). We were given lunch and shown to our room, which was very pleasant (decent beds, a good shower, lights and electricity – what more can a man ask for in the middle of the jungle?). After a quick swim in the Rio Juma, we took a boat ride from 3pm to around 7pm, during which we saw giant water lilies, rubber trees, dolphins, the “flooded forest” (6 months of the year it’s a regular forest, the other 6 it spends under up to 30ft of water), tree sloths, an amazing sunset and a few brief glimpses of caiman (Google it).
We returned to the lodge, had our dinner, then went back out on the boat for a dedicated caiman spotting trip. We found a little one – about a foot long – and were able to take photos with him before releasing him back into the river.
All in all it was a pretty incredible day, and very tiring!
After yet another night of very little sleep, we were woken at 5:30am and taken out on the boat to see the sunrise (amazing!), followed by some more dolphin spotting (pink ones, this time). We returned to the lodge and watched the monkeys jump from tree to tree before breakfast.
After breakfast we were back in the boat heading towards the edge of the jungle. Our trek through the jungle lasted around 3 hours and included spotting (and hearing) howler monkeys, seeing numerous poisonous spiders, getting a few mini-lessons on jungle survival, attempting to climb an accai tree and eating Brazil nuts fresh from the tree (fact: technically, Brazil nuts aren’t nuts – they’re the seeds of a fruit). We returned by boat to the lodge for lunch, but not before taking some much-needed showers!
After lunch we were back out on the boat for some piranha fishing. After a slow start I managed to catch two decent sized piranha – a haul I was pleased with, seeing as we only caught six between five of us. We then canoed further along the river to our camp spot for the night. We got a fire going on the jungle floor and used it to roast our piranhas, and a chicken we bought with us – piranhas do not make a big meal!
After dinner we went out in the boat for a bit more late-night spotting of caimans and tree snakes. We were successful in the first, finding a second caiman, a little bigger than the one from the first day, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to find any tree snakes. We returned to land at around 10:30pm and quickly got into our hammocks for a night of well-earned sleep below the jungle canopy.
On our final day we awoke in the jungle, packed up our camp and then ventured deeper inland for another hiking tour of the local fauna and flora.
During our hike we met another species of monkey, a poison dart frog, the surprisingly large bird-eating spider, a few more “survival-handy” plants, and crossed a 25 foot deep river my means of a fallen tree.
We took a long boat ride back to the lodge, had another brilliant lunch and then packed up to leave. We travelled via boat, bus, another boat and finally a car to be dropped back at our hostel around 6pm.
As I write we have just returned to the hostel, having had an amazing experience of the jungle. We plan to spend a few hours relaxing after a tiring few days, then heas out into Manaus to find a decent bar or club to spend our last evening in.
Tomorrow will be dedicated mostly to shopping for souvenirs and exploring more of Manaus before we get our overnight bus back to Boa Vista, then a second bus and a taxi to land us back in Lethem on Friday.
The Lethem rodeo starts on Saturday, so keep an eye on the blog for “Easter Holiday – Part 2”! After rodeo I’m visiting Kaiteur Falls by plane, so there should be a part 3 before long as well.
Until then, I hope everyone reading this has a fantastic Easter, and I want to say thank you for reading my blog!
Note: I wrote this blog post bit by bit on my phone at the end of each day in Manaus, and then uploaded it as soon as I was finished. This means that I haven’t been at my laptop at all, so I haven’t been able to select, sort and resize the photos that go along with this post. I’ll get them online as soon as possible – maybe even before the end of next week, depending on when I find time.
* If anyone reading this is planning a trip to Manaus, I would fully recommend the two main organisations we dealt with. There are plenty of other companies offering the same things – and some might be just as good or better – but I have had a personal experience with these two and I can’t find a bad word to say about either of them.
Firstly, Manaus Hostel has a good location and provides clean rooms, comfy beds, friendly staff, good showers, free WiFi, secure lockers, a nice breakfast and a really pleasant atmosphere. The standard price for a non-aircon dorm bed is R$25/night, but we got ours for R$23 (about £7.70) essentially by saying the word “volunteer” a few times and smiling a lot. Give or take a few Reais, this is probably the cheapest decent accommodation you’ll find in Manaus.
Second, our jungle tour was organised and provided by Amazonas Brasil. They offered an all-inclusive package which picked us up from our hostel, dropped us back there at the end, and covered everything in between. The standard price for a trip like the one above is around R$540/person, but we got ours down to R$400 each (about £135). This price included all of our transportation, three meals a day, drinking water, our room at Juma Lodge, English-speaking guides (who were very knowledgeable about the jungle, and had a great sense of humour), insurance, etc., so we considered it to be very good value. The one and only thing not covered under this price is branded drinks in the lodge – they provide as much water as you want, but a Coke or a beer from their very trusting self-service bar will run you 4 or 5 Reais respectively.