Rumble In The Jungle
Manaus & The Amazon
We arrived late into Manaus, the Brazilian city in the belly of the Amazon, picked up by our David our jungle co-ordinator. Like a cop car chase from an episode of Kojak we sped through the city at high speed. The heavy humid breath of the jungle was alive with the smell of damp wood smoke, yet unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. Rejoicing in our basic hotel room for the night it had everything we needed an air conditioned unit to shoo the beastly humidity from our door and a teeny tiny bathroom which seemed to get smaller as each time you attempted to turned in the shower.
We awoke and breakfasted on simple cereals ready for our 8am pick up. The weather was stinkingly hot and we headed for the port area to join the rest of our travelling companions, Ludowic, a Belgian chap with the look of a lost pet and an engaged couple, form Sydney Mark and Rachel. The port had the appearance of being assembled in a hurry with amateur pontoons peddling the muddy water providing a rickety embarcation for the scores of melon and mango sellers. Brazil is a chocolate box of shades with its population the most mixed I’ve witnessed ranging from cool milk chocolate through to intense deep dark cocoa coloured skin with dark blonde curls and light eyes...the legacy of generations creating a cocktail of gene pools which sums up Brazil, a vast union of people in solidarity.
We boarded the small speedboat and left to visit one of nature’s phenomenons, ‘the meeting of the waters’ starring the ink black Rio Negro and the light muddy water of the Rio Solimoës. The content of each river’s mineral capacity and velocity act as magnetic repellents allowing the rivers to run side by side without ever mixing. Clicking away, we agreed the best picture would remain in our mental scrap book. Conversation with our fellow travellers was easy and entertaining. We switched transport for a van then onto another boat travelling to Lake Juma and our Amazonian camp for the next few nights. The depth of the water had sunk by over 12 metres revealing scarred dry muddy banks, sliced by fallen trees, who appeared to have lost their footing and found comfort in their supine position. Cows lazily munched on the luminous green grass and overhead squawks from unseen birds ricocheted against the dense jungle. We’d arrived in what should have been the start of the rainy season but the previous two weeks gave no evidence of precipitation. The boat’s tarpaulin roof shielded us from the searing sun but provided no respite from the humidity claiming every pore, convincing them to shed gallons of sweat.
The clammy humidity was akin to sitting clothed in Harris tweed 3-piece in a 400C – 90% humidity sauna, this heat grips the jungle . Our journey was completed with dolphin sightings and we arrived at Juma camp, disembarking at the wooden lodge perched on the piranha filled water. Behind it rose an escalation of 91 steps creeping up the dried river bank like a siege ladder leading to hammocks swaying amidst mango trees, Simple wooden shacks accommodated dorms and private cabins, basic yet fitting for its surroundings, one double bed and two singles with mosquito nets wrapped and hovering like tangled chandeliers. However, the most welcome sight in the shack was a wall mounted found which we later found out had a curfew time of 9pm..when the generator was switched off. The bathroom consisted of a bucket like shower head with a drainage hole in the floor, light was borrowed from the bedroom and the loo...well let’s just say it was functional. The smell of lunch surfed the dense air and led us back down the rickety stairs to the lodge to feast on river fish and lime dressed salad.
Alan, our guide briefed us on our afternoon’s activities whilst we were entertained by Sammy, a Guyanese Rastafarian with an Indian subcontinent heritage, a self selecting refugee of sorts, with a face narrating a story of adventure, hustling, travelling and a vagabond past. Apparently his story began with a week long trek through the Guyanese jungle into Brazil at the age of 19 and amongst jobs he was caught smuggling 50 kilos of cannabis and paid a 9 month detention in jail. Changing his identity he found work in the Brazilian gold mines, he unfolded story after story in a stream of consciousness as if a raconteur performing for his wide eyed audience. Later that afternoon we took a journey on the river spotting cormorants, herons and swifts darting across the gentle ripples of water in time to catch a smoky orange sunset misted by clouds and plantation smoke. A sublime scene of an Amazonian sun sinking gently into the jungle canopy. What adventure lay ahead?