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A Taste of the Wild

A Taste of the Wild

They threw me in a cell with eight other people: two homosexuals,
one of them called Anita, three robbers, two murderers and an old man accused of raping
his own granddaughter. I greeted everyone with respect and tried to sleep. The smell of
urine and feces choked me.
By Brazzil Magazine

The top priority for most foreign visitors to Manaus is a jungle tour. Here, it’s
possible to arrange anything from standard day trips and overnight excursions to months of
travel in the hinterland. It is common for travelers to be greeted at the airport by
groups of tour agency representatives keen to sign them up for trips. These
representatives are a useful source of information, and may even offer transport into the
city center to a budget hotel, but you should hold off booking a tour until you’ve had
time to shop around for the best deals.

There are now dozens of agencies vying for your custom, with trendy names (‘Eco’ and
‘Green’ have quickly become standard prefixes) and glossy brochures, touting all sorts of
encounters with wildlife and Indians just a few km from the city.

What you can expect on day trips or tours by boat lasting three of four days is a
close-up experience of the jungle flora, with abundant birdlife and a few jacaré
(more easily located at night by guides using powerful torches) and, if you’re lucky,
porpoises. It is also a chance to see what life is like for the caboclos in the
vicinity of Manaus.

You cannot expect to meet remote Indian tribes or dozens of free-ranging beasts
because the former have sensibly fled from contact (after centuries of annihilation or
forced assimilation) and the latter have been systematically hunted to the brink of
extinction. In both cases, access has become synonymous with destruction.

This does not mean that the tours are not worthwhile, merely that prospective tour
participants should ignore flowery propaganda and instead ask the tour operators for exact
details. Does the tour include extended travel in small boats (without use of motor) along
igarapés? How much time is spent getting to and from your destination? What is the
cost breakdown (food, lodging, fuel and guides)? You may want to pay some of these
expenses en route, thereby avoiding fanciful mark-ups, and should insist on paying only a
portion of the costs at the beginning of the trip, settling the rest at the end. This
payment schedule helps to maintain the interest of tour operators and guides defining and
abiding by a tour schedule. It also provides some leverage if promises are not kept.

If you are trying out jungle tours for the first time and intending to do extended
trips in the Amazon region, it’s useful to take a short trip from Manaus as a taster. This
will allow you to assess the idea in practice and give you the confidence to do longer
trips either from Manaus or from other parts of the Amazon. The latter option is becoming
increasingly popular among travelers disenchanted with Manaus.

We have received a few enthusiastic letters from readers who thoroughly enjoyed their
tours, and a whole heap of complaint letters from readers who felt the tours were a
complete rip-off.

Jungle Tours—big operators

There are several reputable (but pricey) jungle-tour outfits. Organized tours cost $100
to $200 per person per day, and are far more expensive than tours you can arrange
yourself. Organized tours usually use larger boats than those of the independent
operators—too big to negotiate the narrow igarapés where the wildlife
roams—though they may include canoe trips.

There are advantages to the organized tours; they are relatively hassle-free, there is
nothing to arrange and English-speaking guides are often available. The larger firms are
generally quite reputable. Amazon Explorers (tel.: 633-3319; fax: 234-5759), at Rua
Nhamundá 21, Praça Auxiliadora, has English-speaking guides. Selvatur (tel.: 622-2088;
fax 622-2177), in the lobby of the Hotel Amazonas, on Praça Adalberto Valle, accommodates
large tour groups on huge catamaran boats. It has a ‘Meeting of the Waters’ Day tour
($50), which includes en route igarapé sighting, a visit to Lago Januari, a jungle
walk to see lily pads, a motorized canoe ride to Igapós and lunch.

The up-market packaged jungle tours based at jungle lodges are a good option for a
comfortable and safe way to experience the Amazon jungle environment. Most trips include
the standard jacaré spotting, piranha fishing, canoeing and visits to a caboclo’s
house. The following is a brief selection of the packages currently available.

The Amazon Lodge is a small-scale floating lodge on Lago Juma, about five hours
by ferry, bus and boat from Manaus. A three-day package costs $355. Make reservations
through Nature Safaris (tel.: 622-4144, fax: 622-1420), at Rua Leonardo Malcher 734,
Manaus. Also through Nature Safaris, you I can book a three-day package (around $250) at
the Amazon Village, on the edge of Lago Puraquequara, about three hours by boat
from Manaus. 

At the Acajatuba Jungle Lodge, on Lago Acajatuba, in the municipality of Iranduba
(northwest of Manaus), a three-day package costs $230. Reservations can be made through
Ecotéis (tel. and fax: 233-7642), at Rua Doutor Almínio 30, Manaus.

The Tropical Lago de Salvador is a small hotel on Igarapé dos Guedes, about 30
km from Manaus—a 35-minute boat trip from the Hotel Tropical. A three-day package
costs $328. Book through Fontur (tel.: 6562807; fax: 656-2167), Estrada da Ponta Negra, at
the Hotel Tropical in Manaus.

King’s Island Lodge is 1600 km from Manaus, in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, close
to the frontiers with Venezuela and Colombia. A six-day (minimum) package costs around
$900; the cost of the trip from Manaus (five to six days by boat or three hours by air) is
not included. Reservations can be made through Nature Safaris.

The Ariaú Jungle Tower is on Lago do Ariaú, in the Arquipélago das
Anavilhanas, three hours by boat from Manaus. This large complex has towers linked by
raised platforms through the trees, leading to a 50-meter-high observatory. A three-day
package costs $340. Rio Amazonas Turismo (tel.: 234-7308; fax: 233-5615), at Rua Silva
Ramos 41, Manaus, can arrange bookings.

The Amazon Camp is a small hotel on the Rio Urubu, about 200 km east of Manaus.
A three-day package costs $180. Reservations can be made through Anavilhanas Turismo
(tel.: 671-1411; fax: 671-3888) at Rua Coração de Jesus 11, Bairro São Raimundo.

Another small hotel is the Pousada dos Guanavenas, on Ilha de Silves, an island
300 km east of Manaus (about five hours by car). A three-day package costs around $235.
Make reservations through Guanavenas Turismo (tel.: 656-3656; fax: 656-5027), at Rua
Constantino Nery 2486.

The Malocas Jungle Lodge is on Rio Preto da Eva (a small tributary of the
Amazon), 150 km from Manaus, a bus-plus-boat trip of about four hours. A three-day package
costs $210/120 on a bed/hammock. Bookings can be made through Iaratour (tel. and fax:
633-2330), at Rua Mundurucus 90, sala 207, Manaus.

Jungle Tours—smaller operators

If you speak Portuguese and don’t mind traveling a bit rough, there are plenty of
smaller operators offering tours. It is quite possible to end up feeling totally confused
as you sift through the countless brochures. Often the choice simply comes down to luck!
We met one group who had spent three whole days pondering which trip to take. On the
carefully chosen tour, they spent a sleepless night in hammocks camped across an ant path,
several ended up with mild food poisoning and the inebriated guide became a little too
flirtatious. Try to meet the actual guide prior to committing to a trip.

It takes time to hammer out a deal, change money, arrange supplies and buy
provisions—allow at least a day for this. When serious haggling is called for, ask
the tour operator to itemize expenses. Disproportionately inflated estimates can work in
your favor. If the food budget seems unreasonable, buy provisions in and about the Mercado
Municipal. If the fuel budget seems too high, offer to pay at the floating gas stations.
Subtract the items from your original quote. As a rough rule of thumb, expect prices to
start at about $45 per person per day, assuming two people on a two-day (one-night) trip,
including boat transport, guide, food and hammock lodging.

Amazonas Indian Turismo (tel.: 233-3104) Rua dos Andradas 335, has been recommended.
They take trips up the Rio Urubu, staying overnight in cabanas. A two-day
(one-night) trip for two costs $60 per person.

Moacir Fortes of Amazon Expeditions (tel.: 232-7492) speaks English, and operates his
own boat from the Porto Flutuante. He runs a small, first-class operation, charging $80 to
$100 per person per day, depending on the number of passengers on board (a maximum of 14,
minimum of four). Everyone sleeps in a clean cabin that has hot showers. The boat is
fitted out with canoes and a small outboard, and has a well-stocked bar, a library full of
wildlife guidebooks, binoculars and even a telescope on board.

Gerry Hardy is an English guide operating tours from Anacapuru together with a
Brazilian guide, Elmo de Morais Lopes. Readers have generally liked the tours, but some
found the tone of the ecological explanations a little patronizing. Contact these guides
through the hotel Rio Branco (tel.: 233-4019)

Suggested Excursions

An overnight trip to Lago Janauário Reserve (15 km from Manaus)—a standard
excursion, often including the meeting of the water—or a three-day (two-night) trip
to Lago Mamori can both be recommended. The latter is especially good when the waters are
high, when boats can float past the tree tops. A glimpse of life at the level of the
jungle canopy is far richer than the view from the jungle floor.

A suggested longer tour takes you 100 km up the Rio Negro to the Arquipélago das
Anavilhanas, near Nova Ayrão. This trip is best done between July and December. Whichever
tour you choose, make sure to take a canoe ride on the igarapés: it’s a Disneyland
experience.

Amazon Tours

What you get out of your trip depends on several factors: expectations, previous
experience, the competence and breadth of knowledge of tour operators and guides, and the
ability to accept life in the Amazon at face value—one enterprising tour operator
advertises ‘Selva sem Sofrimento’ (the Jungle without Suffering!). Although the jungle is
often described in exaggerated terms as a ‘Green Hell’, it seems rather odd to want to
turn a jungle tour into a luxury outing with all mod cons, thereby distancing yourself
from the ‘wild’ characteristics that are the hallmark of such an experience.

Festivals

A folklore festival held during the second half of June coincides with a number or
saints’ days and culminates in the Procissão Fluvial de São Pedro (Saint Peter River
Procession), when hundreds of regional boats parade on the river before Manaus to honor
São Pedro, the patron saint of fisherfolk.

During the month of June, Manaus has a variety of regional folklore performances,
including the party of the bumbás (stylized bulls), tribal dances and square
dances. It represents a mixture of indigenous Amazonian culture with influences from the
Northeastern and Portuguese cultures.

Things to Buy

Indian crafts of the Wai-wai and Tikuna tribes are sold at the Museu do Índio. The
store is open from 8.30 to 11.30 am and 2.30 to 5 pm on weekdays and from 8.30 to 11.30 am
on Saturday. Souvenir Vitória Régia, at Rua Barroso 375, and Artesanato da Amazônia, at
Rua José Clemente 500, both near the opera house, sell a variety of Amazon arts and
handicrafts. Casa das Redes, a couple of blocks inland from the Mercado Municipal in front
of the Hotel Amazonas, has a good selection of hammocks at reasonable prices.

Manaus is a free-trade zone. This means that locally manufactured products with foreign
labels—particularly electronic goods—cost less here than elsewhere in Brazil.
This doesn’t result in significant savings to foreigners, but it does mean that everyone
entering or leaving the city must theoretically go through customs. People entering by bus
from the south pass through customs at the Careiro ferry landing. Customs is no problem
with smaller riverboats, which are far less likely to attract the attention of officials.
Travelers arriving via Manaus airport are supposed to declare foreign goods (e.g. cameras)
to avoid a tariff upon departure, but nobody seems to worry about this rule any more.

Foreigners can purchase up to $2000 worth of tariff-free goods. However, it’s worth
pointing out that this exceeds the value of goods, which may be imported tax-free into the
USA and elsewhere. The Zona Franca commercial district is bounded by Avenida Eduardo
Ribeiro, Avenida 7 de Setembro and Avenida Floriano Peixoto.

Getting There & Away

Air

The Aeroporto Internacional Eduardo Gomes (tel.: 621-1212) is on Avenida Santos Dumont,
14 km from the city center. A reader wrote that ‘if you want to save some money the
observation deck at the airport is a great place to lay out a sleeping bag and spend the
night before an early morning flight’.

From Manaus, it’s a five-hour flight to Miami with Lloyd Aereo Boliviano (LAB) or
Varig/Cruzeiro, and a four-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro. There are international flights
to Caracas (Venezuela), Iquitos (Peru), Georgetown (Guyana), Bogotá (Colombia) and La Paz
(Bolivia). US-bound flights from Manaus are in flux. In general, it’s cheaper to purchase
the ticket abroad and have it sent to Brazil by registered mail.

VASP, Transbrasil and Varig/Cruzeiro serve all major cities in Brazil, and air-taxis
and TABA fly to smaller Amazonian settlements. Varig flies to Tabatinga on Tuesdays and
Fridays at 10.00 am ($260).

Varig/Cruzeiro (tel.: 622-3090) is at Rua Marcílio Dias 284; VASP (tel.: 622-3470) is
at Rua 7 de Setembro 993; TABA (tel.: 633-3838) is at Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro 664 and
Transbrasil (tel.: 622-3738) is nearby, at Rua Guilherme Moreira 150.

The general agent for international airlines (tel.: 622-2427, 233-9454) can be found at
Avenida 7 de Setembro 1945. The general agent for Air France (tel.: 233-4942) is at Rua
Quintino 149.

Bus

The rodoviária (tel.: 236-2732 or 158) is six km from the town center, at the
junction of Rua Recife and Avenida Constantino Nery. Phone for information on road
conditions. All road travel from Manaus involves ferry transport.

Overland travel southwards from Manaus to Porto Velho on BR-319 has been impossible
since 1991. River travel along the Rio Madeira takes up the slack.

The 770-km road north from Manaus to Boa Vista (BR-174) has more unpaved sections, but
is usually passable. It lies on either side of the equator, which means that travelers
must contend with two rainy seasons. In addition, 100 km of this unpaved road cuts through
the tribal lands of the Waimiris. Despite the FUNAI posts, there have been Indian attacks
on this route. 

The daily União Cascavel bus to Boa Vista takes about 18 hours, but delays are common
and the trip can take a lot longer. A ticket costs $40.

There are Aruana bus services to the interior towns of Itacoatiara, 290 km east of
Manaus ($10), and Presidente Figueiredo ($6), while Transgil has buses to Manacapuru, 85
km south-west of Manaus ($4.50).

Boat

Three major ports in Manaus function according to high and low-water levels. Bairro
Educandos is the port for sailing to Porto Velho. For sailing as far as Caracaraí, on the
Rio Branco via the Rio Negro, the requisite high-water port is Ponte de São Raimundo;
during low water, the port is Bairro de São Raimundo, about 2.5 km away. The Porto
Flutuante serves mainstream Amazon destinations—Belém, Santarém, Tefé and Benjamin
Constant—and is the port used by ENASA

For information, go to the Porto Flutuante entrance opposite the Praça da Matriz,
where the various boat companies have booths that sell tickets and display destinations
and fares. The ENASA ticket office (tel.: 633-3780) is at Rua Marechal Deodoro 61. Another
place with information about sailing times, fares, distances and ports of call is the
Superintendência Nacional da Marinha Mercante, or SUNAMAM (tel.: 633-1224), at the
Merchant Marine Headquarters.

A more time-consuming method of locating a boat is to poke around Escadaria dos
Remédios, the docks by the Mercado Municipal or the Porto Flutuante. Don’t waste time
with the Capitania do Porto.

Ports of call are marked on the boats, and fares are pretty much standardized according
to distance. If you are going on a long trip, it’s advisable to get there in the morning
of your departure day in order to secure a good spot. Some people even camp on the boat
overnight. Remember that the waters drop roughly 10 to 14 meters during the dry season,
and this restricts river traffic, particularly in the upper Amazon tributaries.

Although food and drink are included in the fare, it’s a good idea to bring bottled
water and snacks as a supplement. Unless you have cabin space, you will need a hammock, as
well as rope to string it up. It can get windy and cool at night, so a sleeping bag is
also recommended. Get there early and hang your hammock in the cooler upper deck,
preferably towards the bow.

Beware of theft on boat—a very common complaint.

To/From Santarém
& Belém

Heading downriver, the big boats go in the faster central currents several km from
shore. Travelling upriver, they stay more in the slow currents by the riverbanks, though
not as close as the smaller boats, which hug the shore. You won’t miss much, as there’s
not much to be seen on the Amazon anyway. If viewing wildlife is a priority, this is not
the way to go.

Apart from the ENASA (tel.: 633-3280) services, there are now various companies
operating passenger boats between Manaus, Santarém and Belém. Prices for hammock space
average at $43 to Santarém and $90 to Belém.

ENASA ferry-catamarans take two days to Santarém and four days downstream to Belém.
Cabin accommodation for the five-day tourist cruise from Manaus to Belém starts at $430
per person. ENASA also has a weekly boat to Belém, departing on Thursdays, which costs
$65.

To/From Benjamin
Constant & Tabatinga

From Manaus, it’s a seven-day trip (if all goes well) to Tabatinga on the Almirante
Monteiro. On the Avelino Leal or the Cidade de Terezina, it’s at least a week’s journey to
Tabatinga, with stops at Fonte Boa, Foz do Jutai, Vila Nova, Santo Antônio do Iça,
Amaturé, São Paulo de Olivença and Benjamin Constant. Various boats make the trip with
ticket prices for passage averaging $132/78 for cabin/hammock accommodation. Boats to
Manaus leave from Tabatinga, spending a night in Benjamin Constant before continuing. The
fare for the three to six-day trip is about $200 in a shared cabin ($110 if you hang your
own hammock), including very basic meals. It is recommended that you take your own snacks
and water.

To/From Leticia (Colombia)
& Iquitos (Peru)

Travelers can cruise the river between Manaus and Iquitos, Peru. The return or outgoing
leg can be flown with Varig/Cruzeiro (four flights a week) between Iquitos and Manaus via
Tefé and Tabatinga. There is now an Expresso Loreto rápido (fast-boat) passenger
service twice weekly from Tabatinga to Iquitosvia Leticia. It takes 10 to 12 hours and
costs $50. Alternatively, cargo boats depart from Santa Rosa, Peru (which has replaced the
old port Ramon Castilha). The trip takes three days and costs $25 to $30.

To/From Porto Velho

Another long river journey can be taken from Manaus up the Rio Madeira to Porto Velho.
The one-week trip costs $106/77 in cabin/hammock accommodation. 

To/From Caracaraí

There is no longer a regular passenger boat to Caracaraí but you may be able to find a
cargo boat. A bus service operates between Boa Vista and Caracaraí, a trip of about four
hours.

To/From São Gabriel
da Cachoeira

It is possible to sail up the Rio Negro to São Gabriel da Cachoeira. It takes five or
six days and costs $70.

Getting Around

To/From the Airport

Aeroporto Internacional Eduardo Gomes (tel.: 621-1212) is 14 km from the city center,
on Avenida Santos Dumont. The bus marked ‘Aeroporto Intemacional’ runs between the local
bus terminus and the airport from 6 am to midnight. The trip takes 40 minutes and costs
$0.50. There’s a bilheteria system for taxis—from the airport to the center
costs $15. When taking a taxi from the center to the airport, taxistas may try to
extract more money.

Bus

The local bus terminus is on Praça da Matriz, near the cathedral and a few blocks from
the Hotel Amazonas. Beware of child pickpockets here. From this terminus, you can catch
buses to Ponta Negra and the sights in town. A more expensive (but quicker) option to
reach Ponta Negra is the Tropical Hotel shuttle bus.

To/From the Rodoviária

The rodoviária (tel.: 236-2732 or 158) is six km from the center of town. Buses
marked ‘Iléia’, ‘Santos Dumont’ or ‘Aeroporto Intemacional’ run from the center via the rodoviária.
A taxi to the center costs around $7.

MANACAPURU

It’s possible to get an idea of the poverty of life in the interior without resorting
to days of river travel. Manacapuru, 85 km southwest of Manaus and the Rio Negro, is a
river town on the Rio Solimões. The river port and its traffic, the market, the homes and
the people of Manacapuru all make for an interesting day trip.

A reader experienced life in Manacapuru first-hand:

I went to Manacapuru to visit my friend, a 33-year-old man who works in Manaus and on
the rivers. Manacapuru’s residential area is a collection of corrugated tin roof shacks.
His home is a three-room, eight by 24 foot building elevated less than two feet off the
ground by stilts. ‘It’s ugly, but it’s my house.’ The house is tiny and spare, but tidy,
and the floors are rough wood planks. Folded hammocks and tinted black and white prints of
the matriarch, father and favorite daughter (now living in Porto Velho) adorn the walls.

My friend’s extended family lives here: his wife (married since age 15), his mother,
two of his six children, his brother, sister-in-law and their child (all three suffering
with measles). The entire family is illiterate. There is no running water. Foot-wide
canals are simply dug into the earth as an open sewerage system—not surprisingly, the
water supply is contaminated. The poor sanitation is a direct cause of the high mortality
rate from infectious diseases—of my friend’s 14 brothers and sisters, only four have
survived to adulthood.

Getting There & Away

It’s possible to take the ferry from São Raimundo to Cacau Pirera (half an hour) then
the Transgil bus to Manacapuru (2½ hours) for $4.50. There are daily boats to Manaus from
Manacapuru, six hours down the Rio Solimões, which cost $11.

Take the ‘São Raimundo’ bus from the cathedral in Manaus to the ferry terminal, of
São Raimundo. There are nine ferries a day in each direction, from 5 am to 11 pm; passage
is free. Ferry schedules coincide with buses between Cacau Pirera and Manacapuru.

MAUÉS

In late November or early December, the Festa do Guaraná is celebrated in the town of
Maués (about 220 km east of Manaus), the largest cultivator of guaraná.

The first people to cultivate guaraná were the Saterê-Maué Indians of the
Amazon. Originally, the Saterê-Maué lands encompassed the vast stretch of jungle between
the Madeira and Tapajós rivers. Today the Maué live in a small tribal reservation. They
believe that their place of origin, Noçoquem, is on the left bank of the Tapajós, where
the rocks talk, and their creation myth links them to guaraná. 

Getting There & Away

There is a boat from Manaus downstream to Maués ($24.50, 18 hours).

TEFÉ

The port of Tefé is about 600 km upstream from Manaus on the Rio Solimões (the
Brazilian name for this stretch of the Amazon), and can be visited for jungle tours.

Joaquim de Jesus Lopes is a local who can tailor trips for biologists, ornithologists,
botanists and curious travelers. These trips can last a minimum of three days, but Joaquim
Lopes prefers to take full-week tours, and will do longer tours if advance notice is
given. Only Portuguese is spoken. Travelers either take along their own tent and hammock
or use jungle shelters. Tour costs include fuel, food, boat hire and guiding fee (discuss
the price of each tour component individually)—expect to pay at least $35 per day for
a group of three people. Contact Joaquim Lopes at his home, at Rua Marechal Deodoro 801.

Getting There & Away

Air

Varig/Cruzeiro serves Tefé from Manaus. They have an office in Tefé (tel.: 743-2466),
at Estrada do Aeroporto 269.

Boat

The daily boat from the Porto Flutuante in Manaus leaves at 6 pm and arrives in Tefé
about 36 hours later. Tickets cost $45.

PRESIDENTE FIGUEIREDO

Located 128 km north of Manaus on the highway to Boa Vista, BR- 174, is the
municipality of Presidente Figueiredo. It has various waterfalls, caves and grottos,
including Refúgio Maroaga cave and Cachoeira da Iracema, which are reportedly worth
visiting. The Santa Claúdia springs supply mineral water for Manaus.

Getting There & Away

Aruanã buses run twice daily from Manaus to Presidente Figueiredo, at 8 am and 3.30 pm
($6).

PARINTINS

Parintins is 420 km east of Manaus, on the island of Tupinambarana, on the Rio
Amazonas, near the border of Pará state.

The Parintins Folk Festival, the largest cultural festival of the northern region of
Brazil, is held over three days during the last week of June. Dressed in outlandish
costumes, the 10,000 or so participants in the parade fill the Bumbódromo (the stadium is
shaped like a stylized bull!) and present the rival bulls, Bumbás Caprichoso (blue) and
Garantido (red), dancing to the beat of drums and chanting.

The climax of the presentation is when the death of the bull is acted out. Legend has
it that Pai Francisco kills his master’s bull to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife
for ox tongue. He is arrested by his master, with the help of some Indians, but is saved
when the priest and the Indian witch doctor resuscitate the bull. With the bull arisen
from the dead, the party resumes and builds to fever pitch.

Getting There & Away

Air

There are daily TABA flights from Manaus to Parintins, and during the festival
air-taxis are available.

Boat

Boats from Manaus take 26 hours and cost around $28.

TABATINGA &
BENJAMIN CONSTANT

These two Brazilian ports are on the border between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, known as
the Triple Frontier. Neither is particularly attractive, and most travelers view them as
transit points. If you have to wait a few days for a boat, the Colombian border town of
Leticia is a much more salubrious place to hang out.

Getting There & Away 

Air

From Tabatinga, there are three flights weekly to Manaus ($ 140) and two flights weekly
to Iquitos ($121 one way, $156 return). Apart from these commercial passenger flights,
cargo planes operate irregularly from Tabatinga to Manaus, and military planes from Ramón
Castilla (Peru) to Iquitos (Peru).

Boat

Boats down the Amazon to Manaus leave from Benjamin Constant, but usually go up to
Tabatinga to load/unload. Regular boats depart from Tabatinga (theoretically) on Wednesday
and Saturday mornings and from Benjamin Constant the same night, taking four days and
costing $85 in your own hammock or $250 for a double cabin. Many other irregular cargo
boats take passengers on deck, and some have cabins. Prices and journey times are similar.
In the opposite direction, upstream from Manaus to Benjamin Constant, the trip takes
between six and 10 days. Food is included but it is of poor quality.

There are frequent coletivos between the Leticia and Tabatinga ports ($0.40);
otherwise, it’s a 20-minute walk. In Tabatinga, you must get an entry stamp in your
passport from Brazilian officials (who like prospective foreign visitors to dress neatly).
There is a ferry service, with two boats sailing daily between Tabatinga and Benjamin
Constant ($2.50, 1½ hours).

Upstream to Iquitos (Peru) from Leticia (Colombia), there is now an Expresso Loreto rápido
(fast-boat) passenger service twice weekly. It takes 10 to 12 hours and costs $50.
Alternatively, there are irregular cargo boats departing from Santa Rosa (Peru), which has
replaced the old port Ramón Castilla (across the river from Tabatinga), and from Islandia
(Peru), on an island opposite Benjamin Constant. The journey takes about three days and
costs $40, food included. Travelling in the opposite direction, downstream from Iquitos to
Santa Rosa, the trip takes about 36 hours. You can obtain your entry stamp from Peruvian
officials in Puerto Alegría.

THE AMAZON CIRCUIT

It seems odd that in the millions of sq. km that make up the Amazon, everyone seems to
congregate upon such a small spot during the pre-Carnaval season, but Lago Janauário
draws hordes of visitors at this time of year. One thing that cheapens the jungle
experience hare is the feeling of being pumped through a tourist circuit: everyone bangs
on the flying buttresses of the same samambaia tree, cuts the same rubber tree for
latex sap, then pulls over to an authentic jungle house where a monkey, a sloth, a snake
and a jacaré are tied up to amuse visitors

After a quick bite at a Jungle restaurant, take the elevated walk to the Vitória
Régia water lilies, beyond the make-believe Indian craft stalls (10 stores operated by
one athletic Indian, who follows alongside the group and pushes feathered novelty-shop
junk). At this point, one disregards the water lilies and the Kodak boxes floating
alongside and compares notes with one’s neighbor about respective tour costs, boat sizes
and whether or not a flush toilet has been provided.

The water lilies, one-meter-wide floating rimmed dishes adorned with flowers above and
protected by sharp spikes below, are lovely, despite it all.

 

AMAZON TOUR OPERATORS

Jungle tours are not that expensive. I had a three-day tour with Amazonas Indian
Turismo and spent a wonderful time for $100 (three days, everything included). During this
trip I saw toucans, colibris, jacaré, Indians, mosquitoes and plenty more.
A canoe trip at night in the swamps I’ll never forget. Wow, how much I would like to go
back there! The only problem was that the Indian guide didn’t speak more than two words of
English and I didn’t speak any Portuguese.

We took a three-day (two nights) trip with Cristóvão Amazonas Turismo (~233-3231). We
paid $200 each and felt we were cheated. It was a canoe trip staying with Indian families
and included all food. Instead, we recommend contacting the boatmen’s union direct. All
the canoe guides have formed an association. The tour companies only pay the guides $400
for a three-day trip with four people—and the guides do everything (arranging
lodging, meals, etc). We had a guide called Raimundo and he was excellent. Take some money
with you for the trip as Indian handicrafts can be purchased at a much cheaper price (than
in Manaus). There really weren’t any animals to be seen. Although we saw a few cows,
cranes, and jacaré, and caught piranha, there wasn’t any wildlife in the jungle
during the day. Due to too many people touring the jungle, the animals probably come out
at night—if at all. 

You might warn travelers arriving in Manaus airport about the tourist-hunting girls who
work freelance or for certain tour agencies. On my arrival, I felt insecure about finding
a place to stay so I was an easy victim. However, there was one good side to being caught:
I got free transport to town and didn’t have to worry about looking for a hotel—the
girl put me into one that was good value. The bad side was the three-day boat trip she
sold me. The experience of being on the Amazon is something I’ll never forget—and I
hope to get back there one day—but the trip as such was pure shit: a ridiculous
‘guide’ who had no interest in explaining anything, boring food (basically rice and
noodles), ‘mineral water’ that tasted of gasoline, no visits to igarapés and not
even a trip to Lago Janauário. The agency demanded $70 per day.

We were told it’s almost a must to go on a jungle tour if you go to Manaus.
Unfortunately, we just say that it was very disappointing. We didn’t see many animals on
our two-day tour and it was also very expensive ($85 per person), especially if you
compare it for example to Ecuador where you can go on similar tours. We don’t think the
tours of the various tour agencies differ much. The one-day tour is not good: you spend 10
hours on the boat.

 

THE ORIGIN OF
GUARANÁ

Long ago at Noçoquem, in the beginning of all things, lived two brothers and a sister,
Ohiamuaçabe. Ohiamuaçabe, also known as Uniai, was so beautiful and wise that every
animal desired her. Of all the animals, the snake was the first to express his desire and
act upon it. With a magic perfume, the snake enchanted Uniai and made her pregnant.

Her brothers were none too pleased, and kicked Uniai out of Noçoquem. The child was
born far from Noçoquem, but Uniai often told her son about Noçoquem and of the
brazil-nut tree, which grew there. Although the brothers had a parakeet and a macaw on
guard at the brazil-nut tree, the child wanted to taste the delicious nuts, and as he grew
stronger and more beautiful, his desire to taste the nuts also grew. Finally, he convinced
his mother to accompany him to the tree.

The birds spotted the ashes of a fire in which mother and child had roasted the
delicious brazil nuts. After the birds reported the incident, the brothers replaced the
inept guard birds with a reliable monkey guard. Now that the boy knew the path to
Noçoquem, he resumed alone to the tree the following day. The monkey spied the boy, drew
his bow and shot the child full of arrows.

Uniai found her dead child beneath the tree. As she buried him, she vowed: ‘You will be
great the most powerful tree will grow from you; you will cure sickness, provide strength
in war and in love’. From the boy’s left eye grew the false guaraná uaraná-hop
while from his right eye grew the true guaraná uaraná-cecé. This is why the
berries of the guaraná look like eyes.

Days later, a child was born from the guaraná tree and emerged from the earth.
The child was Uniai’s, and he was the first Maué Indian.

To this day the Maué call themselves sons of guaraná, and because of this
plant, their favorite decorative colors are red and green. The ritual drink of the
Sateré-Maué Indians is çapo of guaraná, which is prepared from the
eye-like berries. The berries, collected before the fruit opens, are dried washed in
running water and cooked in earth ovens. Water is added, and the guaraná is molded
into black sticks, which are then dried in a smokehouse. The Maué shave guaraná
flakes from the black sticks, using either the raspy tongue of the pirarucu or a
rough stone. The flakes are then mixed into water to make the çapo.

The Maué drink çapo of guaraná on important occasions, to affirm the
life force, to cure all illness, to bring strength in times of war and to bring fertility
in times of peace.

Most Brazilians take their guaraná in the form of a tasty sweetened and
carbonated soft drink. Coca Cola bottles one of the most popular brands of guaraná
soda: Taí Guaraná. Like Coke, guaraná is a mild stimulant, but unlike Coke, guaraná
is said to have aphrodisiac powers. Brazilians take guaraná to keep themselves up
for Carnaval. Pharmacies and herbal medicine shops also sell guaraná, in the form
of syrups, capsules and powders.

Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit –
3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro, and Robyn Jones.
  For more information  call Lonely Planet:  (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1992
Lonely Planet Publications. Used by permission

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