The Amazon - a whirlwind for the senses

The meeting of the waters

The Amazon - a whirlwind for the senses

Gliding along in a hollowed-out log, the paddles, nearly silent, impel the craft through the porridge of marshy weeds and murky water. The hot sun beats down with exhausting force. Heavy air carries aromatic scents of various trees and a trace of decaying foliage in this surreal atmosphere. The canoe manoeuvres through the Amazon treetops from where spiders drop, hitching a ride to their next port. Below, the obstinate jungle floor, buried under meters of water, attempts to re-grow itself on the water surface, providing a textured flattop for miniature frogs to rest upon. Grasshoppers urgently snap across it like raindrops pelting wet leaves, while dragonflies and butterflies relax, weightlessly, on paddlers' backs.

The rushes ahead stir. Paddlers stop as the canoe drifts soundlessly toward the movement. The spear is raised, a sudden thrust, plunk into the water. All eyes watch its retrieval, searching for signs of a struggle, a frenzied fish pierced through, dinner. Nothing. The hunt resumes.

Back at the floating camp, swaying in hammocks, guests reflect on the past three days in the jungle, taking in this strange new world, everyday filled with activities yet somehow remaining unhurried. Campers from every continent come and go according to their own schedule of the day. Bonds are created between strangers whose fate it is to arrive on the same boat and spend these few days together. The camaraderie at meal time sharing the day's experiences, the laughter, silliness and kindred spirits, different languages muffled by the dense air, all feels slow motion.

A three-day tour begins in Manaus with an early pick-up from patrons' hotels, providing the first glimpse of travel mates. At the port, all board a boat and people-watch while provisions are addressed. A shore-side ride offers views of the city, some industry, and the hillside filled with houses on stilts as the boat heads to the renowned "meeting of the waters", where the dark coloured Rio Negro merges into the light colored Rio Solimões – an incredible phenomenon, the bicolour river unblending for kilometres.

Snaking along tributaries that only exist when the water is high enough, the craft carries its passengers past floating houses, farms, school boats, local canoe traffic and tiny villages, the noisy engine making conversation nearly impossible, the scenery making it unnecessary.

It stops at a popular handicraft store where, barely off the boat, guests are met with an influx of children carrying an assortment of creatures: snakes, macaws, sloths and other monkeys, offering the tourists a chance to hold the animals for a few coins. Though an obvious tourist trap, it was an excellent opportunity to see the animals up close, and touch and feel them.

After lunch at the floating camp, it's time to reboard the motorized canoe and investigate the forest, absorbing the grandeur of the ancient samaúma trees and giant water lilies while searching for a suitable fishing site.

Once found, the bamboo fishing rods are loaded with pieces of raw beef and the wait begins. Intense faces focus on submerged lines; tense bodies anticipate the catch, ready to haul it in at the first tweak. The small piranhas are returned to the water; the bigger ones are served for lunch the next day.

Nights are spent caiman catching and floating amongst the treetops listening to the jungle's nocturnal life. Mornings hold pink sunrises. Daytime is a juxtaposition — exciting, filled with new sites, sounds and information, curiosity and wonder, yet calm and tranquil at the same time.

Soon the boat arrives. It's time to leave the hammock and return to Manaus. A woodpecker beats out another hollow tetrameter, giving reprieve to the sporadic squawks of macaws. Guests grab their backpacks and head toward the dock. The trip may be over but the reflections are only beginning.

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