YOUR VACATION IN LIGHTS
Brazilian Amazon cruise features caipirinhas, piranhas, tarantulas and a boa
Lauren Myrick of Falls Church is the latest contributor to Your Vacation in Lights, in which we invite Travel section readers to dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. You won't win a million dollars if your story is featured; in fact, you won't win anything but the thanks and admiration of your fellow readers. To file your own trip report, see the fine print below.
WHEN: Feb. 12-21
WHO: My friend Sandy Brown and I.
WHERE: The Brazilian Amazon.
WHY? I have been going on ever-increasing adventures with my friends, but when all but the most adventurous pal dropped out this year, we decided to go to a place that only the two of us would enjoy.
THE TRIP: We departed from Manaus on the Tucano, a motor yacht run by Ecotour Expeditions, and cruised through the Arquipelago das Anavilhanas, the world's largest river archipelago. After visiting the Waimiri-Atroari tribal reserve, we headed up the Rio Jauaperi, and then turned around. On the return, we saw where the black water of the Rio Negro and the cafe-au-lait-colored Solimoes (Amazon) parallel each other without mixing.
COST: The seven-day cruise was $2,400. With airfare and a little spending, the total cost was around $4,000 each.
GETTING THERE WAS . . . heart-pounding. The second gasp of the second blizzard dropped 12 inches of snow less than 24 hours before our departure. Flights to Manaus are not too frequent. Thankfully, our Delta flight was one of the lucky ones to take off from Washington Dulles that day.
IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . it started to pour hot rain the first night, and everyone in the restaurant pushed their tables together, so we enjoyed caipirinhas with our new Brazilian friends. . . . Meeting the other guests on the boat and realizing these people are cool! . . . Hot yoga on the top deck, led by Sandy.
ANYONE OUT THERE? Less than a day out of Manaus, we did not see any other tourist boats, just river and jungle.
STAR LIGHT: With no city light pollution, Orion's belt was barely visible among the other stars surrounding it.
CABIN CALL: On the all-wood riverboat, we slept in bunks with plenty of windows, including a big one in the shower that we left open all the time. There was no need to cover up, because there was no one there to peek in.
ACTION CRUISE: Every morning, we were awakened at 5:10 for the 5:45 bird watch by canoe. Then a walk in the jungle, more canoeing, followed by a night cruise. Also, piranha-fishing and swimming off a giant sandbar. I read fewer than 100 pages of my book. No time.
HELPING A HAND: A man in one of the villages had a badly infected hand from a harvesting accident. He asked if anyone onboard was a doctor. No one was, but we invited him to come on the boat and we would take him to the nearest hospital, two days away. He came with us. We may have saved his hand.
BEST SCENES: It was a tie. The giant sandbar near the confluence of the Negro and the Jauaperi, which had beautiful straw-colored sand and scarlet macaws, toucans and parrots flying overhead. And the hunter-gatherers in their small wooden houses, looking to trade fish and plants for cooking oil and clothes.
UNFORGETTABLE SIGHTS: Giant tarantulas, many different kinds; an Amazonian boa wrapped around the canoe; and the tiny, sharp teeth of the piranhas. We also were chased by an angry spider monkey, which threw branches at us.
I WISH I'D BROUGHT . . . my rain poncho. The other guests good-naturedly laughed at me for visiting the Amazon in the rainy season without a poncho. Fortunately, it could rain on you all day and you wouldn't be cold.
ON THE MENU: Fruits you never knew you'd love, such as cupuacu, which is also used to make white chocolate, cocona, rambutan and mangarataia, also known as Amazonian ginger. Each meal featured a local fish, usually grilled, plus beef or chicken. It was all exceptional and accessible to all palates.
DRINK UP: The boat was stocked with a nice selection of South American wines at very reasonable prices, plus caipirinhas the last two nights. Delicious!
SIDE EXCURSIONS: We visited small river villages and fished. I caught one piranha, and Sandy hooked six. We ate them with lime for happy hour. We also explored Lago Janauari Ecological Park, home of Vitoria Regia waterlilies, whose pads are more than five feet wide. It was like another planet.
FREEZE FRAME: I made a sign that said, "1 degree south of the Equator," and made everyone pose with it. A nice memory of how far we'd all come.
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