Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Elizabeth Avery of Washington
Where, when, why: Upriver on the Amazon River in Brazil for two weeks at Christmas last year. I was inspired to find a holiday adventure that included a distant, off-the-beaten-track location with exotic wildlife.
Highlights and high points: Getting virtually face to face with the world’s largest (and lovable) 150-pound rodents, the gentle capybaras.
Going upriver on a small small boat for eight days (the trip would be 10 hours by fast boat from Manaus, the nearest big city) and starting Christmas Day in a unique village dating from the Portuguese colonial period, followed by a dip in the Amazon’s major tributary, the Rio Negro.
Standing at the bow and catching sight of the merger of the Amazon and the Negro; at this point, the water was divided into two distinct colors, as apparently neither side was willing to give way to the other.
Visiting the Science Center in Manaus, where the wildlife lives in natural settings and is free to scamper across your path.
Cultural connection or disconnect: Having researched the Amazon’s unusual wildlife before arriving, I chose to stay the first and last nights at an eco-resort in Manaus with its own zoo that’s government-certified to work with endangered animals. My most memorable connection was with its biologist and staff. I flew in at midnight, and my first mission was to arrive at the zoo at feeding time the next morning. I envisioned that I’d be at the gate as the animals were clamoring for breakfast at a 5 a.m. sunrise. Fortunately, they weren’t early risers, so I arrived just in time at a more leisurely 8:30. The macaws had started their own chorus, and the family of peccaries was rooting around nearby. I met with the staff and then was introduced to Nina, a rare, endangered species of monkey who was a celebrity in her own right. She had previously starred in a Brazilian film to some acclaim. My greatest delight was then watching closely as the capybaras took a dive into their pool and lumbered over to a waiting breakfast, oblivious to my repeated attempts to capture them on video.
Biggest laugh or cry: One afternoon, I received permission to visit the capybaras with the zoo staff. I had my video camera ready for an up-close-and-personal action shot. Unfortunately, I forgot to secure the gate to their enclosure behind me. Just as the family of five rounded the bend, I realized that the gate was wide open. Faced with the prospect of the whole herd running through the resort and then down the streets of Manaus, I whipped around to close the gate — and missed the shot of a lifetime. But at least I avoided the prospect of a wild rodeo through the Amazon to recapture the animals.
How unexpected: What surprised me most was the contrast between the bustling city of Manaus, with 1 million inhabitants, and the complete silence and remoteness upriver. Our tour guide often cautioned us to be careful not to fall and break a bone because we were “10 hours from any hospital.” As a result, each morning before sunrise when I made my way to the upper deck for a cup of coffee and looked out at our completely opaque surroundings, I held on tight to the railing.
Memento or memory: My greatest memory was traveling by canoe, after a deep rose sunset, through a pitch-black course with only the sound of frogs’ jubilant croaks and flying fish soaring overhead. With the guide’s handheld spotlight, we could spot a boa constrictor lazing in the trees while a sloth nestled on a neighboring perch and a baby caiman stared curiously at the intrusion.
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