A trip up the Amazon in Brazil can be an exciting, safe and luxurious adventure. All you need is a good camera and enough mental energy to take it all in. The Indian guide comes in handy too...
It was on the first night that it happened. We were in a canoe and it was very, very dark. Pitch black, actually. We were out looking for alligators (I kid you not) and our Indian guide Tapinia, with just the stars and a very powerful torch, was keeping an eagle eye out for any nocturnal movement. Now, you might think this was just a little on the dangerous side for three city slickers on holiday, but our trusty guide knew more than a thing or two about these waters and that was good enough for me. There was nothing but the sounds of water and the jungle all around me.
Not just any old water and jungle, of course - this was the mighty Amazon, one of the most famous rainforests on the planet. And there I was, in a canoe with a genuine Amazonian Indian right in the middle of it! I remember thinking to myself, can it really get any better than this? And the answer to myself was most definitely no, it couldn’t.
Most of northern Brazil is Amazon forest. Thousands of miles of tropical vegetation and exotic creatures, and still home to Amazonian Indians, the very first Brazilians. They fish, build homes, make stuff that Indians make, and are, at least on the face of it, pretty content with their life. I mean, there’s not a lot to argue about really: no roads, no big, dirty urban conurbations to poison their lifestyles - just miles and miles of flooded forest. Tourism is taking off here and a visit to this incredible place is a holiday of a lifetime. The experience is all the more satisfying because there are strict laws in place to ensure that the natural habitat is preserved and it’s all done with care for the eco system.
The best way to enjoy a safe Amazon experience is to stay in a lodge some way up river for a few nights and get a taste of real jungle. I stayed at the Jungle Palace, a luxurious floating hotel some 45 minutes by boat from the main port of Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas and a four-hour flight from Sao Paulo. In fact, the most dangerous part of the trip was navigating into one of the four veranda hammocks that were a welcome sight after returning from our daily trips.
And what trips! Accompanied by our own personal Indian guide, we took a two-hour walk in the jungle, and learned how to live off the natural resources of the forest. Tree bark as an anaesthetic, tree sap for indigestion, dry fly mould for burning and keeping away insects, and palm leaves for waterproofing the roof. Needless to say, now if I ever got abandoned alone in a tropical jungle with nothing but a knife I could survive easily enough! We went piranha fishing; we took that nocturnal canoe ride to hunt for alligators, and found one (ok, it was a baby one, but one nonetheless); we visited a genuine Indian village; and got to see the Meeting of the Waters, the place where the black waters of the Negra meet the brown waters of the Amazon in an almost perfect unbroken natural line – amazing!
In between all this we came back to our floating palace and indulged in full board and lodgings that included air-conditioned rooms with TVs, a buffet-style restaurant and even a large swimming pool.
A trip here will ensure you get up close and personal with nature. But there’s also some history to see too. Here and there are dotted about the remains of another era, a time of the rubber boom when Brazil was the very centre of the world’s demand for quality latex. A time when thousands ventured here to make their fortune exporting latex from Amazonian forests, until the seeds were smuggled out to Asia and well, that was that. But the buildings have remained, many of them classic Victorian architecture bizzarely similar to structures in London.
You could easily spend four or five days here without getting restless, and when you finally return to Manaus you’ll find more than enough nightlife to make up for your few days of clubbing abstinence. The Amazon will amaze you. You might even fall in love with it. But take it from me, you won't ever forget it in a hurry.