A Travellerspoint blog

Amazon Day 2

Trekking through the jungle

30/01/10 - The Amazon Rainforest, Amazonas State, Brazil

Stupid remark of the day>>>Me saying I was surprised it was raining so much in a RAINforest.

Sleeping and waking in the jungle is a new experience for me. There is a constant unrelenting noise of insects, birds, monkeys and god knows what else throughout the night. The noise combined with mosquitos and the hot weather make it difficult to sleep. Some travellers, especially those sleeping in hammocks, use sleeping pills.

The second day starts with a trek into a type of Amazon forest called terra firme or unflooded uplands. This type of forest makes up the majority of the Amazon surface area. There are two other types: the varzea or flood-plain zones, which are regularly flooded by the rivers and the igapos, which are occasionally flooded.

In Brazil no-one can pronounce my name and consequently I have been called every possible variation on Usuf including Jose (the most popular), Joseph, Edson, Elson, Houston and so on. My favourite however, is the name by which our guide Elso calls me: Wilson. I really like it and am thinking of adapting it.

The trek through the jungle is an unforgettable experience. There is just no way that you can really experience a rainforest without stepping into one. No photograph, film, movie, or book can truly do it justice. The power, majesty, energy, and feeling of a primeval rainforest is incredible yet indescribable. None of the pictures or videos I've taken in my jungle jaunts even come close to capturing it. I can only take solace in knowing that I am not alone in my frustration in trying to record its mystery and beauty for those that will never have the chance to experience it first hand.

The first thing that hits you when you step into the rainforest is the air. It's so heavy with oxygen and humidity that it is almost a tangible thing which just kind of envelops you. There is a heavy, rich stillness to it. In the heart of a primary rainforest (a forest which contains trees which have attained great age (and associated structural features) and so exhibits unique ecological features) little to no wind really makes in down below the unbroken green canopy of trees above you. The clean oxygen-filled air and the sheer magnitude of living things all around you sort of energizes you somehow. The vibrancy of life you feel flowing around you and through you resonates. It's really hard to describe... but its like all of earth's core elements are there in an abundance that you've never experienced before that it can excite, overwhelm and energize you all at once. In some places, the air stays so heavy with moisture that there is an almost perpetual cloudy fog which envelopes and muffles everything around you. These are called 'cloud forests'.

In the afternoon we trek in a partially-flooded forest. Mosquitos here are far more numerous and bloody annoying. They are incredibly aggressive. It's so bad I've started on my 100% DEET repellent (imagine pouring acid on your skin). I'm willing to risk cancer in exchange for relief from mosquitos. The only big animal we spot is the squirel monkey. They are fast and seem to be constantly on the move climbing from tree to tree at canopy level which makes it almost impossible take a photo of them. But seeing them in their natural habitat is very exciting. Elso informs us that female squirrel monkeys have a pseudo-penis that they use to display dominance over smaller monkeys, much like the way the male squirrel monkeys display their dominance. Just like humans then...In the Amazon the bigger animals hide in the dense foliage so it is difficult to spot them. But Elso is an experienced guide and seems to somehow sense the animals and points them out to us.

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Er appears we've come across a marijuana plantation
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"What is it?" "A tree" "Fascinating"
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That little black and green frog on the left is apparently one of the most poisonous frogs in the Amazon. Most of Elso's sentences include the words 'one of the most poisonous'
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Like Tarzan almost
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Yeah...it's a tree

Posted by Señor Usuf 04:52 Comments (0)

Amazon Day 1

In the jungle proper

29/01/10 - The Amazon Rainforest, Amazonas State, Brazil

Day 1

After taking a short boat ride we came to the point where the darkly coloured waters of the Rio Negro meet the sandy colored Rio Solimões to form the Rio Amazon the grandaddy of all rivers, and for over 6 km these waters run side by side without mixing. 'White' rivers such as the Solimoes come from the Andes, and get their colour from sediment eroded from those 'young' mountains. Black rivers like the Negro originate in northern Amazonia and flow over much older land, long swept clean of sediment. The thrid type of rivers in the Amazon clear rivers have neither the sediment nor the organic acids that make them white or black. Educational.

The boat ride ends at a port where we catch a combi to another port along the Transamazonica. The story behind this highway is very interesting. The Trans-Amazon Highway was born in 1970 when a 5600km highway was proposed during a military dictatorship. Only about 2600km was actually constructed and most of the Amazonian portion is unpared and badly maintained. But even this poorly maintained road had been devastating for the forest. It provides access to the forest for illegal logging, ranching and mining. If you peruse Google Earth whenever a road weaves through the forest, the deforestation extends in malignant tendrils on either side.

After another boat ride on a speed boat we finally reach the jungle lodge which will be our home for two nights. The third night will be spent camping in the jungle providing dinner opportunites for jaguars, pumas, caimans and possibly giant man-eating ants if they exist I don't know. There's a surpise in store for one of the tour party when she decides to have a shower upon arriving at the lodge: a snake. Makes everyone laugh.

In the afternoon, after lunch, we go piranha fishing. Our guide Elso keeps scores. He catches 10 so it's 10 to Brazil, I get 5 for the English, a Polish couple catch 1 between them, two New Zealanders catch 2 and a German guy catches 1. So I come second, not bad for my first time.

In the evening we go looking for caimans, a close cousin of the alligator. Elso catches a couple of baby caimans and lets us hold them. It's cruel but fun.

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The meeting of Negro and Solimoes rivers to form the Amazon
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Queues for the shower were surprisingly short
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Like Indiana Jones...
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Looking for caimans
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Food shortages in the amazon mean people resort to eating anything...

Posted by Señor Usuf 06:59 Comments (0)

Manaus

City in the heart of the Amazon

27/01/10 - 28/01/10 Manaus, Amazonas State, Brazil

From Rio we get a flight to Manaus the capital of the Amazonas state. It is situated at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. Manaus was founded in 1669 as the Fort of São José do Rio Negro. It was elevated to a town in 1832 with the name of "Manaus", which means "mother of the gods" in tribute to the indigenous nation of Manaós, and legally transformed into a city in 1848 with the name of Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro, Portuguese for "The City of the Margins of Black River". Most visitors come here for the jungle tours.

I didn't like Manaus much. It is quite grim, very dirty and according to the guidebook quite dangerous. Many areas are not recommended for visit after dark because of threat of crime. The reason we came here was to go to the jungle and we promptly booked a tour for four days in the Amazon jungle. But first we must spend a day in Manaus visitng the famous Amazonas Teatro and stocking up on supplies for the jungle. It also gives me the chance to do some reading on the Amazon.

Blanketing nearly all noethern Brazil plus parts of Mato Grosso and Maranhao states - over 4 million sq km, almost half the country - Brazillian Amazonia incorporates nearly 30 percent of the world's tropical rainforests (the planet's most diverse ecosystem). It's home to around 45,000 plants species, 311 mammals, 1000 bird species, 1800 types of butterfly and around 2000 species of fish (in contrast Europe has 200). Including a further 2 million sq km in neighbouring countries, the entire Amazon Basin holds 20 percent of the world's fresh water and produces 20 percent of the world's oxygen. Unfortuanately humans are doing their best to destroy all this - about 17% of the Amazon is gone already. Hundreds of animal and plant species are likely to be extinguished before we even discover them. Bloody humans.

Rain forests can occur in areas where more than 2000mm of rain falls annually. In the Amazon half the rain blows in from the Atlantic Ocean and the rest from the vapour released by Amazonia's own soil and trees. Humidity is always greater than 80% and temeratures range constantly between 22 degrees (night) and 31 degrees (day).

The Amazon basin is twice the size of India and spans eight countries. At it's height the Amazon river (Rio Amazonas) can measure 40km across and dump 300 million liters of fresh water into the ocean per second. That's more the next eight largest rivers combined!

Like many travellers before me, I have always fantasised about a trip to the Amazon. Just the name evokes dense forests, indigenous tribes and abundant wildlife. But I am not expecting to see anacondas, jaguars and spear-toting Indians - that's in the movies, I will just be happy to be in the Amazon and anything else, perhaps wrestling an alligator or discovering a mew species of monkeys will be a bonus.

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To the Amazon.
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The port on Rio Negro (that's not racist cos it's the name of the river)
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The Amazon Theatre (Teatro Amazonas) is an opera house located in the heart of Manaus, inside the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. It is the location of the annual Festival Amazonas de Ópera (Amazonas Opera Festival) held in April. It was built during the Belle Époque at a time when fortunes were made in the rubber boom. Roofing tiles came from Alsace while, from Paris, came furniture and furnishings in the style of Louis XV, much from the Koch Fréres company. From Italy came Carrarra marble for the stairs, statues, and columns. Steel walls were ordered from England. The theatre has 198 chandeliers, including 32 of Murano glass. The curtain, with its painting the "Meeting of the Waters" was originally created in Paris by Crispim do Amaral, depicts the junction of the Rio Negro and the Solimões to form the Amazon. On the outside of the building, the dome is covered with 36,000 decorated ceramic tiles painted in the colors of the national flag. Factual, so.

Posted by Señor Usuf 06:09 Comments (0)

Colonial Towns

Ouro Preto and Conganhas

24/01/10 - 25/01/10 Conganhas, Minas Gerais, Brazil
25/01/10 - 27/01/10 Ourp Preto, Minas Gerais, Brazil

One of the highlights of Brazil in the guidebook is a visit to Ouro Preto and other colonial towns (cidades historicas) in and around Minas Gerais. So that's what we decide to do. It involves many long distance bus journeys to Belo Horizante, Brazil's third biggest city after Sao Paulo and Rio.

The journeys are long and ardous and to tell the truth I am getting sick of bus journeys by now. I've finished all my reading material and have not been able to find a decent English language book. Bookshops in Brazil do have English books but they are of the John Grisham and Dan Brown variety and anyone who knows me knows I only read highbrow stuff like Proust, Shakespeare and you know, highbrow writers. When you have to sit for 6/7 hours without anything to do but look at trees you slowly start to go a bit mental.

The worst journey is from Belo Horizante to the first of the colonial towns: Conganhas. Every single seat on the bus is broken, many reclined fully. Windows were cracked or couldn't be forced shut. The whole vehicle including the driver and his conductor were covered in dust.

It soon became clear why this was so. The stretch between Belo and Conganhas was one of the worst roads I'd seen so far. It was corrugated, potholed and dusty. When we came upon stretches where it had rained recently, it was muddy and boggy (if that is a word). About halfway through however, the road became a complete pussy. It wound gently past hills with neat little houses and startling tropical plants. The rest of the journey couldn't be smoother and I nearly fell asleep.

We arrived in Congonhas in the evening. It was humid, smoky and quiet but there was a buzz around town. The only thing people visit Congonhas for are the statues at the Basilica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. The dramatic statues, called The Twelve Prophets, are by Brazil's most famous artist Aleijadinho. The story behind the statues is fascinating. Suffering from a debilatating disease, probably leprosy, Aleijadinho sculpted the twelve soapstone figures by having his assistants strap his hammer and chisels to what remained of his hands, which did not at this point include fingers. Since he no longer had feet to stand on he had pads strapped to his knees up which he'd climb the ladders needed to get him off the ground. The Twelve Prophets, completed between 1800 and 1805, are arranged around the courtyard and stairway in front of the church. Walking among them is a great experience. The statues almost seem to be performing a balletic dance.

The next day we catch a bus to Ourp Preto, the most famous of all the colonial towns in and around minas Gerais. Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold) was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil's golden age in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.

According to the guidebook, the city contains well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century churches decorated with gold and the sculptured works of Aleijadinho make Ouro Preto a prime tourist destination.

When we arrive, some guy, a "guide" takes us to a 'hotel'. It's cheap so we agree to stay for a night. The room doesn't have an attached bathroom but it does have cable (unless there is cable, Brazillian tv is utter cack - normally some guy preaching how good Jesus was and how shit you all are or some woman with enormous boobs trying to sell you exercise bikes). The cable is provided by the manager looping a wire from his room along the balcony, poking it under the door then into the television. This gives me the chance to catch up on some news through BBC World Service and CNN (well, CNN doesn't actually show any news but a series of commercials telling you how great it would be to visit some Arab states).

Built at the feet of the Serra do Espinhaco range, Ouro Preto's colonial center is large and has a very steep topography. The narrow, crooked streets of the upper and lower towns tangle together. Navigating the vertiginous cobblestoned slopes on foot is exhausting, but worth it for the views of the 23 churches spread out across the hills.

The next day we head back to Rio from whence we will go to the Amazon.

Congonhas

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Basilica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos
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Aleijadinho's masterpieces The Twelve Prophets
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Ouro Preto

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Chilling out at the "hotel"
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Practising for the Carnaval
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Posted by Señor Usuf 05:45 Comments (0)

Rio

Beaches, storms and tiny bikinis

17/01/10 - 23/01/10 Rio de Janeiro City, Brazil

I get to Rio in the afternoon and take a taxi to Ipanema Beach Hostel. I hadn't booked a bed so this was a risky strategy but luckily they have one bed left because someone didn't turn up. After settling in, I have a wander round Ipanema, see what the vibe is.

Planted between lush, forest-covered mountains and breathtaking beaches, Rio has many charms. It is a city of urban diversity, with beaches, mountains, skyscrapersand the favelas (slums) all woven into the landscape. The main bits I wanted to see were the two famous beaches: Copacabana and Ipanema, Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), Christ the Redeemer (Christo Redenter) and fixtures permitting watch a match at the famous Maracana Stadium, where the 2014 World Cup final will most likely be staged.

On my first day I visit Ipanema and Leblon beaches and take some pictures of a nice sunset. Ipanema and Leblon are blessed with a magnificent beach and open-air cafes, bars and restaurants scattered along tree-lined streets. It's all very nice but I find it a bit dull.

Over the next four days we visit Sugarloaf Mountain (nice views), Christ the Redeemer (nice views) and watch Fluminense vs Bangu at the Maracana. The atmosphere at the match, despite only 20,000 attendance, is electric. Brazillians in general are mental about football (futball). In Rio every other bloke wears a football shirt (mostly Flamengo the Manchester Utd of Brazil). The Maracan Football Stadium is Brazil's temple of football. It can currently accomodate 100,000 people but in the past (such as during the World Cup and Pele's last match) it has squeezed in more that 200,000 crazy fans. 200,000 for one match is mental.

The match between Fluminense and Bangu is very one sided (3-0 to Fluminense) as Bangu are rubbish (the Spurs of Brazil...). But it's still a great experience watching a match at this famous old stadium with views of Christ the Redeemer in the background and 20,000 fans going mental, waving huge flags, incessantly beating drums and doing everything but watching the actual match. The football seemed to incidental to everyone having a good time and baiting the opposition fans.

The views from the peak of Sugarloaf Mountain are incredible. Rio is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world. Two cable cars take you to the summit. The first ascends 220m to Mono da Urza. When we get there I take too many photos, including ones of the little monkeys that live on these mountains. I'm not sure what species they are but they are cute and possibly quite tasty I don't know.

The second cable car goes up to Pao de Acucar. At the top, the city unfolds beneath you, with Corcovado mountain and Christo Redenter of to the west, and Copacabana beach to the south. The views from here are even better and there's a bar where you can sit and drink cairprinha while watching the sun go down. Unfortunately, when we get there there is a big storm. It's bad enough for them to stop running the cable car so we're stranded there until 11. But it's fun watching the storm from such a height.

The best views though, are afforded atop the Corcovado ('hunchback'). Christ the Redeemer gazes out over Rio, a placid expression on his well-crafted face. The mountain rises straight up from the city to 710m, and at night, the brightly lit, 38m high statue is visible from nearly every part of the city - all 1145 tons of the open-armed redeemer. The first time we get to the top of Corcovado all the views are obscured by rainclouds and it soon starts pissing down and surprise, surprise there's another bloody storm. There has now been a storm every single day I have been in Brazil except one day. And these trpoical rainstorms always last a good few hours. The clouds obscure everything including the statue of Christ and soon we have to leave having seen not much. Maybe it's a sign from God! I decide to go again the day after to get those all important pictures of the statue and the amazing views. But this puts our schedule (yes we do have one!) a little out of whack and means there will be a lot more rushing around in the next few days.

The next morning the weather is a lot better and the panaramic views of Rio from the top of Corcovado is spectacular. We spend the rest of the day visitng Copacabana, which, to behonest, is a bit shit compared to Ipanema and Leblon and many of the beaches around Rio. But still, those string bikinis whoever invented those give that man a medal.

Sugarloaf

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Ipanema and Copacabana

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Corcovado

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The Maracana from afar
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Christ the Redeemer is a lot smaller than it looks in pictures..
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Maracana

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Rest of Rio

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Posted by Señor Usuf 06:58 Comments (0)

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