Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day After T'giving in Amazonas: Black Friday on Black Water

Shamim at Dock 1
“I decided when I was 12 I wanted to be a guide.”  So spoke Max Maia, the owner of the Turtle Lodge  who picked up  four of us at our ship,  M.V. Explorer, in Manaos for the first leg of our trip in the Amazonas region of Brazil.

On our way to the fish market where we were to take the first of three legs to the Lodge, he stopped to show us the nearby favela and a stream where he had fished as a boy.  Back in his childhood, he had been volunteered to guide some folks whose boat broke down near his home.  Only 12, he showed them the village and then when he received ten dollars or so in pay, decided this was what he wanted to do – become a guide.

And so he did.  And after a quarter of a century guiding tourists, he developed Turtle Lodge -- away from the port of Manaos -- for visitors to go deeper into the Amazonas Region.
Bidding him goodbye, I along with my three comrades boarded a boat that ferried us across the Amazon River – past the point where the black water of the Rio Negro and the amber Solimoes  join to form the Amazon.  We were on to more black rivers -- where the tannin of the forests colors the water dark.
Across the Amazon, at Careiro da Varzea,  we hauled our bags up a long flight of steps through walkways between houses on stilts and finally onto the street crowded with trucks and cars.  There, we boarded a rather old VW van which carried us for an hour to another town -- near Porto Velho -- still further south.  We stopped along the way to view some water lilies blooming in a nearby wetland and once again to purchase gasoline and water at a country store.
Dock 3: Our port of entry to the Mamori Rio region
Finally, we reached our next station, a dock where we boarded a smaller motor boat that took us for another hour along winding rivers, past small homesteads to our final destination, Turtle Lodge.  At a covered dock, we were welcomed with mango drinks before climbing the 50-plus steps to the lodge and our individual cottages.


For the next 24 hours we were entranced by the Amazonas region – boating nearby, eating in the porch-like lodge, watching a pink sunset and then pink dolphins frolicking in the Lago.  We saw many species of exotic birds, and our guide—as he promised-- caught a caiman with his hands.

Dock at Turtle Lodge

( I held the caiman for a photo – he was a small fellow – probably just a few years old and I’m sure we were more frightful to him than he to us.)
Birds, Birds, Birds everywhere singing and flying.  Some very familiar yet different – like the red breasted kingfisher – and  broad winged hawks – But also a gorgeous pair of Toucans who posed for us – usually I never get pictures of birds with my little point and shoot because the birds move too fast for me to locate them quickly.  Cara Cara, Tiger Herons and many others.
Toucan Profile
Collared Hawk
According to the internet, Turtle Lodge is sitting beside the Lago do Tracaja River, 100 km from Manaus which appeared to be our location.  However, Travel Advisory’s map locates it smack dab in the middle of the city of Manaus, which it was not.  Nevertheless, map aside, the web photos seemed to verify that this was OUR Turtle Lodge.

We trekked through the jungle, looking at the various trees and plant life, listening to birds and monkeys. One of our guides made fans from the palms for the women.  We tried the local beer, ate the fish and chatted with other guests from the Netherlands and from New Jersey

After a really hectic schedule, I needed a true respite from students, classes and disappointments, which the lodge provided.  Despite our many activities (especially the long voyage getting to and returning from the lodge), the stay was so restful that I returned to the ship rested and ready to take on the final phase of the voyage as we left Brazil headed for Dominica and then home.

See   for more info about Turtle Lodge and Max Maia's expeditions.

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