swimming with pink dolphins

As planned, we made our way to Manaus, 1500km up the Amazon River from the coast, to do a 6 night, 7 day boat trip on the Amazon. Manaus has a population of around 2 million people, the largest city on the Amazon. When we arrived in Manaus it was quite warm… 40 degrees. After checking in to a B&B we asked our host about a place to have dinner. He told us not too much was open in the neighbourhood, as it was Sunday, but gave us directions to a brand new shopping mall about six blocks away. Now, I am not really one for food fairs, but we wandered over and found a very nice, but expensive restaurant/pub tucked in behind the food fair. On the menu there was quite a few imported beers… one was $78 for a 355m bottle. Needless to say, we didn’t buy that one. The food was good though.

The next day we started our boat cruise on the Amazon. We arrived at the Tropical Hotel for our 2pm departure and met our trusty guide, Hugo. Along with five other men, we walked to our home on the river, the Amazon Clipper. Turns out, I was the only female passenger. At first I thought how weird it would be, but these guys were pretty nice… three from the States and a dad and his son from Mexico.

It was a pretty amazing trip. We hiked into an eco-reserve to see giant water lilies, we enjoyed numerous early morning canoe rides (getting a wake-up call by Hugo at 5:30am) as well as afternoon and evening canoe excursions. We saw dozens of species of birds (the photos below just scratch the surface) and lots of creepy creatures on the jungle walks. The evening canoe rides brought us face to face with caimans, boas, and many nocturnal birds.

Our second day in, we put on long pants, tucked our pants into our socks (just in case ants decided to climb on us) and jumped off the canoe onto a very muddy bank to do our first jungle walk. We were happily walking looking at trees and stuff… Don was third in line and I was behind him. Suddenly, we were being stung and slapping at something we couldn’t see and damn, did it hurt. I took off running and the little beings that turned out to be some tiny, gold wasp, stopped stinging me. I was told I should have stayed still, but who can do that when you can’t see what is getting at you. Unfortunately, someone stepped on another wasp nest and I was stung again, as well as the young man from Mexico. In all I had 20 stings and Don had about half a dozen or so. The bites are still resurrecting themselves and still bother us. Hopefully they will stop soon. I must say I lost patience with walking in the jungle that day.

After our walk, we could go swimming in the river. Don and Ernesto, the Mexican dad, were the only ones to take advantage of this opportunity. Hugo, our guide, told Don to get away from the bank of the river as that is where the anacondas live… he quickly did that… no anacondas were spotted that day.

Day 3 we went to the “meeting of the waters” which is where the Rio Negro and the Rio Amazonas (aka Rio Solimoes) meet. The line between the two rivers is very distinct; Rio Negro is dark and slow moving while Rio Amazonas/Solimoes is cooler, faster and muddier. They finally mix about 15 km downstream. Apparently, lots of fish hang out at this spot (confused by the change in water speed and temperature), attracting lots of grey dolphins who feast on the disoriented fish.

That afternoon, we dropped off our Mexican friends as they were only doing the first portion of the trip. We were told we would be getting off the Amazon Clipper and would transfer to the Premiere to join with 11 others. The new folks were from Australia, England, South Africa (newlyweds… she was originally from Germany), Spain, Italy and a young man from Germany, along with us and the three Americans we were now a group of 16.

It was wonderful to chat with the women… no offense to the men, but I really enjoyed hanging out with kindred spirits.

The Premiere boat is much bigger and you can walk around your bedroom (couldn’t do that in the Clipper… just had room for yourself to go from the door, past the bunk bed and into the bathroom… shower was over the toilet… pretty tight space), the air conditioner worked really well and the bathroom was more conventional.

We did the same type of things as the first leg… canoe rides, jungle walking, swimming (which I did do this time… the water is amazingly warm). On both legs of the journey you could go piranha fishing. I didn’t do either one, but Don went on the second outing with observer status… he didn’t fish, but watched others do their best. According to our American friends, fishing during the first leg was more lucrative, everyone caught piranhas that day… the second time out only half the group got a bite.

My favourite part of this section of the trip, and maybe overall, was hanging out with the pink dolphins. We did see some from the deck of the Premiere boat, but it was fleeting glances, they don’t jump and arch the way other dolphins do. One of the afternoons we went down one of the many channels of the Rio Negro to Recanto do Boto, a dolphin preserve. We were told that the young man, who fed the dolphins, swam in the river as a young child. The pink dolphins started to swim with him and over the years, the spot became a sort of protectorate for the dolphins. They come to him when he slaps the water with fish and the dolphins allow people to touch them as they are being fed. They are totally free, no cages, no nets… just the river.

It was pretty cool to touch this huge being. Their skin is really smooth and they have peg like teeth. I was wary of the teeth, but nothing untoward happened. All the folks who were there had a marvelous time and the dolphins were happily fed.

On our last jungle walk, no wasps were sighted, but our guide, Fernando, found a tarantula and her babies in a hole in the ground. It had been covered by leaves and a web that the mom had spun to protect her babies from predators. I didn’t think much of this until someone gave me a flashlight to hold so others could take pictures. The tarantula was huge!! It didn’t move out of the hole, but the babies were getting a bit active… likely because of the light. After we all had a look, Fernando put back the leaves and the mom now had the job of making the web again.

We also learned on the walk how to protect ourselves from jaguars when you are lost in the jungle by yourself and you just have a camera and a machete. We learned how to make a spear to pierce the jaguar as it is lunging at you. I personally think one should set up your camera to take photos of the incident so when someone coming along the trail finds the camera, there will be a record of your demise. One quick lesson won’t stop a hungry, irritated jaguar.

We also learned how to quickly make a blow gun out of palm trees, make darts, in order to hunt if we are lost in the rainforest.

Last day was kind of sad… I really enjoyed our fellow travellers and many have promised to stay in touch. I hope we can do this.

We’re now on our third day of rain in Panama City. The first two days featured thunderstorms that lasted about two hour followed by partial clearing and the return of heat and humidity. Today however, it started raining three hours ago and shows no sign of letting up. Feels like Vancouver!

Happiness to you, our friends and family!
Keep smiling!

(The video posted below is low resolution because we have a poor internet connection here in Panama and couldn’t upload the HD version — will try to post the sharper version at a later date)

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