The main reason I had wanted to travel to South America was the Amazon rainforest. It had captivated my imagination since I was a child. To me it was the ultimate destination for an explorer, and it has been in my heart for as long as I can remember.
We travelled by land for hundreds of miles to the city of Manaus in Brazil, the main departure point for visiting the jungle. As I drifted in and out of sleep on that epic bus journey I became very aware that the air was changing. As we descended gradually into the Amazon basin I could feel the increase in pressure and humidity, along with a less tangible sense of the mystery of this giant forest. The anticipation gradually built over the coming days as we arrived in Manaus, booked our tour, and began our journey slowly by boat up the river.
Despite my dream to visit the Amazon I knew very little about it. I had images in my mind based on various nature documentaries and things I’d heard, none of which really matched up with my experience. The upside of this was that there was so much that was absolutely amazing and completely unexpected about my trip into the rainforest.
We swam with pink river dolphins, which were more aggressive than you might imagine such a graceful creature to be. They have sharp little teeth and weren’t shy about using them. I politely waded waste deep in the murky water with the strange beautiful creatures, not wanting to appear ungrateful for such a special experience, while they head butted me and tried to bite my legs! It’s a delightful memory though, and I think I prefer it over a more laid back dolphin encounter!
The spiders we encountered were less delightful. The tarantula our guide poked at with a stick until it emerged from its hole was everything you’d expect from a giant furry arachnid built for ambushing prey, but it was probably much more frightened of us than we were of it. I have much worse spider memories from the jungle.
Cruising through the flooded forest on a tiny boat was a magical experience by day. We left our big boat on the wide part of the river and ventured into the unknown, between the trees through ever narrowing passageways. By night, however, going deep into the jungle by boat varied between being a thrilling experience and a downright terrifying one! As the forest grew denser spiders from overhanging branches that had been disturbed by our boat landed on board. My friend and I grabbed the torch from our guide and frantically checked each other for spiders repeatedly until the torture was over several hours later.
On other occasions we saw a sloth, pythons and piranhas, all of which were so surreal, like something out of a children’s picture book. The large boat was our base from which we explored. We had plenty of time to relax on board and soak up the sights and sounds of the forest. Our guide told us there were alligators in the water but that it was safe to swim nearby, so without giving it a second thought we all jumped in and had a lovely refreshing dip in the opaque muddy water, trying not to imagine what was beneath the surface.
We thought he was joking when he called to us to get out of the water because there was a caiman close by. We got out anyway, just in case! We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it just a few meters away from the other side of our boat.
By far the most unexpected creatures in the Amazon were on board though. A rather eccentric dutch girl, a fellow traveller, had acquired some new born kittens in Manaus. They’d been abandoned and left in a cardboard box in the street. She’d heard them screaming and couldn’t bear to leave them. So the kittens got the jungle tour too. They even camped with us the night we slept in hammocks in the forest.
These were some of the more memorable and unexpected highlights of the visit. However, the rainforest I’d seen in films, books and documentaries eluded me. All the time it felt like we were on the edge of something. After days of journeying we only briefly touched upon the ancient primary forest. For the most part we were in secondary forest with smaller younger trees.
The Amazon with huge trees and a high leafy canopy containing an abundance of life that I had anticipated for so long was indeed real, but I only caught tantalizing glimpses of it. It was time to turn around and head back down the river to Manaus. It had been amazing, and I’d ticked off a lifelong goal, but we knew that there was so much more than the tiny part we’d had the privilege to explore.
The trouble is with travel, and I’m pretty sure ninety nine percent of people reading this would agree, the more places you see, the more places you feel like you need to return to. Unfortunately I’ve got this burning desire to go absolutely everywhere, so it’s going to be a while before I get round to revisiting the many places that have left me desperately wanting to return.SHARE