A few weeks ago, my Peruvian and I along with another couple went on a fantastic trip to the Amazon. Well, to be more precise, a cruise on the Tapajos River up in the North of Brazil. And what an experience it was.
Prior to the trip I had no real idea what I was letting myself into. I knew we were going to live on a boat, I knew we were going to be on or near the Amazon River and I knew we were going to sleep in hammocks. That was the extent of my knowledge!
Although I was excited about the trip – I admittedly had a few misgivings immediately prior to it! Not only is four nights an awfully long time to be sleeping in a hammock, but aren’t there piranhas, crocodiles and anacondas in the Amazon River?
Our dear friends Alberto and Glaucia pretty much organised the trip from start to finish, and all C and I had to do was pack our bags and turn up on time at the airport!
From Brasilia we flew to one of the oldest cities in the Amazon, Santarem via Belem where we spent the night. Here we were picked up, and were immediately whisked west to the laid-back tourist town of Alter do Chão, where we were to meet our crew and boat. What a wonderful sight it was and I knew we were in for an adventure!
The boat is a typical style riverboat for the region which are affectionately called ‘gaiolas’ or ‘birdcage’ by the Amazonian people. These riverboats vary in size, but their traditional role is to transport people and cargo up and down the river stopping at various destinations along the way like a form of taxi.
However our boat is not a typical gaiolas – painted a vibrant blue with white, red and green trimmings (representing the Italian flag and owner of the boat) Gaia (the name of our boat) stands out like a stunning blue macaw against the green foliage of the jungle. The boat itself is rustic yet well maintained. The lower deck is made up of a small cabin, a communal bathroom and a small kitchen galley. The upper deck is where you have the captain’s Bridge, and a large partially covered space that works as a dining room, lounge and bedroom.
Upon arriving at Alter do Chão I knew this was going to be an amazing trip. Opposite the little town is the picturesque white-sand island of Illha do Amor (Island of Love), but what really surprised me, was just how white the sand was! It felt as though we were at the seaside and not at a bank of a river.
The river that Alter do Chão sits on is the Tapajos River, and due to the crystalline waters, mile upon mile of white-sandy beaches are formed naturally along the river edges. During dry-season, the river recedes and exposes more of its pristine sand, making it the ideal time to visit. For this reason, Alter do Chão and the surrounding area are often called the ‘Caribbean of the Amazon’.
Once we set sail (do you set sail in a motor boat?!) and cruised to our first destination – it was like entering another world. The river is magnificent and the distance between one side of the river to the other is so great, that it often feels as though you are out at sea!
Life slows down a few notches in the Amazon. Puttering along, watching the scenery unfold while spotting the slick humps of the pink river dolphins break the surface – it is something quite magical. Without internet or mobile coverage for the majority of the trip, we were all able to disconnect from the world. Just be. Just enjoy.
There were many moments in that trip that felt truly spiritual or even magical to me. There was one particular evening, where we watched such an amazing sun set, one of those sunsets where the whole sky explodes with colour, light and movement that you can’t help but wonder if there is something greater than just us?
Our days revolved around exploring pristine beaches, swimming in the freshwater, visiting the local communities, and as simple as it sounds enjoying each other’s company.
We also ate very well! I don’t know how the cook did it, but she managed to rustle up some pretty amazing meals in that little galley of hers. Our first dinner was probably the most memorable, stuffed tambaqui (a meaty white river fish) with bacon and tomatoes! In the mornings, she would make fresh bread, cake, scrambled eggs, tapioca – she was truly quite incredible.
In fact the entire crew made up of Captain, cook and deckhand were wonderful. They looked after us so well, made sure we were happy and content and in actual fact they were the foundation for such a successful trip. To be fair, it was easy to keep us happy and content – and I think they figured that out rather quickly – they made sure we were well fed, and kept the caiparinhas flowing!
Prior to the trip, we had been told on very good authority that this trip was excellent – but it was paramount that you did not run out of alcohol mid-way through it. This was advice that we all took very seriously – so between the four of us we brought with us a case of wine, 4 bottles of vodka and 2 bottles of gin, and it turned out to be very sound advice!
Probably the most intense experiences for me were the nights. Darkness falls rapidly in the Amazon. Once dinner was over, and a few night cocktails were had, it was off to bed (or off to hammock!). We would string up our individual hammocks on the top deck and settle down for the night. Now, hammocks are funny things. They are surprisingly comfortable in the beginning, but have this amazing knack to grow steadily more uncomfortable during the night!
Every 2 hours or so, I would wake up in order to shift position – but it really didn’t matter, because every time I awoke there was something to see or hear that reminded me, that I was in the Amazon. Be it the blanket of stars overhead, the gentle lapping of water against the boat, the screaming howler monkeys in the middle of the night, or the sun slowly rising – all of these elements combined made for such an unforgettable experience., that although slightly sleep deprived, I felt very happy!
This may not be the typical trip that comes to mind for people when you talk about The Amazon – but it truly was an amazing one! And one, that I would do again in a heartbeat! So if you are looking for a holiday where you can literally sit back, relax and just enjoy ‘being’ surrounded by beautiful scenery, and spending quality time with good friends or loved ones this may be the trip for you!
If you would like to do this tour, here are the contact details:
Contact: Oliviero and Carmen Pluviano +55 (11) 81110251 or +55 (11) 37550688