Three Days in the Amazon

Ever since I was a little kid, visiting the Amazon rain forest was something I wanted to do.
Images of the rain forest's destruction always stuck with me and I wanted to see this amazing place before humans found a way to really screw it up. Luckily, the World Cup was in Brazil this past summer which gave me the opportunity to fulfill one of my life's many dreams.

I would have loved to take a week or more and go deeper to the truly remote parts of the jungle, but as fate had it, I had 3 available days in the Manaus area before seeing the USA take on Portugal in their group match of the World Cup. Three days was perfect for a short adventure into the jungle - unfortunately everyone else had the same idea. The tour I booked with my friends was so full that the adventure I knew was coming only grew even greater. All of the issues of overbooking every aspect of this tour could have ruined it, but I was stuck with some of the coolest people on the planet and we turned minor adversities into adventures and triumphs in one of the coolest places in the world.

Day 1
It was windy and storming when we left the port in Manaus and the river was already extremely high. We had seen a lot of flooding from the air before landing in Manaus a day earlier. We were getting on small boats about to cross a raging river before we could head up the Amazon to our jungle lodge. We blasted through wave after wave and started slowing down, I peeled back the tarp which was set up to cover the boat and acted as a makeshift roof and windows. We were now stopped completely and in a clearly flooded area, taking shelter next to a handful of trees and bushes that were just poking out of the water. The wind was swirling even more now, and the pilot of our boat said the waves had gotten so big that we wouldn't make it across the river. Our adventure hadn't even truly started, but our lives were already at risk. I knew right at this moment that these three days were going to give me stories to last a life time...and I was right.

This where we were bunkered down waiting for the storm to ease.
The storm eventually subsided enough that we were able to head back out and cross the river. When we finally hit the other side, we boarded a group of shuttle vans that drove us away from civilization into the beginnings of the jungle. The road ahead suddenly looked washed out and our vans stopped, thankfully there was a boat waiting for us and this is where we headed up the Amazon to the lodge which was supposed to be our base camp.

We had only been away for a few hours, but I was already making friends from all over the world. There was an incredibly diverse and ridiculously entertaining group of us headed into the mysteries of the Amazon. We were ready for whatever it brought us.

We called this place home for a night. 
After landing at the lodge and having lunch, which included freshly caught piranha, we all realized that there were about 40 too many people for this little lodge in the middle of the jungle. Some were going to be forced to sleep on the boat with hammocks, others sent off to other places in the jungle and the rest of us shared little rooms with strangers. Those of us who stayed at the lodge were about to go out on a canoe journey down the river. I was ridiculously excited for this, however, we had WAY too many people for these dinky little canoes that were waiting for us. I'd say that they safely would have held 8-10 people on a good day, we packed 14-16 souls on each of the boats and set off down the river!

Sinking or not, we were having a blast.

The sounds of the jungle were incredible. We could see a few monkeys swinging in the treetops, but there was so much more going on that we couldn't see. We stopped and just listened to the jungle. It was fascinating - an experience that you truly need to have to understand. We continued down the river, seeing some of the famous Amazon River dolphins, before realizing that the boat I was on was gradually taking on water. Yikes! Being in the middle of the Amazon where half of the indigenous species can kill you is not where you want to be when your boat is falling apart at the seams. The gradual flow of water suddenly grew into a continuous stream, filling the bottom of our boat with 4 or 5 inches of water and wasn't stopping. We told our guide what was happening, to which he nonchalantly replied "We will not sink!" That didn't prove to be too comforting to those of us who were watching the water come in. One of the other boats had a little bucket they were using to scoop out the rain water, and we told them about our little issue so they pulled up along side of us to give us their bucket so we could start bailing ourselves out. Unfortunately, someone had the brilliant idea of throwing the bucket to us which came up about 5 feet short and immediately turned over and sunk to the bottom. Or did it? The bucket resurfaced a few seconds later and yet another canoe snagged it from the water and hand delivered it to us. This time we were able to get to work and continue our adventure while ensuring that we didn't sink into the piranha, anaconda and caiman infested river.
My turn to bail us out!

All of this, and the sun still had not set on day one in the Amazon. That same night after dinner, we were herded onto boats once again (I made sure to stay far, far away from the sinking canoe from earlier) and headed back out to catch some wild caimans. Our guides spotted a few and grabbed them, but for me the real highlight was seeing the night sky on the middle of the Amazon - hours away from civilization or any form of light pollution. I've never seen so many stars so clearly. It was an unforgettable breathtaking sight.

Taking my turn with the surprisingly friendly caiman!
Day 2
The adventures kept on coming during our second day. We started the morning with a hike through the jungle, which involved trekking a hundred or so feet through the water where the trail had been flooded out. People screaming and nervously watching for anacondas was the norm. It was a blast and I kept rolling with the punches. We were getting the full Amazon experience - minus actually seeing an anaconda.

After lunch, we received news that more tourists were headed to the lodge and there wasn't room for us anymore. The powers that be decided to send us a few hours further down the river to an extremely remote area where we would set up hammocks and sleep in the jungle for the night. This wasn't how the day was supposed to go (if I remember right, we were supposed to go piranha fishing!) but the idea of sleeping in the Amazon rain forest made me feel more alive and excited than I could have imagined.

We all boarded a big, slow boat and headed further down the river. It was an indescribably beautiful day. Dolphins were jumping out the water near us and flocks of white birds frequently filled the sky. A few hours later we had arrived at our final destination, and just as the trend had been - there were too many of us once again. We had to get ridiculously creative just to fit our hammocks under a little overhang or people would be sleeping out in the open. It all worked out.

Heading further down the river to our second night's home. 

We ended up starting a fire and cooking dinner in the jungle. When it was getting time to sleep, I was out wandering around our camp when I heard some screams coming from the hammock area. I ran back to see what the fuss was all about to find everyone staring at a HUGE spider. This thing was massive and right above where we were going to sleep. I wouldn't have even closed my eyes if that thing was still there, luckily two slightly under the influence friends of ours took the initiative and ended that poor spider's life. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude. As we were getting ready to bunker down for the night we could hear thunder rolling in the distance. I've always loved storms, but the idea of sleeping in a hammock in the Amazon with a thunderstorm rolling through made me overly excited. The storm ended up missing us, but resting in my hammock to the foreign sounds of the jungle and thunder was an experience I will truly never forget.

This is where we tried to fit about 40 people in hammocks...
time to get cozy
Day 3
Our final day was basically spent packing up and heading back up the river towards Manaus. We enjoyed half a day on the river, soaking in the scenery one last time before we returned to the big city and got ready for game day. On our way back, we stopped at a small indigenous family's farm and got to meet them. These were some of the most genuinely nice and awesome people. Only saw this family for a few minutes, but I'll never forget them.

This adventure was more than I ever could have asked for. Despite our tour being essentially thrown out the door due to overbooking, I still got so much more out of this adventure than the couple hundred bucks I spent to take it. I met people I will never forget and went places most people only dream of. With all that we saw and went through for these three days, many of us bonded pretty quickly, and maybe one day we will all get together and take on another wilderness adventure together.
The water was smooth as glass

One final thought, and my only real complaint from the Amazon - where were the dang anacondas!?

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