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Through the heart of the Amazon: an unforgettable adventure

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I’ve just returned from an incredible trip through the Amazon, and can’t wait to share the highlights of this adventure. It was a straight journey through the lush landscapes, vibrant cultures, and unique experiences that make the Amazon a must-visit destination!

A first day in Manaus, gateway to the Amazon

Let me tell you about the start of our adventure in Manaus, the lively capital of the state of Amazonas. The city is hot and humid, but it’s the beating heart of the Amazon.

Our day began at the main market, where it felt like we’d stepped into a world of Amazonian colours and smells. Picture this: everywhere you look, you’ll see vibrant fruits that make your senses dance. Here we got to try some amazing local foods. There’s this bright yellow soup, tacacá, which contains a leafy vegetable known as jambu that makes your mouth tingle. Then there’s the x-caboquinho, a sandwich that’s a big deal in Manaus, with shavings of tucumã (a fruit believed to have anti-malaria properties), queijo coalho (a kind of grilled cheese), and fried plantain, all stacked up in-between slices of bread. It’s not just food; it’s a piece of history, officially recognised as part of the capital’s cultural heritage.

As we strolled through the main square, we couldn’t miss the amazing Manaus Opera House, also known as the Amazon Theatre. This grand landmark was built during a time when people were making fortunes from rubber. Every piece of it was brought in from different places: roofing tiles from Alsace, steel walls from Glasgow, and fancy Carrara marble from Italy. The dome, covered in tiles painted the colours of Brazil‘s flag, might even remind you of a mosque’s. As you explore the city, in fact, more beautiful colours are to be found across murals that showcase life in the Amazon.

To wrap up our day, we headed to Bar do Armando, where the locals go to chill, listen to music, and enjoy super-cold beers (they love their icy beers here!). It’s a bar that shows how the people of Manaus live, where the rhythm of life plays out, and a great place for people-watching.

A day spent in Manaus is more than just a day; it’s feels very much like stepping right into the Amazonian culture and hospitality, getting you ready for the real jungle experience ahead.

Into the jungle: an immersive wilderness experience

Leaving the urban bustle behind, we ventured deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle for a four-night wilderness retreat.

In the daytime, we enjoyed incredible hikes through the thick jungle; imagine walking through the Amazon with all its greenery, strange sounds, and the feeling of being lost in nature. We got to learn some very interesting tips about surviving in the wild – what plants can be used as medicine, what to do if you find yourself in a tight spot, and how to use ants as a mosquito repellent. All along the way, we were always nut-picking, gathering Brazil nuts that were scattered on the jungle floor; it was like a treasure hunt, and as it turns out, these nuts are a big deal in the Amazon!

Fishing for piranhas was a bit wild – I mean, who gets to say they’ve caught piranhas in the Amazon River? We also tried our luck with some other fish, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. I had no idea you could find dolphins swimming in the Amazon, yet here you’ll easily see them jumping out of the water in the late afternoon. The pink ones are more shy than the grey ones, and it felt so special stopping in the middle of the river to admire them passing by, whilst listening to the sounds of monkeys and other special birds. A real concert!

When the sun went down is when the jungle came alive. Armed with flashlights, we went on a caiman-spotting adventure. It was both funny and kind of spooky seeing their eyes light up in the dark, as if to say, “hey, we see you too!” Still, we thought it better to not take a night swim with them.

What fascinated me most was seeing how people live their lives on the Amazon. Floating grocery stores and bars move with the river here. We got a glimpse of daily life on the mainland, and it was different from anything I’d ever experienced. Playing with local kids in the river was a highlight, their laughter and energy infectious. And the sunsets! Watching the sun go down over the Amazon River is something else. It’s as though the jungle takes a breath, and everything turns golden. We’d sit there on the riverbank, sometimes with a homemade caipirinha in hand, soaking it all in.

This trip wasn’t just about going into the wild; it was about experiencing a whole new world, where nature and people coexist in ways you’d never imagine. Those little details and moments are what made this Amazon adventure one I’ll never forget.

Manaus to Belém via Santarém: a ferry ride through Amazonian wonders

Let me take you back to that 96-hour ferry ride from Manaus to Belém, an adventure of its own. Picture this big ferry, with two classes to choose from: hammock or cabin. We went for the hammock option because we wanted to dive deep into the local vibe. Setting up the hammock was a bit of a challenge for us; we weren’t exactly experts at tying knots. Luckily, the locals were super helpful. The whole space turned into a colorful patchwork of hammocks, each one reflecting a bit of its owner’s personality, and strewn with long cables that weren’t just for show – they were our lifelines, making sure everyone had electricity.

As we swayed in our hammocks, the landscapes outside unfolded like a living painting. And then, the moment arrived that we’d been waiting for: the meeting of the Rio Negro and Amazon River. It was surreal, witnessing this perfect line where the dark and lighter waters meet – nature’s masterpiece.

Amongst my hammock neighbors was Beatriz, a 16-year-old girl with suitcases full of Hello Kitty products. She was heading to Parintins to meet her childhood friend and just explore. We’d chat, and she’d ask me a million questions about life back home. Also nearby was an adorable old lady who kept feeding me everything she had brought on board – a true Amazonian grandma. Talk about a feast!

The best part of the journey was hanging out on deck with everyone. We’d share life stories, dreams, and the reasons why we were all on this ferry ride. Beatriz told us about her frequent travels along the Amazon River. Marcio was off to meet his dad’s side of the family for the first time. Bruno, on a five-day journey to Belém, just needed an X-ray.

Everybody on board seemed to love waiting for the village stops along the way. We observed how the locals would serve their products to the highest passengers on the ferry, using a basket attached to a very long stick. Fruits, fresh acai, local dishes, and ice cream – their version of fast food, they’d say. As the ferry made its way, locals on small boats would skilfully sail alongside, securing their little vessels to ours. It was like a floating market, and each interaction was a glimpse into the abundance that the river provides to the people living along its banks. Each encounter with these vendors became a window into their lives and what they were specialised in.

What struck me most was the love everyone had for their country; the beauty, the culture and, of course, the food. Each person had a list of must-visit spots and insisted we try the local delights. We were, in essence, getting a crash course in Brazilian hospitality. It seems we also need to visit the state of Minas Gerais, with its 300 types of cheese and the country’s best paõ de queijo.

Generosity and friendliness were everywhere, in people sharing stories, giving advice, and making that 96-hour journey feel like a community adventure.

Alter do Chão: the Caribbean of the Amazon

Next stop: Alter do Chão! Arriving here was like stepping into a paradisiacal postcard, to break up that four-day ferry ride to Belém. First off, its crystal-clear waters are straight out of a dream: imagine the bluest blue, and then increase that twofold. Yes, it’s that stunning. We spent our days chilling on the beach until sunset, sat at tables on the water and watching beach sellers grilling cheese with their portable barbecues. Let me tell you, sipping on caipirinhas and fresh coconuts with that view is an experience you won’t soon forget.

The Canal do Jari is a hidden gem here, a narrow waterway that winds through the area, surrounded by lush greenery. We took a boat ride through it, feeling all the while like we were heading through a secret jungle passage. As you cruise, you can even spot sloths and other monkeys and animals. You’d never guess such a peaceful spot exists in the middle of all that beautiful jungle.

Then, there’s the Victoria regia. We got a close-up look at how the locals turn these vibrant flowers into all sorts of beautiful products and edible delicacies. From handicrafts to colourful decorations, you get a sense of their creativity and resourcefulness; you’d be amazed at how they use what’s around them to create such stunning pieces, and you get a sense of their creativity and resourcefulness. The flower can grow up to 2m in diametre and you can even sit on it!

The real heart of the experience was visiting the local communities in Flona. We met the Jamaraqua community and got to see their incredible handicrafts. It’s not just about the products; it’s about the stories woven into each piece. They take so much pride in their work, and it’s inspiring to see how they preserve their traditions. Here you also get to see the samauma tree, recognized as the Amazon’s largest tree species in both height and diametre – it can reach a height of up to 60 m!

On Thursday nights is when Alter do Chão comes alive with carimbó, a dance brought over to the country by enslaved Africans. We all danced along to the rhythm of drums filling the air – even if you’re not a dancer, you can’t help but get caught up in the energy and being part of a big, joyous celebration.

Alter do Chão was more than just a pit stop, it was a feast for the senses: the beauty of the water, the creativity of the people, and the infectious energy of the town nights, all added a whole new layer to our journey and changed our misconceptions of what the Amazon looked like.

Belém: the acai capital brimming with river life

The exciting end of our Amazon adventure was spent in Belém, an acai heaven and the main city in the state of Pará. To get there, we hopped onto the second leg of our hammock ferry journey, and sailed down the Amazon River. When we arrived, we realised we’d gone from palm trees to towering skyscrapers – a contrasting landscape that was no less amazing and interesting.

Our first stop in Belém was the Mercado Ver-o-Peso – a burst of colours, sounds, and yummy smells! At this busy market you can find everything from strange fruits to handmade crafts, and tonnes of local food stalls with a view of the Amazon. We jumped right in, enjoying the lively vibe and discovering all manner of delights. They say it’s the biggest open-air market in Latin America!

We explored Ilha do Combu, a small island just a quick boat ride from the city, and a real hidden treasure waiting to be found. There, we visited the cacao farm of an incredible local, Dona Nena. Originally from Piriquitaquara, she learned to make chocolate from her mum, and despite trying different jobs for money, she would always return to this craft. Her chocolate is now renowned in all of Brazil, ever since famous chefs discovered her talent. We witnessed how she turns cacao beans into the delicious chocolate we all love; the air smelled sweet, and of course, we treated ourselves to some freshly-made brigadeiros. We then spent the day relaxing in colourful wooden houses by the river, swimming, and trying local drinks and snacks while enjoying our surroundings.

As I think back on our journey, I can’t help but feel thankful for all the amazing experiences the Amazon has shared with us. From the buzzing city to the peaceful jungle and the interesting communities that live along the river, this trip offered a true immersion into the heart and soul of the Amazon. Each moment was a thread, weaving together a story that will stay with me always. Until next time!

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