vision : I'm a person that loves; lives; learns and builds my story through the exercise of principles, my faith and my mission is to make a difference in the life of people... principles: love, courage, truth, peace, trust, integrity, contribution... roles : christian, husband, relative, systems engineer, athlete, friend, citizen individual, scholar

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

I don't talk much about traveling to Brazil...

I've never been to the of the places I want to visit in the next few years

here's an article that might be useful to you...published on the NY Times.

Into the Amazon

Published: September 16, 2007
WE were in a canoe tethered to a submerged tree,
fishing for piranha in the dark waters of the Rio
Negro, about 125 miles northwest of the Brazilian city
of Manaus. It was late afternoon, and the sun was
already beginning to set behind a fleecy thicket of
clouds, tingeing them with hues of purple, pink and
gold. Suddenly a dolphin surfaced less than 10 feet
away, carved a graceful arc in the air and then
disappeared into the water again.

The Amazon That night, back at the Anavilhanas Jungle
Lodge, my base for that foray into the world's largest
tropical rain forest, dinner � which included onion
soup with sweet potato chips, an Amazonian fish called
dourado prepared in ginger sauce, beef tenderloin and
coconut flan � gave no hint of our rugged
surroundings. Nor did the air-conditioned cottage
where I slept, with its elegant tropical wood paneling
and modern tiled bathroom. The next morning, I sought
refuge from the overpowering heat and humidity in the
lodge's swimming pool, where I watched boats of all
shapes and sizes putt-putting their way up and down
the river.

Not too long ago, options for visitors to the
Brazilian Amazon region were limited: you flew to
Manaus, stayed at the Tropical Manaus Hotel on the
outskirts of the city, and took day trips to the edge
of the forest. But that, thankfully, is no longer the
case. Responding to the international boom in
ecological and adventure tourism, lodgings have sprung
up all over the region in the past four or five years.
Travelers with a yen for the exotic and a tolerance
for the unpredictable can now book a stay in the
jungle with an expectation of, if not luxury, then at
least a reasonable degree of comfort. ( Still, don't
be surprised when you see signs like these, posted in
the rooms at the Tiwa Amazonas Ecoresort, just across
the river from Manaus: �Warning: The simultaneous use
of the shower and the air conditioner is forbidden!�)

There are easily a dozen of these new hotels � a type
of lodging I couldn't have imagined when I started
traveling in the Amazon 30 years ago, often sleeping
in grimy hammocks in $3-a-night fleabags with dirt
floors. The main concentration is on the Rio Negro, to
the north and west of Manaus, where the tannic acid
that darkens the water and gives the river its name
inhibits mosquitoes from breeding, so visitors don't
have to worry as much about malaria or dengue or other
typical tropical maladies.

And there are more lodgings to come. The most
ambitious is a 102-room complex being built just off
the road to the town of Novo Air�o by the Accor group
of France, which is scheduled to open in 2010 and will
be the first international luxury chain hotel actually
in the jungle; the Hilton company has also announced
plans to build a 196-room �eco-lodge resort� near Novo
Air�o .

For the moment, however, the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge,
which opened in February, is the newest and perhaps
the most chic example of the lodge phenomenon.
Operated by a couple from S�o Paulo, it is on a bluff
above the Rio Negro, within sight of the Anavilhanas
Ecological Station, a government nature reserve that
encompasses the world's largest riverine archipelago,
with more than 400 islands and hundreds of lakes and
igap�s, an indigenous word that means flood forest.
Astonishingly rich in both animal and plant life, the
reserve area, which has been designated a Unesco World
Heritage site, is unspoiled and uninhabited.

No matter what their location, the lodges tend to
follow a certain pattern when it comes to outings. In
the morning, for instance, before the heat gets too
stifling, a nature walk is, more often than not, de
rigueur; I've seen all sorts of monkeys, macaws and
toucans, not to mention sloths and anteaters, on such
treks. Afternoon excursions to fish for piranha
provide the kind of bragging rights that delighted my
teenage son when I took him with me on an Amazon trip
a few years ago.

After dinner, it's often back to the boat to hunt for
the Amazonian caiman known as the jacar�. But instead
of carrying guns or spears, guides are armed with
powerful spotlights that freeze the reptiles in
position and make it possible to remove young ones
from the water so that guests can run their hands over
their cool, ridged carapaces.

All can arrange an excursion for you to witness the
�meeting of the waters,� the spot just southeast of
Manaus where the Rio Negro's dark waters converge with
those of the Amazon's other major tributary, the
Solim�es. I've stopped there at least a dozen times
and never cease to be amazed at the way the two great
rivers, markedly different in color and temperature,
collide with such force and volume that they seem to
be fighting each other.

But each lodge also tries to offer something its
competitors do not. For instance, the Amazon Ecopark
Jungle Lodge, 40 minutes from Manaus, is famous for
its �Monkey Jungle Reserve.� Here, woolly monkeys,
some confiscated from contraband dealers, others
injured, are monitored at a rehabilitation center on
the lodge grounds.

At the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, a group of more than
a dozen botos, or gray dolphins, show up daily to be
fed at nearby Novo Air�o. A motorboat from the lodge
takes guests to a floating restaurant alongside the
main dock there, where a pet anaconda circulates among
customers sipping chilled beers or soft drinks. As we
stood on a raft attached to the restaurant, the
dolphins cavorted, sticking their long snouts up from
the water for pieces of fish tossed their way or
seizing fish snacks from tourists intrepid enough to
go into the water.

�If we'd let the botos, they would spend the entire
day here, just eating,� said Marisa Grangeiro de
Almeida, whose family operates the restaurant. �But
the environmental agency and the university scientists
have established fixed feeding hours.�

The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge has its own strict rules
when it comes to the guides it employs. Most lodges
rely on freelancers who come in from Manaus. The
Anavilhanas lodge hires only residents, which quickly
pays off for the visitor. My guide, C�lio Silva
Nascimento, not only knew all the best fishing spots
and how to navigate tricky river channels that come
and go with the seasons, but also had detailed
knowledge of local flora and fauna, no matter how

That is important because the sheer abundance of
wildlife on view can be staggering, especially as one
gets farther away from Manaus. I have never seen as
many birds, for example, as I did two years ago at the
Pousada Uacari, which is situated inside the Mamirau�
nature reserve, 350 miles west of Manaus at the
confluence of the Solim�es and Japur� Rivers. Startled
by the sound of our motorboat, huge flocks of snowy
egrets, herons, cormorants, kites, tinamous, bitterns,
ospreys and curassows took to the air as we navigated
an igarap�, or narrow tributary.

Like several of the new lodges in the region, the
Pousada Uacari is not on land, but sits on floating
rafts at a bend in the river. Here guests can view
wildlife in remarkable proximity. After dark, for
instance, I could see caimans, some as large as eight
feet, their eyes glowing like orange lanterns; some
came startlingly close, banging against the dock and
making querulous grunts, a symphony that continued
through the night.

There is even a lodge that is literally up in the
trees. The Aria� Amazon Towers, opened in 1987 and
recently expanded and modernized, is a two-hour boat
ride northwest of Manaus. One of the oldest and by far
the largest of the jungle lodges, it has been visited
by celebrities like Bill Gates and the King and Queen
of Spain. All 269 rooms are up in the jungle canopy,
as much as 60 feet above the river, and connected to
one another and the dining hall and common areas via
aerial walkways.

Only one lodge that I know of can claim to be on the
Amazon River itself. The Amazon Riverside Hotel makes
the most of that distinction, offering excursions to
see the sun rise from a century-old British-built
navigation beacon in the middle of the river; it also
has a nature trail that leads to a hilltop observation
post with a commanding view of both the jungle and the
river, and has arranged hammocks at the dock for
guests keen on doing nothing but watching the river

Just to remind guests where they are, the Amazon
Riverside's reception area, built around a lagoon,
displays the outsize skulls of an adult caiman and a
toothy on�a, the Brazilian cougar. Lined up near the
dining area is a series of jars with pickled remains
of some of the animals that have been found on or near
the hotel grounds: poisonous snakes, scorpions and
spiders, including a giant caranguejeira, or crab

The owners of the Amazon Riverside are members of
Manaus's flourishing Japanese community, which
migrated to the region nearly a century ago to work on
jute and pepper plantations. The Tsuji family caters
to Japanese tourists, an effort that is reflected in
an innovative menu that includes dishes such as
sashimi of tambaqui, a prized Amazon game fish, and
tempura made with okra and ab�bora, the Brazilian
equivalent of pumpkin.

The piranha fishing there was extraordinary. On a
Sunday afternoon I ventured out in a small motorboat
with a couple from the Tokyo area, Satoshi Tatsumi and
Kazuko Ito, and in less than two hours, we caught
nearly two dozen piranha, the largest of which we took
back to the hotel and ate in a tasty stew. The piranha
were so plentiful that Satoshi, a martial arts
instructor who was wearing a cast on his arm because
of an injury suffered in a competition, was able to
catch them one-handed with nothing more than a simple
bamboo pole and small pieces of beef as bait.

Many lodges organize visits to the homes of people who
live nearby, at the river's edge in houses usually on
stilts. Known in Portuguese either as caboclos, a term
equivalent to hillbilly, or more respectfully as
ribeirinhos, or river dwellers, they have limited
incomes and little contact with the rest of Brazil. If
you've never seen liquid latex being roasted on a spit
over a fire to be made into rubber or if you don't
know how manioc is turned into the golden flour that
is one of the Amazonian staples, then take one of
these tours.

But sometimes there is an element of exploitation that
I find unsettling. The Amazon Riverside Hotel pays the
river-dwelling families that its guests are taken to
see, but some other lodges do not. When I was visiting
another lodge, I was taken to the home of Iraci
Cantu�ria dos Santos, the 67-year-old matriarch of a
family of eight. I asked her whether she would make
any money from our visit. She replied, �Only if you
buy something,� and pointed to herbs and carved wooden
animals for sale.

To the river dwellers all visitors seem impossibly
well-off. But luxury, of course, is a relative
concept. The reality is that it is tremendously
difficult and expensive to bring in fuel, food and
other supplies by boat, and no Amazon lodge I've
visited would ever qualify as a five-star resort.

You are, after all, in the heart of the Amazon jungle,
and your accommodations, no matter what they might
lack in grandeur, would have been the envy of the
area's first European explorers. They came looking for
�El Dorado� and found a �green hell� instead.
Fortunately, you, the 21st-century traveler, now have
other options.



Until mid-2006, getting to Manaus from the United
States was a cumbersome process that often involved
flying to Rio or S�o Paulo and then doubling back. But
Brazil's TAM Airlines ( br) now operates a
daily five-hour flight from Miami. A round trip in
late September or October starts at $1,025; Copa
Airlines (www.copaair. com) also has flights from $969,
but those include a stop in Panama.


The packages mentioned are per person and include
three meals a day. Except as noted, transportation
from and back to Manaus is also covered.

The Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge (55-92-3622- 8996;
www.anavilhanaslodg has been open for only about
six months, and is perhaps the most elegant lodging in
the Amazon. It has 16 air-conditioned, wood-paneled
rooms decorated with regional art, and an open-air
common area stocked with DVDs and books. The minimum
two-night package is 950 reals total, or $475 at 2
reals to the dollar.

Unlike most other new lodges, the Amazon Riverside
Hotel (55-92-3622- 2789; www.amazonriverside ,
which opened in 2002, is 40 minutes downstream from
Manaus, not upstream. As a result, transportation to
the hotel includes a visit to the site where the Rio
Negro and the Solim�es join to form the Amazon. There
are 15 rustic apartments, with fans but no
air-conditioning. The one-night package is 625 reals;
the hotel also offers a day-use option for 250 reals.

The main lure of the Pousada Uacari (97-3343-4160;
www.uakarilodge. is its privileged location, in
the Mamirau� nature reserve about 90 minutes by
speedboat from Tef�, which is on the banks of the
Solim�es River. There are 5 floating wood cabins,
offering a total of 10 rustic apartments, with water
for the showers and sinks coming directly from the
river. The minimum three-night package of 1,000 reals
a person does not include transportation from Manaus
to Tef�.

In a competition for most unusual setting, the Aria�
Amazon Towers (55-92-2121- 5000; www.ariau.tur. br)
would win hands down. Just off the west bank of the
Rio Negro, its 269 rooms, some with air-conditioning,
and trees growing through them, are up at the level
where monkeys live. One night costs 860 reals.

The Tiwa Amazonas Ecoresort (55-92-9995- 7892; br), which opened in 2003, has 52
air-conditioned rooms on stilts over a lagoon, plus a
common area with a restaurant, bar, game room and a
view of the Manaus skyline. One night is 595 reals.

Less than an hour from Manaus by boat, the Amazon
Ecopark Jungle Lodge (55-21-2256- 8083;
www.amazonecopark. has 64 rooms and 3
bungalows, a beach on the Rio Negro and a pool. At 11
a.m. and 5 p.m., there are opportunities to feed the
monkeys. One night is 720 reals.


�In September, October and November, the water levels
are quite low,� said Wedson Franklin Santos, a guide
who works at the Amazon Riverside Hotel, �so you get
to see all the exuberance of the wildlife,� which is
forced out into the open. He added that during the
middle of the year, when the flood plain is starting
to recede, �the attraction is more the landscape
itself and not the animals, which are mostly in


Most doctors recommend a program of antimalarial
medicine, beginning several weeks before arrival and
continuing during a trip. (I stopped taking such
prophylactics because of the unpleasant side effects,
and besides, there is now a drug-resistant strain of
malaria.) But there are other measures one can adopt
to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases like
malaria and dengue. Rather than going outdoors with
arms exposed, for example, wear a long-sleeve shirt
made from a lightweight fabric. And do your best to
avoid being outside during the period local people
call �the malaria hour,� about 5 to 7 p.m.