I’m in between two extremes and it’s absolutely incredible to the point that I can’t quite believe what my eyes are witnessing. Untouched jungle sits behind me while a city freezes under an impressive lightning display up ahead. Thundering towards it at speed is us, not yet under showers but anxiously prepared for the inevitable downpour that will soon hit. The city, small with the occasional jagged edges of concrete, fades into mist and I’ve decide to write this now because I don’t want to forget the details while our navigator – a local man (I’m guessing in his 60s) – carves our canoe through the jungle river passing large branches – or hungry reptiles – which drift upstreamn. Alligators and piranhas are a long, long way from home. 18 hours, a handful of planes and a boat trip across the Amazon River, and we were really here. Stood in the middle of not quite sure where, ready to be fully surrounded in authentic jungle life – at least that’s what I was telling myself.
My first impression of the Amazon came from the airplane window. Cruising higher than mosquito bites but low enough to capture the magnificent vein-like meanders that naturally carve through land, it was all I imagined it to look like and so much more.
Brazil is the largest of the Latin American countries. Covering nearly half (47.3 per cent) of South America, it is more than 15 times larger in size than the U.K. Most visitors to the country often limit themselves to Rio de Janeiro, which in my opinion is somewhat of a tourist move because Brazil is so much more than white sandy beaches and sunshine. There’s a whole jungle out there and the popular Olympic-host city merely scratches the surface.
Nature is what rules this part of the world. It’s only a historical fact that the country was formally discovered by a Portuguese explorer called Pedros Alvaares Cabral in 1,500. Contrary to popular belief, though, facts often fib a bit. Reminding you who the real founder really is are the amphibians, insects, reptiles, predators and pray alike who may lie hidden but are never unheard in the humid air.
Without drastic evolution – a new set of water lenses, developing thick-scaled skin, large powerful jaws and an all-encompassing appetite – mankind would have no hope in surviving these waters unaided.
We weren’t here just to see jungle life, though, we wanted to experience it up close. Taking with us the bare necessities – insect repellent, suncream and water – we started this journey on the edge of the port, where our guide was waiting.
No more than thirty minutes after being picked up and the bate had been cut from the back of the boat, we had crossed the strong tidal river. Fully surrounded by thick winding trees, murky water and whatever lurked beneath, it was all starting to look, feel and smell very jungle-like…
I’ve never been an expert at fishing. As the engine was cut, I flashed back to when I was 11 years old, standing on a large rock in Largs, Scotland, with my dad who was teaching me how to fish. My success was of course capped at zero, which was fine because I wouldn’t have known what to do if I had caught anything anyway. Plus, we were able to rely on the fish n’ chip shops on the way home to feed the disappointment.
13 years later, and still no fish caught to my name, the Amazon jungle didn’t feel as forgiving to poor hunting ability. The water became still, bate attached onto the end of rusty hooks and with our bamboo canes as rods at the ready, we waited ominously.
I have to admit, with the equipment we were provided, the pessimist in me wasn’t holding his breath. Nevertheless, despite my doubts, the first catch of the day was made by our in-the-know guide and piranhas were on the menu tonight. As our rods dangled over the side of the boat, the jaw-clamping predators teased us into frustration. Our reactions to the aggressive tugs were no match for some of the wise flesh-eating monsters who took the bate but swam right passed the trap.
Daylight soon turned to dusk, and in true jungle style, we caught what we needed and left nature to take care of the rest.
As the sun disappeared over the horizon, larger beasts were awakening, alligators. Having given strict instruction to our guide not to harm the reptiles, our search for the night hunters began. Within no more than ten minutes of his flashlight reflecting off the brown water, our guide caught the scent and two beady eyes that emerged from across the river. We approached slowly and our guide leaned over the bow of the boat as we drifted close to the bank. To our amazement, his stealth-like hands launched into the water and brought the alligator to the surface.
“I can see their eyes reflecting off my torch” is what I made out from his dynamic hand gestures.
I stood in amazement as his eyes followed mine and I almost fell overboard as the man brought the predator right up to my face. I didn’t get a choice. Either I held the scaled monster or released him into the boat. Before long, we said our goodbyes and released the creature from the deep back to his home, called it a day and headed for the shore, which ever direction that was.
Our unforgettable experience of Amazonian life ended at a local school on the way back, which was positioned on a floating pontoon. In the depth of night, we ate our piranha fritters while listening to local music before powering downstream towards the thunderstorm that was breaking over Manaus.
Tips: Don’t go for the most popular excursion. Our experience of exploring the Amazon river was led by a man and his son on a small boat. We paid 500 Reals (£150) for four hours. We were the only people on the trip and that, I believe, made all the difference. Bring water, though, as you will be sitting in the wilderness for a while. Be patient and remember that you are in nature’s home. Enjoy the surroundings as much as the fishing experience itself. Insect repellent is essential to ensure that mosquitoes the size of planes don’t have your ankles for dinner. Keep limbs inside the boat at all time for obvious reasons…
Getting there: LATAM airlines operates flights from Heathrow to Sao Paulo. From there you can connect to a domestic flight to Manaus (18 hours in total).