Written by Denny Custer.
So it is 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon in Okemos. Tis also 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon where we are…in a lounge chair on the sundeck of the MS Explorer, feet propped up on the railing, watching the rainforest along the Amazon slide by. What an exciting moment, just to think…we are not home, we are here – and this is THE Amazon!
Our flights took us from Detroit to Dallas, into Sao Paulo and then by Varig Airlines up to Manaus, Brazil, a “small” oasis of 1.5 million people in the middle of absolutely nowhere. While traveling from the airport to our ship, there was a great stop and tour at the famous Manaus Opera House, an icon of the old rubber boom days.
Our “little red ship” Explorer is owned by Abercrombie and Kent and sails all over the world, including the Antarctic region. There were 16 lecturer/naturalists, 64 passengers and crew to round out about 100 total onboard. The cruise season begins with a long trip from Belem, Brazil to Iquitos Peru (about 2,000 miles), than a shorter 11 day trip from Iquitos to Manaus. Then they go from Manaus back to Iquitos (our trip) and lastly a long one back to Belem. We would strongly recommend either of the two shorter trips as being the best choice. In 2002, the Explorer will be the only cruise ship on the Amazon and in 2003, Explorer will be the only cruise ship on the Amazon and in 2003, Explorer will only do the two long trips.
The staff is superb, the food is superb, the lecturer/naturalists are superb, the ship’s accommodations are comfortable with an excellent lounge and lecture hall. Our activities were headed up by Suzana Machado D’Olveira (appropriately known as “Queen of the Amazon”), the Expedition Leader. Her knowledge, her professionalism, her devotion to the people of the river, her experience of 20 years in this role make her one of the most fascinating people you will ever meet.
One very basic piece of information is that the Amazon crests in February and is at low ebb in November. The average differential in height of the river is 40′ in that time span. That, coupled with the fact that the Amazon is equal in flow to 12 Mississippi’s gives an insight into the power this river has over its surroundings. So our environment to investigate is a “flooded” rain forest, with tributaries and little bayous easily accessible. And investigate them you do.
Passengers are sent of in Zodiacs usually twice a day (early morning and mid-late afternoon), with one night trip. The “designer” zodiacs carry birders, photographers, fisherfolk, and the balance go as general explorers. What you see and/or look for is complemented by a series of lectures (one or two a day of 30 minutes to an hour in duration). The lecturers are experts who are able to tailor the message to a general audience with excellent audio visual aids. One that lasted an hour, on the subject of “ants”, was absolutely fantastic.
Also during your trip, you visit several local villages and meet some of the people. There is an opportunity to swim (yup, even ole fraidy cat Den swam with the Piranhas) and take either slower interpretive or fast paced jungle walks. I can only tell you that after walking for an hour and 45 minutes through the jungle…that one is totally drenched in sweat, not rain.
We did see all sorts of birds, two or three sloths, a few monkeys, one small Caiman that we brought into our zodiac for inspection. One of the local Indians we happened on had a pygmy marmoset on her head (world’s smallest primate) and another such situation found us petting a little anteater that was cute as a minute.
There were some very pretty flowers but not the plethora of orchids that we thought we would see. The most amazing plant was the 7 foot diameter Victoria water lily. In the jungle walks, the rich cacophony of sound I expected to hear only turned out to be the occasional bird calls, it was very quiet. We saw one green tree boa, from a distance on our night trip. The only other snake to be see was an Anaconda, in the Letica, Columbia Zoo.
We lucked out on the weather with only one short time of drizzle on an early morning trip. We just did not get daily showers that are prevalent. Highest temperature was about 85 degrees, this being 2.5 degrees south of the equator! With a little care in dressing with long pants and long sleeved shirts or use of bug spray, insects were just not a problem.
People can make or break a trip and the ship’s staff, the passengers and the natives we met all combined to make this a most memorable, fascinating and worthwhile trip.