Stories from the Amazon

  • Rio Negro and Amazon River
    The meeting of two rivers, the Rio Negro and the Amazon near Manaus, Brazil.

    Jacobs Gets a New Perspective of the Amazon Rain Forest

    When our ship entered the port area of Manaus, small boats circled it with photojournalists snapping pictures. It felt strange being on the other side of the camera lens. The ship filled with Haitian immigrants was newsworthy.

    For several years, I have looked at a map and pondered the city of Manaus.

    Located in the heart of the Amazon jungle in Brazil, Manaus has always appeared to be remote and far from anywhere.

    The Brazilian government was also very aware of this fact and designated Manaus a tax-free zone. So, anything imported to Manaus is not taxed. The result has been an economic boost for the jungle city not seen since the days of the rubber boom.

    “The city map shows a juice place is a couple of blocks from here,” said Deja, one of my travel companions on the boat.

    Hungry for something besides rice, beans and chicken, which had been our diet for the last five days, we set off to find food.

    I thought, “I can carry my load a few blocks.”

    Ten blocks later, in the shadow of the Amazon Theatre (opera house) built in the late 1800s during the rubber boom, we found the juice shop. I was soaked with sweat. Exhausted, I found a hostel one block from the shop.

    I could go no farther.

    And for a week, I didn’t. I was too sick to move. I always allow extra time in my schedule for such things.

    Once the weight-loss program was complete, I set out to explore the Amazon Rainforest surrounding Manaus.

    First up was a canopy tour to explore the upper reaches of the forest.

    Dangling by a rope, I spent a morning in the domain of birds and other creatures. As I looked across the treetops toward the Rio Negro (Black River), I felt a sense of freedom and peace. A butterfly glided by gracefully and seemed to be living without a care in the world.

    Eventually, my guide Leonide Principe lowered me into a hammock tied 60 feet up in a tree.

    “Up here, you are the guest of a special world,” Principe said.

    The quietness of the treetop was intoxicating and left me feeling that I didn’t want to ever come down.

    Leonide’s wife, Vanessa, controlled the ropes far below at the base of the large caiapo tree.

    “This must be what it’s like to be a monkey,” I thought, “to watch the people below looking up into the trees.”

    My next encounter in the jungle took me across the “meeting of the rivers” where the Rio Negro and the Amazon join together. 

    Our small boat slowed, which allowed me to dip my hand into the water.

    The dark water of the Rio Negro was much cooler than the sediment-filled tan water of the Amazon.

    “There is a six-to-seven degree difference between the two rivers,” the boat driver said.

    As my hand moved in the water from one river to the next, I was struck by the very noticeable difference.

    Soon I was back in the Amazon jungle of Brazil in the Juma Reserve, which is the same size as Denmark.

    “Do not touch anything,” said Paul, my guide. “The forest is filled with things that can bite, sting or poke you.”

    “Here we go again,” I thought.

    Paul approached a tree that had a huge brown ant nest attached to its trunk.

    “This is the topiba ant. They are very tiny and used by the indigenous people of the forest,” Paul said.

    He then gently placed his hand on the nest. Hundreds of ants soon covered his hand and arm.

    “The local people use the ant to repel mosquitoes,” Paul said, as he began to smash the ants and rub them over his body.

    “The ants produce a folic acid that keeps the mosquitoes away and also camouflages their smell when they go hunting.”

    Unable to resist, I slowly put my hand on the ant nest. Soon I could feel thousands of tiny ant legs crawling on my hand and arm. When I rubbed my hand to crush the ants, I could smell the pleasant odor of the folic acid.

    As we continued down the trail, I felt bites on my neck and back.

    “I forgot to tell you,” Paul said, “if you don’t crush all the ants, they will begin to bite.”

    “Now he tells me,” I said aloud as I danced down the trail.

    Dean in hammock hanging from tree
    The Amazon opera house in Manaus, Brazil stands as a testimony to the wealth of the rubber boom in the late 1800's (left).
    Suspended almost 70 feet up in a tree, Dean Jacobs takes a break in a hammock while exploring the upper canopy of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil (right).

    Fremont Tribune

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