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|ARIAU JUNGLE TOWERS|
|September 17-20, 2006
Sunday through Wednesday
|With the help of my new Travel Agent, MOM, we found a great Jungle Excursion place – ARIAU JUNGLE TOWERS. Since we have WIFI in the Hotel Tropical, I am able to email to arrange for us to leave Sunday afternoon and return back to the Hotel on Wednesday. They actually have pickup at the river dock at the Hotel!Well, they FORGOT to pick us up at 3pm, so by 4:10 they have someone driving to get us. Our trip TO the Jungle Towers is now very different than most. They take us by car back to Manaus, to the ferry, where we ferry across the Amazon River, then drive 70k to the next pickup point – a bridge. There is a motorized canoe waiting for us with 3 guys in it. It is now dark, as we have a 30-minute canoe ride to the Lodge. Interesting, but I know why they don’t do this with all of the guests!!
Tower 8, Room 303. The room is kind of pie shaped, because the buildings are ROUND, with a center round corridor with the rooms all opening up into the center of the building. We have a small balcony with table, chairs, and hammock. That’s about all we can see in the dark. We are quite a stroll from the Dining Tower, so we hurry back there since dinner has already started when we arrive.
Our guide is Christopher – German, but has been in South America for 23 years. Dinner is great! It is Italian with great lasagna. All of the foods are cooked in cast iron or terra cotta pots right there IN the dining room. The “oven/stove” is a brick structure with cast iron top, and then there are openings on the back side to put the fire. So, under every pot, there is a fire for the actual cooking, then to keep it hot during dinner. I have a picture that better explains it.
Monday Morning • THERE ARE MONKEYS EVERYWHERE!!!
As we go to our 7am breakfast, we cannot believe how many spider monkeys are running around everywhere!! The Towers puts fruit out for them on little towers so they are enticed to come in. I can’t wait to play with them.
INDIGENOUS VILLAGE VISIT
8am, we load in a motorized canoe and travel down the Ariau River, into the Rio Negro to visit a village. The main attraction there was the Rubber Making. An old guy shows us how they cut the rubber tree with “V” grooves to extract the white liquid. Then they only have 2 hours to process the liquid or it is unusable. It is processed by vulcanization — heat and steam. He has a little volcano shaped fire cone with a stick over it, like a skewer. Then he pours the liquid over the stick (with a bowl under it to catch and re-use the run-off). As the liquid heats up, it hardens onto the stick, forming a rubber ball – literally!
There was a huge rubber boom in Brazil from about 1900 to 1910. But an Englishman smuggled a handful of rubber seeds back to Kew Gardens who succeeded in getting them to grow in their Malaysian territories, and the Brazil Rubber Boom Busted.
The indigenous peoples would collect the rubber, form it into balls, then transport big balls of rubber in their canoes to sell to the Rubber Barons. The Rubber Barons became filthy rich!! Manaus is full of very lavish houses and other buildings. I read that the rich men would send their shirts back to Europe for washing and pressing!! That is crazy!!
The little rubber man had used “molds” to form the rubber to make some souvenir rubber items. We were both fascinated at the process, and had to do our part to help him by buying a rubber hat, pocket purse, and a couple small cups.
The smell of the vulcanized rubber is like smoked Gouda cheese. I have 3 bags around our prizes hoping to get them home without everything we own smelling like smoke!
Christopher told us that the people drink the water from the Rio Negro, and are very healthy people. The tannins and acids in the black water actually kill the bad bacteria. (Also keeps the mosquitoes from breeding.) As a humanitarian effort, a group came in and made a drinking water well for the village. Half of the villagers almost died, literally, from the more pure water! There were different bacteria in the water that their bodies were not used to, and it almost killed them. Today, they are more used to the water and can drink it with no problems.
We visited the school where the children stood up and sang us a song. There was of course the handicraft stall where we of course bought a few more trinkets. I bought a pink dolphin painting on canvas, which I can roll up to get home. I really like it.
On the return to the Towers, we stop at one of the many WHITE SAND BEACHES along the Rio Negro. As the waters recede along the river, white beaches appear. The sand is soft and beautiful.
PINK DOLPHIN FEEDING AND SWIMMING
As an add-on for 50 real ($23 US), there is a trip to the Pink Dolphins. OF COURSE, we did this!! They are so wonderful!! On the Ariau River, the Tower has built a floating home for a family who lives there and feeds the dolphins 3 times a day. They have now learned that when they hear the smacking on the water, to come in from the Rio Negro, because it is DINNER TIME.
The adult dolphins are about 9 feet long. They have a big bulge on their heads and a flattened dorsal fin. The pink dolphins cannot do the characteristic “jump” of regular dolphins. Their spines are made differently, like a jointed-type of thing to allow them to “wiggle” through the flooded tree forest during the rainy season in search of food. If they did the big jump, they could actually break their backs! The younger dolphins are gray, so the more pink they are, the older they are. You could tell this by their behavior also. The grayish ones were shyer, where the pink were actually brave.
The Dolphin Man takes 2 at a time down into the water onto a platform where he takes the bucket of fish and “rinses” it into the river – to make the smell. Then he smacks the water with his hand and the fish to “call” the dolphins. After 2 or 3 minutes, you could see the fins and hear the blow sound as they came closer. Then it was just a waiting and watching game as they unannounced stuck their heads and made a little jump out of the water for the fish. AWESOME!! I could have done this all day!
Then we put on life jackets and all got into the river to float down the river and feed them while we floated. We each got 4 more fish to feed. It was such an eerie feeling! Knowing that they were swimming around you somewhere, knowing that at any moment they might brush up against you or go through your legs, or bump your bum, then rush up to take the fish! Many shrieks and squeals from all of us, INCLUDING MICHAEL! The Rio Negro is so dark that you cannot see them unless they are just a few feet from you, then you almost feel them first!
We floated down to the next pickup platform and motored back to the Towers. What an absolutely awesome experience. The best spent $23 of this trip yet!
Again by canoe, Tuesday morning, Christopher takes us up-river to a part of the jungle where he demonstrates the uses of the plants. There are trees or plants for kidney infections, stomach aches, healing of wounds, dyes, paints, chewing gum, etc.
VISIT TO AMAZON INDIAN HOME
The afternoon is another canoe ride, this time to see how an indigenous Indian family lives. We visit a family that has 15 children (1 wife) ranging from 30 years old to 3 years old. They demonstrate MANIOC PROCESSING. Manioc is a HUGE staple to the Amazon people. It is VERY high in protein. We have been served farofa (fried manioc flour) with all sorts of add-ins, ranging from beef to bananas. The first time we ate just a spoonful by itself. BAD!! Like eating a spoonful of dry cornmeal! So we have just been avoiding it most of the time, although you cannot ignore it because it is served with ALL lunch and dinner meals! The correct way to eat the farofa is on top of something else. The Indians eat a diet of fish with manioc flour on top of it, as a way to get the proteins that they need.
The manioc is a root, something like a sweet potato, but yellowish or white. This family had Yellow Manioc. Here is how the processing works:
-Scrape off the peeling
-Run it through a hand-turned wheel grinder
-Take the ground manioc and squeeze it through a press
-Take the liquid and put it in a bottle to separate – the part that floats is CYANIDE!!
-Use the Cyanide for darts for hunting/fishing
-Take the ground manioc and let it dry into flour, put it through a sieve
-Make manioc “cake patties” with the flour.
The wife used a 6 foot diameter cast iron skillet with a fire under it and poured the flour into a round cake shape about 14 inches round, 1 inch thick. It then somehow with the meat melded into a fluffy cake-like thing. She spread a bit of butter on it and cut into pieces to sample. Very good!! As it turns out, this is what we had for breakfast at the Hotel Tropical at an “omelet” station that wasn’t really eggs. We didn’t know WHAT it was! But they made little omelets with add-ins of ham, cheese, onion, tomato, peppers, etc., or you could add fruit or marmalades! Good!
As we leave, the “school bus” comes to drop off 4 children. Oh yes, the “school bus” is a BOAT!!
MIGHTY MICHAEL PIRANHA FISHERMAN!
I was the first to catch a piranha, and on the first cast with my bamboo pole!! Yes, Me!! The non-fisherperson that I am!!! So, with that one under my belt, I QUIT!! So I could just take pix. Now, that sounds more like me, doesn’t it?? Michael on the other hand, showed everyone else up! He caught 7 piranhas. There are 3 colors: red, black, and white. He caught some of all 3 colors. The kid beside him had caught nothing when Michael was up to 5 or 6 fish, so the next one he caught, he handed to Jason to bring in. Then he just gave him his “lucky fishing pole”. That worked once for Jason.
NIGHT CROCODILE HUNTING
After dinner, 22 of us pile into the biggest canoe and Christopher and Alex take us to find a caiman. It was a very unfruitful first 1-1/2 hours!! The gators they found were either too big, too small, too hot, too cold . . . oh, sorry, that is Goldilocks. Anyway, there was some reason why that one would not work. The way they were locating them was to slowly motor along the banks, spot-lighting for glowing eyes. Then they would get close and Alex would DIVE into the river to grab the gator. Literally Dive!! The craziest thing I have seen. I wonder what their workers comp rate would be for this job description?? Also, with the news of adventure-seekers last week, it doesn’t make gator grabbing too attractive! Finally, they get a baby gator about 2 feet long. We get the speech about them, and then get to take turns holding and taking a photo. Glad we went, but were ready to give up at the end and say that we tried!
MONKEYS, MONKEYS EVERYWHERE!!!
Probably the most awesome thing, besides the pink dolphins were the little bare-faced spider monkeys. They couldn’t weigh more than a squirrel does. They are fed by the Towers, so they are not only quite tame, but quite BOLD!! One came into the dining tower at lunch, jumped across a couple of tables to a condiment holder, looked right, looked left, then snatched a white package and darted out the doorway!! Upon closer inspection, we found that the WHITE packages were SUGAR!! That little monkey was conditioned to crave sugar. He could have grabbed salt, pepper, mayonnaise, ketchup, or mustard. But no – he wanted the sugar!! It was so cute, how he looked both ways before grabbing it, like a kid stealing a cookie from a cookie jar.
A big stalk of bananas was kept hanging in the dining tower. I thought they were for US to eat! But no, they were for US, to FEED to the monkeys! At least, that is what I used them for. I had to go thru a learning process though. The 2nd morning we were there, I snagged 1 banana and headed out the door to go downstairs to play with the monkeys. Before I could even get down 1 single step, I was surrounded by the critters. I had 1 jump onto my head, and another onto my arm. Quite startled, I didn�t pay attention as to how tight of a grip I had on the banana. Well, let’s just say that I had to go back inside and get another! The guy just grabbed the whole thing away from me!! So, I was smarter the 2nd time. I put the bananas in my camera bag and zipped it up tight!! So there, try to get them from me now!
The little convenience store also sold unsalted banana chips and nuts to feed. So, every free minute we had between excursions, we were out playing with the monkeys.
MICHAEL LEAVES TO GO MEET THE TRUCK IN BELEM
Wednesday morning, Michael leaves on the boat to go back to the Hotel Tropical, and then fly on to Belem, as the truck is supposed to be in tonight. We discussed it, and decided that since we were waiting on a DHL package to arrive from Mom, that I might as well wait at the Tower, as opposed to the Hotel Tropical in Manaus. It is actually cheaper at the Tower, because the meals are included.
TOWER JUNGLE WALKWAYS
Today is my free day. No scheduled excursions!! I was really disappointed not to have enough free time while Michael was here to go on the elevated walkways that connect all of the different Jungle Towers. There is 7k of elevated walkways – some are double-decker. Right now it is dry season, so the walkways are standing probably 20 feet above the muddy ground. Christopher said that at the end of June, the water was lapping at the boards of the walkways. During this time, the excursion canoes pull right up to the main Tower complexes where the reception and dining towers are. Now the excursions leave from the dock at Tower 1.
First I climbed the lookout tower above the dining tower. There were great views of the building complexes and walkways. There is/was actually a tennis court behind the reception at one time, but one end of it is completely fallen in.
Lugging full camera gear, I head off from Tower 8, away from the main complexes. Just past our tower is Helicopter pad #1. Then there was a concrete structure partially completed, but abandoned. It looked like it had not been worked on in a couple of years. I had heard that the owner started to put in a 5-star hotel, and then decided to put the money into maintenance of the existing buildings. From what I have seen, there could still be a lot of maintenance done, but with the ever present water, I think it must be a never-ending project. I find a “beach” area with concession stand, picnic tables, etc., along a white sand beach. It looked abandoned and not maintained. Then I spot some spider monkeys, or should I say they spot me. Out comes the bag of banana chips – do you really think I would go on a walk without being prepared with a little bit of bribe food? At one point I had to just give the bag up, as I had about 5 monkeys ON me, clamoring for the chips. I guess I will have to not bring out a full bag next time. I got some GREAT close photos. They started playing in the trees beside the walkway. I watched for a long time, but must push on, since I heard that someone saw a sloth yesterday.
The walkway continues back into the jungle, then past a couple of tree-house cabins. These are individual lodgings, as opposed to the Towers with hotel rooms. We visited a tree-house yesterday, of a couple that we met. For the extra money, it was not really much different from our room. They had a private “pool” which was more like an outdoor tub. It was 6 feet x 5 feet. When it rained, it dirtied the pool too much to use, as they don’t chlorinate the water. So, we were quite happy to be in our great room.
Next was the “Pyramid”, a 3-story glass pyramid building used for “meditation” is what I was told. It had some kind of dedication plaque, so I think it was built and donated to the Towers. There is another helicopter pad here. Then I spotted my first hummingbird here! It darted away, and as I stood there pondering why there had not been more hummingbirds, I saw something move in the big tree above me. I was hoping for more monkeys! BUT, it was a SLOTH!! Yea! I had walked a long way with no glimpses, and had almost given up on spotting one.
This sloth wa s 3-toed, brown stripes on his back with a kind of orange triangular pattern also on the back. Christopher said that it was a male, to be patterned like this. He was very high in the tree, and actually moving quite fast, for a sloth. He moved where I could not see him any longer, but then I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, down lower in the trees.
Sitting, well, moving very slowly, in the tree pretty close to the walkway was a very cute sloth. He was different from the other: smaller, gray and white, matching the tree bark. In fact, there were times as I watched him that I could not see him ON the tree. He came down closer, then moved to another tree with a fork and just plopped his little fat bum into the fork of the tree. He sat, and just sat! So, I took all of the pix that I could stand, and left him to be. This was so wonderful!
The walkway loop continued back up to Tower 1, where there was another Lookout Tower. From here, the walkway goes into a double-decker, so I took the upper deck back to the Dining Tower for lunch. This afternoon, I had planned on lounging at the pool and catching some rays, but I could see from the deck that they had drained the pool and were cleaning it. Since they don’t use chemicals, this routine is very frequent, about every 2 or 3 day. I doubt if it will be filled by this afternoon. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t matter. A storm came up at lunchtime and dumped a bunch of rain and cooled the temperature off into the lower higher 70’s or lower 80’s.
Well, I guess I will just have to spend my afternoon playing with the monkeys! Oh darn!! It is very eerie here when the rest of the guests are out on excursions. They leave at 8am and 2pm. This afternoon, I am the only guest NOT on an excursion. This gives me time to peruse the gift shop. The girl who works there, Karina, speaks English. We strike up a conversation and she comes out on the deck to visit with me where I am feeding the monkeys. The next 2-1/2 hours, I spend feeding monkeys, parrots, and macaw!! Karina and Tati (Tatiana) make sure I have an ample supply of food for the macaw – Brazil nuts!! Yes, the macaw can crack a brazil nut with their beak!! Now, think how that would feel if it was your finger!! We feed the shelled Brazil nuts to the monkeys. Then there is the matter of the Parrot! He is Tati’s pal. He actually snuggles with her and makes a cooing sound. Crazy!! Tati opens me a coconut and pours me the milk. What I can’t drink, we feed to the Parrot. Yes, really! I have pictures. Then she whacks open the coconut with a huge knife and I eat as much coconut meat as I can. The rest I give to the macaw, monkeys, and parrot.
Tati is a very cute young Amazonian Indian girl. I find out that we missed the big welcoming party that is usually given at arrival to the Towers, when we were forgotten and had to be driven to the hotel! Tati dresses up in a feathered Indian outfit, 4 guys play instruments, and she dances a welcoming dance and gives each guest a beaded necklace. She invites me to come with her to meet the boat and watch. She makes sure that I get a necklace and one for Michael. She is the “Amazon” girl on 4 of the Ariau Tower postcards. The cutest one sold out in 3 months!
This afternoon has really been great! I met 2 really nice girls, and had a wonderful time with the animals. I also got to give a bit of English lesson. Karina is responsible for posting any signs that need to be done in English at the Towers. The reception area is closed for remodeling. The English signs telling you this and where it is temporarily located were very confusing. She asks me how to say correctly in English, then goes and takes down all of the signs because she is embarrassed. She said that she doesn’t want someone to say, “I wonder who put these words on these signs that doesn’t know English”. I thought it was so funny! How can we English speaking guests, that don’t know a lick of Portuguese, expect everyone’s English to be perfect? I assure her that no one was making fun of her, and that we just appreciate the fact that she speaks the English that she does.
I bought 2-piece lace thing from her gift shop. I only wanted 1 of the pieces, so I gave her the other. She was SO thrilled. It made me happy to see her light up when I told her that I wanted her to have it. I have her email, so I can send photos as we go along the trip. We had a few long chats about working conditions, wages, living conditions, etc. She is really sweet!
Last night was sad. I hate to leave. This place is absolutely wonderful! I would like to come back when the water is higher.
Thursday morning, as I leave the dining Tower, Karina chases me down and gives me two little gift bags with Amazon trinkets in them. Also, Tati has found 1 of the sold-out postcards, her last one, and has written me a note on it. I could just cry. These girls are really something special!
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