Sunday – November 23, 2008 –
This morning my brother and I woke up early in Ipanema for our transfer to Rio de Janeiro’s Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. Our transfer picked us up bright and early at 3:45 a.m.! Upon arrival at the airport, we checked in for our very first flight with TAM, Brazil’s largest airline.
Our flight left at 6:15 a.m. and arrived in São Paulo at 7:35 a.m. While in São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport, we grabbed some breakfast. The airport was recently renovated and is one of the nice airports I have been to anywhere. São Paulo is the largest city in South America and the financial capital of Brazil. It kind of reminded me of New York with all of the skyscrapers that we saw when we departed at 9:30 a.m.
We were on our way to Manaus in the Amazon. Manaus is the capital of Amazonas state, Brazil’s largest state. We arrived at 11:20 a.m. and it was steamy in this city located about three degrees south of the equator. Upon arrival after grabbing our bags, we took a taxi to the city’s river port. It was then that it finally hit us we were in the Amazon! There at the Sheraton by the port, we grabbed lunch and joked that it would be our last meal before getting lost in the jungle!
Manaus is a very intriguing city situated right in the middle of the Amazon at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. The city itself is located on the north bank of the Negro River about 11 miles from where the Negro merges with the Solimões, An important river port, Manaus is 900 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the most populous city of Amazonas state with more than 2 million inhabitants and the seventh most populous city in the nation. Not only is the city known for its port and Amazon tourism, but is also for its rubber industry.
At 3 p.m., an Amazon River taxi picked us up to transport us to the Ariau Towers jungle resort, located about 35 miles northwest of Manaus on the right bank of the Rio Negro near the beginning of the Anavilhanas Archipelago. It was amazing how quickly the city faded away in the distance as the river was swallowed into the jungle.
Sitting in a lounge chair on the deck of the ship, I enjoyed the magnificent river views while reading about the Amazon. I learned several interesting facts. More than 98% of the “World’s Lungs,” or 1.5 million square kilometers of the Amazon jungle, remains as untouched as when Brazil was discovered. In fact, the Amazon jungle is the largest tropical rainforest on Earth with the largest biodiversity on the planet with more than 250 species of mammals, 2,000 fish species and 1,000 bird species. However, it is fragile and increasingly threatened by development.
The Rio Negro is navigable for 450 miles. During the rainy season, approximately April to October, the river is a succession of lagoons, long islands, channels, rapids and whirlpools. However, in our current dry season season, we saw many sandy beaches for swimming, sunbathing and relaxing. The Rio Negro also supports a signifant fishing industry.
After reading for a while, I drifted off to sleep in my deck chair. Something about the heat does it to me every time. I woke up as we approached the Ariau Towers around 5 p.m.
Since we booked this jungle resort with a Florida travel agency specializing in Brazilian travel, I hadn’t read up too much Ariau. I was absolutely shocked by the scale of the resort. The resort is Brazil’s largest eco-friendly treetop hotel. Nestled in tree canopy above the Amazon River, it is the only hotel resort built completely at tree top level in the jungle. It is included in Patricia Clark’s famous travel book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”
Dr. Francisco Ritta Bernardino built the resort in 1986 under the inspiration of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He wanted to construct a resort that would raise awareness and preserve the fragility of the Amazon. Utilizing the techniques of Amazonian natives, they built the resort on stilts in the treetops. Originally a hotel with one tower and four suites, Ariau Towers is now the world’s largest treetop resort.
We couldn’t believe how big it was. After docking, a driver named Gabriel appeared in an electric golf cart transported us and our gear to the check-in desk at the main lodge. The lodge is connected by more than 5 miles of wooden catwalks that meander through the Amazon’s thick canopy of trees and forest. The authentic Brazilian décor and resort amenities, along with panoramic views of the Amazon River and Rio Negro, make the resort a top draw. Like other guests, we would be staying in a treetop suite in with a private balcony overlooking the Amazon.
The resort hosts a myriad of facilities including observation towers, amphitheaters, a cyber café, a gift shop, treetop swimming pools, restaurants, bars, a business center and nature exhibits amongst all of the boardwalks. Unbelievably, the resort even offers up four helipads for the discerning visitors. A number of VIP guests had visited including President Clinton, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Lopez, Helmut Kohl, Olivia Newton John, Isabel Allende, Jacques Cousteau and Bill Gates. A number of television shows including “Survivor: The Amazon” had been filmed nearby.
After checking in, we enjoyed a welcome reception in the dining room and a welcome tour at 5:30 p.m. We met our host guide for our stay, Alan Kardec. Then we had some free time to explore the resort until dinner at 7 p.m. The Brazilian buffet was outstanding with many local types of fish, fruits we had never seen before and amazing desserts. A talented guitar player sang several Brazilian songs like Chove Chuva, Aquarela do Brasil, Garota de Ipanema, a Portuguese version of Hotel California and English version on U2’s “With or Without You.” We got to meet some of the other guests who would be staying with us during our time at the resort.
That evening after dinner, we loaded into motor powered canoes to go caiman (alligator) spotting. It turned out that the brother of Gabriel, our porter from the day before, was our boat driver. When we shined spotlights on the riverbanks, we could see many sets of eyes staring back at us. We had on our boat a guy who they called the “Alligator Man” guiding us. To our astonishment, he jumped out of the boat into the water and wrestled a small caiman as he pinned against the bank. Then he brought it in the boat. Our guide Alan explained features of the caiman while the “Alligator Man” let us take turns holding it with its mouse closed! Amazing!
After the night tour, we went back took showers from Amazon collected water in our tree house suite. We didn’t have air conditioning, but a fan kept the night temperatures reasonable as we slept. It was nice not having the distraction of a television. Instead we were entertained listening to the symphonic hum of Amazonian insects and birds. The best natural concert I have ever heard!