With Arms Wide Open

Tuesday 20th March 2018

Breakfast was served between 7am and 8am in time for the morning’s excursion.  

After last night’s wonderful grub, we were looking forward to our breakfast so much we were there bang on opening time.

We sat at the same table. The one with the tapier.

Jean our guide who was to accompany us on the “Ride in a regional canoe through the Amazonian creeks and flooded forests” excursion came over to introduce himself. We arranged where and when to meet.  

On the way up to the restaurant we were discussing how we were going to show restraint and resist the temptation to stuff our faces. The lack of willpower was shocking as we let ourselves get carried away again. I stuffed down three plates full!

The first was full of savouries like a cheese and tomato omelette in the shape of a muffin, followed by fresh fruits such as papaya, water melon and pineapple slices. Then a traditional breakfast dish of tapioquinha, a cassava pancake filled with whatever took your fancy.

It was self-service at the pancake station, with a little sign with suggested fillings, such as cheese and a dried tropical fruit called Tucumã. That ticked my exotic box more than the cheese and jam option.

 I constructed them as suggested placing some slices of Prato cheese in the centre of the pancake, sprinkling over a few pieces of the tucumã slices, then folding the pancake over in half and placing it in the griddle press.

As always, waiting for something to cook feels like it takes forever. This was made even slower as the cassava pancakes refuse to colour. I was expecting them to turn a golden brown as most things that are toasted, but they stayed pretty much the same shade of beige. It was only when the molten cheese oozed out that I was they had cooked enough.

 It was all washed down with a selection of Amazonian fruit juices such as taperebá, soursop and a “jungle berry” juice.

Sharing our table with us this morning, also enjoying its breakfast was one of those amazing insects that look like a leaf! It was a false leaf katydid and it was unbelievable how leaf-like it appeared. We didn’t see it arrive, so I guess it had been there all along, cleverly disguised.

We moved to reception ready for our canoe trip. Julie was getting a little anxious about it. She used to canoe when she was young but more recently her experiences with small boats have been rather ungraceful.

Jean arrived and checked we all had our life jackets with us. Another lady was also doing the excursion with us. Her name was Mary, and she was from Ireland. She wasn’t travelling on her own, it was just her husband Colm didn’t fancy the canoeing.

We followed Jean down to the jetty where we sat down in a long narrow boat with a canopy over our heads. The driver started the engine and we tootled off towards the middle of the Rio Negro where we could see some canoes tied up.

At first we thought we had to canoe in the choppy waters of this vast river but thankfully that wasn’t the case. Jean hooked up two of the canoes and tied them to the boat before setting off downstream to find a suitable creek to paddle up.

We took the second turning on the right and pulled into calmer waters. We continued a little further until we reached a fork in the river. This is where we pulled up and got into our two-man wooden canoe.

I stepped in first and sat in the back. Then it was Julie’s turn. Holding my hand with one and holding onto the boat with the other, she planted one foot firmly in the centre of the canoe. There was a pause before she took the next step bringing her other foot down into the canoe.  She let go of the boat and sat down. A near perfect embarkation!

We pushed off and that’s when the fear gripped her. She completely stiffened up, sat bolt upright, grasping her seat with both hands. She was absolutely petrified.

Being rigid with fear it was making it worse.  Her over reactions to the slightest of movements caused us to wobble even more.

She had the choice to return to the boat but her determination to see this through kept her in the canoe. We followed our guide Jean who was rowing the other canoe with Mary.

It didn’t get any better. Julie couldn’t let go of her seat. Her paddle lay unused across the canoe.

“I can’t do this” she said absolutely petrified.  

I continued to paddle, trying to keep up with Jean who was literally born in a canoe.

We crossed to the opposite side and paddled in between some flooded trees. Unfortunately, we hit a submerged branch hidden from view and got the canoe a little stuck. Julie was beginning to panic and was moments away from jumping off and swimming to shore. Luckily, with a little tutoring on reversing from Jean, we untangled ourselves and continued our journey.

After that incident Julie took on the role of pilot, guiding me through the obstacles.

It helped her to settle a little. Enough to give her the confidence to try and pick up the paddle. She had a go but couldn’t let go of her seat long enough to reach out.

We pulled up to one side to admire the beauty of the jungle. We chatted for a while. Julie talked about how she used to canoe and about the time she got caught in a storm whilst canoeing off the coast of Anglesey. She feared for her life. 

After a while Jean asked if we wanted to continue further into the creek or turn back. Julie didn’t want to be the one to bring the journey to an end, but Mary graciously said that she was happy to return as she suffered with a bad back.

We turned around and made our way back to the boat. It wasn’t as far going back as the boat had followed us some way into the creek much to Julie’s joy. She was so happy to get off the canoe and into the safety of the boat.

Jean asked if we wanted a photo of us in the canoe but there was no stopping Julie from getting off.  However, I reversed myself back out again for the photo op.

Back in the boat we tied up the two canoes and began to make our way back to the lodge. Seconds later the engine stalled and wouldn’t restart! We faced the possibility of having to canoe all the way back which would have been unbearable for Julie.

The vultures were circling, but of course we needn’t have worried. Jean had a look at the propeller and saw that the rope used to tie up the canoes had got itself tangled in the blades. After a minute or two untangling then we were safely on our way back out of the creek and on the main thoroughfare of the Rio Negro.

There seemed to be more boats on the river now. We passed one carrying about four passengers, towing another smaller boat, with another even smaller inside. They all waved and smiled as we steamed past.

We continued past the jetty from which we left this morning, which was a little confusing, past the infinity pool from where Colm waved at his wife Mary and we moored at the floating deck.

Even though she wasn’t technically on dry land Julie was relieved to be out of the boat and could take the life-jacket off. It was only 10:30am and with our next excursion not schedule for another four and a half hours we had plenty of time to relax.

We had been told by the girl who gave us the quick tour of the resort that it was ok to swim in the river. The water can even be a ridiculous 32C in temperature.  We quickly nipped back to our room, got changed into our swimwear and returned to the pontoon.

I can’t swim to save my life, but I feel confident enough to bob about with my life-jacket. I’ve done something similar in the past, in the middle of Maelog Lake on Anglesey, about 5am after drinking all night. We watched the sunrise. It was a memorable moment.

This too was memorable. The water was surprisingly warm. There was a strange colour to it. You could see how the Amazonian dolphins’ pale-skin looked even more pink through the water. It was almost tea like which made sense as it was rich in tannins from decaying plants.  

It was also acidic. Not acidic to the point of killing all the fish or dissolving my skin but the higher pH caused by the humic acid was enough to inhibit the mosquito population. We were so confident of this fact that we hadn’t bothered with any anti-malarial tablets for this trip. The advice we had been given was that it was low-risk.

We were also hoping there weren’t many waterborne parasites in the river.  

I didn’t stay in the water for too long. A good job really because after coming out I read a notice saying that it’s advisable that you don’t get in the river wearing your life-jacket as it could at times have a strong current.

Julie can swim and was really enjoying being in the river. Swimming in the Amazon was such an unforgettable experience.

Back on the floating deck we dried ourselves off and had a cold beer each. It was a brand called Cerpa. They had two varieties, Tijuca a standard lager with standard taste, and a premium Export brew which was surprisingly good. I mean proper good.

Julie had brought her knitting down with her. It was a pattern for a stripy snake which she had done several times before. She had grandchild number 3 (Freya) waiting for this one to be born.

 We sat marvelling at the Rio Negro for a while. It was amazing to think that it started its journey over a thousand miles away in Columbia, going on to form the border with Venezuela, flowing through the Amazon basin to here, before it meets the Rio Solimões and surrenders its identity to the Rio Amazonas in a natural wonder known as “the meeting of the rivers” where the dark waters bleeds into the muddiness.

At 12pm we relocated to the infinity pool. It was such a statement of luxury. Here in the middle of the rainforest they had an infinity pool.

 Its water was much colder in comparison to the river. Julie continued to knit her multi-coloured snake whilst I caught up with writing up this journal. It was wonderfully peaceful.

Time flew, and it was soon time for lunch.


We draped our Welsh dragon towels to dry over the side of the restaurant’s balcony, making the place look untidy!

Lunch was once again a wonderful selection of food. I filled my plate with a vast selection of salads, the best was this delicious potato salad which took me by surprise.  Potato salad is not usually my thing!

For my second plateful I filled it with an array of warm side dishes like cabbage and apple, carrots with ginger and lime, and some sauté broccoli with garlic.

It was rounded off with a tasty dessert of Crème de Cupuaçu com chocolate. 

Julie went for the Surubim fish with a “jambu” sauce which she found to be sublime.

We had another couple of hours before our afternoon excursion, so we returned to our bungalow.


Along we way we spotted this green lizard coming from underneath our hut. It was such as beautiful colour. Its head and tail were grey-brown but in the middle, it was such a vivid green. It would dart away but only a little before coming to a stop, like it was playing musical statues. Then off it would frantically scamper before stopping again, trying to blend into the landscape.

It was quite large. About 20cm nose to tail I’m sure. It was a Giant Ameiva also known locally as an Amazon Racerunner. It was a stunning creature.

Back in our room we enjoyed a bit of a snooze, I swung in the hammock for most of it.

At 3pm we put on our camouflage life-jackets and walked up to reception where our guide Rob, (short for Robhino) was waiting for us. Our excursion this afternoon was described as a “Tour through the archipelago in seek of the pink and grey dolphins”. We were looking forward to this one.

It was only the two of us. “You are having a private tour” joked Rob.

We set off up river, cutting across the Rio Negro into the Anavilhanas National Park sailing up the first main river. I say river but it was still the water of the Rio Negro that had flooded this entire area creating hundreds of islands. It’s often described as the Anavilhanas archipelago.


After a while we took a shortcut along a narrow channel through an igapós or flooded forest, a watery path through the woods. Our driver César cautiously navigated our way through whilst Rob was on the lookout for any wildlife. It was very atmospheric almost magical especially when a huge incandescent blue butterfly flew across our bow. 


He must have incredible eyesight as he spotted a bird high up in the canopy. At first as I couldn’t see it anywhere. Rob took my camera and took a photo. “It’s right in the centre” he said.

I still couldn’t see it but at least I now knew where to look.


With my zoom lens I then focused on where he showed me and there it was, a lovely black bird with a red-orange breast and black and white tail feathers. Rob called it a Chogum.

Deeper through the forest we travelled. Rob pointed out another bird, a red-capped Manakin that’s also known as a “Michael Jackson” bird because it has a habit of performing a “moonwalk” courtship dance. Unfortunately, it flew away before we could get a closer look.

We emerged out of the flooded forest to the other side into another wide expanse of water. We speeded up and headed deeper into the National Park.


We slowed down every time we saw some wildlife. First it was a Tiger Heron, so called not because it has stripes, but it had a reddish-brown colour on its upper half. It’s young does have a more orange and black plumage.

Then we saw a very impressive bird that Rob called a “Fishing Eagle” but is better known as an Osprey. It looked majestic as it flew past.

We have Ospreys in Wales, not many, but we do have them.


Whilst we had slowed down for the osprey show Rob spotted a fruit tree. “Would you like to try some Amazon fruit?” he asked. We picked off some plum coloured fruits off this tree. “They are called Cajurana” he explained. Rob went first to prove that they were edible then I followed. 

They were ripe and juicy with a slight tartness. I must have eaten four or five. Julie didn’t fancy them. Similar to a plum they had a stone inside which we just threw back into the river.


We moved on, turning left into another channel finally on the lookout for dolphins. We chugged along slowly, looking intently at the water. “There’s one!” said Rob. By the time we turned our gaze in the direction he was pointing all we could see were the ripples of where it had been. “It was a botos, a grey one, a big one” he added, making the sense of disappointment worse!

We hung around for a while in case it would re-appear, but it didn’t.

Further we went until we reached a place Rob described as the largest lake in the area. Finally, we did get to see a dolphin. It was only a fleeting moment where its dorsal fin broke out of the water. Another grey one, not the famous pink dolphin of the Amazon.  We couldn’t help but feel it was a bit of an anti-climax.

Just as we were about to leave we did see one in the distance jump clear out of the water. It happened in a flash and no sooner did we see it, it was gone, never to return. After such a long time scouring for anything it was quite a thrill. 

“That was also a grey one” explained Rob “the pink ones don’t do that”


We gave up on our quest to see a pink river dolphin and returned the way we came catching glimpses of some more wildlife along the way. We saw quite a few Great Egrets, leggy long-necked skinny birds.

Instead of turning into the flooded forest we stayed on the wider channels. After a while Rob asked, “Do you want to see a big tree?”

I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. It just sounded so funny.

“Ooh, yes please” I replied with a little too much gusto to be honest.


We pulled up at the riverbank and got off the boat. We walked a short distance up towards the base of this enormous tree. To be fair it was impressive. We had to be careful where we stepped because there were fire ants everywhere. At least they were relatively easy to avoid as they marched in single file, we could just step over them. Although there were patched where there were multiple lines crossing everywhere like trip wires waiting to be set off.

 “They have a nasty bite” said Rob. We were both in our flip flops so we tread very carefully.

For some sense of scale Rob made us stand at the base whilst he took our photo.

It was one of those parasitic trees that grow up and around an existing tree before complete engulfing it and becoming the dominant tree. He reckoned it could be over 500 years old.

Without the noise of the engine it gave us an opportunity to chat with Rob. He told us he was raised in a traditional Amazonian environment before his family moved to a more modern lifestyle as the “developing” world encroached on their communities.  Education and medicines were a big incentive.

We talked about football and I mentioned the article about Pele’s favourite goal was his first ever in a World Cup, the one against Wales. He was mildly impressed with the tenuous connection between Brazil and Wales. We also talked about Manaus FC. He said that they were a very new side. In fact, they were literally only formed in 2014 when they built the new stadium ready for the 2016 World Cup hosted by Brazil. We didn’t mention the humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semi-final.

Back in the boat we hurtled our way down river until Cesar cut the engine and turned suddenly into the trees, finding a narrow gap through the flooded forest. It was a remarkable feat of navigation.

“How did he find that?” asked Julie amazed that anyone could possibly remember the exact spot where to find their way through. There weren’t any road signs or obvious landmarks to help either.

“He used to be a fisherman in this area” said Rob “he knows these waters very well.”

No kidding! 

I don’t know if it was just a random right turn and in fact any gap would have seen us through to the other side but it sure impressed us.

After a few minutes of slowly navigating our way through the flooded forest which wasn’t as narrow as the one we experienced earlier, we came out into another wide channel of water. Full throttle we sped our way back to the main Rio Negro river and turned right to go up river back to our lodge.

Despite not really getting a decent glimpse of any dolphins it had been an enjoyable boat ride if nothing else.

We got off at the pontoon and decided to sit and have a drink and enjoy the view.

Then, in a moment that made us laugh so much, a dolphin swam past, and not just a quick flash of fin, but we were treated to a little show as bobbed gently by. It hung around long enough for me to get a few photographs.

We had journeyed through the Anavilhanas National Park for over and hour and a half looking for dolphins and we got the best sighting right on our doorstep.

Once again it was only the Grey Dolphin, but nevertheless it was so exciting.

We sat and watched the river traffic for a while, a sight that was much more entertaining than watching road traffic.

We finished our beers and retired to our bungalow for a siesta waiting until it was time to pop to the restaurant for yet another culinary triumph.

I revelled in the choices available for me this evening. A pea soup, which I ate with confidence knowing it was suitable for vegetarians, a beetroot salad, shredded carrots in an amazing ginger and lime dressing, and a “tropical” tomato pasta.

The best however was left until last. It was a Brazil Nut custard cream pudding topped with a passion fruit coulis and what was described as a caramel flan. Absolutely delicious.

I will have gained a few pounds after this trip, that’s guaranteed.

It was dark, and we were tired, but it wasn’t the end of our day. We had an excursion booked for 8pm. It was the one we cancelled yesterday so we couldn’t really cancel it again, however tempting.

Whilst we sat in reception waiting for it to start we were randomly browsing the internet when I stumbled across the fact that next Sunday, when we’re in Rio, there was a local final being played in the famous Maracanã stadium. The teams hadn’t been confirmed yet as the semi-finals were only being played tonight/tomorrow, but it didn’t really matter. Watching a football game at the Maracanã has been a childhood dream of mine. Julie realised this and told me to buy some tickets, no matter how much they cost. So, I did.

Two tickets including a “hotel pick-up” for the Taça cup were bought at an extortionate price of $139 per person, from On The Go Tours, which at the time of sale was about £98 each. Now that was almost more than I paid for the Champions League final ticket in 1999!

At 8pm our guide for the evening tour turned up. His name was Alejandro. Unlike the rugged outdoor types of Jean and Rob he was short, wore glasses, sported a long pony-tail hairstyle and had a soft high-pitch voice, very much like Michael Jackson.

We followed him, along with another young couple who had just arrived today.

It was totally pitch dark as we set off, crossing the Rio Negro, entering the Anavilhanas National Park, which incidentally Rob had told us earlier was named after the daughter of a very rich rubber tycoon who lived in this area. Her name was Anna Vilhanes or something like that.

We were wondering how on earth we were going to see anything in the dark, but Alejandro scanned the forest with a high intensity torch. His keen eyesight would spot the slightest of reflections caught in an animal’s eye and we would move closer to investigate.  

Firstly, we saw a pair of small parrots, huddling together on a branch, trying to get some sleep. We were disturbing them so we moved on.

Next was this wonderful specimen of a snake. How on earth did he spot it? It looked like a branch of the tree from which it was hanging.

His eyesight was phenomenal.

He and the boat driver had this understanding. Alejandro would scan the riverbank, then when he saw something he would fix the light on it, wobble it a little and the driver would head for the spot to have a closer look.

We were so close to the snake we could almost touch it, which made Julie a little nervous.

Moving on, Alejandro excelled himself even further by spotting a frog, just by the reflection in the eyes. It was insane how he saw that.

We were getting better at spotting the reflections ourselves. We could often see bright orange pair of illuminated eyes. Alejandro knew just by looking at them that they were caiman. Unfortunately, they were proving to be elusive. They would swim away before could get close enough to see them.


He was determined to find us a jacaré or caiman and in the end he did. We literally pushed our way through some branches into a flooded area to get as close as possible. This one wasn’t moving, caught like a rabbit in the headlights. We couldn’t really see much but for the reflection of the eyes. Alejandro promised us that it was a black-spectacled caiman. 

By now we had spent an hour scouring the riverbanks, getting deeper into the Anavilhanas National Park. It was time for us to return.

We didn’t stop much on the way back. Alejandro was scanning the opposite side of the river where he spotted an owl, and then a little further along a sloth just hanging around. We didn’t pull up close for them, as they were high up in the trees.

Back crossing the Rio Negro, before returning to the lodge we popped up a creek where we saw nothing but heard a loud chorus of frogs. He cut the engine so we could hear.

It was eerie but equally magical experience bobbing along in the pitch black listening to the croaking symphony of the jungle.

We returned to the lodge, which was literally just around the corner.

It wasn’t late, but it felt well past our bedtime, we were so tired.

We didn’t fight the feeling and returned to our bungalow and to sleep.

  Next Day >>>  

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