With Arms Wide Open

Wednesday 21st  March 2018

We were finding the bed at the Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge extremely comfortable. It was getting increasingly difficult to get out of it!

Eventually we got up and went straight for breakfast before making ourselves presentable. We were half-asleep sitting there munching away like a pair of sleepy sloths.

New on the menu today was this rice pudding like dish. In Portuguese it was called Canjica and in English it was Hominy. I’d never heard of it before, but hominy is dried maize kernels used in many dishes throughout the Americas. This was cooked in warm milk and was delicious and comforting.

Another new item was this amazing sweet coconut brioche. There was no willpower nor self-control shown.  I’m going to put on a lot of weight on this holiday!

After breakfast we waited at reception for this morning’s excursion. Whilst we were there I came across this enormous frog. It was the size of a dinner plate.

I tried to photograph it, but my camera had steamed up because of the high humidity this morning. It wasn’t just the lens either. I wiped that clean and it was still taking fuzzy photos. I suspect the internal mechanism also had moisture in it.

Our excursion this morning was piranha fishing and our guide Rob. Before setting off I checked with him that all the fish caught were returned to the water. “Yes, it’s a catch and release” he replied. That made me feel a little happier.

Joining us this morning were the same couple who were with us last night. They were called Ardee and Malvika. They were from Mumbai and were here on their honeymoon. Malvika still had the traditional henna tattoo on her hand.

We set off down river where I spotted this wonderful looking bird. It looked like a giant Amazonian Kingfisher. It was difficult to gauge its size. It was some distance away, so it must have been quite large. I was relieved that my camera had cleared up enough to take its photo. It must have been the breeze generated by us racing down river.

After some five minutes hugging the riverbank we pulled into a flooded area, just off the main Rio Negro. Rob knew that this was the sort of environment where piranhas like to gather.

He handed out to each of us a bamboo stick with a fishing line tied tightly to it. He then opened a plastic container full of chopped up raw meat. “Are you OK with touching meat?” he asked, which was thoughtful of him. Julie and were fine with it, but Ardee and Malvika opted out. I guess being Hindu would have been a factor.

We skewered a small chunk of meat onto the hook and dropped it into the water and waited.

My camera was steaming up again which was concerning me. And when our driver caught the first piranha,  I tried to take a few photos but it simply would take any. I was gutted. I didn’t have my phone with me either which would have been an alternative camera.

Inside five minutes our driver had caught about five different fish. Two random fish and three piranhas of varying colour.

Then Malvika caught one, a White Piranha. The best example according to Rob.

He carefully removed it from the hook and held the piranha firmly between its fingers so we could have a closer look.  With a small twig he opened its mouth to reveal an incredible set of razor sharp teeth. A bite from one of them would surely hurt.

He them demonstrated the power in their bite by placing a leaf into its opened mouth. The second the fish sensed something the mouth snapped shut with such force it instantly bit through the leaf like a hole-punch.

“It’s not quite like it is in the movies” Rob explained. Piranhas can attack its prey in a ferocious feeding frenzy that is true, they could clean a carcass of a young bird down to the bone inside a minute, but humans tend to be too large for them to attack.

After the first flurry of catching fish they seemed to wisen-up and we didn’t catch anymore. Ardee was getting increasingly frustrated as he was getting a few nibbles, but nothing caught.

We were told to splash the water with our rods as it might help. The noise attracts the piranhas as they associated that noise with possibly a floundering prey.

We thrashed about for a while, but still no more bites.

Rob decided to try a different location. We headed back onto the Rio Negro and travelled further downstream, taking the next tributary. The fresh air seemed to clear my camera which I was very happy about.

It was so beautiful here, with the water so still it acted like a perfect mirror reflecting the trees. 

We kept on going until we reached a shaded area where we tied the boat up and brought out our bamboo rods, hooked on a chunk of meat and dangled the hook in the water.

It was incredibly peaceful here. The tranquillity was only broken occasionally when Ardee would shout “Oh my God!” in frustration when he felt a nibble but didn’t get the catch.

“We’re not so much piranha fishing but piranha feeding” I joked. Malvika found it funny but Ardee was getting increasingly pissed off. He was whipping his rod up with such force when he felt the slightest of bites that the hook flew high and up into the branches above, getting itself tangled.

We continued to feed the fish without a catch. They were there, we could feel them tugging on the bait, but none were getting hooked.

“It’s not happening here” Rob resigned “We’ll try one more place”.

We untied the boat and returned to try our luck again, back near to where we began earlier.

After about 5 minutes of failed attempts Ardee completely lost his patience. “That’s it. I’m done” he said, laying down his bamboo rod and sitting there, arms folded in a sulk. His wife was finding it all very amusing.

Julie and I hadn’t caught one either, but we weren’t that bothered. We were enjoying the whole experience. Although when I did get a decent bite and I pulled up the rod, hooking a whopper and the blighter struggled free just as it was coming out of the water, I shared Ardee’s frustration a little.

“You should have seen it.” I told Julie “The one that got away.”   

None of us were getting much success. Our time was almost up.

“One last chance” said Rob as he cast his hook into the water. Then, as if it was all planned for dramatic effect, he caught a white piranha!

He went through the exact same routine, more for my benefit as I now had a fully functioning camera! He held it up for us to have a closer look. It was a beautiful fish. It’s scales shimmering in the light.

He held it’s mouth open for us to see its razor sharp teeth and he did the “biting the leaf” trick.

He asked if anyone wanted to hold the fish. I volunteered. It was a surprisingly robust solid little fish. Smaller than I had imagined. After the photo op I returned it safely to the water.

It was time to leave and return to the lodge. We had been “fishing” for an hour and a half.

We still hadn’t woken up properly, so we spent the next two hours back in our bungalow catching up with some sleep. We interrupted our slumber for some lunch, but it was worth it.

I had this wonderful cheese soufflé and a delicious bean dish known as feijao carioca. I was so glad to be able to try a feijao. More often than not the dish is cooked with a pork knuckle to add a certain flavour to the stock, but this version was meat free. It was just glorified baked beans really, but they were very tasty.

Whilst we ate lunch the heavens opened. It was an absolute torrential downpour. When it was time to leave the y luckily had umbrellas at the entrance for us to use. We took one each. We could have done with two each! We shuffled back to the bungalow sheltered as best as possible from the pounding rain.

I returned to my hammock whilst Julie sat up in bed knitting. Before long, it was time to return to reception ready for this afternoon’s excursion. Thankfully the rain had passed.

It was a “jungle walk” and was the first time we had to adhere to a dress code. We had to wear long trousers, covered shoes and apply insect repellent.

We had lost our bottle of insect repellent back at the hotel in Iguacu and the only covered shoes Julie had with her on this holiday were a pair of “knitted” Toms. They were more like socks than shoes. I had a pair of shoes, but I hadn’t worn them since travelling to Brazil because they had given me a blister as they were two sizes too small. I struggled to get my feet into them.

We weren’t very prepared for our jungle walk.

Still, we passed the inspection and Rob took us down to the boat. Ardee and Malvika joined us again.

 “Could you please put on these snake chaps” he asked, handing out these protective gear that we wrapped around our legs.

“Well, that’s a first” said Julie.

With the snake chaps on it made her shoes look even more like slippers.  We just hoped we didn’t come across any snakes.

Our boat sailed a little down river and we turned up the first junction.

We didn’t travel far before we pulled up at the riverbank and got off.

The first section of the path was quite steep. A few pieces of wood had been laid into the ground to form a few steps to help with the climb. It wasn’t far, but in this humidity both Julie and I were dripping with sweat by the time we reached the top.

“Watch out for the earth worm pooh” warned Rob. We looked down and saw this huge mound of beige excrement. “I wouldn’t like to come across the worm that deposited that!” said Julie.

Rob was full of information about all the different trees we came across. He hacked a small piece of bark off one tree and got us to smell it. It had a lovely musky fragrance. Known locally as Lora hosa, a type of rosewood, it didn’t come as a surprise to be told it was used extensively in perfumes.

Another tree, the mata mata, he explained that the bark had anti-inflammatory properties if thinly stripped and wrapped around a wound or be infused into a tea. Even the nuts could produce a medicinal beverage that treats urinary infections.

We then came to a hanging ants nest. It was such a strange looking thing hovering above our heads, built from a branch down. Really fascinating to see. Rob knocked the nest with the blunt end of the knife so we could see the small reddish ants scurry to defend their home.

Next, we came to a hollow beneath an old tree. Rob, who did this walk two or three times a week, knew this spot well. He asked those of a nervous disposition to step back and for those without fear to come closer.   

He picked up a long strip of grass and wiggled it inside the hole. Almost immediately this massive spider came scurrying out. It was the size of my hand.  I moved closer to have a better look. It was a stunning specimen, a hairy-legged red arsed tarantula. That wasn’t its official name by the way. 

Despite its red rump Rob called it a Black Tarantula. Apparently they only turn fully black when they reach maturity.

We didn’t see much else in the way of wildlife. We could hear plenty of birdcalls, but we didn’t see any. “That’s a Captain bird” said Rob identifying it by its squawk.

Instead Rob focused on the flora, the plants, the trees. There was so much variety in such a small area. We came across one tree that had fallen across our path. It was called the Hochinu and had the nickname of the Purple Heart tree. It was clear to see why because it was a bright cerise colour beneath its bark. It looked unreal. 

Several trees had fallen across the path which made the walk challenging at times, especially for the short-legged Julie as we had to straddle across a few of them.

We continued our study of trees with different varieties coming thick and fast. The Hamapa tree which when scored as you would a rubber tree produces a milky substance that could be drunk. An infusion is made with its roots which proves useful in controlling diabetes.

The Breiu tree was very perfumed and an excellent insect repellent. The Loro Aritu, another rosewood had a strong orange fragrance and was also an excellent hardwood often used in flooring.

The Abacaba palm produced strings of black pods that looked like black beaded hair and whose fibres were used to weave carpets.

Then there was the Cayman Tree so called because it’s bark looked like the colour of the Cayman. And the Monkey Ladder vine which was a strange looking wide and flat vine that grew from the canopy down.

A little further along we came a tree which had the more traditional rope-like vines dangling down. Rob couldn’t resist showing us his Tarzan skills. When the opportunity came I couldn’t resist either and swung like Indiana Jones.

Rob then asked us to stay where we were whilst he went off path to find a few things. He came back with a handful of Inaja nuts.

He cracked open the nuts. Three were hollow but two of them had what he was looking for, the Inaja bug!  They burrow their way in when small and live inside the nut until eventually they outgrow their shell and burrow their back out again.

He then started a little controlled fire using some flint and the back of his knife to create a spark and then some wire wool to catch alight. He placed some shavings from a palm branchon top to start to flame.

He skewered the two bugs with a thin piece of twig and then cooked them over the fire.

I could see what was coming next and was thankful for being a vegetarian. “They taste good” said Rob trying to encourage someone to try “some say it tastes like bacon or buttered popcorn”

Ardee and Malvika also refused to eat one. Totally unexpectedly Julie took one for the team and stepped forward to try one. She felt sorry for Rob having gone to all the effort. She popped one in her mouth and chewed it until it popped and oozed out its innards. Fighting the urge to spit it out she swallowed hard. It tasted nothing like bacon nor buttered popcorn. It was a lie. It tasted exactly how you would expect a bug to taste. Like shit.

She nonchalantly shrugged and showed no weakness. Rob was impressed.

For his next trick he produced a toxic liquid from timbó root, one that is used to paralyse fish by lazy fishermen. They literally bash the root about a bit then splash it around a bit in the water, then literally pick out the fish as they float helplessly to the top.

He recreated the process by pouring some bottled water over some roots he had bruised with the back of his little machete and then wrung out the yellow liquid that was produced. Thankfully he didn’t ask anyone if they would like to try some timbó juice.

We moved on and we came to a tree that had dropped a lot of its fruits. He called it the Ushi or Uchi. The fruit was similar to a lime in appearance, i.e. green and small. Rob peeled the skin to reveal a tough textured flesh. This time I didn’t have a get out clause here, so I volunteered to give it a try. He described it as a sandy avocado and lime. This time his description was fairly accurate. The texture was very gritty. Sandy captured it well. The flavour was an interesting earthy green with a hint of zest. I enjoyed it so much I ate it all, spitting out the large stone that was left.

All along I was just hoping that he had washed his hands properly after making the fish poison!

We were on our way back now, as the path began to slope downhill towards the riverbank. Rob still had another tree to point out. It was only a young sapling but he called it a carapanauba and the bark had anti-malarial properties as it produced quinine.

“Ah, we studied that” said Malvika revealing that they were both studying to become doctors.

We returned to the boat where Rob pointed out the stash of Ushi fruits the driver had foraged whilst we were on our walk. You can’t beat some free food.

The snake chaps came off. (Thankfully they weren’t called into action.) And the life jackets went on.

Within minutes we were pulling up at the floating pontoon, wiping earthworm shit off our shoes, sipping a guarana energy drink whilst watching the Rio Negro flow by.

We said goodbye to Ardee and Malvika and wished them well. We weren’t doing the “evening jungle walk” tonight so we probably wouldn’t see them again.

All hot and sweaty after our jungle jaunt we returned to our room for a shower to freshen up. We had a few hours to relax before supper, so we relaxed, me indulging in my new favourite pastime of swinging in the hammock, and Julie knitting, playing games or generally pleasing herself in bed.

When it was time to eat we walked up to the restaurant and had yet another feast. The choices were yet again new and refreshing, a beetroot soup, peas and palm heart in a dill sauce, French fries and roasted courgettes and onion, all delicious.

The best was certainly left until last as I absolutely loved the selection of desserts. I had a sweet cake, almost like a fruit and nut flapjack, called cocada. Also a lovely piece of pineapple in syrup, with a trio of compote, one made from the cupaçu fruit, another a pumpkin reduction and the amazing “dulce de leche” condensed milk.

Tonight was our last night at the Anavilhanas Lodge, so after supper we decided to stay out a little later, despite our 5am scheduled start tomorrow morning. We sat in the reception area and had a few caipirinhas.

As I was browsing the internet I stumbled across the fact that there was a football game in the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. It was the Taça Cup (or Glass Cup) a pre-season competition for the local Rio teams, Botafogo, Fluminese, Vasco da Gama and Flamengo.

The semi-finals were being played tonight and tomorrow to determine who played in the final.

I then googled “tickets for maracana football” and came across On-The-Go tours webpage. They were selling tickets to include a hotel pick-up, but they were so expensive at $139 per person.

“Book it” said Julie “we’re only here once”

Watching a game of football in the Maracana stadium has been a childhood dream of mine. I was so excited to think that it was now actually going to happen. Click, click, click and it was done, two tickets booked and paid for.

There was another reason why we stayed up a little later than normal. We wanted to see Rob before we left. He wasn’t our guide for our “sunrise contemplation” excursion in the morning. Around 9:30pm he returned from the evening’s excursion.

We thanked him for his patience and knowledge that brought our excursions into the Amazon come alive. We slipped him a tip and said our goodbyes.

Back in our room we set the alarm for 4:30am. Our guide for the morning had approached us at our dining table and arranged a 5:25am start but also added that if it was raining we may as well stay in bed as it would be cancelled.

I think secretly we both were hoping for bad weather!

 Next Day >>>  

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