After our interrupted sleep, I was sure we'd sleep at least until 10, when they stopped serving breakfast. However, we woke up, fresh and full of energy at seven, as usual. It was much too hot to go to Manaus, opera house or not, so we started by visiting the hotel zoo, which did feature the promised jaguar, but otherwise rather pathetic. I went down to the river, following the sign ”Embarkation”, only to find a little beach. Apparently embarkation was somewhere else. They promised at the reception desk that the company would fetch us at 1pm. The internet connection in the room was ridiculously expensive, so I sat in the lobby, responding to dozens of urgent emails by saying: ”Sorry, I am in the heart of darkness, will get back some time”.
We checked out at 12 and sat further in the bar/lobby, Staffan drinking beer to kill the time, and me getting anxious again that something was wrong. Finally, a quarter past one, somebody did ask for us and introduced himself as Ruben, our English-speaking guide, telling us cheerfully that they never picked up their guests earlier than a quarter past two. This information made us suddenly very hungry, and we ordered a light lunch. Then Ruben came back, and an old man got hold of our suitcase (we had deposited the second one at the hotel), while Ruben introduced us to our fellow passengers: Viki from London, Madeleine and Enrico from Barcelona, Ciara and Constantino from Rome. That's it.
When I booked this trip and looked up options, given that I was very late because of the ever changing dates of my commitment in Rio de Janeiro, I immediately picked up Desafio as my type of trip: small boat for maximum twenty people, personal, no bars, karaoke or swimming pools. But alas, the only cruise available on the dates we could do was one of those huge boats. Well, beggars are no choosers, and I agreed to that: however, the travel agent got back after a few days to tell me that the Iberostar was chartered. There went my dream, but still a few days later, the agent emailed to say that he had an option, which was Desafio, which I wanted in the first place.
So there are just the seven of us. We were taken to the beach on the path I had followed in the morning, and there she was, some hundred metres from the shore, and a little motorboat to take us there. By that time, the river got waves, and I almost got seasick watching them. My dream was quickly turning into a nightmare, and I already saw myself flat seasick in the cabin for the next four days. Staffan on the other hand had some difficulty getting into the canoe and when we eventually came on board swore that he would never set his foot into that boat again, which is a shame, since it is the boat used for excursions.
I sat on the open deck, trying not to think of being sick, while we sailed away and everybody was given a welcome drink. I had expected a long session with safety instructions, but there wasn't any. Ruben started directly with sailor's yarn about all the anacondas he had encountered, and everybody was happy except for me. I was apprehensive.
Of course I have seen dozens of films about the Amazonas, but no picture can do justice to this huge span of water, and we were going right into it. I sat in my deck chair while everybody else went to inspect the cabins, scared even to move. Presently, the waves calmed down, and we entered one of the tributaries and anchored. I ventured into the cabin, too anxious to notice how tiny it was as compared to the picture in the brochure – but I know how such pictures are taken. I decided that I'll worry about it later, because we were now going out in the canoe, and that's what we had come there to do. No safety instructions, just a couple of life jackets thrown casually into the canoe. It was a pity Staffan didn't come, but I fully understand it, because you don't sit particularly comfortably in a canoe. Off we went, entering yet another tributary or flooded forest. Again, I have seen it in films, but no films can convey the sense of being there, with blank surface of water, reflecting the vegetation in quickly fading daylight. We saw a sloth, a couple of herons, but I would have been just as happy with gliding there over the water, listening to cicadas and birds.
Then we got back, were served a sumptuous meal, and off again, in pitch darkness, Ruben with a torch. In the thicket of the forest, first a porcupine – frankly, I didn't know they lived in trees – then a whole family of porcupines. I didn't bring my camera because it is a very simple one and doesn't do good pictures with flash. It was all spooky and incredibly beautiful. Then Ruben caught some caimans with his bare hands and held them for us to pat. The starry sky was amazing. I have seen the Southern Hemisphere skies several times, and it is always a wonder.
By the time we got back it was half past ten. And we were to get up at six next morning to go fishing. So I went down to the cabin and was sound asleep within five minutes. I had forgotten all about being sick.