TRAVEL STORY: MY AMAZON RIVER CRUISES
A loud hushed gasp ran through the boat. Fingers pointed excitedly on outstretched arms. A pale pinkish white sleek back arched up from the dark Rio Negro waters. A rare white Amazon dolphin.
In my experiences with dolphin sitings passengers quickly plunge into the sea, hoping to swim with dolphins. But there in the depths of the Amazon nobody was even tempted. Pirrahanas and giant crocodiles lurked in those murky rivers. We’d spotted a monster croc measuring at least 7 feet long on our last river cruise. No thank you, ma’am!
The entire boat waited in tense silence for another glimpse of the beautiful sleek dolphin body. We were soon rewarded with three more arched backs gracefully parting the calm, deceptively peaceful river. And then they were gone.
Our boatman restarted the outboard motor and we continued slowly up the Rio Negro into its narrower tributaries. Our destination: a remote riverside village where we could meet a local tribe and observe their daily lives.
Our film company had generously arranged this Amazon cruise towards the end of the shoot as a reward for hard work. In truth, although work hours were indeed very long, it had all seemed more fun and excitement than work. These added ‘rewards’ were just icing on the cake of a fabulous 3-month life experience in the heart of the Amazon.
We arrived at the village unscathed by crocs, pirranhas, pythons or jungle cats (all of which had been sited during the filming) and excitedly clambored ashore. We immediately realized this village was accustomed to receiving visitors. We stepped right into a large shop full of hand-made crafts for sale and a small cafe offering snacks and beverages.
Although that sort of artificially set up tourist trap normally turns me off, this place was surprisingly A-ok. This really was their village, where they lived, worked and played. And many of the handicrafts on sale were so cool and exotic that I didn’t mind at all that we were more or less ‘set up’ to buy souvenirs.
Scouting around, I found blow pipes decorated with fluffy feathers and knives set in crazy-looking sheaths with fangs, tusks, bulging eyes, and bright tongues, all fashioned out of colored clay. There were skillfully woven baskets and colorful fabrics and many other trinkets. I bought the knives and blow pipe, which I’m still thrilled to own to this day.
We were escorted around the village to peer into thatched houses then left on our own to browse the shop and taste some unusual local snacks. Finally we carefully piled into our canoe and glided back downstream, ever on the watch for graceful white dolphins, thorny crocodile backs, or slithering water snakes.
That was just one of our wonderful Amazon river cruises that we made during our 3-month stint along the Rio Negro. Our first cruise had been a stately 2-hour trip aboard a charming wooden 2-deck river boat up from Manaus city to our film base at Ariaus Amazon Towers Resort.
We felt like real explorers heading deeper into the Amazon with all our luggage for the very first time. On that maiden voyage we simply enjoyed the dense jungle foliage, squalking water birds, and the excitement of starting a new film.
During the following 2 months we cruised the Rio Negro by double-decker several times on excursions to Manaus. Once we were taken to witness the bizarre ‘Meeting of the Waters’, where Rio Negro and Rio Salimoes merge, one river muddy brown, the other clear dark water. On another cruise we spotted a 4-meter python at the river’s edge. I already mentioned the giant croc siting.
The most exciting cruise of all, though, must have been spotting a full grown black panther swimming in the river! Quite sadly, I was not aboard that particular trip. :( But one of the crew videotaped the spectacular event. At least got to see the cat swim on screen.
Counting our daily work trips to various filming locations, our expeditions to Manaus, and our specially arranged guided tours, we must have made at least 50 river trips in the Amazon during our stay. The daily work trips became so common that we barely considered them river cruises on the Amazon.
Yet on those trips we spotted many Amazon creatures, including caymen, crocs, snakes, tropical birds, and various fish as well as beautiful jungle plants, flowers, and trees. Still, the most memorable trips for me were the cruise where we spotted white dolphins, visited the riverside village, and witnessed the merging of the rivers.
Perhaps it was those Amazon cruises that spurred my interest in exploring other jungly rivers. Within a few years I cruised up 2 remote rivers in Sarawak, Borneo, motored down river from Taman Negara National Park in central Malaysia, and explored Vietnam’s Perfume River by boat.
Some other river trips I hope to make one day are a Nile cruise, China’s Yellow River Gorge cruise, and white water rafting in Nepal.
Meanwhile, I owe a big thank you to the ‘Survivor TV’ production team who made it possible for me to cruise through the Amazon during my life. Thanks much!
Have you ever visited the Amazon and/or taken a river cruise there? What was the best part of your Amazon journey?
What river cruises would you most like to take?