Ecopark Excitement (part 1)

It was with anticipation and excitement that we woke up this morning, knowing that we were going to disembark the Braemar and foray into the Amazon jungle, where we would be staying overnight in the Amazon Ecopark Lodge.

The ship had already docked in Manaus, the capital of Amazonia, and she was not due to sail again until 6.00pm tomorrow night.  Manaus comes as a big surprise to first-time visitors; despite being in the depths of the rainforest on the banks of the Amazon river where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões converge to form the “Meeting of the Waters”, Manaus is a major city consisting of high-rise buildings, main roads and is a world-wide business trader.  As well as being a major shipping port, it also has its own international airport.  Strange to think that you just needed to go about five miles away and you’d be in the thick of the jungle.

We disembarked the ship and walked over the road, where we were greeted by our guide, Prakash, who would be looking after us for the next two days.  We got on the bus (a much more modern and comfortable one than those in Santarém and Barbados!) for the 45 minute ride to the quayside; the rest of the journey to the Ecopark would be by boat.

Once we got to the quayside, we walked across a floating landing stage to board the motor-boat.  The only access to the Ecopark is by boat, as there are no roads, only dirt tracks.  The journey took about 30 minutes, then we arrived at a primitive landing dock.  One by one we were manoeuvred off the boat and we paused to take in our surroundings.

There was a small sandy beach with a few rustic sunshades (thatched with palm leaves) and sunloungers, right on the water’s edge.  We could just catch a glimpse of the lodge through the dense trees.  We had to walk along some duckboards and planks laid out especially to avoid going in the mud (or the river if the water level was high).  A hundred and fifty or so yards later we walked up some steps and into the Ecopark reception, where a welcome drink of some sort of tropical juice awaited us.  We discovered that this was the exact same lodge that Trevor and I had stayed in (for three days) on our last visit to the Amazon 10 years before, so we were happy to be back, as we’d had such a fantastic time.  😀

We had a lot to pack into our short stay here, so we’d no sooner dumped our bags (check-in could wait until later) before it was time to go to Monkey Island.  This was a natural area where monkeys which had been rescued from the illegal animal trade were brought to be rehabilitated, before eventually being released into the wild.

We had to board small boats to get there; they had half a dozen or so bench-like seats (imagine a big rowing boat) with a shade over them, and an outboard motor.  The first person on the boat had to climb over all the benches until they got to the one at the back; they then pulled up the back rest of the bench in front so the next person could sit down, and so on.  So if you boarded the boat last, not only did you not have to climb over all the other benches, but you got the best seat at the front!

It only took a few minutes to get to the monkey place.  There were lots of wild monkeys around and the rescued monkeys were in large caged areas, so they could watch the behaviour of the wild monkeys, and hopefully learn from them.  A few of the females had tiny babies clinging to them; they were so cute.  It was fascinating watching the monkeys swinging themselves through the branches of the trees; they use their long tails as fifth limbs and are so agile.  There were brown monkeys and these other reddish (ginger) ones with red faces.  They were feeding on bananas and mangoes and making a racket in the trees.  🙂

We spent about an hour with the monkeys, then it was time to go back to the lodge.  In the boat on the return journey, the helmsman switched off the outboard motor so there was utter silence. It allowed us to hear the natural noises of the rainforest, and was so tranquil and peaceful.  We could hear monkeys and toucans and other birds, as well as crickets.  Sometimes you could hear the drumming of a woodpecker.

Once back at the lodge we could check into our cabana, before lunchtime at 12.30pm.  We were allocated number 9A.  We had to walk along a winding path among the trees to find it; it was basically a wooden hut with a corrugated tin roof.  However, it was blessedly cool inside as the shutters were closed and the air-conditioning was on.

The hut was simply furnished, but clean and comfortable.  It consisted of twin beds, small bedside cabinets, a small table and a ‘wardrobe’ (basically a hanging rail with curtains across the front).  There was a white-tiled ensuite bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink.  There was no glass in the windows, just a fine-mesh screen to keep out the bugs, and in any case it was better to have the shutters closed for privacy.  Each hut had a small porch with a rustic wooden bench on it.

We had a quick wash then went along to have a pre-lunch caipirinha.  🙂  The whole reception and bar were very open-air, that is, they had a roof supported by pillars but no actual walls.  This allowed you to get the full benefit of the open air and nature; the sights, the smells and the sounds.  Sitting relaxing with our caipirinhas and enjoying a (rare) breeze was sheer bliss.  We glimpsed a flash of colour and saw that we had a visitor – a scarlet macaw which flew in and perched on the rafters.  🙂

Lunch consisted of a hot and cold buffet meal in the circular restaurant.  Again, the restaurant had a roof and pillars, but no actual walls.  There was fresh salad and fruits and bean soup, as well as a choice of fish, beef or pork and lots of vegetables and the ubiquitous manioc.  The food was very hot and tasty, and you could go back for more.  Dessert was fresh fruit or some particularly gooey-looking cake.  There was also strong Brazilian coffee, as well as bottles of cold mineral water.

After lunch we decided to go and have a siesta.  The equatorial rainforest weather was hot, around 29°C, but it wasn’t the heat that was so draining, it was the humidity.  As we were walking along the path back to our hut, we could smell the heady aromas of damp earth, wet leaves and the warm, slightly foetid smell of the jungle air.  Small green and brown lizards darted across the path and into the shrubbery.  As we weren’t due to meet in the reception until 3.00pm, it gave us a good hour to have a nap.  The air-conditioning in the room was lovely.  🙂

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