Jaguar in the Jungle

We woke up in our jungle hut early this morning; in fact, we didn’t really sleep all that well.  Although the room was kept at a lovely cool temperature with the air-conditioning, the downside was that it was very noisy.  At some point during the night Trevor turned it off, and the silence was golden.  However, waking up a couple of hours later, the room was stiflingly hot.  So you couldn’t win either way.

So we were up at 7.30am, and this time we donned clothes suitable for trekking in the undergrowth.  Long trousers, socks and shoes (no shorts and sandals this time) to prevent anything crawling up your legs, as well as long sleeves.  The less flesh that was exposed, the less the mozzies could bite!  🙂

Outside, the morning air was clean and fresh with the scent of growing things and the sun was shining.  Birds were calling in the trees and dragonflies and other insects were buzzing about.  We went along to the restaurant for breakfast.  This time there was fresh fruit, cereals, different breads, cold meats, cheeses and eggs, as well as fruit juice and good Brazilian coffee.  We ate a good breakfast to set us up for the day, then sprayed on our insect repellent and went along to Reception to meet Prakash and the rest of the Jaguar Group for our 8.30am jungle trek.

As the lodge was set in the rainforest, there was no boat-ride this time – we just set off on foot.  Prakash looked the part in his khakis and with a big machete kept in a sheath hanging from his waist.  He led Jaguar Group into the forest, with Julio bringing up the rear.  We didn’t want to come across other guided parties, so we set off at staggered intervals.  The guides had an intriguing way of calling to each other, using bird and other animal calls.  🙂

We had to watch out for tree roots and vines underfoot which could trip us up; also there were palm trees that had vicious spikes on the trunk, so we had to be careful where we were putting our hands as well as our feet.  Prakash was very good at pointing out any potential hazards to us.  He showed us trees with unusual fruits, and also cut some bark from a tree and rubbed it on my wrist; it left a dark orange mark and he said it was used by the native tribes as skin decoration (war paint).

As I didn’t carry a notebook and pen with me, it is impossible for me to remember every tree, plant and creature that Prakash pointed out.  Nevertheless, he showed us plants that could be used as food, plants from which you could drink the sap if water was scarce (he also showed us which leaves were best for collecting water) and plants that were used for medicinal purposes.  He would peel a little piece of bark, or take piece of leaf, and pass it around the group, asking us to smell (or, in some cases, taste) it to see if we could guess what it was.  I recognised eucalyptus and cloves (very distinctive) among them.

Some of the trees were massively tall, and had lianas wound around them.  A liana is actually a thick vine that grows in the ground, but needs to climb up the trees to the top of the canopy in order to reach sunlight.  So the lianas (or creepers) twist and wind their way around the trees, and sometimes neighbouring trees.  Then they let down arial roots which form the creepers we recognise of “Tarzan” fame.

At one stage, Prakash found an ants’ nest and used a big stick to stir them up.  They were HUGE, at least 2″ long and red.  He said that if you get bitten by one of these ants, you will have a fever and the bite will burn and sting for the next 24 hours.  Ouch!  😦    We also saw a tree with loads of termites on it.

Prakash was extremely knowledgeable about all the plants and trees and it was very interesting.  At one stage he found a big fronded palm leaf and he and Julio, while they were talking, made little “gifts” for us by plaiting the fronts into various shapes.  He said that, often at the lodge when all the guests have gone to bed and there isn’t much to do (there is no television or internet, after all!) he sits chatting to the other staff and plaits the palm leaves and thinks of new things to make, to pass the time.  🙂  They made headbands, fans, a brilliant grasshopper, a prawn and a fun pair of ‘glasses’, to name but a few.

Towards the end of the hike, Prakash asked if anyone knew which direction we would need to go in to find our way back to the lodge.  It was no good asking me; I get lost in Durham! 🙂  Everyone took a guess as to which way it was.  Prakash then gave his machete to a Norwegian bloke in our group and said he was the new leader, and everyone had to follow him.  At this point we weren’t really very far from the lodge, and in fact we started to recognise trees we had seen earlier on.

A few minutes later, we arrived back at the Ecopark.  The time was 11.30am – our jungle trek had lasted three hours, but it didn’t seem that long.  We were very hot and sticky; the tropical air was absolutely still and the high humidity meant that you were damp all the time.  My hair was hanging limply round my face, my makeup had slid off, and I had a big wet patch in the back of my t-shirt.  I must have looked a right sight!  🙂

We decided to have a nice cool shower to freshen up a bit before lunch at 12.30pm.  When we got back to our hut, however, we discovered there was no electricity!  Apparently they switch it off for a few hours a day to conserve energy.  Prakash said it should come on shortly, but in the meantime, we decided to go along to the bar and have a – yes, you’ve guessed – caipirinha or two!  They were ice cold, fruity and very refreshing.  We then went for lunch which was the usual selection of meats, fish, fruit and vegetables.  Simply cooked but plentiful and delicious.

We did not have to check out until 3.30pm, so the rest of the afternoon was our own.  We went back to our hut to find the electricity (and the air conditioning) was back on, so we decided to have a nap, as it is pretty draining in the humid heat.

After packing all our stuff up into our overnight holdalls, we went along to reception and handed the key back, then decided to have one more caipirinha.  We sat there enjoying our drink, and a bright green parrot flew in and landed on the bar, where the barman gave him a small bowl of water to drink.

Then Prakash came along and led Jaguar Group to the large boat, for the hour-long journey back to Manaus.  Boarding the bus at the other end took us back to the dock and to the Braemar.  We said our goodbyes and thanks to Prakash for being a brilliant guide, then boarded the ship once more.  We had an hour to shower and change for dinner.

Tonight was a British-themed night, where passengers were encouraged to wear red, white and blue.  This is a tradition on Fred Olsen ships and is usually good, patriotic fun.  Trevor looked very dapper in a Union Jack waistcoat and dicky-bow tie, and I wore a Union Jack t-shirt and white jeans.  I created a stir by wearing a plastic mask of the Queen and giving a “royal wave” every now and then.  🙂

After dinner we went into the Neptune Lounge where they had a British singalong and everyone joined in.  Then the show for the evening was “All You Need Is Love”, the Braemar Show Company’s tribute to the Beatles.  Then it was the usual – off to the Skylark Club, meet up with Colin and Liz, do the quiz, which was British-themed.  We got 18/20 and still didn’t win!!

Then off to bed in 7054 after a very eventful day.

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