Thursday, July 21, 2011

Amazon Jungle Tour from Manaus Brazil – Which one of the 1,000 exotic Amazon diseases is making Alex sick? 2am Hospital Visit. Sloths, pink dolphins, piranhas, crocodiles, giant mosquitoes with malaria, you name it!

So after almost a week on a boat I’m finally in Manaus at the heart of the Amazonas.

It was nearly 7pm when we arrived, and it got dark immediately. And the Colombian, French and I decided to stick together to look for a hostel.

We were all pretty tired and exhausted, and no one seemed to want to put any effort into finding a hostel. I was reminded again that the only person you can depend on when you travel is yourself.

So I got on the ball, found a place, directions, and lead the 3 of us down some confusing streets to find the hostel.

We stayed at the Naturebe hostel, $15 Reals a night. It’s quite the crap hole. If you like bed bugs, smelly bathrooms, hot and humid closed quarters, bad mattresses, and over all lack of hygiene by everyone around, then this place is for you! But for survival standards it passes.

So now after seeing the Amazon jungle from a boat for so many days on end, it was time to find a tour to go inside into the heart of it.

So for the fellow travelers looking for a Manaus Amazon jungle tours here’s some information. Here at this hostel you can book it, there’s a guy that comes around every day to try to sell you a tour from an agency nearby, or you can look for an agency yourself (good luck).

Tour operatores here are dogs trying to get as much money off you as possible with no shame. The cheapest during low season you’ll seem to pay is around $80 Reals a day. I met people who have paid upwards of $150 to $250 Reals a day (usually the Europeans). The first price they give you depends on how you look. Racism? Profiling? That for you to decide.

Every tour basically offers you the same things, just a different lodge area. And the quality of your tour will depend on your guide not the agency, so it’s a random gamble.

They will flat out lie to you giving you various reason why you should book with them and how their tour is better than the others. It’s complete crap, like I mentioned, it all depends on your tour guide you get, which the tour agencies have no control over.

What I hate most about Brazil is the shady business practices of the Brazilians, the way they negotiate they tell you not to discuss your special price with the other tourists, and when they sell you a boat tour as well, they smuggle you on board the ship just before it departs boarding in the back where nobody can see you with a shady receipt (which you’ll read about later).

Also as you’re talking to these guys, if they see other tourists they just leave you to go talk to them and see if they can sell them a tour as well with no shame and no respect to you. At least the tour operator at Naturbee did all these things (twice), and I’ve heard similar stories from others as well, so take care.

So to save everyone redundant and boring reading, I negotiated  a pretty low price on a 3 days jungle tour (lower than the lowest rate) knowing how much they make on commission for selling the tours and such (after spending an hour with a drunk tour guide) and bought a boat passage to Tabatinga upon my return from the tour(cost me $300 Reals). Tabatinga is on the border with Colombia and Brazil, so I basically will have coasted down the entire length of the Amazon River and the Soloman river, almost the entire width of South America by river by the time I’m done. I guess not many people can say they have done that right?

I also took this time to purchase my plane ticket back home, yes I was sad too, thanks for the virtual tears. 

I’ve been searching for 4 months for a decent price, and that day was the cheapest I’d found in 4 months of looking like crazy, so I booked it for 24 days from today, as that’s when the cheapest price was, one day specials eat your heart out. I used Cheapoair.com for those other travelers using this site for information. I also had no idea where I would be so it was hard to plan or find anything, I was searching flights from Lima, Caracas, Rio de Janerio you name it. I’ll be flying out of Bogota Colombia as it was the cheapest, and I’m pretty close by, just on the other side of the continent of South Ameriica. You know you’re a crazy traveler when that distance seems close ha ha.

To think I would have gone all around South America and ended back up at the place I literally started at so many months ago is bittersweet.

This entire trip I’ve been without a schedule and down finally I have one, and it felt as if my trip was already over as soon as I saw my bank account charged. Quiet the sad feeling it was, but it had to be done, no more money to continue.

So anyway, my Amazon tour began with going to the tour office, even though they told me they would pick me up and taking a taxi with two other tourists to the boat dock to catch a boat across the river.

First of many boat rides

In the process we saw the mixing of the two rivers, the Rio Negro and the Soloman River that becomes the Amazon River in Manaus. This is where the Amazon River truly begins. Fun fact for the day.

As we arrived at the opposite side, we were picked up by a van that drove an hour and a half into the jungle.

Into the Amazon we go!

We then boarded another boat for another hour further into the jungle; we were definitely inside the Amazon by then.



We arrived at our lodge, I mean a hut with a roof. Still not too shabby, it is the Amazon after all.

Fancy Billards Table in the middle of the amazon

crazy looking plant fruit thing

We were greeted by the pet Monkey



And lots of ants



And even some plant life on a metal wire.



The two other tourists I was with were from Spain, so it was wonderful having someone I could actually talk to in full sentences.



We discussed our “special” pricing we were given. And saw the shady business practices of Brazilians, especially in Manaus as our prices greatly differed.



Before departing Manaus I had a pretty small stomach ache and thought it would go away the following day.

Well that was two days ago and today I was feeling very crappy. My intestines were killing me and I felt I had a slight fever. I got flash backs of the horrible sickness I had in Peru.

So here I am in the middle of the Amazon getting sick, this is about the worst time to have a vivid imagination.

My mind started wondering which of the hundred thousand exotic Amazon diseases I must have picked up.Dengue, Yellow Fever, intestinal parasites, Monkey virus of some sort, ring worm etc. I quickly got a hold of myself and said I would let it brew for a bit more before I started really freaking out.

We headed out pirahna fishing later that afternoon.

The route there was fantastic






Fishing for pirranhas was pretty freaking cool



Except when you realize that if you set foot in that water, that foot will soon be gone.

Chacon the amazon pirrahna fisherman!
Interesting way to die, death by piranhas. Hurtful too I imagine.



Smart little vicious fish they are, they are masters of stealing your bait. It’s quite impressive really.

The guide even got one and put a twig in its mouth to which it chomped it in half quite effortlessly.

Their teeth are certainly razor sharp.

On the way out of the flooded forest where the piranhas are, our guide spotted a fish above water. He quickly got his machete, and decapitated the fish right out of the water.



Man I think we got a ‘Super-guide”, he also could mimic the sounds of the birds and crocodiles which he called to and they responded back. This guy is my hero for the day, way to go Amazon man!

As we continued upstream we saw the famous pink dolphins along with normal colored ones. They were too quick to get a picture of.

As we continued the true beauty of the Amazon started to sink it.



It was gorgeous.



There were some other American tourists at the lodge with a bilingual guide. My suggestion is get a guide like mine, all he spoke was Portuguese, had bad teeth, smoked, and was always happy. But he had been living around the area his whole life, he alone caught 10 piranhas, we spotted dolphins, caught a fish with a machete, and spotted a sloth the first 2 hours, the other tour guide didn’t catch a single fish or spot a single animal for his group in the same amount of time.



So you you’ll lack a conversation with your Brazilian guide but you’ll experience a lot more. (This statement only continued to be truer as you’ll read on)

We saw some cool birds



And were given an absolutely magnificent sunset to end a great day.




We returned in darkness to the lodge where we ate some delicious food and went to sleep in our mosquito netted bed.

By this point in time my fever got worse and so did my stomach ache. I was pretty doubtful I would make it outside the next day and even contemplated death in the Amazon in my mosquito netted bed from the unknown Amazon illness.

Regardless I sprayed on my 100% DEET bug repellant and went to sleep smelling wonderful.

The next day I felt a bit better and mustered up the will to go out, I refused to let my money go to waste. My ridiculous determination is crazy.

Our first course of action was to find a sloth. And our Super Guide did, except that it was 14 meters up on top of a tree.

A 14 meter tall spiky tree seemed to be nothing for our super guide as he started climbing it. I’ll mention at this time that our guide is around 50 years old.

This guy was amazing!

As he reached the top he got the sloth and let the him fly 14 meters into the water where we picked him up.

Funny things seen: Watching a sloth fall 14 meters into the water.



It was quite the awesome looking creature. As a little kid I always wanted to touch one of these creatures.



His claws were very sharp as I found our as it started grasping onto me and my fingers as if I was a tree. They were almost pirhana teeth sharp.



I was amazed at how good sloths are at swimming. And was surprised to find out that they spend 6 months of the year in or near the water.



We tried putting it back on the tree to climb up, but it did seem to want to. After many failed attemps it just swam away into the flooded forest.



On the way out of the flooded jungle where we found him we found a cool fruit.

Tasted like a banana/kiwi mix, but had the texture and look of a starburst candy. It was cool.

As we left the sloth had followed us to wish us farewell. We all laughed and said good bye…. Very slowly in sloth language so he could understand.

As the sun hit me I felt the full effect of my illness. I was literally huddled over in the fetal position the rest of the time in pain clentching my stomach and colon at the same time to prevent anything from coming out accidentally on both ends.

Regardless I was determined to finish the day.

We saw some crazy Amazon sized water plants.



They had the feeling of a leather hide, and were super dangerous at the bottom.



Out tour guide seemed to like us so much he took us to his house to meet his family. As much I wanted to stay I couldn’t take it anymore and asked nicely to go back, the pain was too much and stuff wanted to come out of me without asking. (that was my attempt of refraning from using the word massive diaherea)

We then went back to have lunch at the lodge and I went to sleep as I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. I was about to call in an emergency evac with my SPOT GPS, as I knew this just wasn’t any normal illness, but I had no signal, so I decided to see if I could sleep it off. It had been almost 4 days now only progressively getting worse and Dr. Chacon knew it was serisous. But Adventure Chacon also wanted to experience the Amazon jungle.

Yea, nobody will ever find you here. The circle is where I was at


The worst thing about it was not the horrible pain, but the fact that I knew I was in the Amazon in the middle of nothing ,a day’s trek or more away from anything or any help. Plus my imagination and trying to figure out what crazy Amazon exotic disease I had and how I got it was driving me nuts!

As I woke up I felt slightly better. Everyone was ready to go camping in the jungle further into the Amazonas.

I figured I made it this far, I can back out now, I can’t miss out on the best part of the tour.

By this time anything I drank or ate would go to my stomach and out the other end in few minutes aka terrible diarrhea.

But I’ve been through worse. Crossing from Panama to Colombia I was sick from food poisoning and sea sick at the same time for 5 days. I figured I could deal with diarrhea and fever easily. But knew that I would need medicine pretty soon to kill whatever pathogen or bacteria I had killing me from the inside out.

As we got on the boat and drove about 2 hours right into the jungle itself all hell broke loose with my illness.

Jungle camping
Heavy fever, massive diarrhea, headache, body aches, chills, fatigue you name it I had it. I couldn’t eat nor drink anything without it coming out immediately. The other people saw me in horrible pain, but captain tuff/stupid over here said no worries, onward we go! Why is it that it’s the worst times that I get sick, now I’m here in the Amazon jungle, seriously ill with no help around? Worst part is that my GPS with the emergency EVAC button isn’t working here. Lucky me



So I had a huge problem with being deathly sick.

But I was still enjoying the jungle and the awesome creatures like this one.

It lights up when it flies around at night, and during the evening there tons of them flying in the jungle which made for quite a sight.



We also got to try some Cayman (crocodile) meat that was pretty cool.

And went looking for some Cayman at night.


A little kiss never hurt anybody right?



So my night was pretty wrenched. As 3 am rolled around so did the howler monkeys, grunting and making odd noises, I almost joined them in the noise making from the stomach pain.

The food that went in my mouth and out the other end in seconds


I was woken up in the morning by one of the girls saying they were leaving to go hiking and look for medicinal plants and such.

This is what I most looked forward to this tour, medicinal plants, but my body didn’t want to go.

So my will and determination  got me up, dizzy, with a headache, chugged some water, slapped myself in the face to wake up and onward I went! It was only a 2 hours hike then we would head back to the lodge and make our way back to Manus, it would take a lot longer than 2 hours of hiking to kill me so I figured I could make it, but I would have to suffer, and suffering I’m pretty good at I’ve realized. This matched reaching the top of 6000 meters of hell of the Cotopaxi volcano. In fact it felt like I got a taste and dose of every sickness I´ve had from throughout this journey. Thanks body!



We saw some huge spiders



Drank some tree milk which was amazing! Tasted like menthol and milk.



Tried the bitterest plant ever, which was a treatment for malaria.

Found a tree that if you hit at the right place makes a loud sound that travels upwards of 3 Km through the jungle. It’s used to communicate with others by the indigenous.

Even swung on a vine like Tarzan.



Never thought I’d stick my hand on an ants nest.



But apparently if you rub them all over you it’s a natural mosquito repellant. .I’m happy to report that it works quite well and smells wonderful too. (Not really, but it’s pretty effective).

Learned lots and lots about other various plants and their uses in medicine. It was definitely the best part of the tour for me learning about natures remedies the jungle holds.

Had some fun crossings
So we finally headed towards civilization and I couldn’t be happier.

10 hours later and I was back in Manus after many boat, taxi and van rides.

I immediately fell asleep once I got back to the hostel.

I woke up at 2 am completely dehydrated, and hallucinating. I knew it was time to throw in the white flag and I headed to the hospital.

It didn’t help the hospital wasn’t in the nicest area of town. At 2 am I didn’t quite know if I was hallucinating the crazy types of people I saw on the streets or if they really existed.

As I got to the hospital, the doctor looked at my face, and I was immediately looked at. All I can say is trying to explain medical symptoms in a foreign language I’m not too familiar with is terribly difficult and an extreme challenge with your deathly ill.

Somehow I pulled through headache, fatigue and all with Portuguese terms to get the point across to what I had. Having the medical knowledge I do I just told them directly I had a bacterial infection or serious food poison creating toxins of somesort inside me and needed antibiotics immediately fed into me intravenously (IV).

The doctor, first surprised at how enthusicatic I was to explain my theory in Portuguese yet so calmly and specific, also agreed after I gave him the run around with all the symptoms.

So I was given the antibiotics through my blood stream directly, 5000 ml of fluids to rehydrate and since it was a free medical clinic I even enacted on the dengue fever, and malaria analysis which came out negative. I knew I didn’t have them but hey it was free!

Funny how I’ve never been poked in the arm to draw blood before until now. Thanks Amazon!

So I spent the night in the hospital. Those few hours of thinking it was the end for me really made me think.

I was given a healthy appreciation for good health and life yet again.

I must say this was up there along with being sea sick and having food poisioning at the same time as the worst illness of this trip, and perhaps my life. Although when I was 5 I did eat a cockroach that had fumigation poisons that made me terribly ill-I think that one may win.

As I got back to the hostel the owner saw me and asked where I’d been, I said, the hospital. He gave me a concerned confusing look; I picked up my backpack, said to him “it was a pleasure paying not to sleep at your hostel” (of course I was at the hospital the whole time which made it hilarious to probably only me paying for a place I never slept at) and headed towards the port to catch up my boat ride to Colombia.

I’m such a crazy nut, hospital one moment, 7 days boat ride the next. I did however pick up my medication I’ll need the next week on the boat, in case things should go bad again. I should have stayed in Manaus and recooperate but I didn’t want to lose my money on the boat ride. Plus I’m on a schedule now! So my conclusion…. I’m taking more risks now that I don’t have a motorcycle…. Funny how that works.

So the tour guide picked me up to take me to the boat. Here comes shady business practices of the tour companies in Manaus..again!

He first left me to talk to some other tourists he spotted on the street to sell them a tour.

Then went to pick up my hammock he told me they would hang up for me on the boat the day before to save me a good spot. To which he gave me the awful excuse that he couldn’t do it because they were painting the boat….that was a complete lie as I asked once on the boat if they had painted. They said no.

Then the tour guy pays off an official, and then pays a guy to take me behind the docks to jump on the boat through the side where no one is looking, not through the main entrance where they check your ticket.

They lug you off and wave good bye. I was sleep deprived and couldn’t care less at the moment as I had been at the hospital all night and was fed up dealing with things and people. If I could have, I would have paid the guy to take me back to give that tour guide a piece of my mind and perhaps my fist, lied straight to my face so many times. Of course I protected myself by taping him when he talked to me but that’s still no excuse for this low life.

I just hoped the receipt that I was given gets me to my destination with little problems.

On another note, those American tourists on the jungle tour as well, well the tour operator called them when they were already on the tour to tell them they had given them the wrong price they paid for the tour and had to pay them and extra 40 Reals per day because they made a mistake. I mean come on! Manaus tour operators, you disappoint me, that’s just embarrassing.

So tour operators here will lie, cheat and do anything they have to get as much money from you as they can.

Be careful. This is the worst place I’ve seen in all my travels that tries to screw you royally in every way with no shame.

So now on my way to Tabatinga, loaded with antibiotics, ant diuretics, saline solution, feeling like crap from the illness and angry at being haggled around by the tour guy. Yup, just another fun day in the life of Alex.

But hey I’m alive and survived the Amazon Jungle without malaria, so all is good! Rock on!