"Do you want to sleep in a hammock on your balcony?" asked my guide at the Ariau Jungle towers, two hours upstream from Manaus.
When I hesitated, he said "Don't worry...nothing will get you. The opossums...they don't jump!"
"What about the snakes?" I asked. The movie "Anaconda" had been filmed here, and I certainly wasn't looking for an up-close-and-personal experience with them.
"They're down there" he said, pointing to the jungle floor about 30 feet below "so you don't need to worry! And the monkeys...the monkeys won't bother you either".
Even if the opossums, snakes, and monkeys left me alone, I knew the bugs would not. Earlier that evening at the fabulous dinner buffet, bugs kept falling from the ceiling every minute or two, a result of the exceptionally hot day it had been. One of them had even fallen down my shirt, causing me to abandon all sense of modesty and decorum as I hurriedly extracted it. (Fortunately, the phenomenom of bugs falling from the ceiling like that only happened on that first day of the four I spent there.)
So, even though spending the night outside in a hammock would have been the ultimate jungle experience, I was quite content to settle for just 50% of the ultimate jungle experience. I did ask my guide, Rui (prounouned "Hui"), to setup the hammock inside my room, though, so I could enjoy relaxing in it in air-conditioned bliss during the breaks between the exciting jungle excursions they planned for us. Here's Rui and another lodge employee just after setting up my hammock.
The lodge has fun treehouses, like this one:
But my budget only allowed for a room in one of the towers built on stilts:
The Ariau Jungle Lodge actually has fewer bugs and mosquitoes than other places along the Amazon river, because it's built along the Rio Negro, one of the major Amazon tributaries whose black waters are quite acidic, making them not well suited for mosquitoes to breed.
Some people just take a day trip from Manaus to visit the Ariau Jungle Lodge, but I was thankful to spend three nights there, so I could see how the jungle changed throughout the course of each day.
In the early mornings, for instance, I'd hear the pitter patter of little monkey feet coming up behind me as I walked on the raised pathways. One morning a monkey groomed himself for several minutes as I watched from three feet away.
Although the monkeys were very active in the morning, they liked to hang out at the lodge all day long. One time I even saw them sneak into the restaurant to steal sugar packets!
One morning, Rui took us on a walk over the miles of boardwalks to a lake area, where we could see and hear the animals at sunrise. As we stood at the lake, we saw numerous birds flying by: toucans, parrots, egrets, and even some pre-historic birds that have claws on their wings when they are born, and have a multi-chambered stomach. The Amazon is filled with frogs, some of them which make very unique sounds...like water dripping into a pool, or the sound of metal hitting metal. Here's a video that captures some of the sights and sounds of that sunrise experience:
In the evenings, the big Macaws liked to hang out near the bar, and the frogs would come out to relax along the boardwalk:
After dark, the fireflies came out and enchanted me with their dances that reminded me of blinking Christmas lights.
Often, the jungle floor below the lodge is flooded, but I was there at the very end of dry season, and there's also a severe drought this year. The drought is so severe that the normal canoe entrance to the lodge is closed:
So we had to bring our canoes up the Ariau tributary to the back entrance, here:
Staying at the lodge was actually quite comfortable. They have nice warm showers, which I was glad for, since I showered about 4 times each day. The jungle is incredibly humid and so whenever I'd go out for an outing, I'd come back wet.
I was surprised to see how quickly mold grew there--by the afternoon, mold would be growing on the soap and towels I had used in the morning. (By the way, if you ever travel to the Amazon, be sure to take a ziploc bag in which to keep your camera, along with a silica gel pack to absorb the moisture...I didn't and my camera's display screen and automated lens cover malfunctioned until I could get to a dryer climate).
The best part of staying at Ariau Jungle Lodge is all the outings they take you on: you jump into their motorized canoes to see native villages, to swim with the pink river dolphins, to hike through the jungle, to spot caiman (crocodiles), and to fish for piranha, experiences which I will write about in upcoming posts.
For now, though, here's a video of cormorants taking flight over the Amazon as we went by in our canoe:
And a shot or two of the Amazon at sunset: