It is my second day on the world famous river. I am crossing the Amazon from Manaus in a low lying riverboat, shaded from the sun under a canopy, lazing in a hammock and snoozing, or chatting idly with one of the crew. The river splits into multiple channels as it sweeps past low lying islands edged with white talcum sand. We come to the ‘meeting of the rivers’ – an irregular but clearly visible demarcation line, where the sediments of the tributary join the mud –laden flow of the mother of all rivers in a rush towards the ocean
The boat creaks against the dock and I hop ashore, clutching my daypack to my side. My stomach lurches at the sickly sweet smell of oil, its iridescent scum spreading across the surface of the river. I step aboard a long canoe tied up on the other side of the dock and along with five others I am ferried for an hour to a long wooden jetty leading to a ramshackle lodge on stilts, half hidden among the trees. Along the shore, creepers and lianas hang motionless above reeds, ferns and moss-covered, gnarled roots, while radiant purple orchids shout their glory to passing insects. Scarlet-headed macaws and bright green parrokeets flit from branch to branch, flapping and screeching in protest at our arrival, and a solitary caiman slowly heaves its lumpy, scaly body up to waddle down the bank and slip without leaving a ripple into the darkening waters
It is almost time for supper and I am having a sundowner on the verandah. A rim of orange rises from behind the trees, transforming the horizon from pale gold through pink to mauve to fiery ochre, the glory of silhouetted jungle for once outdone
Tiny, mother-of-pearl humming birds, snowy white egrets and brazen toucans with gaudy beaks of vermilion, yellow and black sing, chirp, pipe, cluck and scream as they swoop and hop from branch to branch
Monkeys fiddle, squeal, leap and chatter; sloth-like tapirs sway idly through the thicket; nervous capybara twitch like their rodent brethren, though they are the size of dogs
The half eaten carcass of a wild boar rots on the jungle floor, a rhea lollops past, head jerking from side to side like a demented Anglepoise lamp.
A metre below my feet insects rule the lower realm. Ants, flies, spiders and shiny great fat black bugs abound, going about their business, shifting loamy soil, hefting leaves and twigs twice their size, building, tunnelling, creating their sub-world on the forest floor. Worms and snakes slither and crawl, while overhead, flimsy branches strain under the weight of giant juburu – great storks the size of postboxes – who land there with slowly flapping wings like nature’s jumbo jets, oblivious to the commotion they cause.
The flaming orb sinks suddenly at the end of the day, when herons, flamingos and parrots flap, squawk, and dash from tree to tree to await the blackness of the night. Peace descends on the Rio Negro, and I take a sip of my caipirinha cocktail, savouring the tingle of the cachaca sugarcane liqueur, and contemplate this exotic corner of Brazil as I swing from side to side in my hammock seat, pushing my feet on the banister of the verandah, watching the sun disappear behind the shadowy trees on the opposite bank
Tomorrow I will board a flimsy canoe and go piranha fishing. But for now, the darkness of the jungle envelops me as I look forward to the adventures of the morning.