Gabby DeMarchi/The Student
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of installments from Gabby Demarchi who is currently studying abroad as part of the Semester at Sea program.
Oh, Brazil. A fruitful country of coffee, sugar, rubber and some pretty fantastic food. Between the bustling city of Manaus and rural peacefulness of the Amazon, I really experienced all the different elements Brazil has to offer.
We docked in Manaus, the capital of the state of the Amazonas. It is the largest metropolitan city in Northern Brazil, which I wasn’t expecting at all. When you think of the Amazon, you think of the river and the jungle, but this is not the case. Manaus is a thriving city.
Hundreds of people were walking the streets as I exited the ship. Several different street vendors tried to sell items to the students in broken English, or even worse, in Portuguese. This is the first port where we’ve experienced a language barrier. It was definitely a difficult task to decode what they were saying, but it was also very interesting to see how people can communicate without knowing each other’s languages. It was very cool to see.
After getting to know the city of Manaus for a day, it was time to head to the Amazon. This is where we began our four-hour journey. Two cars and two boats had to be taken to get us to where we were going.
As I sat in a cramped seat in a motorized canoe on my way to spend a night and two days in the Amazon, it truly hit me how lucky I was to be doing this. Not everyone gets to experience things such as the Amazon River and rainforest, but I was about to.
After the four-hour trek, we finally made it to the beautiful Ararinha Jungle Hotel. What a great place! The area had maybe five or six little huts that guests slept in. The best part is that our beds for the evening were cloth hammocks that were absolutely beautiful and actually comfortable.
The first Amazonian thing we did was some piranha fishing. I didn’t catch any, but watching everyone else catch them was super funny. After anyone caught one, everyone would scream and clap and it was always a big deal.
We ended up keeping some and eating them for lunch the next day. They ended up tasting like salty chicken.
After some fishing, we did the unthinkable and swam in the Amazon River!
I had no idea this was even allowed. Piranhas, caiman and Boto dolphins all live in the Amazon. Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was absolutely amazing.
After a dinner of chicken, rice and some amazing pineapple, we went out to find some caiman. Caimans are a family member of the alligator, but they aren’t alligators. (They do look like baby alligators though.)
As we went out in the night, our tour guide, Ney, spotted one with his amazing eyes and just snatched it up out of the water. Then each of us in the boat all got to hold the caiman! He was very docile and seemed to be more afraid of us than we were of him.
The next day was just as great. We hiked through the Amazon Rainforest and learned about the plants and the wildlife. Along the way, we saw a lot of ants and grasshoppers, and we ultimately ended up running into a huge tarantula. In the end, I got to touch it. It was a fairly nerve-wracking experience but totally amazing as the same time.
The rest of the day consisted of boating on the Amazon River. It was so peaceful. This past year, the president of Brazil put up electrical towers in the Amazon. The Amazon is slowly becoming more modernized, but the beauty hasn’t been ruined.
After all of that, it was time to head back to Manaus.
On our first boat ride back to Manaus, it started raining as hard as you could image. After getting soaked on the boat, it was time to take the second hour of our trip in a van.
The first 20 minutes of the drive was made up of a dirt road. Seeing as it was raining pretty hard, the vans were struggling to get through the now-mud road. After about 10 minutes of driving in the van, it just couldn’t go any further and sunk completely into the mud. After spinning the wheels in the mud for about 15 minutes, myself, two other students, an SAS faculty member and a couple from Spain were told to get out and start pushing.
What an experience. It was very eye-opening. After pushing for about 15 minutes, we got nowhere. Now here is the catch. Out in the middle of the Amazon, there is no great cell reception, so for about 20 minutes, we just had to sit in the stuck van until a new van came by.
Thank goodness one did. We hopped in that van and continued on our way, and we actually made it back alive to Manaus.
While I was soaked, muddy and smelled terrible, I made it back safely to the MV Explorer in one piece. The overall Brazil experience was incredible, and while not everything went smoothly, I definitely learned from my experiences.