As I walk by the beautiful Amazonas Theater in Manaus, Brazil, I feel dizzy and lightheaded. Maybe it’s the Christmas lights that have taken over every corner of the main square, or the wavy pavement pattern that inspired the famous Copacabana beach in Rio. Or perhaps it’s because I have just spent 8 days on a boat, cruising the Rio Negro with Katerre Expeditions.
Our journey took us from Novo Airão, 180 km from Manaus, to the Xixuau Reserve, on the border of Waimiri-Atroari indian territory, on the Jauaperi River.
No doubt an incredible experience, with an amazing group of individuals, all idealists in their own ways.
It is now 4 days later and I still feel the same way. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and it hits me. What I feel is the universe. Immense love and gratitude. My heart is open and still taking it all in.
Life changing, nothing less.
The memories of that first day aboard the Jacaré-Açu, our regional style boat, are still fresh. The boat is gorgeous, entirely crafted in wood, spacious and comfortable. It glides effortlessly over the dark waters of the Rio Negro, blending in with the landscape and making everyone immediately feel at home.
The first thing one notices in that part of the world is the vastness, the abundance.
The Rio Negro is the largest left tributary of the Amazon and the largest blackwater river in the world. Its sources are located in Colombia, where it is called Guainía River. It flows along the border of Colombia and Venezuela to Brazil, where it meets the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River south of Manaus.
The dark color of the Rio Negro comes from humic acid from incomplete breakdown of phenol-containing vegetation from sandy clearings, which, our guide adds, also means few mosquitos – yay!
Surrounded by the magnificent Anavilhanas archipelago, the second largest fluvial archipelago in the world, we head deeper into the Amazon towards our first sunset. It’s the dry season and the Jacaré-Açu anchors by a cluster of sand banks. Breathtaking.
That first night we sleep in hammocks at Mirante do Madadá and are gently awakened by the most spectacular sunrise. How often do we get to do that in our lives?
The food is genuine and unbelievably good. Tapioca, tucumã, tucunaré, tambaqui, cupuaçu and so many other wonderful local flavors with equally wonderful names… All prepared and served by the sweetest and most attentive ladies.
Next on our list: a hiking trail to the Madadá caves – a rock formation that is over 700 million years old. Along the way, exotic plants, fire ants, scorpion spiders, hidden orchids, the strong smell of what I’m told is the trace of a jaguar…
Incredible details that would most certainly go unnoticed if it weren’t for our guide and Katerre’s partner, Noé, a great storyteller that leads us through the forest, eagerly sharing his knowledge.
Noé points out a telephone tree and its huge above ground roots. He shows us how they are used as a form of communication by the rainforest’s inhabitants. He beats it like a drum and the loud noise echoes through the forest.
I think of my girls back home and how much they would enjoy Noé’s stories and the whole adventure.
In this complex, yet harmonious ecosystem, you can’t help but give your fullest attention to what the moment presents. Things just are. And you can’t help but just be. And what a powerful feeling that is.
The following days are filled with equally amazing adventures.
A bonfire on the beach, a short hike to a Samaúma – the largest tree of the Amazon forest – waterfalls and rapids that purify my soul on the Jau National Park, nighttime observation of alligators and sting rays…
And when you think things couldn’t possibly get any better, we get to meet the wonderful people of the communities we visit along the way.
Moura, Itaquera, Xixuau, Sao Pedro, Gaspar.
So distant from our reality, yet so connected to us by the same human needs and feelings.
Since this is a unique expedition and our group is mostly composed by members of the tourism industry, in addition to an environmentalist and an educator, we spend a lot of time talking to the locals and finding out more about Katerre’s projects in the area.
Each community tells us a different story. And we are eager to hear them.
Moura surprises us with a modern long-distance education system and huge flatscreen TVs in each classroom.
In Itaquera we visit the Associação dos Artesãos of the Jauaperi River. Their work is gorgeous. Their talent is obvious, and so is their struggle with distribution and management skills.
Xixuau, a green paradise on earth, impresses us with their efforts to create a sustainable ecotourism practice.
The bright teenage girls of Sao Pedro inspire us with their hopes and dreams for a better education and future.
In Gaspar, a warm welcome by Paul and Bianca, the amazing couple that arrived from Europe in 1994 to work with tourism when one unusual request changed it all: one of the locals asked Paul if he could teach his kids how to read and write. And so VivAmazonia – a school for children between 5 and 10 – was born.
Words cannot capture the magnitude of such a journey and the perfect balance of nature, adventure and self-discovery that it entails.
For now, I remember the peaceful sunrises and the stunning sunsets. The countless shining stars that illuminate our path as we navigate toward our destination with fluidity and balance.
I feel immense gratitude for the crew and the new wonderful friends I made on board.
I think of my little guides in Moura – Guilherme (8), Bruno (7) and Cali (6) – and their joy and pride while showing me their school and talking about their projects for their school’s very first science fair;
I feel Yasmin’s (5) tight hug as I left her village Itaquera;
I carry the same peace I felt while canoeing the tributaries of the Jauaperi River in the Xixuau reserve. A perfect and relaxed sunset, hearing the toucans, watching playful monkeys. A clear reminder that life can indeed be beautiful and simple;
My heart is filled with the love, joy and inspiration we received from the 13 kids at VivAmazonia, who created and enacted a beautiful play for us, capturing us with their smiles and enthusiasm;
My soul is bursting with the sense of purpose, compassion and determination of Paul and Bianca, who followed their hearts 20 years ago and now represent a beacon of hope and light in that remote corner of the world;
Moments of pure love, awareness and wonder.
An experience that I can’t wait to share with my family. And yours.
For more information on our upcoming Amazon trips, click here.