Adventures in the Amazon
Aerial view of Ariau Amazon Towers
Our adventure began at an international port off the Rio Negro in a place called Manaus. After spending the night in a very luxurious hotel we arose at sunrise to eat and board the boat which would carry us into the Amazon. Many of us tired from all the traveling slept while we took a two hour journey down the Rio Negro to a hotel called the Ariau Amazon Towers. When the towers came into view I was in shock The Ariau was huge structure that looked more like something out of Swiss Family Robinson than a hotel. The towers were elevated high off the ground on pilings sitting in the middle of a small plot of forest. The Ariau is located 35 miles northwest of Manaus and is between two tributaries leading into the Amazon River, the Rio Negro and the Rio Ariau. It is the only treetop level hotel complex in the Amazon. The massive complex has approximately eight kilometers of catwalk and can accommodate over 300 people. It also houses a wide assortment of wild animals. The first thing you notice when you arrive is all the monkeys running around in every direction hunting for a tourist that will offer them a snack. Three types inhabit the area surrounding the Ariau which include the spider monkey, squirrel monkey, and woolly monkey. Although they are wild, one of the main sources of food for them is being fed by tourists. You can hand feed the monkeys and sometimes they will even steal your food if you are not watching. Among the birds at the Ariau are macaws, parrots, and parakeets. You can also feed some of these birds but beware of their sharp beaks! With a couple of stores, a restaurant, and a bar the Ariau Amazon Towers is essentially a small self-contained village (Ariau Amazon Towers, 2004).
While at the Ariau we were able to experience many aspects of the Amazon. To get around we took giant motorized canoes driven by an experienced guide. Our main guide, Michelle, explained what everything was as we made our way down the river. During our travels Michelle took us to a native's house where we learned about how they farm for a living and what they ate. We were actually given the opportunity to watch Michelle turn a root into a type of flour called manioc. We then got to eat food made from the manioc which had the consistency of doughy bread and had a very unique taste which is somewhat hard to describe. The native's also had harvested some fresh Brazil nuts for us which were absolutely wonderful.
Another adventure that Michelle led us on was a piranha fishing trip. We took a canoe down the river a little ways and threw out our lines. The fishing poles were simple made of cane with a line and hook attached. All we had to do was put some meat on the hook and we were ready, or at least we thought we were. The piranhas ended up being kind of hard to catch and ate the bait off the hook nearly every time. We were only able to catch a few of the fifty species in the Serrasalmus genus that inhabit the Amazon.
Picture of a Serrasamus notatus specie of piranha
Many people conceive the piranha as a ferocious meat eating machine that will eat nearly anything that moves. On this trip we learned that this is definitely not true. Only some of the species live off of meat while the rest eat fruit or seeds. The piranhas are rarely a risk to larger creatures unless they are trapped in a small pond or tributary during the dry season. When this happens and all the other fish have been eaten the piranhas will attack nearly anything, especially if it is wounded or bleeding. As proof that piranhas are seldom a danger we all swam in “piranha infested” water many times and never had a single problem.
While in Ariau we also went caiman spotting. There are four types of caiman in the Amazon but we were only after the spectacled caiman or C. crocodilus . This is one of the smaller caiman reaching a length of up to 2.3 meters. To find these reptiles we headed out on the river at night with Michelle and a few other guides. While we silently watched, the guides glared a spotlight over the water in search of caiman eyes. If they found one the plan was to jump in and catch it. After two nights of trying we gave up on capturing a caiman. We got to see a few but even with the guide's hard efforts we had no luck in capturing one. The experience overall was still a lot of fun.
Though we had explored much of the river and native villages we had yet to explore one of the greatest parts of the Amazon, the rainforest. Our trek though the rainforest was led by Michelle who had a good deal of knowledge about the native plants, animals, and insects that we were going to see. Among some of the plants that we saw was a plant that produces a chemical called quinine. The quinine was located in the bark of the tree and is a main extract used in many anti-malarial medications. She explained how the natives make tea from this bark which they use to cure malaria. Michelle also showed us an assortment of different insects like the leafcutter ant and the pomerine ant. We got to see some of the giant ant piles that the leafcutter ants had created. We also got to see the enormity of the pomerine ant which can grow up to one inch in length. Michelle explained to us how some native tribes require boys to put there hand in a bag of these pomerine ants for an extended period of time. This is done as the boys are passing over to manhood. If the boys can resist the pain of the ants constant biting then they are worthy to become a man.
The Amazon rainforest is much more important to us than one might think. The Amazon rainforest contains over 1300 hundred plants holding medicinal value with around a quarter of the world's medicines containing some kind of extract from tropical forests such as the Amazon. With new plants being discovered every year there might actually be a cure for AIDS, cancer, or some other disease just waiting to be found.
The Amazon also plays an important role in the earth's atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the air causes some of the infrared radiation produced by the greenhouse effect to be radiated back to earth which causes global warming. The thousands of plants found in the Amazon absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide which in turn helps lessen global warming. The burning of the rainforest by many natives causes a release of carbon dioxide in the air as well as destroying valuable vegetation. With this vegetation gone there are fewer trees to absorb the excess carbon dioxide. Furthermore the rainforest has an effect on the amount of rainfall in the surrounding regions. The vegetation in the Amazon releases large quantities of water vapor into the air which eventually ends up as rainfall in various regions and nearby countries (Noble, Draffen, Jones, McAsey, & Pinheiro, 2002).
Overall the Amazon was a major highlight on our trip. It gave us a new appreciation and understanding of what the Amazon River and the surrounding rainforests are really like. We met many kind people and had some excellent experiences. I don't think any of us will ever forget the wonderful time we spent in the Amazon.
Aerial picture courtesy of: http://www.ariautowers.com/
Ariau Amazon Towers. (2004). Retrieved February 7, 2005 from http://www.ariautowers.com/
Noble, J., Draffen, A., Jones, R., McAsey, C., & Pinheiro, L. (2002). Brazil (5th ed.). Oakland: Lonely Planet Publications
Piranha picture courtesy of: Google Images