View From The Rio Negro: Lo Peix Amazon Cruise
| Lo Peix
Here is a review from our very own Jonathan Parker, who managed to squeeze in a 2-day cruise on board Lo Peix before attending the FIAM (Feira Internacional da Amazônia) conference in Manaus, aimed at boosting various industries in the region, including tourism:
'Waking early from my comfy bed at the Park Suites, I drew the curtains to one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. Bright sunshine, the iconic Ponta Negra bridge in the distance, and the vast, serene Rio Negro every which way I looked, with a solitary riverboat slowly edging its way towards the horizon leaving a trail of ripples in its wake. It’s no wonder the locals have nicknamed the Amazon here “The River Sea” because of its sheer enormity. Breathtaking. Could the day get any better?
After a hearty breakfast - you must try the Sucos and Pão de queijo (fresh juices and little cheesy bread balls) when you are in Manaus - I was picked up and chauffeured the short distance to the Marina Do Davi. I wasn’t lucky enough, but keep your eyes peeled on the approach to the port as I was told that often Capuchin monkeys can be seen playing in the tree tops.
I was greeted by the beaming smile of Jordi, the boat’s owner, captain and guide, who picked me up in a small skiff and took me to the awaiting Lo Peix, my home for the next two days, where I met my fellow passengers and the crew. My initial thoughts were how friendly everyone was and how homely the boat felt. I guess it’s not a surprise given Jordi himself lived on the boat for several years discovering the Amazon. The marina, although small, was all hustle and bustle and a fascinating insight into the way of life for many in Manaus, home to dozens of similar marinas, harboring everything from small fishing boats and traditional riverboats, such as the Lo Peix, to luxury yachts for the wealthy of Manaus.
Before long, after a guided tour of the boat, we were on our way, past the incredible floating gas stations and heading upriver along the Negro towards the Anavilhanas and our first destination, the Museum Seringal Vila Paraiso. The museum, used for the movie A Selva (The Jungle, 2002), recreates a rubber estate (seringal) from the Rubber Boom of the 19th century, a hugely influential and affluent period in Manaus’ history. The replica rubber baron’s lavish home with its European furnishings and extravagant decor (the Greco-Roman murals are incredible) is a stark contrast to the sleeping and working conditions of the tappers. One can only imagine how scary it must have been to work away at night in the jungle surrounded by mosquitos and creepy crawlies, not to mention jaguars! The live demonstration of sap extraction is a highlight. A fascinating step back in time.
Another thing to watch out for at the museum are the markings on its pier indicating the high water marks over the last couple of decades. It’s amazing to see how much the depth of the river changes over a year, up to 46 ft (14 m) in some cases!
Next stop was an idyllic beach (we’d moor there for the night) where we donned our bathers and enjoyed the white sand between our toes and bathed in the warm, mosquito-free, tannin-stained waters of the Rio Negro. The location was spectacular, and I felt privileged to experience this tiny sand bar of tranquility, the sounds of the jungle echoing as we swam about. The beach remains nameless, only visible at certain times of the year, and given the ever-changing fluid dynamics of the river, may not be there much longer. This thought made the experience even more memorable and me more grateful for having been a part of it. On my return to the boat I found I had a new friend waiting for me outside of my cabin - a stunning Giant Blue Morpho butterfly. What luck!
Later that afternoon for an additional $25 we had the chance to swim with pink dolphins and unsurprisingly we all chose to swim with these majestic, inquisitive and smiling creatures. Thoughts of watching Flipper as a boy all came back to me, and I had an amazing time. Despite their size (much bigger than I thought!), they are so graceful and agile in the water, much more so than us in our inflatable lifejackets! It was interesting to learn that they don’t have very good eyesight and depend a great deal on their sonar, so it’s best not to touch them on the top of their heads. It was good to know that the dolphins are free to come and go as they please, and feeding (they are attracted by the free fish dinners) only happens every other day or so, so as to not interfere with their natural way of life too much.
Talking of dinners, one thing I haven’t mentioned is the food on board Lo Peix, which was excellent. Jordi jokes that he cannot guarantee wildlife (apart from maybe pink dolphins), but he can guarantee you will get fat! The food was plentiful and delicious, and in all honesty was very healthy with fresh salads, fruit and regional fish dishes … until the desserts arrived. One dessert in particular, the maracuyá-chocolate mousse, was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. Every mouthful of the cupuaçu (a local superfruit related to the cacao) juices, desserts and breakfast dishes were also a delight!
After drifting off listening to the sounds of the jungle (the boat has solar panels to store energy so no noisy generator is required to run at night) and a comfortable night’s sleep on board, the next day we set off early to explore more channels and - unbeknown to us - an experience we would never forget! Having already spotted a large caiman basking on the bank, and some colorful, noisy prehistoric birds called hoatzins, we came across a playful troop of squirrel monkeys. Luckily we had some bananas on board and the lure of a ripe banana proved too much for some of the braver monkeys to resist and they came on to our canoe! Being this close to wild animals was an incredible feeling and the fact they were cute squirrel monkeys as opposed to giant tarantulas made it all the better!
We also tried our hand at piranha fishing - great fun! - and caught enough to sample them for lunch that day. They are a bit tricky to eat (there’s a technique) but delicious nonetheless, and eating something so dangerous that you caught yourself is strangely satisfying in a hunter-gatherer kind of way. I was certainly glad it hadn’t been the other way around that’s for sure!
Unfortunately, after lunch, I had to leave my fellow passengers owing to work commitments and was sad to depart, not to mention jealous of what they might see and experience in the coming days. In just two days I had had so much fun, met some wonderful people, and came face-to-face with some amazing wildlife. I cannot give enough thanks to Jordi and his crew. I only wish I could have stayed longer!'