January 13, 2013
During our Trekking the Planet journey we have tried to visit some of the most remote places in the world. Perhaps none of these have been more off the beaten path than the Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest has an area of 2,123,562 square miles (5,500,000 square kilometers), which is greater than the size of the European continent. We spent six days in a community that is located about 285 river miles (460 kilometers) from Manaus, Brazil.
There are no roads in this remote area, so to get to the community of Xixuau we first traveled by public boat from Manaus. The boats hold about 150 people, who bring their hammocks to use as a combination chair and bed for the overnight trip. The boat left at 6:00pm and we arrived about four hours early to get a hammock spot. It was already crowded and some locals helped us find a space to hang the two hammocks that we purchased in Manaus. They even showed us how to tie them up so we would not fall!
Our boat traveled up the Rio Negro River, which, along with the Solimões River, is one of the two main tributaries that form the Amazon. There were many families on board and people were friendly, although no one spoke English. Also on board were five Europeans who were traveling to Xixuau with us. After a buffet dinner was served everyone settled down for the night. The hammock was fairly comfortable and we even felt a cool breeze as the boat sailed up the river.
Late the next morning, after 17 1/2 hours and 201 miles (325 kilometers) of travel, we disembarked in the village of Moura. Here, we boarded a small boat and journeyed up the Jauaperi River for another 84 miles (135 kilometers) over 4 1/2 hours. We saw five small villages along the way and were treated to views of lush forests and a variety of birds on both sides of us. Finally, after 22 hours, we reached Xixuau. We stayed in a private room, with open windows that provided a welcome breeze at night. The bed’s mosquito net was important for protection from the bugs and even the tarantula that came into our room on a couple of nights!
The Xixuau community, comprised of about 100 people, is located on a state reserve. They have established a community association, with the help of a Scottish ex-pat who has lived in the area for 20 years. Their association has created accommodations for up to 20 people, providing villager work for cooks, cleaners, guides and other positions. In this way, these people can earn a living through tourism and the preservation of their pristine rainforest. It is a great incentive against deforestation, which is what has happened to at least 20% of the Amazon Rainforest to date.
We were assigned a guide, Zezinho, on the first day and coordinated all our activities with him. Each day we were up at sunrise to take a two to three hour trek through different sections of the rainforest. The Amazon represents over half of the world’s remaining rainforests, and it contains the largest collection of plants and animal species in the world. In fact, one in ten of the world’s known species lives somewhere in the Amazon Rainforest.
Taking pictures in the dense and dark rainforest is difficult to do. We did see wild deer, peccaries (members of the pig family) and heard a jaguar as it was chasing after other animals. We were able to see several different types of monkeys, swinging from tree to tree, high above us. What we did gather by hiking through the rainforest was an appreciation for the many, many types of trees and plants present all around us. It is said that the biodiversity of plant species is the highest on Earth here. Some experts estimate that every 250 acres (or about one square kilometer) may contain up to a thousand types of trees and thousands more of other plant species.
In the late afternoon each day we boarded a dugout canoe and explored the many river inlets around the Xixuau community. Here, we had better luck in seeing (and photographing) caimans, toucans, parrots and macaws. Two of the most interesting animals to see in the water are the giant otters and Amazon River dolphins. The first afternoon out we came upon a group of giant otters as the sun was setting. These endangered animals can be as long as about 5.6 feet (1.7 meters). They have throat markings of white or cream colored fur, which can be used to uniquely identify individuals. We were fortunate to see other groups of otters over the next several days.
The Amazon River dolphins were more elusive. This animal is an endangered freshwater dolphin that lives in South America. They can be larger than humans and are different from other dolphins in that they have smaller dorsal fins, longer beaks and can turn their heads from side to side, which is important in swimming through flooded forests. These animals can also be gray, albino or pink in color. We were able to see a few dolphins but they were difficult to photograph because they do not breach very high when coming out of the water to breathe.
After six days of rainforest exploration, we traveled back to Manaus as we came, arriving in the small village of Moura right when the sun was setting. We were dropped off on a floating dock, where we set up our hammocks along with other waiting locals, and slept until the public boat arrived at 3:20am. After boarding the boat, we tied up our hammocks again and fell back asleep until the sun rose. We arrived back in Manaus in the late afternoon.
Journeying through this remote part of the world provided us with some perspective on the sheer size and scale of the Amazon Rainforest. We enjoyed the hiking, water explorations and animal encounters that we had, as well as the interaction with the locals who we met in the Xixuau community. Their efforts to preserve this area through tourism are something that we hope is adopted in other areas of the Amazon Rainforest.
Learn more about where we stayed: www.Amazonia.org
Full Disclosure: We paid full price for our stay and did not receive any remuneration for this story.