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Going off the grid in the Amazon

Written by  Elena Skye

LATIN
As our lime green kayaks slid across the top of the glassy black water of the Rio Negro, the only sounds were the occasional splash of our paddles, the chorus of exotic birds exuberantly greeting the morning, and the distant, droning roar of red howler monkeys. A mother and baby grey dolphin swam playfully around us and a flock of colorful screeching Macaw parrots flew across the sky.

This is how a typical day starts on an Amazon River cruise with Amazon Nature Tours, a Brazil based tour operator, on the elegant motor yacht the Tucano. Cruising on the Rio Negro, which is a major tributary of the Amazon River, most of the journey takes place in The Central Amazon Conservation Complex, which is a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site and the largest reserve in the Amazon rainforest. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Built in 1997, the Tucano has a shallow draft which enables it to cruise much higher up the Rio Negro and reach more remote, untouched areas than any other Amazon River touring ship. It holds 17 passengers at most, so every trip has an intimate feel.
Expert guides with their extensive knowledge of the Amazonian animals, birds, flora and fauna, offer you an excellent opportunity to see and learn as much as possible about Amazon nature and culture during your cruise. The off-ship excursions, up to four a day, offer a multitude of ways to experience the Brazilian Amazon and its amazing variety of wildlife and incredible diversity of vegetation.
There are ample opportunities to explore the Rio Negro in kayaks, motorized canoes (whose electric motors are quiet and clean) and “Jungle Walks.” Guests can participate in as many of the excursions as they like or stay onboard and simply enjoy the beauty of the Rio Negro from the comfort of a deck chair or colorful hammock on the large observation deck.

Itinerary
Guests fly into Manaus, the capital city of the state of Amazonas in the North Region of Brazil. Once a vibrant town during the rubber boom of the early 1900s, its most famous tourist attractions now are its historic opera house and the exotic and colorful markets.
The first night is spent at the Tropical Hotel. Guests can take a city tour of Manaus or stay on the extensive grounds of the hotel with its large outdoor pool area offering food service and a small zoo featuring Amazonian animals and birds. It’s a short walk from the hotel to where the expedition ship Y.M. Tucano is moored.
The motor yacht Tucano serves as home for the duration of the tour. It’s a unique and lovely ship designed in the style of luxury steamers of the 19th century, with lots of wood paneling and brass hardware. The staterooms and common areas are decorated with beautiful framed sketches of Amazon birds, plants, maps and even old posters that feature Amazon lore and add a playful touch.

Amenities
The nine cabins are all outside staterooms with multiple windows and have private bathrooms and air conditioning. There are dedicated single cabins available, and there is an option to share a double room, making it appealing to the single traveler.
The Tucano was designed to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. With equipment that uses solar-electric and solar thermal arrays to power all the basic functions of the ship including refrigeration, lighting, cooking and the running of the launches, you are assured a clean and quiet experience.
Meals onboard the Tucano feature Amazonian cuisine that includes locally sourced fish and fruits, and seasonings unique to the Amazon. All meals are included in the price of the trip. Beer, wine and soda are available at a reasonable price.
The ship doesn’t offer wifi and there is rarely any phone service in the region, but this just a reminder of the fact that you are truly off the grid, exploring parts of the Amazon that most people will never get to see. The days and nights are full of nature viewing and there’s a sense of meditative peace. We went days without seeing any other cruise vessel.
One concern many people have of exploring the Amazon is of bugs, especially mosquitoes. Our guides explained that because of the difference in the composition of Rio Negro water and The Amazon River water there are very few mosquitoes to worry about on a Rio Negro cruise. Still we were advised to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts during our jungle walks and bring insect repellent to apply only when needed. Surprisingly that
rarely happened.
The staff and crew couldn’t be more friendly and helpful. Nice touches included frozen washcloths handed to you from a cooler after a walk through the heat and humidity of the rainforest. Another was an informal evening seminar about the exotic fruits we’d be seeing in the jungle and enjoying at meals. These fruits were served throughout the trip on platters at breakfast, in freshly blended drinks and even homemade ice creams.
During the jungle walks and canoe and kayak excursions our group saw sloths, anteaters, red howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys and spider monkeys. What a thrill to see monkeys moving across the jungle canopy overhead during our jungle walks or from our canoes or kayaks as they swung from branch to branch on the riverside.
One unique excursion was Piranha fishing. With bits of raw beef on hooks, everyone in our group caught at least one. We took them back to the boat and had them for dinner the next night. Another unexpected excursion was visiting a sandbar that was home to a small local park area where we went swimming and enjoyed beverages brought from the ship.
Cultural excursions included visits to two small villages where we watched manioc, a staple of Brazilian food, being processed by hand by a mother and daughter and another where manioc trees were being grown.
We also visited the remains of a town built by a rubber baron, the crumbling mansion of the founder now maintained by a lone Japanese man whose family had come to Brazilian after World War II searching for opportunities.
The cruise ends with a visit to the confluence of rivers where the dark shiny water of The Rio Negro meets the light brown murky water of the Amazon.
This cruise is a great way to get to know this fascinating lush, wild life filled part of the world and to just get off the grid for a while and reconnect with oneself.
Visit www.naturetours.com

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