A City Girl’s Guide to the Amazon

July 17, 2013 by

Places to Go, South & Central America, Things to Do, Top Travel Destinations, Travel Advice & Inspiration

The Amazon

The Amazon

In preparing for my trip to Brazil, I figured I should probably book a few days in the Amazon. Not really because I always dreamt of trekking through the rainforest, more so that I felt I owed it to the one of the Seven Wonders of the World to make an appearance.

As a native city girl, I’ve never done well outdoors in the wilderness without a subway nearby. I prefer not to hike, ever, I don’t like to sweat, and I am very particular. I also am addicted to air-conditioning; I turn it on as soon as it hits 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But somehow, when I travel, all bets are off; I let the inner nature-lover out (she is very tiny and only likes to be outside for a few hours every few years). That little person inside me was telling me that I couldn’t go to South America (for the second time) without seeing what all the hype was about, as out of my comfort zone as it sounded.

So in between Sao Paolo and Rio, my travel mate and I booked a two-day excursion to the Amazon Rainforest. We were offered a cabin or a hammock upon booking. I automatically said yes to the cabin, not thinking my friend would ever consider sleeping in a hammock. Oops – apparently some people are into that sort of thing.

Now that I was sure I’d have a real bed to sleep in, I started planning for the rest of the trip. While I was worrying about what shoes to pack for Sao Paolo and what bathing suits to pack for Rio, I neglected to read the email from the Amazon excursion company about what to pack for the rainforest. I figured, a pair of yoga pants, a t-shirt, and sneakers would be fine, right? Wrong. Only during my first night in Sao Paolo did I realize that I needed a long sleeve shirt, a hat, and special insect repellant (I didn’t even have the regular kind) that contains deet – an ingredient highly protective against mosquitoes. All this just so I wouldn’t get malaria. I had none of these things. Cue the minor panic-attack.

Frantically, I managed to grab a few of these essentials at one of the many malls in Sao Paulo. By the time we were headed to the rainforest, I was almost ready – a big improvement from the day before.

Cabin hut in the Amazon

Cabin hut in the Amazon

After a boat ride, van ride (sans AC), and another smaller boat ride, we arrived at our home for the next two days, an adorable little hut atop a hill off the Amazon River. I tried to ignore the feeling of sweat seeping through my long sleeves so I could take in my incredible surroundings. If people could live with it year round, I would figure out how to live with it for two days.

The family-run establishment was adorable, and everyone was friendly although they spoke very little English. We had a tentative itinerary with our tour guide who was hilarious (and found us equally amusing), but other than that, we just kind of wandered around the property, playing with the kids that lived there and taking pictures on the cute dock. It felt like sleep away camp – not that I had ever been. There was no cable, no Internet, and the closest city was a boat, van, and another boat ride away. So for the next two days, we were living like the Amazonians.

One activity was a ride around the river learning about what life was like where 6 months out of the year, your home would be flooded if it wasn’t on stilts. Where large crocodiles had to be killed because people regularly bathed in the river, and the adult crocodiles tried to eat them.

Boating on the Amazon River

Boating on the Amazon River

Everything about the Amazon was jaw dropping, but what I was most struck by was how the children grew up here. The nearest school, neighbor, or store could only be reached by boat. There were no movie theatres or baseball fields; they chased crocodiles and played hide-and-seek in the jungle for fun. It was the opposite of anything I’ve ever been exposed to. They were living a Mowgli-esque lifestyle I didn’t know still existed, and I found myself a bit jealous of their untainted outlook and innocence.

Monkey in the Amazon

Monkey in the Amazon

After checking out some of the wildlife, we took a break to swim in the lukewarm river and enjoy a few minutes of respite from the heat.  As we stood up, I pointed out that my friend was covered in dirt, to which she observed the same on me. Normally, us city girls don’t have too much interaction with dirt. But this was an exception; I was not as hot as I was 10 minutes ago and now I got to say I swam in the Amazon River. Dirt, be damned. How quickly I was becoming a woman of nature.

It was at this point that I decided to just go with it. I was sweaty, hot, smelly, and now dirty, and so was everyone else. The difference was, unlike when I am sweaty in NYC, I wasn’t miserable. I was too busy admiring this lifestyle, and trying to immerse myself as much as possible in such a short time.  This was also just two days out of my life, two days that already seemed life changing. That was the moment my travel mate thanked the Amazon Gods, for she would no longer have to hear me whine about shvitzing.

Back on land, my friend and I laid in our hammock for about an hour before dinner, just talking and sharing stories with each other. Connecting deeper than we thought we could, having spent so much time together in the past. It’s crazy how quickly you can bond when there are no distractions. And then we got quiet, speechless at how lucky we were to have this opportunity. Neither of us felt the need to somehow find wifi. It was like the rainforest magically stripped our normal desires away as soon as we got there.

After a sweaty night’s sleep curled up in our mosquito nets, we were up early to hike through the rainforest with our tour guide. As we wandered through the rainforest, (which also served as this family’s backyard) looking up I saw no sky, just like NYC. But instead of buildings towering over me, it was tall trees with huge bright green leaves. I imagine this is what some people feel like when getting off the subway in Times Square for the first time. “How can this exist?” I thought; I felt so tiny in this space that felt like the set of FernGully, place city kids fantasized about but didn’t think actually existed.

A few hours later, it was time for us to leave. And to my surprise, I didn’t want to. I know that travel changes you, but I didn’t think the two sweatiest days of my life would have that much of a positive impact on me. At one point, it looked like I was going to leave the Amazon with malaria, but instead I just left with a feeling that I could conquer anything after two days of that heat.

If this story sounds remotely similar to your last experience in the outdoors, the following tips might help you prepare for your Amazon adventure:

1.     Read the fine print: We get so many emails nowadays that no one reads all of them. But when traveling to a foreign place, be as prepared as possible. Had I read that email when it was sent to me, I would have bypassed a panic attack and the risk of malaria.

2.     Let go: No matter how out of the ordinary this is for you, you are going to be miserable if you don’t embrace it. The truth is, the Amazon can be very scary, uncomfortable, and…different. But that is the best part of traveling. Which is why you are only visiting for a short period of time, not moving there. If all else fails, just pretend it’s opposite day. Let go of the reigns and let your tour guide do the work.

3.     Have realistic expectations: This isn’t The Jungle Book, so if you are forcing yourself to go to the Amazon just because you want to see jaguars and bears dancing together, forget it. In the Brazilian Amazon, it is unlikely that you will see that kind of wildlife. The region is known for its flora and fauna, and more slimy animals like snakes. Trust me, it is just as cool.

4.     Dress your…worst: Don’t do what I had to do and waste a brand new shirt on the Amazon. Your clothes are going to get so sweaty, you will start to appreciate the moistness as it cools you off. Plus, after basically pouring bug spray on your clothes, you will never be able to get that smell out. This is true no matter what season you’re visiting the Amazon. Pack light clothing that you don’t mind discarding, which will also create more room in your suitcase to buy new clothes in Rio!

5.     Do your research: It is almost impossible to visit the Amazon without a tour company, and I definitely don’t recommend voyaging to the rainforest on your own. When picking the company, make sure you choose the right one for you. If you are anything like me, you will have a few requirements, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are so many options out there, there’s bound to be one that meets your needs. Don’t just pick the cheapest, or the most luxurious, or the one your friend recommends. If you hastily book a tour guide who caters to fishing fanatics, and you are deathly afraid of fish, it is going to taint your experience for reasons that could easily have been avoided. The tour guide can make or break your experience.

Read more about Amazon things to do here.

-Maggie Parker

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One Response to “A City Girl’s Guide to the Amazon”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Visiting South America is a real pleasure…..

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