Manaus; Rio Negro: Lago Ipixuna. Rio Solimões (Amazon River): Januacá; Lago Jutaí.
We arrived in Manuas, via VARIG, from from Miami at about 3:00 am, and directly transferred from the airport to the Harpy Eagle. Upon awakening the next morning, we were sailing on the mirror of the Rio Negro at the Ipixuna Ecological Reserve, getting our first look at the plants and animals of the rainforest, and especially the pink river dolphins. In late morning,we traversed the "wedding of the waters," the vast confluence where the tea-colored Rio Negro meets the cafe-au-lait Rio Solimões, forming the Amazon River. During the late afternoon, we arrived at Janauacá, a large lake surrounded by primary rainforest where, after some searching, we located the giant Amazon water lily (Victoria amazonica), which has spiny pads six feet across. After dinner, we canoed among the ilhasinundadas ("inundated islands") of Lago Jutaí, making observations of nocturnal wildlife, using powerful spotlights to shine sloths, fish-eating bats, iguanas, pit vipers, caimans and goatsuckers.
Rio Solimões: Paraná de Januacá (Boca de Anhão); Miuá; Barú.
The morning was devoted to learning about the life of the local Caboclos (river people): the harvesting of Brazil nuts, rubber, açai palms, cacao and cupuaçú. The tiny black fruits of the açai taste like a mixture of prunes and Kaopectate.
Rio Solimões: Januacá; City of Manacapurú; Boca do Lago das Piranhas.
We canoed among the forested ilhas inundadas, the trees festooned with green iguanas, and the undulating meadows of capim grass, the nesting place of the long-fingered waddled jacanas. Mo taught lessons in subsistence: piranha and arauaná fishing.
Rio Solimões: Lago das Piranhas.
During this time of the year, when floodwaters exceed the margins of the Amazon River for hundreds of miles, the Lago das Piranhas ("Lake of the Piranhas") is an extraordinarily productive wetland, celebrated for its howler monkeys, horned screamers and mixed flocks of thousands of cormorants and egrets. Harboring mile-wide islands of floating capim grass, it is a fisherman's paradise, providing immediate gratification even for those who use mere hand lines. During the crepusculum, we took the canoes through a brief - but ferocious - rainstorm to watch the roosting of thousands of olivaceous cormorants and various egrets on the fringes of the lake, brilliantly illuminated by a drowning sun.
Rio Negro: Manaus City.
The Harpy Eagle docked in Manaus at dawn, amidst the bustle of the waterfront. We visited the sprawling riverside fish and vegetable market, the ornate architecture of the rubber-boom days (including the Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house), the Churrascaria Bufalo, and other urban delights.
Rio Negro: Lago Jaradá. Rio Cuieiras: Fazenda Picoda Jaca.
A morning of enchantment. Here the Rio Negro was as still and reflective as a hematite mirror. From dawn until lunch, we canoed through narrow channels beneath the galleried terra firme forest, listening to the upland birds: trogons, screaming pihas, flocks of mealy and tui parrots. The morpho butterflies turned in the air like pieces blue tinsel.
After lunch the Harpy Eagle entered the Rio Cuieiras, a meandering tributary of the Rio Negro celebrated for its small side streams and waterfalls. We camped ashore, sleeping in hammocks, at Fazenda Pico da Jaca ("Bushmaster Farm"), barbecuing a 40-pound tambaquí on the beach. At night, under a new moon, some of us trekked two miles into the dark forest, over a trail that was lighted by bioluminescent fungi.
The Harpy Eagle proceeded up the Rio Cuieiras, visited several remote homesteads of caboclos and Arara Indians and, after a trek through the terra firme, a zone of sandy campinas vegetation, an open-canopied plant community, characteristic of the Rio Negro, that is particularly rich in terrestrial orchids and bromeliads.
At the homestead of Terra Preta, we visited Heidi Mossbacher, an authority on sloths who has shared her home with the animals for the past sixteen years. Some of us made the three-hour trek through the high terra firme forest to Chacoeira Lobos Homen (the "Werewolf Waterfall").
Rios Cuieiras and Negro: Furo do Rio Mucura.
We spent the morning canoeing through the Furo do Rio Mucura, a narrow, forest-margined channel which joins the Cuieiras and the Negro. We had to bushwhack a canoe path through the final mile of our closed passage, before suddenly entering the wide Rio Negro, where the horizon was a mile off.
Rio Negro: Archipelago das Anavilhanas.
We ascended the Rio Negro, stopping in various locations to observe freshwater dolphins, visit caboclos, walk in the forest, observe wildlife, go canoeing, go fishing and swim.
For the next 48 hours, our days and nights were spent in the Archipelagodas Anavilhanas, a zone of approximately a thousand islands, comprising the largest fluvial archipelago in the world. The islands are renowned for their abundance of toucans, parrots (including scarlet and blue-and-gold macaws) and other birds. We anchored for the night in Três Bocas, a cul-de-sac of the Rio Negro, canoeing along a river margin full of booming caimans and barking spiny rats.
Rio Negro: Furo Cuanwara; Lagos Tauatú; Barro Branco;Nova Airão Village.
All morning, we lingered in the Archipelago, observing the festive parrots and macaws, and even a family of harpy eagles. During the afternoon we cruised to the village of Novo Airão, where Amazon river boats, including the Harpy Eagle, are built from the native hardwoods, especially itaúba (Mezilaurus itauba), of the surrounding forest, having dinner ashore in a local restaurant.
Rio Negro: Paraná do Jacará.
Before dawn, at 4:00 am, we canoed along the margin of the Rio Negro to observe - and listen to - the changing of the guard: the transition from nocturnal to diurnal species. After breakfast, a mid-morning fishing trip yielded piranhas and other interesting species for the lunch menu. During the afternoon we visited the Atoari Indian village of Camanaú.
Rio Negro: Lago Cuirú.
Lago Cuirú proved to be a place of unexpected spectacles: a frenzy of dolphins (of both species) feeding on a school of freshwater herring, attracting dozens of large-billed terns, reeling and turning in the air above and dropping to the water to snatch morsels of torn fish; a mixed flock of hundreds of migrating hawks.
Rio Branco: Boca do Branco.
Before dawn, we canoed over the darkling water, listening to the unearthly calls of four warring troops of howler monkeys.
We enjoyed the pleasures of the five-star Hotel Tropical before flying to Miami.
Photographs by David G. Campbell ©1997, all rights reserved.