And so it was time to leave the big city of Manaus and travel to our Amazon base at Novo Airão. The whole time I was in Novo Airão, I thought “airão” meant big air — as in lots of yummy oxygen from all of the trees. Turns out it means Heron. So, Novo Airão is actually New Heron. There is an Old Heron but you’re going to have to wait for it.
Novo Airão is the jumping off (flying off?) spot for visiting two of the largest national parks in the area: Anavilhanas and Jaú. There are a number of jungle lodges there as well which are the all-inclusives, and not cheap. And from what I read, sometimes the tours from those lodges are pretty full and there is less of a chance to make your own itinerary. So we chose to stay in a small inn, the Pousada Bela Vista, which was owned by a German/Brazilian couple. And I am so glad we did as we got a unique, crazy, funny and totally individualized experience. But first we have to get there.
There are essentially three ways to get to Novo Airão. Maybe four if you enjoy put-put planes of the single engine variety. Bus from Manaus takes six hours. An overnight boat (accommodations are hammocks on the deck) takes longer, though no one seemed to want to commit to a schedule and it is only a couple of nights per week. Taxi takes three hours and with six people, it was a challenge to find one that fit us. 15-person passenger van seemed overkill and was exceedingly expensive. In the end, the pousada sent us notice that there was availability in a Fiat Dubló taxi which would fit, as they put it, six people with little baggage. Since we had only four small carry-on suitcases and three small backpacks, we said yes! We’ll take the Dubló.
The Dubló arrived that fine Monday morning after a night of rain and thunderstorms. Yes, we were still in dry season but the Amazon is unpredictable and these fast and powerful storms not unusual at any time of year. We looked at the “van” and we looked at our bags and said “no way.” The “trunk” was smaller than a Corolla. The back two seats for the kids were essentially jump seats. Tiny and airless. But as in everything in travel, and especially Brazil, you just make things work.
The taxi driver said that three of the suitcases would have to travel on top of the car, roped down. I looked at the sky, full of cumulus clouds, and said “mas vai chover!” (it’s going to rain) and the taxi driver said, no, think positive “não vai chover” (it’s not going to rain). He said it had all passed over already and this was just some leftovers. So we chose the three victim suitcases (yes, one was mine) and stuffed the rest in the car in between my poor squashed kids and we were off (after the driver had tied down the suitcases). There is a solution to every problem in Brazil. It might not be the one that you would choose, but there is a solution.
So we were off over the beautiful bridge. We were heading to the south side of the Amazon along the Rio Negro river. Once we crossed the bridge, we left the river and went into the countryside, which was populated here and there with small towns, and everywhere with potholes. About an hour out of Manaus, the road was so pockmarked with potholes I thought we were in one of those movies in southeast Asia where someone had blown up various spots to avoid the passage of the enemy. The presence of these large car-size potholes rarely made our taxi driver slow down and I was thankful for the ropes that tied on our suitcases, and wished I had a couple to tie myself down too.
As we traveled along, the dark clouds gathered. I piped up from the back “vai chover!” And the taxi driver (and my amused husband) said back “não vai chover”. It started to drizzle. Vai chover! Não vai chover! This is not rain, said the taxi driver, this is a little water kicked up by the trees. Ummm, what? And so why are the windshield wipers on? Não vai chover!
About two hours into the trip we stopped at what seemed to be the only gas station in all of Amazonas (it was not). It was the kind of gas station with chickens in the scrubby grass to the side and bathrooms that I was unwilling to test out. We pulled out some snacks snagged from the breakfast brunch at the hotel. It began to rain. The taxi driver, and everyone else, repeated “não vai chover.” Ah well, in the humid Amazon, it’s not like your clothes are ever really dry anyway.
Finally we pulled into the gritty town of Novo Airão, population 15,000 people and 4,000 mangy dogs. Seriously I had to tamp down my dog-rescue self (though I fed every one I could find). Then the pousada where it took us an unreasonable amount of time to check in. Time is very theoretical in the Amazon. We ordered lunch right then and there because the pousada restaurant needed two hours to get it ready. I am 90% sure they fished the fish only once ordered.
Once we saw the pool and the view, however, we relaxed and just let the time go. We were scheduled for a night tour that evening at Parque Anavilhanas, so we had the afternoon for pool and naps. The weather was perfect–not raining now of course–and we had the place essentially to ourselves. I highly recommend going out of season (midweek and avoiding Brazilian holidays). And I highly recommend the Pousada Bela Vista, which made few mistakes and had many big wins during our stay.