A Dark & Stormy Night – Anavilhanas

DSCN1639After a relaxing afternoon by the pool, it was time to explore. Well, actually no. Right after dinner it was time to take 343 pictures of the tarantula that crossed our evening path.  I think my son Nico took 342 of the photos and he and his brother posed the tarantula on sticks and on the fence. My mother-in-law, the biologist, made a hotel guest scream when she tried to catch the tarantula to take a closer look. I totally empathize, woman, my MIL is a nut. A fun nut. Predictable, really. If it’s creepy crawly and possibly bites, she will attempt to pick it up. Just like my other son does and proceeds to get bitten by lizards in South Africa, ants in Brazil, and various other beasties everywhere. Sigh. When not taking photos of the tarantula, N took 45 photos of the black and white hotel cat, a vicious Amazon beast. I’m kidding; it was very nice.


We had signed up for the nocturnal animals boat tour and we all gamely donned our rain gear (it had been drizzling on and off all day) and descended the steep staircase from our pousada to the edge of the Rio Negro. There our 15-person motorboat awaited us…just out of reach of the rope swing. I was completely entertained by this rope swing–who in the world would Tarzan off the deck and into the river to be greeted by…well, who knows? No thank you.

Swing into the deep dark water, anyone?

We had a guide this night whose name has now escaped me. He was very quiet and was pretty much only reactive to questions, with little explanation. I would be glad that our guide changed for the next two days. We also had the spotter with a high-powered flashlight. I did not envy his job as he leaned out over the water while the guide-pilot forwarded and reversed into jungle vines and trees.

We pulled away from the dock at high speed, crossing the river towards the Parque Anavilhanas. This huge park is made up of something like 400 islands–depending on time of year. In the dry season, there are more, in the wet, some fully submerge. We were somewhere in between–trails that we would take with the boat would soon be dry for people to hike on in November.

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Our pousada is in Novo Airão (3) and we crossed the water to Anavilhanas (10). Image credit: wikipedia

Lightning was everywhere across the dark sky, lighting up the clouds, shooting down to the ground. That is the amazing thing about the Amazon, the deep dark inky sky. Except for the scary lightning. And of course, our pilot headed straight for it. Probably not intentionally but that was where we were going. When I asked him about the wisdom of such a path, he smiled and said that it would not get us. Easy for him to say. I have had a lifetime terror of lightning having had a childhood home at the top of a hill where all the houses got hit by lightning at one time or another.  Gah! Still gives me goosebumps.

Finally we slowed and the flashlights turned on. Flashing over dark trees…lightning flashing in the distance…really spooky. Brings up every bad B movie you’ve ever seen…Anaconda…Piranha…yep. I’m really not going to draw this out because in the end, we saw about four animals. Not counting the tarantula and the cat at the hotel. One was a mucura, what is essentially a really cool name for an opossum. It was fascinated by our flashlight.

Yep, went to the Amazon to see a possum.

Then the boat pulled in closer to a tight grouping of vines and trees and our guide said — look! the most poisonous snake in the land!! A surucucu de fogo! — and I said – where? I really could not see the beast in spite of them spotlighting what seemed to be a yellow stick in between other sticks. Mostly I am thinking what if Mr. Fire Snake has sent his friend in from behind and we are being stalked by yellow-stick-like snakes. Eh, not impressive. Sorry, no photo of the yellow stick.

It starts to rain. I am laughing a little to myself (well, I laughed until the lightning got close) because the tour books all say don’t bother going to the Amazon to see animals. They are all too well-hidden, and it’s the place to see the river and trees, not animals. And they were right. In all our days in the Amazon, we did not come close to seeing what we would see in the Manaus zoo on our last day. Ah well.

My son put some cool effect on this photo. Arty, no? Bacurals.

We did find three very miserable-looking bacurals. They apparently are nocturnal birds, but they were huddled up in three not enjoying the rain. There was also a report of a porco-espinho or porcupine but honestly I was no longer paying attention. I was paying attention to the LIFE-ENDING EXTREMELY CLOSE LIGHTNING! Hello? Can we go now? The worst thing about parenting: pretending you are not scared when you are actually terrified.

We headed home. No sign of our little tarantula friend (though she would join us for breakfast the next day) but the cat in front of our hotel room door suggested what we should actually be doing that evening.

Wildlife of Novo Airão

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