My trip to the Amazon, by Cathy Whitaker

I feel like starting this way because I feel like I am about to do the Greatest Show and Tell EVERl!!! I was so excited to go on this adventure. I mean how much have you heard about the Amazon in your life? The river, the lungs if the earth, the Toucans, Piranhas, etc …. What does this place not have?

Ever since it became clear that (UNFORTUNATELY) we were leaving Brasil (I’m still devastated about this), I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I had not seen the Amazon or indeed the North East. We just had to. Thankfully we had the opportunity, and the means, and thus we embarked on a 4 week adventure.

We arrived in Manaus last Saturday. It’s a pretty amazing city, 2,000,000 people on the banks of the Amazon, surrounded by over 1,000km of forest in every direction. As you would imagine, being in the middle of the jungle, its hot, damn hot, 30 degrees most days, and humid, really humid – 85% on average. So its hot and wet, even if its not raining!

We did a quick tour around the famous Amazon Teatro (which was beautiful) but still it was very strange as all the materials came from europe…. Except for the gorgeous brasil wood… Its was over a hundred years old.

Teatro Amazonia

But the main draw card for Manaus is that it is the send off point for the Amazon. In Manaus however, we did find another new food, a mixed fruit salad with condensed milk and a little grinded oats makes a very yummy dinner … oh and not to mention the world’s biggest banana market!!!

On Sunday, we set off for our survival tour of the Amazon. This meant no electricity, no hot water, no broadband, no facebook or even Ugly Betty, sleeping outside, finding food and generally enjoying the land for all its natural beauty without contamination from “things”.

We met the “tour organiser” the day before and if I’m honest, I was a little scared. I asked him his previous experience and he told us he worked on border control with Venezuela… We pressed a little further … “oh, so you worked for the (brasilian) Federal Police?” “No”. “so you worked for the (brasil) customs control”? “No”. Fidget, stumble, act cool… “so what did you do?” “I worked in Security….. for importers and exporters….” Ok, no more questions from us!

Thank god we arrived at the dock and realised scary man would not be joining us. Instead we were greeted by Herman, our guide, born in the far north west corner of brasil, who felt vaguely familiar, but as he had never left the Amazon region, I thought it was unlikely we had met before.

So, 6 days to go on our survival tour… On a boat called “great amazon adventure” indeed it was. We putted down the Rio Negro, Cath telling herself that she was not going to get sea sick… And reminding herself that what does not kill her would make her stronger. It was an hour travelling up the Rio  Negro until we met the Amazon river at the perfectly named ” meeting of the rivers” both 2 very different colours but both as equally gorgeous. The mixture of black & white, which for me is a metaphor of Brasil.

The meeting of the rivers

We then headed a further 5 hours down the Amazon and we prepared for our 1st night. A couple of notes first:

– the Amazon has had the biggest floods in 65 years in 2009, meaning that the mosquitos were outrageously bad.
– the Amazon isn’t really one river, or even one really really big river, its more like a giant tree filled lake that goes for kms in every direction. At this time of the year, the swollen river fills every valley around it creating amazingly beautiful flooded forests.
– the “boat” had no hot water, electricity and a serious lack of shade. I know I mentioned this before, but I really do like to shower!
– anyone who knows me, knows I get a sea sick bbbbaaaahhhdddd.  And I was so far feeling OK.

The Amazon, its big!

So, without too much convincing, we agreed to stay on the boat.

Day 2 arrived without too much of a commotion, ooohh, except for the beautiful sunrise, the sound of screeching monkeys and the realisation that I was on the Amazon!!! OMG! How lucky am I ???

So we set off to find Greg’s all time fav animal, the sloth! No, I am not making this up.  A lifetime of reading National Geographic had set himself up for this.. And there was no disappointment. After a 2 hour hunting mission, involving a 5 foot wooden boat, tree climbing, scratches & Cath wondering if it were possible to die from dragon fly bites, we caught one. She was adorable, sharp claws, very, very slow! 200 photos later, we said good bye and she crawled off into a tree, really, really, really, really slowly….

The four toed sloth

That night we stayed on the boat, but beans and rice were starting to lose their appeal as the only food we could eat…

A typical evening view from our boat.

Day 3. We went fishin!!! My grandmother would have been proud. A bamboo stick, dried beef, a line attached the end of the bamboo stick, a rusty hook — and a quick reminder that I had a tetanus shot, at least ten years ago 🙂 was all we needed to catch piranha!! Mean little beggers they were, they had teeth sharper than mine, but god it was fun.

Am not gonna lie and say I un hooked them, and Herman was keen that the little critters gave our bait back, which involved us tapping their nose till they opened their mouth so he could use the hook and scoop the dried meat from their gullet.

We caught 13… To be honest they weren’t that nice to eat. The firmest meat ever eaten, very solid, perhaps it was their Aitkins diet of protein only which gave them this texture? Actually if I had known how they were going to taste I would have left the dried beef in the gullets, it would have tasted better.

Herman and the red piranhas.

Day 4, we had now been putting along through the jungle for three days, we were miles from civilization surrounded by deep, lush, virgin rain forst, it was full to bursting with animals, monkeys, birds, sloths, mosquitos, flies, dragonflies, fish, but also people. No matter how deep we got into the amazon, there were still people eking out a hard and simple life on the banks of the river, fishing, farming, living all in the middle of “nowhere”.

Typical Housing

Riding home from school with dad.

The local pub

It was also around this time that thoughts of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or maybe a Voigner, accompanied by Pringles and perhaps a Magnum White Chocolate icecream came floating into my mind. However, I didn’t think the markets available would be able to cater for this request.

The Floating Shop

So it was now time to spend our first night in the jungle. I was ready! Insect repellent (check), long sleeve top and trousers (check), woollen socks, to protect from leeches (check), wind up torch (check), alcohol (check, ok double check), toilet paper (check)

So, we set up the hammocks, the boys collected wood, I encouraged them, they were so strong, amazing, remarkable, sigh if only I could have helped (someone had to read the books).

Hotel Amazonia -5 stars
And then it got dark… Hmmm…. For the record, mosquitos can get through a net, 2 layers of clothing, repellent, and my lightning fast reactions… Even after half a bottle of straight cachaca. I slept 90 minutes. I cannot explain the joy of waking to find 2 mosquitos up my nose at 4am. So pleasant.

Still, the sky, the stars, the noises, including some animal eating our scraps at 2am in the morning (am told Jaguars were near 2 weeks ago), monkeys screeching at each other, the rustle of passing iguanas and a near death experience with a Scorpion (I tried to balance myself by holding on to a tree stump and there she was, 20cm from my hand, a scorpion). Without doubt, that night will be a life long memory. I am told this was not the same sentiment I was screaming at 4am in the morning, apparently my words were of a shorter nature…. But god it felt good to be alive. Properly alive!

Another iguana!

Just as we were lighting the fire for dinner, it came to me. The familiarity with Herman … I had watched a Discovery documentary 2 weeks prior with a guide who lit fires with batteries… It was him!!! Unbelievable.

A grey dolphin doing a swim past

Next day we were out on the deck of the boat, and there it was, a splash… Yes! It was a pink dolphin. Almost performing in front of us. I didn’t believe it. Just amazing… I had to be part of it, time for a swim! Off we went, piranhas and all, and it was worth it.

So more days of drinking from water vines, swinging on tarzan ropes, eating wild hen, delicious larvae, brazil nuts, making our own acai juice.

Another delicous lunch of beatle larvae

I have become an Acai junkie in Brasil, not only is it delicious, great for breakfast but it has one of the highest sources of iron, all good for my Anaemia!

Cath with a cup of jungle fresh acai juice.

… And we had to go back to Recife… Well Fernando de Noronha actually…. Which aint that bad!

More blogging after our time there!

Bye till then!


8 Responses to My trip to the Amazon, by Cathy Whitaker

  1. So much fun! Can I come with you guys? I’m an acai lover too. We used to get freezer packs in NYC and make acai smoothies for breaky with muesli. Yum. Have a great rest of your trip!

  2. Zoe says:

    glad to know the mosquitos didnt carry you both off!! hope you are having an awesome time in fernando de neronha!

    x Zoe

    PS today is my three year anniversary of arriving in Brazil and your blog definitely solidified my goal of going to the amazon before i leave this place

  3. Aaron says:

    I have a solid respect for the sloth. It’s no holds bar attitude to relaxing is invigorating! Sounds awesome guys!

  4. […] You find the original post here gregandcathsadventures.wordpre | Greg Newman […]

  5. Carlos says:

    I am so glad you guys enjoyed your time in my country. It makes me happy to be born here. You are so lucky to have seen places that I have not and probably never will for lack of financial resources. Come back again one day.

  6. Tsholo says:

    Hi Cathy,

    Would you be so kind as to give me the details of the tour guide who took you guys around the amazon?

    Kind regards,

  7. John says:


    My girlfriend and I visited the Amazon in February, and your blog is so much fun to look through, as it spurs all of our memories of our time down there.

    I found your blog after a long hunt through Google’s image search, trying to locate a specific type of larvae. I believe your picture above contains one of these larvae, so I’m hoping you might know its name.

    If it’s the one I’m thinking, it’s made by a little black beetle that burrows into a coconut-like pod and lays its eggs. The pods have several chambers of white flesh, and inside of these, the larvae grow. The larvae taste much like coconut, but with a kind of peanuty overtone.

    If this sounds right, and you have any clue of the name, I would love to know it.

    Here’s the image I’m referring to:


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