San Jose, California to Manaus, Brazil
Days 1 – 2
Saturday – Sunday, August 6 – 7, 2011
The van picked us up from our house in the afternoon, both sad to leave the cats and excited about the adventure ahead. We arrived at the San Francisco airport and boarded our plane bound for Miami without any problems. In Miami we joined our overnight flight to Sao Paulo in southern Brazil. It was a bit depressing that we flew right over Manaus, our ultimate destination during the night, and kept flying for four more hours to Sao Paulo.
Our Brazilian visit ahead is divided into two parts – we arranged the first one-week part on our own to visit a small lodge in the Amazon Basin on the Rio Solimaes in northern Brazil. Then we will fly down to Cuiaba in central Brazil to meet Doug and Gail Cheeseman and our ten-person group for our two-week tour of the Pantanal. It promises to be a fun and interesting journey. We have traveled with many of these people in our group before, so we were excited to see them again.
It was quite difficult to reserve and pay for this first part of our journey that we were doing on our own and I almost gave up on it several times. TRIP airlines, one of the only airlines to service this part of Brazil, doesn’t take reservations and payment over the internet. So we had to contact a local person to handle the flights for us. It was quite disconcerting to wire-transfer money to a person somewhere in Brazil, who would purchase the air etickets for us. At least the person we used was not totally an unknown, the Cheesemans’ knew of her through a tour operator they use in South America. So I was a little worried about getting to our Amazonian lodge without a hitch but finally decided it was worth the risk. But the difficulty with the lost reservation at the hotel last
Once in Sao Paulo, we cleared customs and boarded our morning flight to Manaus. It was amazing to fly over the vast Amazon Basin and see the many river systems below that drained the rainforests of the Andes to the west of us. Pristine tightly packed forests covered the areas between the many wide rivers – this is truly an amazing part of the world! There weren’t many roads in these wet forests, but where there were, deforestation lined both sides. We flew in low over the Rio Negro and soon saw Manaus on the banks of the river. Manaus is a very large city of four million people. Roads do not connect this city with the outside world – that is all done by river and air. Some roads exit the city for a few miles but dead end into forest.
We landed in the airport, after over 24 hours of traveling, and gathered our luggage, very happy that they all arrived with us after such a long time in transit. This airport is surprisingly small for such a large city, but I imagine that the greater majority of people here can’t afford to fly. Brazilians do not speak much English, and only some words in Portuguese are similar in Spanish, so communicating was a challenge. Luckily we had a pocket Portuguese dictionary that we could use when we got desperate. We found a small money exchange in the airport with a decent exchange rate and changed some dollars into Brazilian Reals.
We also made our way to the TRIP airline counter so I could confirm our reservations for the next day. I was quite worried about the whole ticket purchasing process and wanted to deal with any potential problems now rather than in the morning just before the flight. They found our names in their system and now I felt I could relax and enjoy the rest of our adventure, but the day’s problem’s weren’t over.
Exiting the airport, we found an official-looking taxi (care must be taken when getting a taxi in a foreign airport) and rode the short distance to the Park Suites Hotel. The hotel was seven stories high right on the banks of the Rio Negro. We encountered the first (and hopefully last) snafu of our trip – the hotel had no record of our reservation that we made and paid for through Hotels.com, and the desk clerk could offer us no help. Luckily we had our laptop so we looked up the Hotels.com phone number and called them on Steve’s cell phone (what luck that worked in Brazil). They talked to the desk clerk and somehow they solved the problem, the explanation lost in the translation. We made our way to our room on the fourth floor and dumped our luggage off.
From our window on the fourth floor we could see up and down the river. Downtown Manaus was a few miles away. There was also a large bridge that spanned the river that looked new. The sun was beating on our wall and we could feel the heat making its way into our room through the window and wall. We pulled the thick curtains closed to block the rays.
Even though we were very tired, we didn’t want to go to sleep now and prolong our jetlag, so we walked around the hotel grounds. The hotel was right on the river bank and the large pool overlooked the river. We sat by the pool and watched the many ferries and boats plying the river. It was bright and sunny, but a bit hot and muggy, with puffy clouds in the sky. All you have heard about the Amazon rivers are true – they are mighty rivers indeed. The opposite river bank was quite far away and we could see some sand bars on the other side of the river.
There weren’t many dinner options close to the hotel, so we decided to walk a short distance along the river to the Tropical Manaus hotel. It seemed like our hotel, Park Suites Hotel, catered more to business people and the Tropical had more of a resort feel to cater more to vacationers. There were several restaurants and we opted for the most casual one. What a disaster that was! The meal was terrible, even Steve couldn’t finish it, and the service matched. So far we haven’t enjoyed any food in Brazil, but realized we haven’t been here long enough to pass judgment. We made our way back to the Park Suites and hit the sack, hopefully for a good nights sleep after all our travels.