Day 1: Nope, it’s the destination

Maurice described the hotel shower as being like a waterfall, so I had to make this last one count. He was not wrong. At 7am we were walking down the long halls of the Tropical Manaus Hotel, where Erikes +1 would collect us.

Exiting the hotel, we saw the river, the river, for the first time. It was a glorious view. But way bigger than the vision in my head. For some reason I imagine a relatively narrow river with the rainforest canopy covering it, and all the wildlife up in your face out of sheer space constraints. What was I thinking? It was a giant sun-drenched river with the wildlife density of an ocean! (I know my children will fact-check this later, so I’m just claiming whatever I want here.)

Benj and Moe at the Amazon
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Much of the day was spent driving to the portion of the river where we’d begin. 330 km in about 5 hours. I don’t know what the mph equivalent is, so I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. But I’m pretty sure this will prove the most dangerous part of our Amazon Tour. Erikes drove like a bat out of hell, probably max speed around 80 mph, but this was on roads of mixed quality with giant pot holes, where the minefield slowed us down to 10 mph. We spent about 20% of the time in the left (oncoming traffic) lane. Speed bump slow downs are optional.

photo credit: Maurice Ribble

May include unpaved roads

Unpaved road
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

We did slow down for lunch. The national sport is having some sort of televised international tournament.

World Cup lunch

After arriving at The Boat, it was already time to eat lunch. Some amazing fish, beans and rice, and salad. After lunch, Erikes’ S.O. got back in the car for the long slog back to Manaus. The 4 of us +3 additional crew embarked on our journey.

The Boat
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Lunch with Eric
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

The boat has 2 levels. Below is the engine room, kitchen, head, and open area we used for dining.

Engine room
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Below deck

Upstairs is a sun deck, shaded area for our hammocks, and the “bridge” with a cute steering wheel.

Above deck
photo credit: Maurice Ribble


Our first 2 days involve chugging up the river to a place we can start the kayaking part of the adventure. Then each day will involve kayaking to where the boat parks each day. I’m guessing 4 hours of kayaking each day?

First wildlife photo!

Cue: Dr. Seuss inspired plants

I took a 1.5 hour nap to test out my hammock. It worked! And I needed it. 3+ nights in a row of less than my usual 8 hours was weighing on me. I’m hopeful for tonight, too.

Benj and Eric in hammocks

Today we parked in front of a termite-eaten tree. I don’t know how else to say where we are. There’s a few abandoned “houses” along the shores, but I’m sure they don’t have addresses, since there are no roads here. Maybe I’ll be able to pull up maps using photo GPS coords once I’m back in civilization and can post these blog entries? [Future Benj says, “Yes! I’ve sprinkled in maps!”]

Day 1 Boat Ride

Some context for our journey so far

We all went for a swim (warm water, but with refreshing streaks of cold) and then explored our “neighborhood” on kayak. The kayaks are the open top ocean variety, painted camo, and with comfy mesh seat backs.

Sunset on the Amazon

After dinner, we lay on blow up mattresses on the sun deck to watch the stars. They are overly bright here. Like, unnecessarily show-off bright. “There’s the rest of our galaxy right there. Yup.” I’m thinking this close to the equator we’ll get sunrise around 6am and sunset at 6pm. We went to bed and I started blogging at 7pm. It’s 8:30pm now and feels like midnight! It also sounds like the jungle. We have natural white noise, and it’s louder than my usual! Here’s hoping for 8+ hours…

Eric testing out the air mattresses
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Candlelight dinner
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Day 2: Motoring

The boat was awake around 5:30am. I ignored everything and managed to sleep until 7am when breakfast was announced. We had grilled banana (pacoba), some local variety of orange, scrambled eggs, and some kind of biscuit. Delicious! Also a thermos of coffee I tapped into a couple times during the morning. We drink every liquid, whether water, juice, or coffee, out of the same little cups that feel like they’re made out of cellophane. (Even though you feel compelled to reuse them, not so fast! They disintegrate upon 2nd contact with your hands or more liquid.)

Double-bagged Cellophane Cup

Today was another big-boat day. We left at 8am, and motored up the Jatapú tributary until about 5:30pm. I spent most waking hours in my hammock working on Black Belt KenKen. It was extremely relaxing! I haven’t felt this much at liberty to waste time in months. We did build a bit of a sun shade, so we weren’t total slackers.

Throwing shade
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Notice my clothes out to dry...

Lunch was primarily delicious leftovers from last night’s dinner. Yum! But beef was the protein, so I supplemented with some salmon jerky I brought. I didn’t know what the food situation would be like for a pescatarian, so I brought two boxes of the stuff, but at this rate I’ll maybe get through half a box. The food on the boat is fantastic! Also, we didn’t realize they’d be providing alcohol. And since Moe doesn’t partake, that means 50% bonus for me and Eric.

This Devassa's for you

At one point in the afternoon, the sky got dark and the wind started gusting. I saw one of our blow up star-gazing mattresses take flight, and I jumped out of my hammock to save it. I caught the mattress, but not the two articles of clothing laid out on it to dry: my red bathing suit and white Charitocracy running shirt. We circled the big boat (with big turning radius) around. By now it was full on rainforest raining, too! After I failed to pull it out with a kayak paddle, Moe jumped in and retrieved my bathing suit. The Charitocracy shirt was nowhere to be seen. I’d like to pretend it’s in a better place now, maybe with my wedding ring.

When in Rainforest...
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Let it rain!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
The payoff
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

When we arrived at our parking spot for the night, we got back in the kayaks again for exploring. Since we’ll start downriver in the kayaks tomorrow, we went upriver a ways this evening. Though the river appears calm, it actually had a decent current pulling us back toward camp. Moe and Eric tried to swim after, but the current was too strong. [Melia, not because it was cold. 😘]

Day 2 Motoring

Wouldn't want the kayaks to stay dry!

For dinner we had rice, spaghetti, soy meat substitute like veggie crumbles, salad, and whatever the local root vegetable is that they make tapioca from. [Future Benj says, “Manioc!”] Also a soda made out of some local fruit. (My Portuguese is not improving.) During dinner they ran the boat’s generator. The moths loved this lightbulb, and I managed a slow enough exposure to get their trails.

Go home, moths, you're drunk.

This is as far north as we’ll go on this river. The real kayaking part of the trip begins in the morning as we slowly head back south to where we started!

Day 3: Some actual kayaking on our kayak trip

Last night the snoring was real bad. Who knew Eric had it in him? I tried watching Netflix (The Break with Michelle Wolfe I downloaded while back in civilization) for a while, but the snoring only got worse. It began to pour around midnight, but Eric’s snoring drowned it out. Even when the crew came up to batten down the hatches, headlights a-blazing, Eric snored through that, too. Uncanny! I don’t remember sleeping at all. Just dreaming of ways to smother Eric… Maybe I was sleeping while dreaming of that?

Breakfast of Champions
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Benj gracefully mounting his steed
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

After breakfast, which included fresh papaya, we set out in our kayaks. I had picked up a flexible tripod that can clip onto anything, like the edge of a kayak. But it broke to pieces in my hands as I tried to clip it on. Luckily my camera wasn’t attached yet! Suffice it to say, no cool kayak POV time lapse videos on this trip. 😢

We explored a side-stream which is everything kayaking in the Amazon should be: narrow, full canopy overhead, not so much light sifting down to the bottom. Ma would love kayaking here, a lot like the mangrove swamps in the Keys where it’s fun to pick your way around and find critters (or ancient vehicle carcasses, which there aren’t a lot of here).

This is what I imagined kayaking the Amazon would be

Macaws chillin'

These reminded me of C2C alum Ealish Wilson's textile art (



Several dolphins followed us in from the main part of the river to see what we were doing. The dolphins here are curious, playful, and abundant. One even did a full on vertical jump like you’d see at an aquarium show. I didn’t know they pulled stunts like that in the wild!


Dolphin Show

We had lunch, including a yummy Matricious (sp?) fish, Erikes’ favorite. Super good. Just watch out for those harpoon bones!

Grilled Lunch
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

After lunch we had some down time.

Down time
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Then at 2pm we set off for our afternoon adventure, a hike in the rainforest. We collected sneakers, socks, long pants, and long sleeve shirts. All I had with long sleeves was a rain jacket from Budapest (another trip Maurice happened to go on), so I put it on. All the rain would happen on the inside. I was sweating like Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook, jogging with a trash bag on. But we hiked up to the highest point in this region with a great view of the Jatapú valley, and saw some impressive spiders and a dead monkey along the way.

Sentinel spider at the trailhead
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Vine worthy of Tarzan

Hike Summit

Summit Selfie

Back down near the river, we tested out a natural sunscreen made from little berries that you squash between your fingers. Moe went overboard, as usual.

Moe just ate a baby something

Flower power, literally
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Now we’re looking for caimans in the water next to tonight’s camp, a friend’s house, Renaldo’s I think. (Apparently he’s in town collecting his paycheck for providing emergency medical service on the river, but probably also watching World Cup.) If you shine a light out into the water, their retro-reflective eyes beam right back at you. They’re out there! Erikes is trying to catch one as dinner is simultaneously being prepared.

Cayman Hunting
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Word on the street is that tomorrow we’ll be setting up camp off the boat, in the rainforest. Wheeee!

Day 4: Bungle in the Jungle

Today is July 4, Moe’s 40th birthday, the reason we’ve all gathered here in the Amazon.

I woke up feeling groggy and off, like I was still full from the night before, and I couldn’t keep a train of thought going. I popped a multivitamin, which I’d forgotten all about so far, but barely touched breakfast.

Foggy and groggy

In the end it turned out all I needed was a good shot of adrenaline.

The 1st four hours of the day were scheduled for kayak exploration of 2 nearby “lakes.” Eric got a 20 minute head start, and we didn’t run into him at all out on the water. He must have hit the other lake first. Moe and I hit the south one, more like a tributary river, and followed it until I spotted a cool “tunnel” through a passable wall of trees to another section of lake/river. Moe followed, as a Moe does. (“Moe-cuts” are his specialty!)

Plants vs. People

We kept exploring well beyond the point where Moe asked, “Benj, what is the probability you’ll remember our way back out of here? My memory’s not that good.”

“100%” I assured him.

It was a valid question. The river had turned into a pinball machine of bushes, I guess you could call them, that we navigated around while maintaining our same rough direction. [Future Benj: We thought maybe one of the bushes was the canopy of a Brazil nut tree, with the “lids” still on the tree, but turns out to be a relative, Eschweilera coriacea, known as machimango in Peru. Brazil nuts don’t live where it floods.]

Not Brazil nut

Some twists and turns later, we reached what we considered a dead-end even by our low standards. More importantly, we were due back at noon, and it was almost 10am. We had been kayaking since about 8am.

I confidently marched us back through the turns and twists, back through the pinball bushes, and straight down into some other river. Maybe 20 minutes into it I finally admitted to Moe that nothing looks familiar. (I had been thinking those words for a while already.) Moe agreed, noting that the long grass dangling from the trees here was new to us. It clung like Velcro to your clothes, and according to Maurice the micro-barbs also cut skin. So we realize we’re lost on the Amazon while tangled in human-devouring grass.

Razor grass from a safe distance

Mind you, we had no maps, no internet to get maps, no compass, and our one survival tool, a machete borrowed from Erikes, Moe had accidentally dropped overboard. It was a total Blair Witch moment. “I kicked the map into the creek!” The water here was deeper than 10m: that’s how much the water is up now from it’s low season. [Future Benj: The Amazon is 320′ at its deepest. The Jatapú tributary is indeed 30+ feet deeper in the wet season than dry. But since we were lost over “dry” land, it’s not easy to say for sure whether there was 30′ of water below us. We could have been over a hill. All we can say for certain is it was deeper than Maurice’s paddle!]

Is overboard machete within reach?  Nope.

But what I had done is taken a screenshot on Apple Maps of our farthest point, the dead-end, before we turned around to go back to camp. That map was very low-detail, not showing us on water at all — thanks to the wet season we were kayaking through the treetops of what’s dry land the rest of the year — but we could use it for comparison to at least get back to somewhere we’d definitely been. And far away from razor-grass town, please. Consider it a dot on a map where we’re lost, but don’t know it yet. This should save us, right?


Moe stayed perfectly calm, at least on the outside. We agreed on the general direction of our farthest dead-end point, and figured we’d head back to it, trying alternative directions, or really more like different off-ramps, from bushy pinball land. Off ramp #2 looked promising, but 15 minutes down that one we weren’t recognizing anything there, either. And then, you guessed it: more razor grass! Survey says? XX

The third off ramp we tried from bushy pinball land looked the same as the others initially. And to be honest, nothing I saw was recognizable beyond doubt. And we had so much doubt at this point. Part of it is we were seeing everything from the other direction on the way out. But I also kept looking back for some glimpse of something, anything I remembered from the way in. Instead, it was all beautiful green generic jungle along the banks. But no razor grass thus far, so Maurice and I were content to give this 3rd attempt the benefit of the doubt.

I was pleased to know, barring any more stupidity, that we would both be returning home to our families (eventually) once I saw that sweet, sweet tunnel through the jungle wall straight ahead. And we still had an hour left before lunch, so we started exploring another branch. 🤠

Freedom! We made it back to camp.

Let its spirit carry me

And just in time for this surprise: a birthday cake made of couscous (some finer Brazilian variety, apparently, but yellow like cake), frosted with something chocolatey, and sprinkled with coconut. How sweet of our crew?! We sang to Moe and he blew out a candle. Happy birthday, Moe, and happy birthday, USA! May you both prosper in the coming year and learn from mistakes of the recent past.

4th of July birthday cake

After lunch was a nice long siesta in hammocks on shore, since our boat hammocks, where we usually sleep, were being set up in the jungle. I’ve read over half my book, Everything Matters, a gift from my friend Matt about 3 years ago that I’m finally prioritizing. (Love it!) Mid-afternoon I was served a coconut with a hole drilled in it and one of those flimsy plastic cups. Delicious, as always!

My hammock needs cup holders

Late afternoon we packed up and kayaked over to the same trail head we hiked yesterday, except this time, after dinner, we hiked up to find our hammocks hanging higher than usual over the ground, and with mosquito nets and rain tarps over them. That’s where I’m blogging now. We saw a tarantula hanging out in an armadillo hole on the way up.

Tarantula in an armadillo hole
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Sleeping with the monkeys

Moe had an epic birthday. Mission accomplished!!

Day 5: My cup is full

Today I woke up in the jungle. It was still dark out, maybe 5:15am, when I heard an intense fluttering in the 2 feet between my mosquito net and rain tarp, zooming back and forth through my no-fly zone for a minute or two. There was enough light that I was expecting to see the outline of one or more bats, the same ones that chase after the dragonflies both here on the river and back home in OBX at dusk. But I saw nothing. Maurice later proposed that it was probably a hummingbird, because we’ve seen plenty of those, too. And they strike me more as early risers. Wish I could have seen it!

Sunrise in the jungle

My iPad was still on my lap in the hammock from blogging and watching Netflix last night. Since I’m one of the few humans out here in the first place, I must single-handedly be boosting Michelle Wolf’s ratings in Brazil’s Amazon river valley. But it’s really good! [Future Benj: Netflix cancelled her. The show’s crew found out on Twitter. 😭]

Vakey Vakey

After breaking camp and hiking it all back down the hill, we had breakfast of watermelon and these blintz-like things made of tapioca, cheese, and some local orange root vegetable. [Future Benj: they’re simply called tapiocas.] I’ve also been drinking a mix of hot chocolate and coffee in the cellophane destruct-o-cups. Reminds me of whatever Dunkin Donuts used to call this combination. Dunkachino maybe? Except if it were a Dixie cup size instead of the XL I used to get.

Then we hit the kayaks, and did about 2 hours in the blazing sun downstream to the next camp site. Lots of weird plants, starting with ones clearly inspired by fellow Wainwright walker Ealish Wilson’s fiber art



… another plant that wants you dead…

Hug me until it hurts!

… these cute things…

Thing One

Thing Two

… and these ones, by Dr. Seuss.

Droopy, sloopy, kinda poopy

This one's branches are absurd.  This one's branches have a bird.

The butterflies were especially friendly today! A brown striped one landed on my big toe. And not the well-adjusted, perfectly healthy big toe. It was taking a liking to my funktastic half-claw. There’s no accounting for taste.

Brave friendly butterfly

drink me

But the light green butterflies preferred my paddle or my neon green OBX Triathlon shirt. So they’re not all dumb.

Engaging its banged-up-look camouflage

And twins!

The boat, whose name is Com te _____, and I can never remember the last word, which is a person’s name, passed us while kayaking and was docked at a nice property with cattle pastures, 4 border collies, and strange creatures I refer to as duck chickens. (They are sort of domesticated like chickens, sleeping under the camp houses, but look like ducks. Ugly ducks.) The multi-generational family who lives there ranged in age from about 7 to 60. It was kind of them to share their home!

ISAAC!  It's Com te Isaac!

Home sweet middle-of-nowhere

Duck chicken

While Eric did his best St. Bernard impersonation…

9 out of 10 St. Bernards prefer Devassa

… Moe and I were guided on a walk across their giant pastures, through some (home-made) logging roads into the jungle which by contrast showed just how much work clearing the scores of acres of field must have been, and finally through plain old jungle.

Benj says he's leaving GPS breadcrumbs from now on!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

What's Portuguese for Moo?

Not jumping this fence!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

The destination was a very cool (literally and figuratively) waterfall. This close to the equator, cold water as a concept is forgotten to us after less than a week. Not as cold as this waterfall, though. We went all in. And then to keep us relatively cool, it rained most of the way back to camp.

Shower time!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

No one does it like Moe does it

Two boys, maybe 7 and 12, were juggling a soccer ball back and forth, and Erikes suggested I join in. I watched them for a while, but then couldn’t resist. Football, the common language… along with smiles, laughter, moments of pride and embarrassment in equal measure. I held my own, but 20 minutes of that had my heart rate higher than any of the hiking or kayaking we’ve done all week!

Exhausted just looking at them juggle

Peak heart rate: achieved

A thumbs up to the boys, then I headed back to the boat with warm fuzzies. (As Jessica would metaphorically say, my cup was full.) And then Erikes handed me a margarita, also a cup, also full. [Future Benj: she actually says “my cup runneth over,” but maybe so does my margarita-filled Dixie cup.]

I finished another KenKen and another margarita (remember: destructo-Dixie-sized) and then dinner.

KenKen for the winwin
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

They made me a special veggie potato curry sort of dish, amazing! “What did you make for the rest of us?” Moe asked. “Meat,” Erikes said. I told him he should rename his company to Amazon Mystery Meat Tours.

Once it got dark, Erikes came back from canoeing with our first caiman, despite trying every night thus far. He was a cutey! Moe sent him back into the water after we all got some quality time, hugs and kisses, etc.

photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Eric's new pal

crazy one
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

caiman whisperer

And now back to the hammock here to give you all the low down. Tomorrow afternoon there’ll be some civilization on our itinerary! And in completely unrelated news, Brazil plays Belgium tomorrow afternoon! ⚽️

Day 6: Blintz, Belgium, Beer, and Bose

The tapioca blintz things this morning had something like feta cheese in them. My name is Benj Lipchak and I approve this message.

Tapioca, not blintz
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Today we hit the river and steamed as fast as we could (or dieseled?) back to the nearest village on the river so we could watch the Brazil vs. Belgium World Cup match. First Moe gifted the soccer ball we brought along to the friendly tykes I juggled with yesterday. I took a few photos of the beautiful fog, and then back to the hammock! I completed a preposterous number of black belt KenKen.


Fog in Panovision

We arrived in “town” (one “road” with about a dozen houses, only accessible by boat) during halftime. Brazil was already down 2-0. We walked up to a residence where a bunch of people were watching, and they set out some extra chairs for us, and even moved the television outside so we’d all have a good view. We drank a lot of beer, which helped us cheer in one solitary goooooooooooooooal. Every time I put my beer glass down between sips, one of our crew topped it off. We killed a lot of liter-sized bottles of beer in just 45 minutes! Brazil had control of the ball 95% during this 2nd half. If only we had shown up before the damage was already done! Things would have gone differently.


Yes, they're ready for some football.

TV inside

TV outside
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Still crazy
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Sad for Brazil, but feeling good in the 'hood

Naturally occurring tree stripes

Time to go
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

We had a decent signal heading into and out of town. I texted Jessica that I’m safe and sound. She texted right back that she pulled the car over and wanted to FaceTime. It was only 2 bars of 3G, but it worked pretty great! I gave the fam a quick virtual tour of the boat and a view of the river. What a great moment. I can’t wait to see them for real in another 9 days! I haven’t seen those kiddos in about 3 weeks!

We parked the boat for tonight about an hour or two back away from civilization. We all jumped in the water. It was shallow and sandy, with the obligatory dolphin swimming nearby. I’m wondering if they’re assigned monitoring duty by the dolphin high council. These dolphins are everywhere we go, in plentiful numbers. After splashing around a bit, I went to grab my biodegradable body wash and shampoo, purchased originally for Maurice’s and my Allagash river canoe trip, and got myself really clean for the first time on this trip. Eric borrowed my suds, too. (Maurice abstained, since it hasn’t been 6 months yet since his last washing.)

Eric was kind enough to propose I try his Bose noise cancelling headphones tonight so I can get a full night’s sleep. I already tried them out. His snoring stands no chance against my white noise pumping through these cans. Thanks, Eric! Zzzzzz

Day 7: Disembarkation in search of more water

Let me just start by saying my day began playing Civilization VI. I bought it for my iPad a few weeks ago when it went temporarily on sale at 60% off. I started a tutorial game last night around 10pm and forced myself to quit at 1am.

Eric lent me his Bose noise-canceling headphones to see if that would make his snoring more tolerable. So at 1am, on a boat in the Amazon, I stopped gaming and put on white noise — of the brown noise variety for those curious. I could only hear the crescendos of his snoring where he’d wake himself up, but the headphones totally took the edge off, and by 1:30am I was out cold.

5:30am came to soon! The boat was awake with dawn’s early light, and sunrise arrived shortly thereafter. I couldn’t resist a few photos, but then tried to eek out another hour of sleep. Then it was breakfast (eggs, goat cheese tapioca blintz things, watermelon, and sweet tea) while we motored one more time back to where we first boarded the boat.

Eric is safe from my smothering again

Good morning, star!

After tipping the boat crew and loading our belongings in a pickup truck and trailer hitched behind, we set off for 6 hours of driving to President Figueiredo, Amazonas’s famous waterfalls.

Bye, Com Te Isaac!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Loading up for a long drive
Photo credit: Maurice Ribble

But less than an hour in, our truck lost power, and the engine started knocking badly. Erikes and his father-in-law, who we didn’t realize was in the back of the truck, looked under the hood but didn’t see anything obvious.

Photo credit: Maurice Ribble

We figured it had something to do with the quality of the gas that his father-in-law had just siphoned (by mouth) out of another vehicle. Seemed to me like maybe it had water or something in it? Erikes tried to continue driving it for another 20 minutes. The road was just one big hill after another, and we’d go 5 mph up the hill in lowest gear, then as fast as possible down the other side, trying to build momentum into the next hill. With the painful knocking and backfiring sounds, it was like riding the start of a roller coaster. Click, click, click, click, …… wheeeee!

This would have turned the remaining 5 hours into the next 2 days if we kept at this pace. Another deep consultation under the hood, joined by another boat crew person who apparently had been riding in the trailer the whole time. It was like clowns coming out of a Volkswagen. How many people were riding back there in the luggage trailer?! Among other things, they inspected and cleaned wires leading to the spark plugs, and that seemed to resolve the issue long enough to burn off the rest of the shitty gas and pick back up the pace.

I’ve said it before, but Erikes’ driving, bless his heart, is the only danger we’ve encountered in the Amazon. Other than the vegetation. Every plant here wants you to die and rot away right above its root system. The animals on the other hand are total sweethearts. And the humans are kind, generous, quick to smile, and can I just say unrealistically attractive? Young, old, women, men, in the city or in the woods: Brazil, you are HOT! But damnit, Erikes, it’s okay if we get to the waterfall 30 minutes later… I hope the 130kph in an 80 zone isn’t just to entertain the Americans! 😬

Amazon Mystery Speed Limit Tours
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Just FYI, we’re at about 2° south of the equator.

2 degrees south

We did survive the trip to the first waterfall/grottos, after swapping the truck and trailer for the little car halfway, and having Brazilian BBQ for lunch. (It’s a lost branding opportunity if you ask me, but they just call it BBQ here.) The caves adjacent to the waterfall were formed when this part of the Amazon was under the ocean. Jurassic Park meets Waterworld is all I can conjure in my head. Which is good because Jurassic Park theme song is already stuck playing on repeat in there. Question: Does Waterworld have a theme song? And, is Waterworld one or two words? Answer: Who cares? [Future Benj: Nobody does, Benj of Yore. Nobody does. But it’s one word, and does have a theme song.]

Show me, the way, to the next, cerveja bar



Big caves

Big men

Big men in waterfall

Moe hates getting wet

Anaconda napping spot

Good times

Tomorrow requires another 5:30am wake up to squeeze in our last day of Amazon Mystery Touring at Presidente Figueiredo. So I better get done blogging and get started gaming!

Day 8: Déjà vu involving waterfalls and caves

I woke up at 5:39am. This is the recipe for getting more done by 10am than you do all day when you only wake up at 10am. We were sleeping in hammocks slung under a pavilion at Erikes’ friend’s campground a bit north of Presidente Figueiredo. Here’s the sand pitch we played soccer in yesterday.

bare feet, sand, and foreshadow insertion

First we noticed the flat tire when driving away from camp. Pushed the car to a flat spot, jacked it up, off with the flat, on with the spare. Leaving camp, take II.

photo credit: Maurice Ribble
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Next we stopped at a restaurant (which all tend to be outdoor picnic table affairs) for breakfast. I had omelette simples (no meat?) and a cafe pure (black?). Erikes joined us halfway thru and ate our leftovers. He’d already gotten the flat repaired! Then he gave me 50 cents to use the pay toilet near the restaurant. There was no TP in there, so I recovered some barely soiled TP from the trash can and made due. Already important life decisions being made and it’s barely 7am!

I really dug this bas-relief mural across the street from the breakfast place in Presidente. I wish they had it in postcard format.


We drove an hour to another friend’s private property, and hiked an hour, nearly 3 miles, to a spectacular waterfall. (What had you accomplished by 10am?) Yesterday’s was wide, but today’s was tall. Yesterday’s was crowded, but we were probably the only ones to see today’s waterfall for weeks in either direction. On our way in we saw a good-sized spider monkey jumping tree to tree in the rainforest canopy. Also several macaws on the way out. And a cute tiny 3-legged frog. Harry would be excited, except no darts.

3 mile hike
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Spider monkey

Yet another beautiful waterfall

Gorillas in the mist
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Thirsty Moe
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

The Amazon is wet.

On a rock up in the treetops
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Newly discovered species Frogus tripodus
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

We hit lunch at a roadside restaurant at noon, where I drank Fanta and ate a whole fish. Delicious on both counts!

This meal brought to you by the letter F

Then to a serious cave system, Caverna do Maroaga. Here they supply the guides, so Erikes took a break from babysitting us. 😘 Our guide didn’t speak English, so we used universal gestures and smiles, and that sufficed. It was the usual, roughly 1 hour hike in. The caves were dark on the inside, but I took a very Blaire Witch video of us inside by the guide’s flashlight. Looking backward at the last bit of daylight, I could see the silhouette of bats swooping. All very cool. Then we hiked around to the other side where there’s a nice grotto shower, Gruta da Judéia, we could splash around in to cool off before the return hike.


The Blaire Witch Cavern
photo credit: Maurice Ribble


Caves + waterfalls

Mote trail

Mossy cuteness

Playboy mansion?


Eric had had enough fun for the day and wanted to get back to our camp, so after a quick FaceTime between Moe, Emily, and Ada as we drove through Presidente Figuereido’s brief cell tower coverage, we returned to camp. It wasn’t even long enough to download a single song, never mind the album I was hoping for: Chris Pureka’s Driving North. (Radio has been hit or miss, and we’ve spent a lot of time in the car lately!)

I sat in the river drinking beer and reading my book (Everything Matters) for the rest of the afternoon. I’m nearly done, maybe one more sitting to go… Still loving it!

Wait, isn't this how you read?
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Tomorrow we’ll hit one more waterfall early, then drive back to Manaus to begin part 2 of our trip at the eco-resort. It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Erikes. He’s been with us since we stepped out of the airport, and he is Brazil to us! 😭

Day 9: The “Splinter”

This morning while breaking camp for the last time, we found Moe digging at a splinter in his foot. He borrowed a pin from Erikes and sterilized it with Erikes’ butane lighter. But Moe wasn’t successful getting the splinter out. Erikes gave it a try, digging and poking. He was successful, but not in removing a splinter…


Maurice had a chigger flea that had drilled into the bottom of his foot, laid eggs, and eventually died. Moe’s wife Emily, over text message, researched this and said they’re picked up through walking barefoot in the sand. Something we do basically every day? SO GROSS! In concept and in appearance.

Look, it was making babies

This of course had the rest of us checking our feet. Moe’s “splinter” had bothered him a bit while walking, which is how he noticed. My feet were so dirty, there was no telling what was down there. I cleaned them off with some wet naps, and only saw one spot that was a little tender, but too big for a splinter. It was a dark dot surrounded by a slightly pinker than usual area, like a bit of infection. I showed it to Erikes, and I suggested maybe I just keep my eye on it for a while, no need to be hasty…

Erikes whipped out the pin and started digging. He was simultaneously intrigued and horrified. He had never in his career as an Amazon river guide, nor as a man of Brazil, seen a chigger flea so big. It doesn’t look like much in hindsight, but blood, guts, and eggs is never how you want your day to start.

photo credit: Maurice Ribble

It left a hole that looked and felt sore as if I had previously stepped on a nail. (Not the sharp pain of the actual nail step, but the lingering mild soreness.) I applied lots of Neosporin and a waterproof band-aid, and socks and shoes. I feel so violated. [Visions of Benj crying naked in a bath tub with the shower pouring down on him, but nothing can scrub the trauma from his memory.] Okay, I’m over it.

A little behind schedule, but off for breakfast at the same place in Presidente Figueiredo. I had cafe pure and a Brazil nut tapioca. Excellent! And I had the foresight to download a couple of albums while we had a network connection in town. Now, with Belle & Sebastian’s “The Boy With The Arab Strap” blasting, we’re off to the final attraction, the big show, the #1 waterfall that all tourists visit, the one we saw advertised at the airport.

Like the Griswolds arriving at Wally-World after an epic journey, our 9 days on an Amazon Mystery Tour was about to reach its grand finale! Drum roll please… 🥁

It’s closed for maintenance today. Sorry.

That’s okay, we’ll catch it next time we’re in the Amazon. Instead, we drive directly to Manaus for Plan B: to check out the vast marketplace downtown. Again, we subject ourselves to the public menace that is Erikes’ driving. Having survived it for the last time now, maybe in hindsight it will fade in my memory to be just another scary driver. But in 43 years I don’t think I’ve been knowingly that close to death by vehicle. Best of luck to all the other drivers and pedestrians who continue to share his road. (We love you regardless, Erikes. Everyone has to have some character flaw.)

The market was really neat. We learned about different uses for the tongue and scales of the giant fish of the Amazon, everything from jewelry to exfoliation and nail files. I got a photo of piranhas, finally. And lots and lots of bananas, still on the vine/branch. I can imagine bustling marketplaces like this one dating back millennia. The only one I’d seen previously was with Pieter Bekker in Leads, England. But I could tell the items for sale at this market hadn’t traveled thousands of miles to get here. It was all from a day’s boat ride away.

Banana Market


got roots?




From where Brazil nuts come

Fresh fish!

Piranha: eat them before they eat you!

Nap time

Riverside development

Boats packed in like sardines

After a stop at the Manaus Opera House, Erikes dropped us back at the Tropical Manaus hotel where we stayed our first night off the plane. 👋🏼😘

Opera House

Nice dome

Nearby park


Beauty is skin deep

Eric and Erikes and Eyesore

With real LTE internet for an hour before our next shuttle pick up, we got our FaceTime calls in back home. Cup: refilled. Glad to hear how much fun the fam is having back home, and all the fun I have to look forward to rejoining upon my return. It’ll be an abbreviated summer, just a couple of weeks in Massachusetts before heading back south. But I’ll make it count!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! 2.5 hour drive in a nice shuttle van over less-than-nice roads to Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge. We were given water halfway, and then 2/3 of the way we stopped at a cafe where I picked up some juice and cookies and peanut brittle candy.

en route to Anavilhanas
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

the way to Anavilhanas

It wasn’t until after I drank the juice that I realized, reading the bottle closely, that “concentrado” didn’t mean from concentrate, but just concentrate. My little bottle of caju (cashew) juice concentrate was supposed to make 3.5 liters. Zing!

Our eco-resort was at the end of a long dirt road off the highway. Unlike other dirt roads, this one was sliced right through the jungle, sort of like their were jungle-height vertical hedges on both sides of the road. I wonder how they keep that trimmed so nicely?

This resort is all-inclusive of food and excursions. Buffet style dinner was really excellent. There are always pescatarian options here. The Brazilian peanut dessert was lovely, as was the coconut mousse. Yum! And after dinner our first excursion: night boat ride in search of wildlife. We saw a sloth father and child, caimans, interesting birds, a big frog, and a garden boa constrictor. Lightning in the distance stole the show at the end. Just beautiful!

3 beds and a hammock in case we get homesick for the boat

Trust us, it's sloths
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Bird camouflaged as tree


Very very frightening me

Best part: I’m writing this entry in the morning, because I fell asleep clean and exhausted at 9:30pm and didn’t wake up until 7am. No snoring from Eric except in hammocks I guess?! Sweet.

Day 10: Old black water, keep on rollin’

I awoke at 6:58am after about 9.5 hours in a real bed. There’s a hammock right outside our room, to where we thought Eric might be banished, but that proved unnecessary. All 3 of us are refreshed and ready to attack the breakfast buffet. I enjoyed scrambled eggs with tomatoes and chives, a variety of cheeses, and coffee.

Lobby aka common room
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Dining room

Breakfast buffet
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
This place is essentially a Myst game
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

While awaiting the muster for our all-day Rio Negro cruise, I caught up on yesterday’s blogging. Then onto the “big” boat, which is about the same size as the Com te Isaac, maybe a few feet wider and longer. At least it seems bigger, since the entire upstairs is an open deck, without an enclosed cabin in the front half like Isaac.

photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Fancier wheelhouse

We headed upstream first, past Nova Airão, the western-most town on the Amazon (Rio Negro tributary) reachable by car from Manaus.

Guide with map of national park

For the 2nd half of the morning we got on the small boat, same as the one we were on last night, to travel back downstream through narrower channels amidst the many islands of the Rio Negro archipelago.

Headed through the channels
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

Loner bird 1

Loner bird 2

Loner bird 3

Toucans prefer twos

Party of 5 Macaws

When the guide asked if we wanted to swim, Eric literally jumped at the opportunity. He was in the water before the boat even came to a halt. He set off the man overboard alarm. We all had a good laugh.

Man overboard

Bombs away!

Natural habitat

Eventually we reached Base I, the only remaining inhabited residence in the National Park, staffed by 2 rangers. As recently as 2 years ago there were 16 rangers spread over 4 bases, tasked with protecting the Amazon from hunters, anglers, and tree harvesters. Due to government corruption, not only has Brazil cut its funding such that only two rangers remain, and their hours/salaries each cut in half, also the international donations from countries like Norway have been diverted into Brazilian officials’ pockets. (This is all according to our guide, but I have no reason to doubt it.)

Ranger Eric

All your base are belong to us

Rangers making their lunches

And then there was one...

After signing Base I’s guest book, we got back in the little boat and motored back to the big boat where tables were set elaborately, and lunch was waiting. Delicious fish, rice, steak for those who like it, fruits and mousse for dessert, and extra nice coffee.

Hey, no laughing!
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
Beautiful boat lunch
photo credit: Maurice Ribble
As long as Eric doesn't fall asleep in any more hammocks...
photo credit: Maurice Ribble

After we returned from the big boat ride, Eric, Moe and I played a card game called Citadels. It was fun, but Moe won. So we’ll need a rematch.

After dinner we did a night hike. Long pants, gators, and headlamps. We saw a pretty rad tarantula, a few leaches, and leaf cutter ants.

Sheriff Hopper


The best part was when we all shut off our lights and had to make our way the last stretch of the hike through the jungle in the dark. Fun times. 😬