Well, we are finally back in the (relative) civilization of Manaus after an absolutely incredible voyage into the dark heart of the Amazon.
After wimping out of the 40 hour slowboat journey upriver to Tefe (halfway to the Colombian border) we took the `express´ speedboat which still took 13 hours to cover the 500 meandering kilometres. It was an awe inspiring trip which really drove home the vastness of the Amazon. The boat stuck close to one bank, the other side being on average about 1km away, hour upon hour passed with nothing but densely jungle clad banks, huge mats of floating vegetation and the mouths of tributary streams which were themselves wider than any river I had ever seen. After six hours we stopped at the only significant centre of population we saw, nothing more till Tefe.
Tefe was, as we expected, a town with not too much to recommend it. We killed the two and a half days before the start of our tour to the reserve escaping from the unbearable jungle heat and humidity in our mercifully air-conditioned hotel room.
The sense of anticipation after such an enforced incarceration was almost too much (I mean the promise of seeing monkeys swinging through the rainforest canopy, it was like Christmas Eve felt when I was 10). Another hour and a half by speedboat took us further upriver and into a narrow channel which snaked into the huge area of `varzea´ (flooded forest) which is protected by the Mamiraua Sustainable Development Reserve and sits between the Solimoes and Japuri rivers. The entire reserve covers a larger area than England, our ecotourism activities were confined to a small corner which I suppose must have been about the size of Kent.
The days consisted of 3 wildlife spotting trips at dawn, afternoon and dusk in either dug-out canoes or hiking through the rainforest. I can happily report that all monkey expectations were not just met but surpassed (including several sightings of the rare endemic uacari or `English monkey´ so christened because of its bright red face and the red howler monkey who´s bizarre and penetrating howls woke us at 6am every morning). Scary animals didn´t disappoint either with large spiders, venemous snakes and disconcertingly large black caimans putting in regular appearances. Fortunately none were rude enough to venture into our floating river house at night despite much paranoia.
Flew back to Manaus today and have a flight on to Belem early tomorrow morning.