An Eco-Resort in the Amazon


This is the fourth article in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This one is about the Amazon Ecopark. Previous posts highlighted the Amazon River, the city of Manaus, Brazil and piranhas, a well-known fish native to the Amazon. Upcoming articles will focus on its rainforest, indigenous groups, and wildlife. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from one of the world’s mightiest rivers.

An hour-long boat ride upriver from Manaus brought us to the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge, an eco-resort on the Tarumã River, a tributary of the Amazon that flows into one of the main branches of the Rio Negro.

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Nestled in a quiet cove, the lodge was our home for five days in July 2008. When we arrived, I thought we had been stranded on Gilligan’s Island until we saw the carved wooden sign near the dock confirming that we were in the right place.

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The site was only accessible by water, and I felt like we were being marooned in the jungle until a boat took us back to civilization.

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The Ecopark offered plenty to see and do in the small area where we were permitted to wander without a guide (not that I had any desire to get lost in the jungle, mind you). We could walk on the beach, enjoy the view, or swim in the cove – an opportunity that my family reluctantly avoided. Other visitors were brave enough to take a dip, but we weren’t about to swim with the caimans, piranhas or needlefish. Instead, we walked around the lodge and snapped photos.

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The beautiful scenery whispered “Amazon,” coaxing me to tell its story and inspiring me to write Alexander the Salamander. The still pool of water from a small stream made an idyllic backdrop for the creatures featured in the book.

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Unplugged with no Internet or phone access that would have made ardent tech addicts stir crazy, the lodge made up for it with leisure activities. My son and I enjoyed many a game of pool and chess. While he had some trouble getting the pool stick to connect with the cue ball, the little chess whiz beat his dad over and over.

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Once in a while, dad got the upper hand.

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The Ecopark offered several off-site excursions to introduce visitors to the Amazon, including boat cruises to an indigenous village and the Meeting of the Waters at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões; rainforest hikes; visits to a monkey sanctuary; piranha fishing; and nighttime animal spotting. During a moonlight cruise, our guide suddenly sprang from the boat onto the shore and caught a small caiman that he showed us and later released. I marveled how he found saw glint in the creature’s eyes in near darkness.

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Before and after a long day of touring, we retreated to the dining hall for dinner or to the lounge for drinks. I still remember the caipirinhas I enjoyed on the veranda overlooking the cove as my wife sipped on margaritas and tropical juices. My son enjoyed the juices but liked playing with the tiny cocktail parasols even more.

Local residents occasionally popped by for a visit. A large lizard searching for dinner crossed our path. We steered clear of a parrot and macaw that hung around the bar. While they were the inspirations for the characters Polly and Molly in Alexander the Salamander, these one were quite aggressive. Molly the Macaw was downright ornery, shooing away visitors wherever she landed.

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2008_07_17 Brazil Amazon Resort

The Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge is just one of many resorts along the Amazon’s many tributaries. Other resorts offer similar amenities. We enjoyed its ambiance, activities, price, and close proximity to Manaus. We were grateful that was located on the mosquito-free Rio Negro, where the high acidity from decaying vegetation and low oxygen content prevents mosquitos from breeding. Although we contended with our fair share of spiders, ants and other jungle critters, the bloodsuckers left us alone.

Map picture

 

More About the Amazon

Click here to read about Manaus.

Click here to read about piranhas.

Click here to read about the Amazon River.

Click here to watch the Amazon Eco-Park’s promotional video.

 

About Alexander the Salamander

clip_image002A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

 

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Amazon River


This is the third article in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This one is about the Amazon River. Previous posts highlighted the city of Manaus, Brazil and piranhas, a well-known fish native to the Amazon. Upcoming articles will focus on the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the area, and the Amazon Ecopark, an eco-resort. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from one of the world’s mightiest rivers.

The day after we arrived in Manaus, we boarded a small green wooden motorboat with our luggage and headed about 25 kilometers up the Rio Negro to the Amazon Ecopark. The aging vessel was driven by a kindly Brazilian man who spoke no English but smiled a lot and helped us with our baggage. My son, wife, and I were the only passengers on the watercraft designed to hold 12 people plus luggage stowed in the aft. I chuckled at the sight of our bags lounging with a bird’s eye view of the river.

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As the city of Manaus disappeared on the horizon, the rainforest surrounded us and left me transfixed on its emerald beauty. The wake behind the boat blended in artistically with the swirling clouds.

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I’d seen other tropical forests, but the allure of the Amazon played with my mind and made the scenery utterly magical. The excitement of being in an almost-mythical place that I dreamed of visiting as a child grew as the boat glided deeper into the wilderness.

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The occasional bungalow and sagging structure along the waterfront reminded me that we hadn’t quite left civilization behind.

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More powerful boats zipped by us, throwing waves in our path and jostling our craft. I dreaded to think what we would find in the river if we fell overboard.

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Half an hour later, the boat slowed and veered away from the Rio Negro into a channel that took us to our resort hidden in a cove. The calm, serene water mirrored the rainforest that pressed in on us from all sides.

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The afternoon faded and the sun set behind the trees, casting its golden rays through the breaking clouds. The shadows deepened, painting the landscape in dark hues that blurred the outlines of the sky, forest, and river. Aside from the rumble of the outboard motor that sounded taxed by the hour-long journey from Manaus, the jungle was quiet. Life was all around us, but the stillness was deafening when the motor cut out.

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2008_07_17 Brazil Amazon River

During our five days in the Amazon, we ventured up and down the lifeblood of the rainforest. The melding of trees, plants, wildlife, river and sky instilled a sense of natural harmony. I was grateful to have experienced this wondrous place in person, albeit as an outsider looking in.

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More About the Amazon

Click here to read about Manaus.

Click here to read about piranhas.

Map picture

About Alexander the Salamander

clip_image002A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Piranhas!


This is the second in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about piranhas, a well-known fish native to South America. Upcoming articles will focus on the Amazon River Basin, the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the Amazon, and eco-resorts. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from the world’s largest rainforest.

They lurk in the dark waters of the Amazon River, elusive but potentially deadly with their razor-sharp teeth that can tear into flesh. They swim in schools, but their curriculum is survival by finding innocent victims to eat. They are attracted by the scent and sight of blood floating in the water, and when they attack, they swarm and subdue prey through death by a thousand bites.

They are the PIRANHAS! Deadly, dangerous piranhas! Be careful…do not go into the water!

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I’m kidding…sort of. The perception of piranhas as prone to aggressive behavior when it comes to feeding may be true, but their reputation as bloodthirsty, rapacious killers is overblown. The image of these members of the Characidae family that movies such as the 1978 film Piranha and its spawn — most recently Piranha 3DD — portray outstrips what these fish can really do. They certainly aren’t as docile as my buddy Percy the Piranha featured in Alexander the Salamander, who nibbles Alexander on the nose to say hello.

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They are predators, scavengers, and even herbivores, and there have been confirmed cases of people killed by piranhas. However, the fish are also prey for other animals higher up on the food chain, including the cormorants, caimans, dolphins, and humans.

Humans? Certainly. Humans kill and consume far more piranhas than the other way around. When we visited the Amazon River Basin in July 2008, we went piranha fishing. Floating in a skiff in the murky waters of a tributary, we dangled raw beef cubes as bait from fishing poles and snagged some. An unorthodox means to catch fish for sure, but it worked. We caught a couple large ones and ate them for dinner. They were tasty but quite boney.

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The face and gills were the only remnants after we finished feasting on them.

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Piranhas make a good prop when you tell your friends at home that you went piranha fishing. The dried and lacquered fish mounted on wood stands made by local souvenir vendors are great desk ornaments, especially the red-bellied piranha reputed to be the most ferocious of all. Here my son holds up mounted red-bellied and gray piranhas. He wasn’t scared of them in spite of their wide, toothy grins staring at him.

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Piranhas also make good key chains, although their teeth have a tendency to catch on clothing. I didn’t see any piranha Christmas tree ornaments, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to swap the key chain for a hook.

No trip to the Amazon would be complete without a piranha fishing expedition or souvenir. Before you go overboard and jump in to swim with them, however, consider this — the most feared fish in the Amazon isn’t the piranha. It’s the candirú, also known as the toothpick or vampire fish, a parasitic catfish with a lethal reputation for invading the internal organs of fish, animals, and humans and feeding on blood and tissue. Best stay out of the water.

About Alexander the Salamander

A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

clip_image002M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Manaus, Brazil – Heart of the Amazon


This is the first in a series about the Amazon region of Brazil that is featured in my illustrated picture book, Alexander the Salamander. This post is about Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon. Upcoming articles will focus on the Amazon River Basin, the rainforest, indigenous groups and wildlife in the Amazon, and the Amazon Ecopark, an eco-resort. Enjoy these travelogues with photos and stories from the world’s largest rainforest.

My family and I visited the Amazon region in July 2008. We spent the day in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, before embarking on a trip to the rainforest.

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The city lies at the confluence of the rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimões, the two major tributaries that form the mighty Amazon River flowing east to the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by a dense sea of green forest that blankets the region, Manaus is a gritty, industrial city of approximately 1.85 million inhabitants carved out of the jungle. It’s a four-hour flight from São Paulo, the primary airline hub for most international flights entering Brazil.

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The name “Manaus” is derived from the Manaós indigenous group that lived in the area until the city’s establishment by the Portuguese in 1669. Manaus has been called the “Heart of the Amazon” and “City of the Forest,” although a more appropriate name is the “Industrial Pool of Manaus,” reflecting the city’s status as an industrial center. A rubber boom in the late 1800s fueled urban growth for half a century. Since the establishment of the Free Economic Zone of Manaus (ZFM) in 1957, a bevy of industries from shipbuilding and petrochemicals to manufacturing and agribusiness have developed thanks to tax incentives offered by the ZFM.

Although the city’s footprint is one of the largest in Brazil, its historic center between the river port and the main square is an easy walk. Visiting Manaus’ highlights is a day tour on foot from any number of hotels clustered in the center. Heading north on Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro takes you to the Renaissance-style Amazon Theater (Teatro Amazonas), an opera house that opened in 1896 and is home to the Amazonas Philharmonic. The easily recognizable dome features a large mural of the Brazilian flag.

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The main square is lined with historic buildings that house the Palace of Justice (Palácio de Justiça), São Sebastião Church, Municipal Prefecture, and the Indigenous Museum (Museu do Índio), one of two showcasing local indigenous culture (the other is the smaller, nearby Museu Amazônico). Although small – just one large city block – the square is a must-see when visiting Manaus. Park benches in São Sebastião Park are a great place to stop and enjoy the plaza.

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Walking down Avenida Eduardo Ribeiro toward the river port will introduce you to the sights and sounds of Manaus. There are some free-for-all markets that sell a wide assortment of knock-off goods. We passed on the faux leather goods and “Swiss” watches.

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Next to the port is a large open-air market surrounding the Church of the Mother Manaus (Ingreja de Matriz Manaus). Cluttered and somewhat disorganized, the place was abuzz with activity when we visited and filled with items that seemed more geared to locals than tourists. We enjoyed browsing the stalls for mementos, food, and drink.

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My son enjoyed drinking milk straight from the coconut sold by one of the vendors.

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Across the street on the banks of the Rio Negro is the Adolpho Lisboa Market (Mercado Adolpho Lisboa), the city’s oldest market built in 1882. Next to it lies the ornate Customs House (Alfandega) overshadowed by the contemporary but gaudy Ministry of Finance (Fazenda) skyscraper out of place in the historic center.

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The large, modern wharf next to the river port crowded with cafes and piers blends in well with the colonial architecture.

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The port is a jump-off point for river cruises and tourist excursions that range from daytrips to the Meeting of the Waters at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões to multi-day trips to ecotour resorts.

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If you visit the heart of the Amazon, you’ll likely transit through Manaus on your way to the rainforest. Many tourists head straight to the river without stopping to enjoy the city. While much more awaits you in the wild, a brief stopover will introduce you to Brazilian culture and prepare you for the jungle adventure that lies ahead.

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About Alexander the Salamander

A young salamander named Alexander living in the Amazon River Basin joins his friends Airey the Butterfly and Terry the Tarantula for an unforgettable jungle adventure. Come along with Alexander and friends as they meet birds, monkeys, and other creatures, enjoy the beauty of the rainforest, and face danger along the way.

The first book in the World Adventurers for Kids Series, Alexander the Salamander is an illustrated story inspired by the authors’ visit to the Amazon in 2008. Fun for kids and adults alike, the story teaches children the importance of listening to teachers and other authority figures.

coverM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories and Alexander the Salamander, a children’s story set in the Amazon. His books are available to purchase as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.