This Rooms to Explore feature focuses upon places to stay throughout the country and the world that become part of a visit to a destination. These are hotels, inns and other accommodations that help to bring the local history, culture and lifestyle alive in a very meaningful way — where the sightseeing and travel experience begin in the lodging itself. When I’m lucky enough to come across such places, I take pleasure in sharing my fortunate encounter, and my observations, with others.
Scrambling out of bed and glancing through the window, the setting hardly resembled any hotel room where I’ve ever stayed. Nearby, pink dolphins cavorted and emitted pig-like grunts and horse-like snorts. Birds as colorful as their names — red-billed toucan, scarlet macaw and green ibis — filled the air with their rainbow hues and calls. A teenage boy in a crudely hewn dugout canoe was catching razor-toothed piranha with nothing more than a piece of string and a hook hidden in a cube of meat.
This was one of a changing tableau of breathtaking views from a small boat chugging its way along a major tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil. For eight days, my fellow passengers and I – the Motor Yacht Tucano can accommodate up to 18 people – were immersed in the waters, and wonders, of Amazonia.
In contrast to the compact floating hotel, everything around us was BIG! The vast rain forest stretches into nine countries, sprawling over an area about the size of India. Of its 1,000-plus tributaries, 17 are over 1,000 miles long. The Rio Negro [NAY-grow] which we were exploring spans nearly 18 miles at its widest point.
Size also matters when seeking close up and personal meetings with animal life. Some 15,000 species make Amazonia their home, and we came face to face with a sampling of them during land excursions. We followed single file as our guide, Alzenir Sousa, used his machete to blaze a narrow trail, slicing, swatting, cutting and chopping the dense growth.
Having grown up in the forest, Sousa (as he prefers to be called) shared his vast knowledge of animal habitats and habits. He identified capuchin, tamarin and howler monkeys chattering from treetops, and used his canny ability to mimic bird calls to strike up two-way conversations with them. Magnificent butterflies, the largest I’ve ever seen, provided a sampling of more than 1,800 species that lend grace and beauty to the surroundings. While we spotted some of the three dozen-plus species of iguana included on our animal checklist, I wasn’t all that upset that anacondas, which can reach 40 feet in length, and jaguars were not as cooperative.
At least equally intriguing is a very different kind if life, encountered during visits to tiny isolated villages scattered along the river bank. Houses consist of crudely cut wood planks, most resting on rickety stilts that elevate them during the January to May rainy season when rivers can rise 40 feet and more. Families lucky enough to own a few chickens, ducks, or even a goat or pig herd them onto a raft where they, like their owners, wait for the water to recede.
Returning to the Tucano after each afternoon land excursion, we showered as instructed while wearing our light-weight, fast-dry clothes, in order to wash away any small, unwelcome critters that may have hitched a ride. This was followed by bountiful buffet dinners with a focus on local fare. The spreads included a virtual alphabet of fruits ranging from acai, a palm fruit that resembles dark purple grapes, to xuxu, a somewhat bland vegetable usually served with a sauce.
Being on a river cruise, fish made frequent appearances on the buffet table. A highlight was fishing for and catching piranha, which the on-board chef fried for a crunchy dinner treat.
That surprisingly tasty delicacy reinforced the myth-busting truth we had learned – that more people eat the voracious, much-feared residents of Amazonian rivers than the other way around. That thought became my mantra, and courage booster, near the end of our floating hotel room experience when we took a cooling dip in the same river from which that dinner had come.
The good news is I’m here to write about the encounter. So eat your heart out – not mine — falsely fearsome fish.
For more information of this unique hotel, click here.
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After gallivanting throughout the United States and to more than 75 other countries around the world, and writing about what he sees, does and learns, Victor Block retains the travel bug. He firmly believes that travel is the best possible education, and claims he still has a lot to learn. He loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.