“We live in a pharmacy.” Those words from our guide Amaro said it all. We’ve all heard stories about how there is so much yet to be discovered in the Amazon region of South America. There we were – in December of 2018 – traipsing through the dense jungle – learning about the benefits, challenges, and surprises of life in this equatorial region.
We signed up for four tours into the tropical jungle during our Viking Cruise aptly named “From the Caribbean to the Amazon”, three daytime excursions, and one which could not begin until dark, but was certainly one of the high points of our adventures.
“Nature Walk” in Santarém, Brazil was an optional tour that peaked our interest. We walked through the 300 acre forest owned by Steven Will Alexander. We felt the jungle around us. The tropical sounds came from the birds, the insects, and the air through the trees. As we walked through the woods with Amaro, he and the other guide cut vines and branches from the trail in front of us to facilitate our ability to move forward without tripping on the dense foliage that surrounded us.
We saw numerous termite mounds both close to the ground and higher up in some of the trees or larger bushes. We later learned of their medicinal value Photo by Burt Davis
Contrary to popular belief, our guide informed us, the soil in the Amazon is not fertile. The trees get their nutrients from dead leaves and dead trees. This is one of the reasons that clear cutting is detrimental to the continuation of the Amazon forests.
There was a large tree called the Sumauma, often referred to as the Drum Tree. The natives would bang on it to communicate. We saw the Capaso Tree which is a source of a chocolate flavor.
Our hike was almost over, but not our education. We met with Steven Will Alexander, the owner of Bosue Sta Lucia Poco Brano, the preserve we had visited. This charming American-born man in his 80’s told us that there are at least 160 species of trees that he personally identified. He believes there could be up to 1,000 distinct species in the area.
Alexander’s personal mission is to show the biodiversity of the area. He told us that there are medicinal properties in much of the sap from so many of the trees.We left with a greater appreciation of the need to study and preserve the Amazon forests.
Casa da Farinha
Next, we visited Casa da Farinha, part of an included tour of the city of Santarém At this old cassava flour mill where local people once produced flour using traditional rustic methods, We learned how some of the vegetation is processed into edible products.
Our guide showed us the poisonous roots of the Minnock Tree. But, we learned, it goes through a process which converts it to an edible cassava flour.
We learned that during the early 19th century, rubber was a great source of income for the Amazon Basin, but now synthetic products and rubber tree plantations in Southeast Asia have dramatically cut into the Amazon as a rubber source.
Brazil Nuts! Of course we needed to learn more about them. Brazil nuts are formed in husks which can weigh up to eight pounds. The husks themselves have been discovered to have medicinal properties. They are high in calcium and iron and can be used to help treat malaria.
Jungle Survival Trek
Following a few days of enjoying the luxuries on board our ship The Viking Sea as we cruised, we docked at Manaus, the largest city on the Amazon River. There, we bravely opted for the four hour “Jungle Survival Trek”. A river boat cruise along the Rio Negro. took us to Guedes Lake where our local forest expert began our pre-trek briefing.
As we made our way through the dense woods, our guide showed us nutrient-rich fruits and nuts, plants whose leaves and roots have medicinal properties, and which vegetation to avoid.
Our guide and his helpers demonstrated some survival skills and showed us how to build a shelter using forest materials. We learned how to make a fire, even during wet conditions and how to trap animals with materials found around us in the Amazon jungle. This added to our appreciation of the native populations who have inhabited the area for centuries.
“In Search of Caimans”
Our final optional tour into the Amazon was “In Search of Caimans”. We left after dark. Small riverboats transported us to the docking area where we boarded ten passenger motorized canoes to seek out these nocturnal reptiles in the dense jungle backwaters of the Black River.
We journeyed through the dark waters as our guide silently moved his flashlight along the water in hopes of spotting these creatures which are close relatives of the crocodile. They can weigh up to 2400 pounds and grow to be 15 feet. There are no street lights here or sounds of civilization. Just darkness with a little light from the moon and stars.
Luckily, the caimans we spotted were young and small, giving us the experience, but with a whole lot less danger. After the photo ops, the caimans were returned unharmed into their native environment.
We came, we listened, we ventured, we saw, we touched, we learned and we returned to the comfort of our ship, The Viking Sea. We recommend these excursions without reservation for the adventurous folks who want to experience the Amazon region.