Novo Airao

The trip to Novo Airao went well, in spite of some weird weather on the way up, with wind and current both from the northwest, and which whipped the river into rather an agitated state (sorry Hilary – no pictures of this). It was nothing too wild, but very tiring, as there’s a 20km stretch of open water which you can’t really avoid crossing, and you have to just buffet your way through. It also took me a bit by surprise, as I’d insisted that we leave just before dawn (pic) to avoid ‘the weather’. Anyway, once across the open stretch, in the lee of the first of the Anavilhanas’ estimated 400 islands, the whole thing quietened down considerably, and the rest of it was plain, um, sailing, as it were. But it did mean it took us around 4 hours to get to our destination. We stopped at the relatively new Anavilhanas Lodge to have a quick look around: it seems fine, and the people were friendly, so we’ll probably be recommending this as an option to guests seeking a jungle lodge. After this, we headed around the corner to the one-boat village of Novo Airao itself. And of course the primary aim of this was to see what all the fuss was about with these dolphins.

The port of Novo Airao is very small, with hardly room to squeeze the Shamrock in between a few other local boats, and when you get off your boat you’re greeted with a dusty street, a few ramshackle bars and a kind of terminal for people to get on and off the regional boats plying their trade between Manaus and Barcelos or Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. Across the little harbour is a white flutuante where they’ll sell you a (very small) fish for (very much – R$15!) money, to feed the dolphins; and at the back of the flutuante, you can just hop in the water with your fish and hand it out to your new-found friends. Naturally, I had to have a go – so it was off with at least some of the togs and straight into the water. I didn’t have any fish at this point, and the dolphins wouldn’t let me forget it – they nudged, flippered and generally cajoled me until Naice arrived with the (somewhat frozen) fish.

It was amazing being in the water with these wee beasties. I thought they would be gentle, shy, intelligent Flipper-like beings who would uncannily understand me as if telepathically and so on (a bit like my colleagues at SEELB, maybe…). Not so – they behaved like spoilt dogs and spent their time bullying everyone into handing out the fish; and as soon as all the fish was gone, well, so were they. But it was still a fantastic experience, and thoroughly recommended. You can see me being flippered in one of the photos, which should amuse some of you.

On the way back, we strayed into the Anavilhanas reserve itself, and pottered along one of its totally deserted canals, with the river like a mirror and the undisturbed, primary rainforest towering along its banks. Apart from an occasional flock of red Macaws, screeching on their way overhead, when we stopped the engine it was so quiet all you could hear was a faint ringing in your ears (or maybe that was tinnitus). Wonderful. One of the photos shows how difficult it can be sometimes to figure out quite where the river ends and the sky begins.

The NW breeze had dropped almost completely and we worked out that the speed of the current (now in our favour) was about 2.5 – 3kph, so we were fairly skimming along at around 45kph on the way back, and made the whole journey in 2 hours 45 minutes, even with our stop in the Anavilhanas. Average speed on the way up, 28kph; on the way back, 41kph – a record I doubt I shall ever beat in the Shamrock.

p.s. Some myths debunked, following the trip: 1) the deepest water in the Negro is 150ft – nonsense – we measured 285ft at one point; and 2) the widest clear stretch (i.e. no islands in the way) of the Negro is 9.8km – rubbish, we realised this on the way up, and if you measure in Google Earth, you can see that the widest stretch is approximately11.98km.

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