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The Amazon Rainforest

April 19, 2012 | 3 minute read | By Kevin Read

amazon-2-01-3The Rainforest around Manaus is a network of islands, lakes and rivers, constantly shifting and changing with the seasonal rise and fall of the water; the river level changes by 14 meters over the course of the year in this area, so your route from one place to another may depend on the month.  For four days we wander around the edges of the lakes in our wobbly canoe with a  small motor on the back, looking for animals. There aren’t river banks here; this close to the end of the rainy season, the water merges with the trees and it’s possible to row your way through the jungle where the forest floor is buried under several feet of water.

The Amazon contains more than 2.5 million species of animal and almost all of them are insects. Though the abundance is obvious if you look closely, the Amazon’s biodiversity does not translate into diverse views and the ever-present mosquitos bite day and night. The air is thick and heavy and I’m sticky from layers of sun screen, insect repellent and sweat. The scenery is shades of green and brown, and the sky always overcast and grey; bright colours are a warning in the jungle and most creatures opt for camouflage instead.

Fortunately, Antonio the guide has highly trained eyes. He spots an iguana on a branch 100 metres away, and spends the next 10 minute trying to get us to see it too (in the end he’s reduced to taking a picture on someone’s camera and then pointing it out in the image, so we can translate that to the view in front of us). Occasionally monkeys swing through the branches in small groups and grey river dolphins break the surface on their journeys up and down the river. Most often, though, we see sloths.


Spotting one high above us, Antonio ties the canoe to a tree, reaches for a nearby branch, and effortlessly climbs upwards. The sloth makes lazy efforts to escape, gradually swinging arm over arm in comedy slow motion while our guide easily chases it 50 feet above us.

Sloths main defence against their few predators is to claw at the attacker and vaguely hope it will go away. I can’t imagine this ever works. As Antonio begins the even more dangerous descent with it held in one had, the sloth barely moves. Presumably it believes the animal which has just chased and extracted it from the trees is some kind of threat but back in the boat, where we examine it, the sloth casually drifts off to sleep.

Its fur is coarse, and I’m told to hold it in one hand from behind, just under the arms. The sloth gives me a passive and bored look (sloths aren’t capable of any other kind of look), and its limbs stretch out as if reaching for a branch. Its claws are long and sharp, but it’s cute as it very slowly wriggles around in my hands. I’m not sure that the best way of seeing the animals of the rainforest is to chase them through the canopy in order to have 10 minute passing them around the boat, but the sloth genuinely didn’t seem to mind very much.

At the end of the tour I’m glad to leave and travel back to Manaus. The humidity and heat in the jungle gradually infuses everything until it’s hard to remember a time when you didn’t feel damp. I’m the only non-Brazilian in the transport canoe back, but fall into conversation with a couple from Salvador, my next destination on the trip. Though they are proud of their city, the very first thing they tell me is to be careful; I haven’t yet met someone who’s been to Salvador and not warned me about its abundance of thieves and pickpockets. Maybe surviving the jungle without incident will not be the biggest challenge of Brazil.



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6 responses to “The Amazon Rainforest”

  1. fred says:

    Good to follow your travels. Wish we was there.

    Take care.

  2. Matt R says:

    Just how large was this sloth your guide found if you can hand it back and forth on a small boat?

    • Kevin Read says:

      Heavy enough that when I posed for pictures and our guide got a little too perfectionist about getting the right shot, I was reaching the point of having to decide whether to drop the thing in the boat or hand it to someone else like a wimp. In some ways this is El Slotho De Diablo. About 4 feet from fingers to toes, but it’s all arms and legs.

  3. Lisa says:

    Odd how people can be the most dangerous. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Kevin Read says:

      Yeah, that’s very sad, but it’s also quite understandable when you see how people live. Not just the desperate conditions, but close it is to the temptation of people driving Mercedes and living in luxury high-rises on the beach, never mind the wealthy, vulnerable gringos.

  4. Jen H. says:

    Did you see mold growing on the sloth? I heard they move so slowly that mold actually grows on them 🙂 Love reading your travels, looking forward to reading more!

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