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Maxine Schur

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When Leaving Your Room, Lock the Door Because Monkeys Can Cause a Considerable Amount of Damage Almost the Same as an Elephant.

(Sign at the Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel )

I am sitting in the dining room of the Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel, the only tree top resort in the Amazon rain forest. High in the sky, I can gaze down at the black-glass Rio Negro winding southward, fringed with forest. But just outside the window screen, in the highest branches, capuchin and squirrel monkeys perform circus acts, two red and royal blue macaws neck, and a flock of white swallows fly away like blossoms blown by the wind.

I am eye-level with Paradise.

The wooden dining room is a giant cradle swaying gently in the breeze. But, in fact, all the rooms lullaby because they are all -- library, game room, lobby, bar and bedrooms -- perched in the canopy level of the rain forest. Here, the term, "outdoor corridors" takes on new meaning for moving through the hotel means traversing a network of catwalks hundreds of feet above the ground. In this unique traveler's eyrie, animals and humans watch each other with equal curiosity.

At first, the extreme closeness of animals was a little unsettling. I felt as Alice in Wonderland to unexpectedly greet a shaggy anteater, step aside for a ring-tailed coatamundi, or politely let pass a white-faced capuchin. But it was quite another thing to navigate past a group of large gray woolly monkeys hanging out on the deck like teenagers at the mall.

"Take your watch off, Ma'am," my guide had warned me when I arrived, "The monkeys fancy shiny things."

So on my first day, when I'd see these "monkey muggers" I'd wait until they moved on or I'd take another path. Yet, by the very next day, the environment worked on me like a sedative and I surprised myself with my courage at strolling past a monkey gang. I knew I could survive even their most brazen ploy ---- to leap onto a visitor's head and sit there like a Russian fur cap.

The Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel is 35 miles north of Manaus on the Rio Negro. Its remote location makes for ultimate relaxation. The moment you board the lodge's picturesque blue riverboat in Manaus, peace begins. Swinging gently in a deck hammock, you travel on the wide calm river while below, the engines churn toward the jungle's heart. At the lodge itself, the delicious regional cuisine, the leisurely pacing of the activities and the close camaraderie of the guests work magic. Yet I suspect that what most soothes here is the opportunity to return to a natural world that feels not only right for humans, but perhaps, ideal. At the Ariau, I felt as if I was recovering something long ago lost. When I awakened to a symphony of animal sounds, I experienced both its novelty yet mysterious familiarity.

The rain forest teems with diverse flora and fauna which is carefully described by the multilingual guides. On jungle walks we rubbed frankincense on our skin for scent, chewed cinnamon bark, tasted milk of magnesia oozing from a tree trunk, and marveled at the rabo de galo, an insect that has a bright feather tail just like a rooster. However when I was there, visitors were most surprised and impressed by the fact that millions of years ago, the Amazon region joined the sea and so the Amazon is home to an amazing variety of adapted marine life. The hotel provides several unique activities for optimum animal watching. One unforgettable activity is the Dolphin Watch. In the blackness just before sunrise, you skim the wide river in long motor boats. As the sky turns a fiery pink and the emerging sunlight casts flames on the water, you see pink dolphins! Arching their backs the long-snouted dolphins leap, two by two, flying forward in precision as if pulling Neptune's chariot.

At the lodge, guests are divided into language groups that dine and partake in activities together. On my first day I found myself the only English-speaking visitor so my knowledgeable Guyanese guide and I became a group of two. We took a canoe trip through the igapo, a permanently flooded forest. A sublime experience. Dipping our paddles into the sun-dappled water, gentle waves rolled away from us with the colors of peacock feathers. As our canoe slid through a filigree of tendrils, pale green dragonflies hummed, wild pigeons cooed, tree frogs made an outboard motor sound, vermilion-headed birds darted from tree to tree, and from the high kapok branches where termite nests big as duffel bags hang, every now and then something fell to the water with an unsettling loud splash.

"Pay it no mind Ma'am; it is only the iguanas," my guide said then added, "the iguana is fond of throwing himself into the water."

Several of the activities fall into the soft adventure category, meaning you do adventurous-sounding things without real danger. One afternoon, our group headed out in a boat to go piranha fishing. We were each handed a crude branch fishing pole and threaded the hooks with raw meat. When a fish was caught, the guide would deftly remove it from the hook. I shamed myself by not catching even one, but that evening thoroughly enjoyed the chef's surprisingly delicious piranha soup, complete with pointy-teeth heads.

The most exciting activity is the nighttime "Caiman Hunt." Our motor boat, wound slowly through the swampy igapo. Overhead the Milky Way shone bright but close at hand the guide and a young Amazonian native used powerful flashlights to detect signs of a caiman. As hundreds of frogs trilled, we searched the undergrowth but in vain. At last, just when we were about to give up, the native boy suddenly jumped into the water and after a ferocious struggle, emerged with what looked like a three-foot long lizard! The boy's hand was clamped tightly around the caiman's treacherous mouth but the scars on his arms and fingers attested to the danger of his job.

On my last day, our group traveled to the small native village of Acajatuba. This village is extraordinary not only because it is entirely self-sufficient, but because it was founded by a 16 year old girl. In 1977, Marlene Alves de Costa was an un-educated teenager dismayed at the poverty of her people who lived dispersed in the jungle. She went to the mayor of the town of Iranduba with her vision: to create a village from the 35 families scattered in the rainforest. The mayor granted the families a scrap of land and gave them enough diesel fuel for one year. Marlene Alves de Costa knew that together the families could thrive, sharing community services, and contributing diverse skills. On our visit, we saw an energetic community of 160 engaging in jute making, boat building, and farming. The riverine village boasts two churches, shops, a school and a medical post where Marlene herself is now the resident nurse.

The Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel gets its name from the fact that it has the tallest observation tower in the Amazon, allowing you to survey miles of the natural world. The story goes that the hotel was the vision of the late Jacques Cousteau who while studying the Amazonian dolphins met hotel owner, Francisco Ritta Bernadino and suggested to him an ecological nature resort to teach visitors about the value of the rainforest. Bernadino took Jacques Cousteau at his word and in 1986 built the lodge with its dizzying tower. Today the Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel is world-famous and contains a "Celebrities Gallery," a wall showing its many famous visitors such as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Olivia Newton John, Isabel Allende, and a week before my visit, Bill Gates. Plans for expansion are already underway and include a conference center, a gymnasium, another dining room and a research library.

Visitors at the lodge spend their days and evenings together so, like kids at summer camp, friendships are made quickly and partings get sentimental. When I boarded the boat for the afternoon trip back to Manaus, my new friends waved me good-bye. I waved back but in the vastness of the Amazon, the Ariau Jungle Tower is but a tiny enclave so as the boat sailed southward, the hotel quickly receded then vanished.

For more information on the Ariau Amazon Towers Hotel :
NY Sales Office (888) GO-ARIAU
or Jsananda@aol.com

Brazil's Varig Airlines flies to Rio de Janeiro from Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Orlando and Miami. There are also direct flights from Miami to Manaus twice a week. For more information on travel to Brazil, contact Varig Airlines at 1-800-468-2744.

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Amazon Hotel
Amazon Monkey
Amazon Monkey
Amazon Bird
Amazon Buffet
Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel,
Courtesy of Leonide Principe
Hotel and Local Wildlife Pictures courtesy of the Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel

©Maxine Rose Schur 2015. Reproducing or copying photos and articles is strictly prohibited unless expressly granted by the owner. All photos are by the author unless specified.



Maxine Rose Schur  :    Author, Writer, Speaker, Actress

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