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
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
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
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
NY Sales Office (888) GO-ARIAU
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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|Ariau Jungle Tower Hotel,
Courtesy of Leonide Principe
Hotel and Local Wildlife Pictures courtesy of the Ariau Jungle