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Day 5: Ariaú Towers, Rio Negro

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My tree house. The nearest I'll get to being Johnny Weissmuller.
Michael Palin - BrazilUp early after a night of weird dreams which I put down to the malaria tablets. The squirrel monkeys are already scooting about waiting to find their way through the netting and into breakfast. They have distinctive tan fur on their backs and faces that seem to consist only of two big eyes. They're hugely appealing and very naughty.

With a bit of luck we shall be looking at more unusual wildlife as we head off up a side river to a rendezvous with Botos Cor de Rosa, pink Amazon dolphins. My guide is a young man called Gabriel. His family are caboclos, people of mixed Indian and European blood for whom life has never been easy. Gabriel has created his own luck. He taught himself English in the 1990s, qualified as a guide for the Ariaś Towers and moved his wife and young family to Manaus. But the recent fall in tourist numbers, especially from North America, has just cost him his regular job, and he now works part-time.

The trees that crowd the still, reflective surface of the creek seem strangely silent. Gabriel explains to me that the water of the Rio Negro is acidic, which means fewer fish and less food for the birds. Almost as he speaks a largish bird detaches itself from the tree cover and flaps lazily up ahead of us, its wings silver in the pale morning sunlight. It's an osprey.

The wind catches us as we emerge from the sheltered side channel onto the wide, lake-like waters of the Rio Negro. Ahead of us, on its platform of lashed-together logs and a threadbare thatched roof, is the pink dolphin viewing-platform. There are two main species of river dolphin in the Amazon. The grey dolphin is shy of humans, but the more plentiful pink dolphins have been courted over the last few years by a local boy who has won their trust by feeding them sardines. He's already thrown a few in and as I slide into the water I can see fins coming closer. This is not something I've ever done before and I'm a little apprehensive. Then the first of them makes contact beneath the water, a cool, hard, strong back, a soft skin and a bulbous neck like that of a walrus. And then a spectacular jaw, as long as a chainsaw and lined with twenty or thirty teeth, breaks the surface and snaps at a sardine. There are five of them circling now and as they come in closer I can see them gliding towards me, then I feel them twisting and turning, giving me a whack with their hard flippers or probing the water awfully close to my lower body with their long, scissor-like mouths. They're agile but sightless and I feel quite pleased that they trust me enough to bounce off my body and still come back for more. And I trust them enough not to mistake anything of mine for a sardine.
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A squirrel monkey lurks by the breakfast room.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 5: Ariaú Towers, Rio Negro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Ariaś Towers, Rio Negro
  • Book page no: 33

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