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FEEL THE AMAZON, FEEL FREE

MANATEE AMAZON EXPLORER REOPENING TRAVEL LOG

DAY 1 – INTO THE HEART OF THE AMAZON RAINFOREST

We departed from the city of Quito, capital of Ecuador, in the early hours of the morning. After a short 45-minute flight, we arrived in the city of Coca where our motorized canoes were waiting for us to begin an exciting adventure into the heart of the Amazon Rainforest on board the Manatee Amazon Explorer.

The exciting moment of the arrival to the Manatee Amazon Explorer
The exciting moment of the arrival to the Manatee Amazon Explorer

Upon our arrival at the cruise vessel, the entire crew was clearly overcome with joy at the sight of our first guests after nine months of isolation due to the health emergency. We were delighted and eager to greet them with the warmth and cordiality that has always distinguished us. Despite not being able to show our smiles under our masks worn for proper biosecurity measures, the general warm and friendly vibe was evident in the emotional looks exchanged by the crew.

Welcome aboard!
Welcome aboard!

And so, with a great deal of excitement, we began our navigation downstream with a spectacular and colorful view on the horizon, watching howler monkeys that welcomed us with their deep, haunting cry, as well as a variety of birds flying by our boat.

Red howler monkey
Red howler monkey

We finished the day with a refreshing nighttime walk in the Amazon forest, observing very different fauna from that which can be seen during the day, while our ears were filled with the unique symphony of Amazonian sounds that accompanied us during our walk and the courtship serenades of insects and animals moving slowly and cautiously in the moonlight.

Jungle night walk in the moonlight
Jungle night walk in the moonlight

Thanks to the help of Avel, our expert naturalist guide, we were able to spot many animals, even the ones that use camouflage to blend into the forest. We observed toads hiding behind the leaves of trees and various insects such as centipedes, millipedes, moths, grasshoppers, and walking stick insects, among other fascinating species that form part of the nocturnal ecosystem. We were also able to hear a nearby owl preparing for its hunt.

Amazonian Moth
Amazonian Moth
The Veiled Lady
The Veiled Lady
The Veiled Lady is a unique fungus that emits a very peculiar odor. In Kichwa, it is called Aya Ullo which means “ghost phallus”, and it belongs to the genus Phallus Indusiatus. Near the end of its life cycle, it produces an odor the humans find very unpleasant; however, this odor serves to attract insects and contributes o the fungus’ ability to propagate.

Upon our return, the mood was celebratory as the Captain and Crew welcomed us with a special toast in honor of our return to operations. We then enjoyed a delicious dinner featuring the impressive cuisine offered by the Manatee.

Celebrating our first cruise departure after lockdown
Celebrating our first cruise departure after lockdown

DAY 2 – PAÑACOCHA, THE MYTHICAL PIRANHA LAGOON

After enjoying a delightful breakfast on board, we set out in our motorized canoes through the Pañayaku delta towards Pañacocha, and a day filled with expedition and adventure.

Pañacocha - Piranha lagoon
Pañacocha - Piranha lagoon

Along the way, we spotted several species of monkeys, as well as sloths and the majestic Blue Morpho butterfly, one of the most beautiful butterfly species, known for its iridescent blue wings that stand out against the green Amazonian foliage. We also discovered several bats sleeping on a tree trunk, pretending to be leaves.

Amazon lesser long-nosed bats
Amazon lesser long-nosed bats

Pañacocha is a Kichwa word meaning “piranha lagoon”, and this area features a tropical humid ecosystem home to many types of vegetation. After arriving at the lagoon, we went for a walk through the protected Pañacocha rainforest, during which our guests learned about the importance of balance in this fragile ecosystem’s biodiversity, the mutualistic and symbiotic relationships between plants and insects, and how local indigenous communities use everything from the tiniest of plants to the largest of trees in their daily life, depending on their unique uses and properties.

Millennial tree, the gigantic Amazonian Kapok Tree
Millennial tree, the gigantic Amazonian Kapok Tree
Duroia hirsuta
Duroia hirsuta
Duroia hirsuta is a tree species that shares a mutualistic relationship with the Myrmelachista schumanni ant species, also known as the “lemon ant”, which sprays formic acid, a powerful herbicide, on all vegetation that does not resemble the Duroia hirsuta on which it lives, suppressing and destroying the growth of other plants in the area and creating a monoculture, known locally by natives as the “Devil’s Garden” as they believed these trees were isolated by spirits caring for the forest.

Up in the highest branches of the trees, we observed colorful macaws, squirrel monkeys and titi monkeys, while in the rainforest’s understory we spotted a very peculiar little friend that blends in with its surroundings

Amazon Dwarf-Iguana
Amazon Dwarf-Iguana

Once back in the community, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch and, feeling satisfied and well rested, continued our adventure with water activities such as kayaking and swimming in safe waters, which are offered for our guests to fully immerse themselves in the mythical Pañacocha piranha lagoon.  Kayaks, in particular, offer the purest and quietest experience in this environment, allowing one to connect with nature.

Kayaking in Pañacocha
Kayaking in Pañacocha

Just before we began to enjoy the water activities, our guides thoughtfully caught and later released a piranha fish to show us, and we saw their teeth up close. They explained that these animals are omnivorous with a diet that includes seeds and plant material as well as fish, and not strictly carnivorous, as portrayed by the film industry and in spite of their red eyes and razor-sharp teeth that make them appear so sinister.

The Pañacocha’s piranhas
The Pañacocha’s piranhas

Back on board again with the warmest of welcomes from our crew, we began our cruise upstream to bring us closer to our next destination. Our guests enjoyed the stunning moving landscape of the surrounding rainforest environment from the views offered on their private balconies and had the opportunity to attend a talk about the Amazon to add to their knowledge of the environment explored during the day and address any questions or concerns.

Take a deep breath and observe the changing landscape
Take a deep breath and observe the changing landscape

To end the day on a high note, we enjoyed a simply delicious dinner accompanied by a special dessert, thoughtfully recommended by our chef for “sweet dreams.”

Sweet Dreams Dessert
Sweet Dreams Dessert

DAY 3 – A SPECTACULAR NATURAL SHOW AND AN ANCESTRAL CULTURE

Our first excursion starts early in the morning and takes us to the famous “Parrot clay lick”, a clay canyon where bright and colorful parrots, macaws and parakeets can be seen from our motorized canoe as they gather by the hundreds to lick the clay which provides them with minerals and aids in healthy digestion.

A natural show full of colorful parrots and parakeets
A natural show full of colorful parrots and parakeets

After watching this incredible natural show, we embarked on our journey through the forest in search of a small lagoon located in a flooded ecosystem different from those already visited. We rowed along peacefully in canoes while appreciating the fresh air and lush landscape. We spotted a woolly monkey and a couple of Saki monkeys. Furthermore, we also caught sight of different species of birds, including the iconic Hoatzin or “stink bird” known for the foul odor it owes to bacterial fermentation of vegetable material consumed in the front part of its digestive system, similar to the way cows digest their food.

Flooded ecosystem exploration
Flooded ecosystem exploration
Hoatzin
Hoatzin
The Hoatzin or “stink bird”, emits an odor similar to manure and is only hunted in times of extreme need. This odor is believed to have helped it survive for millions of years and is considered by many to be a “living fossil”.

These pristine lagoons are also home to manatees, several fish species, and the indomitable caiman, which we glimpsed as it dove into the lagoon.

The indomitable black caiman
The indomitable black caiman

In the afternoon, we visited the community of Pilche where we were received by Sonia, the community’s leader, with whom we have coordinated our visits and training on proper biosecurity protocol, and the provision of personal protection items for all community members. Sonia and a group of indigenous women (warmis) are carrying out a sustainable tourism project in which they share their lifestyle and traditions with their guests, who are offered a small taste of Amazonian cuisine delicacies such as: white cocoa, green plantain, cassava, fish, heart of palm and the controversial “chontacuro”. During our visit enjoyed tasting the different options, especially the chontacuro larvae, which our guests described as tasting like a combination of shrimp and nutty almond butter, for the most refined palates!

Kichwa women community project
Kichwa women community project

We work together with this native community in the development of our Charapa Turtle conservation program aimed at repopulating the endangered Charapa turtle. Local women care for Charapa eggs until they hatch, and in return, we pay for each baby turtle to be released by our guests.

Charapa turtle conservation program
Charapa turtle conservation program

Without a doubt, this part of the trip is the “cherry on top”, as our guests had no idea they would be given the opportunity to release a baby turtle hatching back into nature and this provides lasting inspiration about how much they can do to protect our planet. The sunset played a role in adding a touch of magic to this activity and was a beautiful “thank you” from nature as the hatchlings made their way into the cool river.

Nature's gratitude for protecting our planet
Nature's gratitude for protecting our planet

This activity created a special bond between each guest and the enchanting natural Amazon rainforest, which is why at the end of our adventure, each of our guests was honored with a special certificate to certify them as “Amazonauts” – ambassadors and protectors of the Ecuadorian Amazon. By travelling with us, they do their part and contribute to the sustainability of local communities and our important conservation projects.

Guests’ recognition as Amazonauts
Guests’ recognition as Amazonauts

Back on board, our crew awaited us with great enthusiasm and a spectacular farewell dinner on the Manatee’s al fresco dining terrace, the perfect open space to meet each of the crew members who introduced themselves personally in small groups to the guests, who in turn applauded their efforts and personalized attentions during the cruise.

Farewell celebration
Farewell celebration

DAY 4 – A BITTERSWEET GOODBYE TO OUR HOME ON BOARD 

When it was time to depart, and before our final goodbyes to the Manatee, our guests both shared their happiness with the experience and their sadness with the farewell, as in their hearts they wished they could stay on board forever.

It is a very special team that makes up our Manatee crew. We very much look forward to continuing our Amazon cruises that we are so passionate about, and to welcome our guests on board for many more adventures. We hope to continue sharing more of our stories soon, stories that can be captured in photographs as well as in our hearts, and to continue to ensure that each and every one of our guests feels treasured and at home on board. 

Fond memories on board the Manatee, to be continue...
Fond memories on board the Manatee, to be continue...

Raúl García

CEO