Janet C. Buckner, PhD
For the highlight reel, scroll down! Of course you could always do both, read and watch ;)
I celebrated my 25th birthday this past Saturday. Having only arrived in Manaus less than 3 weeks ago, I had no idea what to do to celebrate. I did know however, that there was no shortage of natural wonders to explore here in the Amazon region surrounding the city. It happened that a friend of mine, Whitney – a fellow Fulbrighter, was going to be in Manaus for the day and was taking a trip out to the “Terra das Cachoeiras” (The land of waterfalls). The gateway to this wonderland is the municipality Presidente Figueiredo, situated about two hours drive from Manaus.
We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant serving local dishes including pirarucu, a very large fish from the region. Very good food, a large quantity for a small price.
The first waterfall was Cachoeira Santuário. There is a R$10 (the currency in Brazil is Real - R$10 is a little more than $3 US) entry fee per person but it is well worth it. The place is beautiful and there are actually multiple falls inside. There are plenty of places along the fall where you can sit and enjoy the cool water and an adjacent river where you can swim. The falls are located in an ecological reserve and so is a popular destination for ecotourist, there is even a restaurant and hotel by the main entrance. This particular day I didn't many animals aside from insects but there were surprisingly no mosquitos (at least I didn't get bitten by any)! This is probably due to a lack of stagnant water - the mosquitos preferred breeding arrangement. The falls are gushing hundreds of gallons (or more) of water per second and so the river downstream has a constant flow.
Our next stop was Gruta da Maruaga (“gruta” meaning grotto or cavern). At the entrance is a small but powerful waterfall. The cave is also located in a protected area and is typically accessed with a guide. We were lucky enough to be able to hike down to the site on our own. There were no there visitors at the time, so we had this beautiful place to ourselves for over an hour!
There is no natural or artificial light inside of the cave, so we used a headlamp to spot a number of bats congregated on the ceiling (that had created an impressively large pile of guano), countless insects and there was even a frog hopping around in the dark. The patterns of erosion created beautiful structural patterns and smaller sub-caves within the cavern. Very cool. We definitely could have used a couple more headlamps though.
Our final stop was at a waterfall close to the roadside. We were on our way back to Manaus when we saw the sign and decided to stop and take a look. It was unplanned and so I didn't catch the name of this particular fall but it was lovely and just a few meters walk from the road (off of BR-174). There was no entrance fee but a R$20 cover for parking vehicles.
This final impromptu waterfall at sunset was a spectacular way to end our venture outdoors. It was a little later in the evening so this fall was much less crowded than the first. Most of the other falls close access to the public at 4PM so it seems that people tend to head out before then. So we enjoyed another beautiful area in the peace and solitude of nature virtually by ourselves. There was nothing to be heard but the crashing waters from the fall. I'd definitely recommend a trip to the land of waterfalls!
Back in Manaus, we went to a Festa Junina (June Festival). During the month of June, all over Brazil, there are rurally themed parties to celebrate various saints. Men and women often dress in iconic farm apparel including straw hats and pigtails and freckles for women. Sometimes men will sport a unibrow. The main event of a Festa Junina is arguably the mock wedding that takes place. A pretend bride and groom are wed by a comedic priest after which begins a night of dancing and continued festivities.