Saturday, May 26, 2007

By Gary Duncan, Assistant Director of Marketing

What is that awful irritating noise outside my hotel room? It sounds like a pig, or cats and dogs fighting. I wearily get up after only three hours of sleep and look out my window. In a nearby tree, I see a large monkey teasing two brightly colored macaws that have decided to share the monkey’s tree house. Apparently, the monkey is not in a hospitable mood… and neither am I at this time in the morning. It is 7 a.m. and I have to meet 28 CCF sponsors for a breakfast buffet and orientation to the Brazil Study Tour. I don’t know why the Guns and Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” keeps running through my brain, but give me a big cup of that strong Brazilian coffee and I think I’ll survive our first day in the Amazon city of Manaus!

After a quick shower, I walk to the hotel’s restaurant to find over half of our CCF sponsor group in animated conversation and enjoying the largest breakfast buffet I have ever seen in my life! The Hotel Tropical Manaus is surrounded by rich jungle vegetation. The interior resembles a cross between a Portuguese monastery and Buckingham Palace. The staff is superb and genuinely warm to this sleep-deprived group who arrived late last night. I greet the group at breakfast and do a fast headcount to find out who is missing, time for me to make some wake-up calls!

We are off to a day of visiting various sites in the port city of Manaus which still retains a flavor of colonial gentility and rubber boom lawlessness. Our first stop is a big city market with stall after stall of fresh vegetables, thousands of fish caught that morning in the Rio Negro, and rolls of butchered meats, fresh and ready to be prepared for your dinner menu. Our CCF sponsors spring to action photographing every fish, pig’s head, and chicken breast that they see, the locals seem slightly perplexed, if not amused, as our gang makes their way through the market with cameras flashing and faces contorted at seeing such unending quantities of butchered cattle, skinned fish, and seared pigs.

From the market, we make our way to Manaus Opera House, a tribute to the riches and excess of the rubber boom in the Amazon jungle during the late 1800´s. Goodyear, McIntosh, Michelin, and other rubber barons of that time would still recognize the beauty and elegance of this magnificent opera house right here in the middle of the jungle. The sponsors went gaga when they entered the building and a reverent hush descended over this chatty group. The interior of the building is just stunning… and to think that the entire building and its furnishings were imported by ship from Europe. Incredible!

We returned to Rio Negro to start our adventure to the real jungle-----an eco-lodge in the jungle about eight miles up river from Manaus. Simple, yet comfortable, CCF sponsors will be housed in comfortable little cottages surrounded by a natural lake. We warned everyone about snakes, caimans, spiders, poisonous frogs, and malaria-carrying mosquitoes... but everyone settled in quickly and came to dinner at the main lodge by nightfall. Our naturalist guides, Marco and Anderson, greeted the group with an explanation of activities planned for the group for the next few days. They are natives of the Amazon and really know their stuff. The tempo of our group is beginning to quicken, but by 10 p.m., everyone was ready for bed. Now, to tackle those mosquito nets over our beds!

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