Although our plane tickets seemed to imply that it was a direct 6 hour flight from Rio to Manaus, in fact, we had to stop in Sao Paolo and after we got off, the flight continued on to Caracas. Apparently this is the norm in Brazil- very few direct flights from one destination to another and lots of these "circuits". It wasn't that big of deal to us except for when we first arrived at the airport and could not find our flight listed on the departures board. There was some serious panicking until we finally found someone who understood enough of our pigeon Portuguese to tell us to just get in the (40 person long...) check-in line. I was still freaking out because I figured by the time we got the front of the line and were presumably able to get an explanation from the agent it would be too late to fix the problem, ie all the other flights to Manaus would already have left. It was only after having some special ticket-like things given to us by the (non-English speaking) boss ticket agent and getting sent to the international terminal that we managed to figure out what was going on.
I should say right here that we had a sort of difficult time since there were so few people who spoke English, even in the big tourist areas, like the airport. Both B and I speak quite a bit of Spanish but even this wasn't too useful. Generally, though, I was able to understand what they were saying and B was able to be understood through a very creative use of his Spanish. Its not that I expect people to speak to me in my language when I'm in their country, it was just a bit of a surprise. English is so universal now that generally in tourist traps you can atleast get your point across if you keep it simple and are good at charades. I suppose it has a lot to do with the sheer size of the country, but even more so with how much internal culture they have. In Europe, you are used to finding American movies and TV shows and music everywhere, so its not surprising that its easy to find people who understand a bit of English. Just as an example, at the airports, when I went looking for a magazine for the airplane I would look through a wall covered with roughly 150 different magazines and not a single one would be in English. There were the odd magazines in Spanish, but really only a few.
Lucky for us, at the jungle lodge where we were staying, we were assigned a guide, Nielson, that spoke perfect English and French! I had read about the Amazon Eco Park in a guide book and found good reviews of it on the Internet so I was really happy to manage to get a room there. We had the best time at this hotel that I can't recommend it enough. We didn't have very much time scheduled for this part of our trip so I decided on this place in large part due to the fact that it was only about a 20 minute boat ride from the docks (although probably more like an hour and a half from the main Manaus boat landings.) We had a really simple little cottage to stay in which was a good 10 minute walk through the jungle from the reception buildings. We were told if we ever found a big snake on the path we just needed to throw a big stick at it, an instruction that didn't make me love the hike back to the room at night but did make me feel a little more like an intrepid jungle explorer (which I am sure they intended) and less like a fat lazy tourist. The Park does a lot of education on the Amazonian ecosystem and even though we didn't sign up for any of the lectures we did get to visit the Monkey reserve, where I was very generously volunteered by Nielson as main monkey perch for the photoshoot. Sounds like fun until you have a nervous monkey clutching your skull with his long monkey toes, shaking sand down your tank top and wrapping his freaky tail around your throat- a tail that feels like a really big calloused finger. Actually, that doesn't quite capture the weirdness of the sensation. I'm such a ham, though, I'll do anything for a good photo. We didn't manage to get down to the Bird reserve but had quite a bit of fun with the two parrots that hung out in the bar area (I think this gives you a good idea of our priorities while on vacation), begging banana chips off the guests. Nielson also dragged us to the "Indian Village" to see a tribe of locals do some dancing for us. I hate stuff like this because it seems like you're treating people like animals in the zoo. In the end, that was a bit silly, because it was more like going to see a little show while their kids poked us in the back of the head with sticks. What I REALLY ended up hating was being dragged out to participate in the dancing. Ugh. And of course, B immediately turned on the video and started taping me stomping around like a dancing bear next to this tiny little naked man, to a soundtrack of him giggling madly in the background. And like good tourists, we then blew all our cash on silly souvenirs. Well, Christmas was just around the corner, seemed like a good chance to find something better than gift certificates (don't know if my siblings quite agree...) but honestly, how many lucky people found a blow dart gun under the Christmas tree? A blow dart with real piranha teeth on it? I probably would have bought a dozen if we had had the money.