The first two summers our month-long vacation was spent with our two delightful pre-teenage sons in rented motor homes driving around the U.S. – the first year, east bound; the second year, west bound; each direction marked by historic sites, geographic wonders, hiking and fishing, shooting various sporting clays courses, and achieving some incredibly valuable family bonding.
But the third year was extraordinarily special. By that time, we had all realized the impact of a month-long vacation (thank-you, Bill Clinton!) and wanted to participate in the planning. Joe wanted to shoot, I wanted a few days of total relaxation (a motor home NOT), and our sons wanted to go to a rain forest. South America it had to be. Among the itinerary stops was duck shooting in Argentina, an ocean-side respite at Vina del Mar on the coast of Chile, and a stay in Manaus, Brazil on the Amazon River. It was Manaus that held the greatest surprise of the entire trip.
Flying to Manaus was beautiful, awesome and frightening all at the same time because for hours all we saw was forest and river. Although a sizeable city, it seemed small and isolated in that sea of green rain forest. I speak a little “ranch Spanish” so I thought I’d get by in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, but within about thirty seconds of attempted conversation with a taxi driver, I knew we were in trouble. Thankfully, he could read the name of our hotel on the itinerary I showed him. As he drove us there right at dusk, I began to feel uneasy, seeing all the poverty around us. That our somewhat rural hotel near the river was surrounded by high walls made me feel a little more secure. The next morning we took a taxi into Manaus to explore the city. Although 900 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean, Manaus has a port that can be accessed even by ocean-going vessels because the Amazon is so vast. In fact, from where we were, it was impossible to see the opposite side of the river. We meandered around town, ending up along the pier where small boats dock and vendors display their crafts. A man approached us, speaking in Portuguese and holding out what appeared to be a photo album. My husband, Joe, took it and looked through it, passing it to me, saying, “Look, he gives tours of the river area. Read the testimonials people have written about how much they liked their trip with him. We should go, don’t you think?”
I could hardly fathom what I was hearing given where we were. My maternal instincts were on high alert as I gathered my young sons around me. “Are you out of your mind?” I questioned unbelievingly. “We don’t know anything about this guy. He could have stolen this book and be planning to sell us into slavery! We don’t even know any Portuguese to negotiate our own ransom!”
“Oh, come on, that’s highly unlikely, Joe laughed. “He’s just trying to make a living and I never could resist a good salesman.”
Well, obviously I could never resist a good salesman either, because we went. In his small canopied boat, Jesus motored us slowly across the expansive Amazon River and into the rain forest where to our surprise, everything was totally silent. I often feared we were lost as we wove our way under low-hanging trees among tall river grasses. He took us to a tiny stilted settlement where he showed our sons a river pen filled with alligators. Native children came onto the wood pier with monkeys, birds, snakes and bugs to show us creatures of the forest. We shared mysterious fruit drinks before we left there, then motored on to another isolated area where Jesus took out a fishing pole, baited it with fresh red meat, dipped and swished it around in the water and caught a pretty little gold and gray-colored fish. Without speaking a word, he held the fish with one hand and put a piece of hard bamboo to the fish’s mouth with the other hand. The sudden staccato sound of an electric typewriter startled us and in an instant the end of the bamboo stick was whittled to bits. Oh my gosh!! It was a piranha! He then gave each of the boys a baited bamboo pole and let them fish for more piranha. What a thrill! In the late afternoon, Jesus took us to the “Meeting of the Waters,” where the Amazon River and the Rio Negro merge and the different colors of the waters of those two rivers can literally be seen mixing together. Later, as sunset was upon us, Jesus dropped us at a pier near our hotel where we exchanged cordial thanks and good-byes, and Joe rewarded him generously for having given us one of the most memorable days of our lives.
For me, there are some great morals to this story:
- Even the dark cloud of a tax rate hike can have a silver lining for the imaginative taxpayer.
- Take all the family trips you can and create memories you’ll cherish forever.
- Take a chance on what seem like crazy ideas. They might result in some great adventures.
- Never take a fish off a hook with your bare hands if you don’t know what kind it is!
Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.