Saturday 5 June 2010
Source: The Guardian
A ceiling fan stirred the sticky evening air of the Amazon rainforest and all I could think of was how good it would feel to have air-conditioning. We were back from a long day's filming – charred tree-stumps, illegal loggers and numbing heat – and though the beers were icy and the glasses frosted, I was obsessed with the idea that I might never cool down.
I was in a lodge near Alter do Chão, a town in the Brazilian state of Para and an attractive riverside place geared up for tourists with lively open-fronted restaurants and the best Amazonian handicrafts. Beside me stretched a maze of channels and islands off the mighty Tapajos, a tributary five miles wide that feeds the Amazon. The area is famous for its Caribbean-style sandy beaches, and many people swim here, but as a jungle novice I couldn't contemplate entering the water, fearing that notorious fish that seeks out the urethra.
In a bar we met a Finnish aid-worker, a cheery sort who insisted we join him in the one activity I least fancied taking part in. You must come to my sauna, he kept saying. We Finns always have a sauna. The very idea of it mad me feel ill. But we eventually cracked and a motorised canoe took us over moonlit waterways to a darkened shore. I sweated even more climbing up a flight of steps to a wooden cabin hidden in the trees. Despite it being the exact opposite of what I most needed, I stepped into the furnace-like chamber.
I could only bear to stay for five minutes, but the moment I stepped outside, my view of the Amazon was utterly transformed. It felt cooler and above me was a huge shower-head fed from a deep well. The cool water hit me and it felt electrifying. For the first time I stopped worrying about the heat and the teeming insect life. I felt not only cleansed but immunised, no longer fearful of the forest.
Afterwards, we lolled in deck-chairs, and then our host reached for a large cool-box, pulling out cans of lager. The Amazon is a state of mind, we all agreed. And right then, it was about as a pleasant a state as anyone could hope for.
• Alter do Chão is a 30-minute drive from Santarem, which is an hour's flight from Manaus, the capital of the region, and usual starting point for trips. Fly there via Rio or Sao Paulo with Air France or TAP Portugal. Try Hiddenpousadasbrazil.com for lodges in the region.
David Shukman's new book is Reporting Live from the End of the World, Profile Books, £12.99