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April 01st, 2015

Eldorado in Amazonia by Sean Sheehan

Journalist Sean Sheehan shares his adventure to the Brazilian Mato Grosso, staying in one of the finest jungle lodges, Cristalino Lodge.

Eldorado, a mythical place in South America where a tribal chief covered himself in gold dust and dived into a lake, was searched for in vain by explorers but in the process the Amazon River was mapped for the first time. In our strange and different ways we all search for an eldorado but I wasn’t sure if I would find one at the end of a journey from Rio de Janiero to a dinky little runway serving the town of Alto Floresta (“high forest”), a settlement that didn’t exist 40 years ago.

Cristalino Jungle Lodge

I was in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso but to reach my desired destination involved an hour-long drive in a four-wheel vehicle and then a half-hour boat trip along the Teles Pires and then the smaller Cristalino river, both part of a network of waterways that eventually feed into the Amazon.

Day one and a leisurely boat trip up the river: a stationary ibis with beak and legs a luminous green posing on one bank; on the other side, a sun bittern opening its wings to display a pair of seemingly giant eyes. Disembarking, we followed a forest trail to a spectacularly massive Brazil-nut tree, estimated by a specialist from Kew Garden to be around 800 years old, while in the background the Amazonian forest’s signature tune pierced the air – a raucous wolf-whistle coming from the throat of a reclusive screaming piha.

Cristalino Lodge is a luxury-quality rumble in the jungle and while it may not reach South African levels of unashamed opulence it is superbly well adjusted to its natural environment. A generator provides air-conditioning (except during the night), solar power heats the water and wastewater is eco-managed by a banana-based treatment system.

This translates into an ever so comfortable lodging in a spacious, privately situated bungalow with in- and out-door showers, a hammock on the terrace for lazy lounging and the heart-easing feeling that the planet’s resources are not being recklessly squandered. There may not be an infinity pool but the floating deck on the river is fine for lolling about on after lashing out with sunscreen; and the bar serves a cool caipirinha, the perfect sundowner on returning from an afternoon’s excursion.

Cristalino Jungle Lodge

OK, so I didn’t get to be covered in gold dust, witness attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or watch c-beams glitter in the dark near Tannhäuser Gate. It was still an eldorado experience, the kind of trip you can’t readily make a habit of repeating and all the more valuable for this simple reason.

See here for the full article 'Eldorado in Amazonia' by Sean Seenan which featured in Glass Magazine, posted March 30, 2015.

Journey Latin America  specialises in tailor-made travel and small group tours to all of Latin America, including the Matto Grosso in Brazil.

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