“That tree? That’s…erm..jungle tree,” Manoel eventually musters, as he paddles us along in the canoe.
Did he just say “jungle tree”? I thought our guide was supposed to be well-versed in the secrets of the rainforest’s flora and fauna.
It doesn’t get much better. Later that day, when demonstrating how to make a “traditional” native Indian blowpipe (though quite how they would have gotten hold of sandpaper and a corkscrew is beyond me), Phil makes the mistake of asking Manoel if it was bamboo he was using.
After frowning and thinking for a few seconds, he shakes his head and says “No. Not bamboo.”
“Oh, what is it then?” says Phil.
“Jungle bamboo,” comes the reply, without a hint of irony.
I want my money back.
Our jungle trip guide was just one of many unfortunate episodes that befell us in the tourist trap of Manaus – the city that will pop your dreamy travellers’ bubble with a sharp pin made of cold, hard cash.
We’d suffered the grisly gauntlet of tour agencies fighting for business – bad-mouthing each other, arguing over what was and wasn’t possible to include.
Our fateful trip to see the famous “meeting of the waters”, booked with another agency, (“Surely, surely, this one will be better..?”) saw us spend approximately two minutes at the landmark. No English-speaking guide to answer our many questions as promised. Just the boatman, picking his nose.
Then when our guide did arrive a few hours later, he said he couldn’t come piranha fishing with us as he had some “pressing business” to attend to – soon emerging in the form of cracking open an ice-cold beer.
Even the taxi drivers that took us to and from this godforsaken place showed no remorse with their blatant exploitation.
One claimed not to know where our hostel was (a few blocks away, and next to the most famous square in the city) and proceeded to drive around for fifteen minutes asking other taxi drivers how to get there, while the meter was swelling.
The other drove us for ten minutes in the wrong direction and then into a twenty-minute traffic jam, before demanding more than three times the usual price to the port.
In the end we threw half the total amount at him and ran away. Having been too lazy to squeeze his fat, Jabba the Hutt-sized sweaty body out of the driver’s seat to even pop the boot earlier, I don’t need to say he didn’t bother to chase us.
I admit that Manaus’ one redeeming feature – its famous old opera house and surrounding square – was bloody lovely.
Chic, picturesque and always with something quirky going on, like open-air cinema or a jazz festival, it sits somewhat out of place within the dog-eat-dog, crowded concrete metropolis.
But as you might have guessed, neither Phil or I are in any hurry to return to the city.
I doubt I’d rush back even if you paid me. With hundreds of pounds worth of “jungle” money.