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Clouds touched our toes and stretched as far as the eye could see. There was no line between the surface and the sky. I watched as my son dipped below the river, disappearing from view. My heart stopped for a moment. The water was so dark; 6 inches down, and he was gone.
This was the Rio Negro, which combines with the Rio Solimoes to form the Amazon River in Manaus, Brazil. We were cruising up the Rio Negro into the Amazon Rainforest in search of unplugged adventure. I would find a reconnection with my son that we both desperately needed.
I had booked a weeklong trip with Our Whole Village, a tour company run by Patricia Monahan, who is taking the fear out of exotic destinations for families. She works with local operators on the ground to build specific family tours for kids of all ages, so that families can feel comfortable traveling and have activities geared toward them — and no one feels bad when their kid is the picky eater. While these same local operators offer tours to couples and individuals, the weeks that are booked by Our Whole Village are just for groups traveling with kids.
Monahan takes care of every detail from the time a family lands in Brazil until they are back at the airport. As all busy parents know, when you are facing an adventure in an unfamiliar place, having someone hold your hand can turn a trip into a true vacation. When it comes to the Brazilian Amazon Cruise Adventure we did, families get a truly unplugged trip that feels both rugged and pampered. Accommodations onboard the river vessel can be rustic, but guests are well-taken-care-of by the local crew.
Before we left home, many friends asked why I chose to do this trip with my son. My oldest, who was about to turn 9, had begged for a mother-son trip for a few years. Ever since his little brother came along, he hadn’t gotten that same one-on-one time with me. As a busy, work-from-home mom, I’m always home for my boys, but not always present. Calls, emails and work drag me away from being front and center, and my kids know it. Going into the wilds of Brazil meant we were going to be offline in the truest sense of the word: We would have no access to Wi-Fi or a cell signal. This would be a 100 percent unplugged vacation.
As our plane touched down in Manaus, I turned to my son and asked, “Are you ready?” He was grinning from ear to ear. We would spend two nights in the city and take a day trip to the spot known as the “Meeting of the Waters,” where the Amazon River forms, before driving out to Novo Airao to spend four nights on our boat, Jacare-Acu. Our last night would be spent at Mirante do Gaviao Amazon Lodge, a luxury eco-lodge owned by Expedicao Katerre, the same outfitter that runs the boat tour.
We would spend the week swimming in those black waters, fishing for piranhas, stalking caimans (small alligator-like animals) late at night, meeting locals from villages deep in the rainforest and even learning to survive in the wild. More important, my son and I would reconnect on a level we hadn’t been able to in years. There were early morning snuggles, giggles while eating fish with the heads still attached and a bursting joy at seeing my son get up the nerve to jump off the top deck of the boat with his new friends.
“Unplugged” hadn’t been a concept in my life for a long time — but it’s now a vacation style we look forward to again next year.
The DetailsOur Whole Villagewww.ourwholevillage.com