We spent the day approaching and cruising the Amazon. You can’t appreciate how big it really is, even from the ship, since you can’t see the shore for quite a while after entering the delta. By mid-day we were far enough up the river to begin seeing shoreline, but not always both shores at one time.
The water is very muddy-looking from all the silt that is washed down from the mountains. There are also many branches, leaf clusters, and other debris floating by. We are making about 15 knots upriver against about a 5-knot current, so the ship has to keep both engines revved up all the time. This evening we will stop for a few minutes for the customs checkpoint and to pick up the river pilots.
Because the river is constantly shifting and because our Captain only comes up and down this type of trip several times a year, we have to have two local pilots aboard at all times on the bridge to let the bridge officers know where the sand bars are and to help steer us around other submerged obstacles. This is not an easy place to be.
Tomorrow we dock in Santarem for a visit.
Well…our day in Santarem was actually a day in a small boat with about 20 other people. We took a local boat in Santarem and went out to the see the first of the “meeting of the waters” sites. Santarem is not actually on the Amazon, but is on the Rio Tapajós, one of the four main tributaries to the Amazon. There are over 100 tributaries, but only four are considered as mains. The fascinating thing about this location is that the Tapajós water is considered “clear” and the Amazon water is brown – no quotation marks. It is definitely brown. The clear Tapajós is not all that clear, but compared to the amazon, it looks a lot more like water and a lot less like rapidly flowing mud. Anyway, we rode out to where the two rivers converge and, sure enough, there was a well-defined line where the clear and the brown waters met. This line flowed downstream for several miles until it was swallowed by the mighty Amazon. During this part of the trip we also got to see a couple of the famous pink dolphins that are found nowhere else in the world. They came right up next to the boat and surfaced several times. Unfortunately, they move so fast, I couldn’t get any pix. The pink coloring is distinctive and they are actually born gray, and then turn pink as adults. As they age, they lose the pinkness and revert to a dirty gray.
After riding along this line of merging waters for several miles, we turned off into a smaller channel that would lead us to Lake Maíca. Lake Maíca is not a lake for several months of the year. In the winter, when the flow in the Amazon is very low, the lake is so low in many places that it is used as grazing land for the cattle and sheep that the indigenous people raise. During wet weather (their summer) they move the cattle and sheep by boat to higher ground. As we wended our way through the channel, the guide and the boat captain pointed out toucans in the trees, iguanas resting on half-submerged tree trunks, many other types of birds, and several species of butterflies. The few homes we saw were all on stilts as would be expected due to the tidal fluctuations – up to 30’ in some places along the Amazon.
After about a half-hour in the channel, we turned into Lake Maíca and nosed into a soft bank. Then out came the fishing “poles” and we started to fish for Piranha. The fishing gear consisted of a small hook baited with a small piece of meat (pork, I think) which was attached to a thin filament fishing line wound around a piece of wood that looked somewhat like a weaving shuttle (if you can imagine what I mean). One merely unwinds a length of line, drops it in the water, gently swishes it around and watches as the Piranha deftly remove it from the hook. In about an hour of “fishing” our entire boat caught two very small Piranha and four small catfish. It was, however, a fun trip and we got to see a lot of the real Amazonia in our trip up the channel and into the lake.
Coming back to the ship, we retraced our route, except that we stayed closer inshore so we could see the city of Santarem on the way back. What was totally unexpected was the floating gas station for refueling all the small boats and the floating supermarket that docked at all the small towns and villages up and down the rivers.
Tomorrow we stop at Boca de Valeria, a small fishing village and get a first-hand view of the indigenous people.
Today we have a short stop at Boca de Valeria (Boca), a very small (population about 100) fishing village along the Amazon on our way to an overnight in Manaus.
Boca actually only has about ten families, but they all have about a dozen children. Actually, several families from the surrounding area came to Boca since the ship was in and that swelled the population to about 120 people overall – with about half being kids. Several small motorized canoes came out to meet us where we were at anchor and immediately began to sell and pose. The going rate for pictures is a dollar (US $$). They all had some sort of pet: a sloth; a parrot; a monkey; a snake; a small caiman (member of the crocodile family).
When we got to the floating tender dock ashore – a small platform made of old pallet material and found boards – they (the locals) were waiting for us. It was like running a gauntlet as we stepped off the dock and onto the dry land. The kids were lined up and immediately grabbed for your hand. Once you had one or two (we started with two and would up with an entourage of six) holding tightly to your hand, you were theirs for the duration. They walked with you everywhere and got very territorial if another child tried to come up and hold on as well. So off we went, trailing little children and animals (a few chickens and local stray dogs). The “street” was only a dirt trail, but we immediately saw that they had electricity, as evidenced by a lone street light and a huge satellite dish.
As we walked through the village, we saw a number of small children dressed in “authentic native costume,” including jewelry (feathers and beads). Pictures were $1 (US).
We did get into one house (invited by the owner) and saw that although it was very plain and had no furnishings or decoration as we might be used to, it was immaculately clean, a cool breeze blew through the open windows, although it was hot and humid, and they were, we believe, genuinely pleased that we were there. Sensibly, that is a real windfall for them economically since they live on fish and manioc root, so we did not feel bad about paying for our visit through the picture money and a few small handmade souvenirs (I bought a small hand-carved canoe from one older man who spoke no English and little Portuguese, but we made the transaction – money is a universal language).
After about an hour, we had seen it all and tendered back to the ship to rest up for our two-day visit to Manaus. I will write about Manaus later.