April 10, 2014 – Santarem, Brazil
Santarem is a river port with approximately 250,000 inhabitants and is strategically located at the junction of the Tapajos River and the Amazon. The 1st settlement was a Jesuit mission built in 1661. Over the years, Santarem developed into one of the region’s most important trading centers. It is a little more than 2 days by boat from Belem. It is the 2d city in the state of Para and is one of the region’s most beautiful cities. It used to be inhabited by the Tapajos Indians. These people, according to legend, used to drown adulterous women and mummify their distinguished relations. Ceramic pots recently found at the Taperinha Estate on the outskirts of Santarem reveal the existence of an advanced pre-Andean civilization which has led to new interpretations in relation to the human occupation of the American continent.
One of its major attractions is the “Meeting of the Waters” where the blue waters of the Rio Tapajos flow side by side with the muddy-brown Amazon. The Amazon’s water is colder and earth-colored while the Rio Tapajos’s water is somewhat warmer and has a deep-blue tone. There are lush forests and lakes that are home to many species of birds.
Numerous river boats are tied up along the pier. Some of them are unloading goods and produce to sell at the markets while others provide transportation for the local population to river communities for over 200 miles around. There is also long-distance services to Manaus and Belem. It is approximately 24 hours upstream to Manaus and 20 hours downstream from Manaus to Santarem. Belem is on the Atlantic so one has to exit the Amazon River to reach it.
Agriculture, cattle and mining are the basis for the economy. At various times rubber, coffee and gold have been the basis of the economy. Today, soy beans are a big commodity. We saw a Cargill ship being loaded with soy beans at the port. Brazil is the 2d largest exporter of soy beans in the world.
Fordlandia, which was an attempt by Henry Ford in the early 20th century to grow rubber trees, is located in this area. The project was a disaster. Many of his workers died of malaria. Ford found the obstacles too numerous to overcome – not least of which was a total lack of understanding of the rubber tree environment. He planted the rubber trees close together, and they all died. In nature, rubber trees are spaced far apart.
We started the day at the markets. We were there early so it was a busy place. As Patsy remarked, I have never been any place where I saw so many fruits which I had no idea at all what they were. From the markets, we crossed the street to the pier where we were able to see pink dolphins. Some young boys had an enterprising business. For a dollar, they would tie a small fish to a string and cast it into the water – sort of like fly fishing. The pink dolphins would rise to the surface to snatch the fish. We had not anticipated seeing any pink dolphins as they are mostly feeding in the flooded forest at this time of the year so it was a real treat to see them. Neither Patsy nor I had a camera fast enough to really catch a good picture, but we do have a few just to prove that we did see them. Guto got a couple and has promised to give them to us.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the Cathedral after which we visited with Dica Frazao. She is 94 years old and still working. She designs and makes clothes from textiles which are woven from all natural fibers such as Tucum straw, patchouli root, buriti, mallow, jute, and birds' feathers. They are not dyed but use the natural colors of the materials. She is internationally known and people such as the Queen of the Netherlands, Queen Elizabeth and numerous celebrities own things made by her. She also designs and makes costumes for the Boi Bumba Festival. I bought a small clutch bag for myself.
The final stop of the day was at ZooFit which is a rehabilitation center for wild animals. ZooFit’s proper name is Jardim Zoologico de Santarem. It is a joint facility of the Zoological Garden of Santarem (Zoo) and the Faculdades Integradas do Tapajos (Fit). They nurse the animals back to health if they can and then release them. Animals are allowed to stay no more than 40 days and are released into the wild regardless of their condition. It provides research and cooperative interchange services integrated to common areas of interest. It monitors biodiversity and propagates technical and scientific knowledge on conservation and management of renewable natural resources. The FIT faculties have equipped its zoo with the necessary infrastructure for scientific, didactic and administrative autonomy. This infrastructure has contributed to regional development concerning research particularly in the area of knowledge of Amazonian fauna as well as stimulating ecotourism and environmental preservation. It has a total of 147 hectares and serves as home to more than 100 different identified species of plants and 90 species of animals.
There was a squirrel monkey hanging around which had been released last week but refused to leave the area. He had been getting a free handout while he was there and knew a good thing when he saw it. They had a number of birds, agouti, monkeys, turtles and even 2 puma. The puma will remain at the center the rest of their lives and are the only exception to the 40 day rule. They were rescued from an exotic animal dealer when they were only a couple of months old. They don’t have the skills to live in the wild.
It was another great day. We had to be back onboard at 1:30, and we got here at 1:26. We could have been onboard at 1, but we decided to do some shopping at the tents set up on the pier. We did not sail at 2, however. At supper, we found out why. One of the 2 Oceania tour buses got stuck in the mud. They couldn’t get it out so they put the 25 or so passengers onto the other bus and finally made it back to port about 2:15. Since it was an Oceania tour, the ship waited for them.