Aug 06, 2011
Where I stayed
Maasdam Cruise Ship
There's absolutely no doubt about it- the Amazon is one of the world's great natural WOWs: at 4,080 miles long, it's the second longest river in the world it is the widest river at 15 miles during the wet season (apparently it's widening 6 ft per year because of the waves created by ships like ours) the river pours 60 million gallons into the Atlantic Ocean every second
the Amazon River accounts for up to 1/5 of the earth's fresh water more than 20% of Earth's oxygen is produced in this area at 2,5 million square miles, the rainforest represents 54% of the total rainforests left on the planet. Amazon birds account for for at least one third of the world's bird species. more than half of the world's estimated ten million species of plants, animals and insects are found in the tropical forest 90% of rainforest plants used by Amazon natives have not been studied by modern science. there may also be fifty or so Amazon tribes that have never had contact with the outside world. an estimated 2,700 million acres of the rainforest are burned each year
After a quick visit at Santarem, our second stop along the mighty Amazon crystallized why we haven't travelled the world via cruise ships . Boca Da Valeria (which I think is Portuguese for "you've got to be kidding me") was billed as an authentic Amazonian village of 75 people, most of whom apparently went to Rio for Carnival and weren't back yet. Since the town dock was designed for canoes, the bulk of the 1,200 passengers went ashore using the 'tenders' (small transport boats) and in short order we had close to 1,000 people visiting about 20 locals. The locals had set up a small canteena, a couple of handicraft stalls, and, for photo ops, a number of jungle critters were put on strings and the kids dressed up in a variety of quasi Halloween/jungle costumes. A full ship of passengers coming ashore clad head-to-toe in safari gear is always going to change the cultural dynamic and this was an extreme example, but surprisingly most of our fellow cruisers saw it as a highlight (one even suggested that it was a bucket list visit!!). Whatever floats your boat/cruise ship I guess.
We did turn around at Manaus which is the normal jump off point for the more adventurous types who explore the Amazon further up-river. At a population of 2 million, it's got to be the biggest city in the world in the middle of the jungle- it used to be the centre of the world rubber industry until a nefarious Brit smuggled a number of tree seeds out of the country and ended Brazil's monopoly. The highlights included the very noticeable meeting of the two feeder rivers (the dark Negro and the muddy Solimoes) that make up the Amazon, and the Opera House that was built in the rubber heydays (an Opera House in the middle of the jungle...that was prefabricated in Europe using top end materials...the Sultan of Brunei would be so proud).
Just as I was packing away my camera, our stop in Parintins offered up another small WOW. Parintins' only real claim to fame is a massive festival with a great name; the Boi-Bumba Festival has something to do with a competition between red and blue teams (the jungle version of bloods and crips) to tell the best story about a resurrected ox, and it's normally held in June. Because of the instant paying audience aboard the cruise ship, a mini version of the festival was scheduled just for us and it was a fabulous show. Forget the safari gear- I tried to get DH into one of these outfits but she's holding on to the idea that feathers are "so last year".
With the exception of the feathery Boi Bumba Festival, it wasn't the stops but rather that extraordinary sense of awe you get floating along the mysterious Amazon that we'll take away from this leg of the trip.
Way back in our early dating days- when she still saw me as a dashing Indiana Jones type and she was only a part time Princess- DH agreed to follow me into the Amazon river system presumably in the hopes that I might get all buffed and wrestle an Anaconda for her. After finding a guide whose only English came from song titles, picking up a dugout canoe with a minimum number of leaks, portaging through the grimiest oil town ever, and surviving a gunfight at a jungle saloon, we did spend a couple of weeks on the river dodging piranhas and caimans, and sleeping on bamboo platforms with local families. An all-too-real Amazonian experience with great memories. Twenty years later we're back on the Amazon, heading in the opposite direction aboard a floating city, and DH is clearly betting on the Anaconda this time around.