Sea Day - Amazon Continued

To follow up on the photos posted yesterday, the Amazon is a gigantic system of rivers and jungles covering almost half of Brazil, extending into neighboring countries. The wide stretch of river, known as Rio Amazonas, runs between the cities of Manaus and Belem, though the various rivers that join to form it provide a navigable route for ships like ours to the other side of the South American continent. The jungle still keeps many of its secrets and they tell us to this day, many tributaries of the Amazon remain unexplored. From the Atlantic, we sailed approximately 60 miles westward before the waters became too shallow to safely navigate. We dropped anchor outside of Belem at roughly 7:30am. I posted a photo of our sunrise on Facebook – quite dramatic, & probably one of the best we’ve ever captured. I would share it again with you here, but I snapped it from my iPad and cannot transfer it to this laptop until we get home.


Our ‘tenders’ to shore were not the lifeboats from our ship, but rather island ferries from Belem arranged by Holland America to meet & transport us. This was necessary because the docking facilities are so primitive, they couldn’t accommodate our vessels. Prior to arriving, our Cruise Director warned us we needed to take ‘patience pills’ and that was certainly the case. Our tour, scheduled to leave the ship at 8:30, was 45 minutes late leaving and conditions on the local ferry were anything but pleasant. The engines were deafening and the stench of diesel fuel was almost unbearable. The trip to shore was a long 30 minutes and once there, disembarking the vessel was a challenge - particularly for those with less agility due to steep rungs & irregular moorings.


Once shoreside, we boarded buses for a 1-hour drive to an outer harbor where we then embarked yet another watercraft for the journey into the jungles.


I should take a moment here to expand on some comments I made last year about the city of Belem. If you read them, you know I was highly critical. Sanitation, orderliness & a sense of structure is predominant & customary for those of us who have been fortunate enough to call the United States home. Granted, we have our share of urban decay & crime, but compared to the rest of the world, we are all very blessed. Belem has made some progress since our last visit. We noticed several road & landscaping crews very busy cleaning thoroughfares – we noticed some new construction and in general, a level of environmental pride which was not apparent last year. For that, you have to give them a lot of credit. Unfortunately, the extreme areas in the city have gone from bad to worse – our tour guide (a Belem resident) told us that unemployment is 12%, drugs & violence continue to escalate and unfortunately, law enforcement simply turn their backs. I was shocked to learn that if you’re under 18, there’s NO punishment in place for rape, murder, & other heinous crimes – NO PUNISHMENT! He said the government is considering strengthening laws, but that the talks have been ongoing for years.


Family & friends, we are all SO very fortunate to live where we live, and have what we have – say an extra prayer this evening…not only in thanks…but ask the Lord to lend a hand to those less privileged. They need help.


The Amazon…what a unique anthology of people, culture, plants, animals, & rituals.


By 11:00, according to our guide, the temperature had already reached 95, with humidity of 82%. We forgot how extreme the weather was here. The jungles are absolutely airless & oppressive. We wore heavier clothing this year, and also soaked ourselves with insect repellent. Lessons learned from 2012. We carried two thermoses with ice water – Cheryl also had a battery-operated, hand-held fan – she’s so clever. You see jaguars, tapirs, peccaries, spider monkeys, sloths, armadillos, caimans, alligators, river dolphins, boa constrictors, and anacondas. Oh yes…there are tarantulas - and the largest ants we’ve ever seen – about 1”long, and the guide said they were only babies! Birds include toucans, parrots, macaws, hummingbirds and gaviao (birds of prey) – our guide said there are 1800 species of butterflies (we only saw ONE) and 200 species of mosquitos. Fish such as piranha, tucunare, piraracu, anuana, piraiba, and poraque (electric eel) abound in such an amazing diversity of species that biologists have been unable to identify much of the catch found in Belem’s markets – again, according to our guide, a local native.


The natives in the jungle are a friendly sort. They don’t view themselves as deprived – they enjoy a simple life and truly view themselves as blessed – we could all probably learn a few lessons from them. Living conditions are quite harsh by any standard we may be familiar with – family’s bath together in the river, wash cloths by hand and hang them from tree branches to dry. Their diets consist primarily of fish & fruit. We saw no obesity and conversely, no starvation. I packed another bag of candy from the ship and gave it to a young boy (about 8-10 years old) who demonstrated how they climb high trees to retrieve various fruits. Some people passed him dollar bills, but he seemed much more excited with the chocolate wrapped in bright foil. Interestingly, this young boy had no scratches or cuts visible anywhere on his body, yet he was running through the thick jungle with no shoes just as carefree as we walk down a sidewalk. At my age and in my condition, if I had to climb those trees for a meal I would either starve to death, or just cut them down completely! The fruit is at least 40’…straight up!


Some of our passengers were quite comical. Several folks who strayed from the path found themselves surrounded by large ants – Cheryl had to help one unsuspecting lady brush dozens of these oversize insects from her pant legs! We also had two teenage girls in our group. At the onset of the tour, they looked like fashion models who just stepped from the pages of a teen magazine – heavy with make-up, hair perfectly combed, prim & proper. They began melting in the jungle heat (mascara running down their cheeks), and as they came upon the many crawling, hanging critters, you could hear their screeches & howls for quite a distance, I’m sure! I don’t think either of them expected to find the conditions and creepy-crawlies so extreme. The tarantulas put them over the top, or maybe it was the sloth hanging from the tree branch with his arm extending in a menacing gesture! These city girls couldn’t wait to get out of the jungle! The flies, mosquitos, and wasps were quite profuse in some places but fortunately, we were prepared with repellent and had no issues.


On the downside, our tour dragged on much longer than scheduled, and the heat only intensified as the day progressed. We passed on the fresh-cut fruit offered by the natives – a lesson learned from last year as dozens of passengers and ship’s crew were quite ill for several days. We warned a few folks, but they just HAD to try – funny…we haven’t seen them around the ship since we returned yesterday. Could they be fastened to their commodes?? I’m only guessing here, but if I had to bet…..:)


Our tour boat blew the whistle around 3:00 indicating we were late. Once boarded, we bought a few ice-cold, BOTTLED beers and cooled down as we made our way back to Belem to catch our bus to the pier. Once back at the pier, we again boarded another vessel for the trip back out to the ship. The air-conditioning really felt great. We were starving at that point – time for cheeseburgers, fries, & nachos! After we showered, we didn’t venture out of our cabin. It was only 6:30, but decided to have a few drinks in our room and go straight to bed – exhausted.