After leaving Belem we sailed north around the Ilha de Marajo to reach the primary mouth of the Amazon river. The Amazon, of course, is the largest river system in the world by far. It emits more water into the ocean (46,000,000 gallons per second) than the next 7 largest rivers combined. Of its 15,000 tributaries, no fewer than 14 are at least 1000 miles long. At its widest point the Amazon is almost 35 miles wide, and its mouth is 250 miles wide. The Ilha de Marajo at its mouth is larger than Switzerland. So, through the next few days, the big thing to see (in size as well as importance and interest) is the river itself.
We entered the river early in the morning of Monday, February 27, and we crossed the equator going south in mid-afternoon. So pretty much all we saw that day was lots of river & rainforest.
The Amazon basin contains well over half of the Earth’s remaining rainforest, and it is shrinking (at the hands of human exploiters) at an average rate of more than 9,000 square miles per year. Between 2001 and 2010 an area of rainforest estimated to be about twice the size of Portugal was lost. The loss of this rainforest, which cannot grow back for hundreds of years once it is cut down, would have a large scale impact on the world’s climate (as if global warming weren’t scary enough).
On Tuesday, February 28, we came to Santarem, our first stop on the Amazon. It is a small city of a couple hundred thousand, and there really isn’t much to see there. Some people went on river excursions to fish for Piranha (they caught very few) or to a river resort nearby, but we decided just to walk through the town & see the river culture. The big thing to see here is called the “meeting of the waters.” This is where the blue Tapajos river & the muddy Amazon intersect & flow together for a number of miles before blending. You could see this from the ship but in Santarem they have built a small tower on top of a hill that gives a better view.
One of the publications on the ship invited us to see this “unique natural phenomenon.” However, since we will see another (supposedly more dramatic) meeting of the waters two days later in Manaus it is obviously not unique, just rare. But rare is still pretty good.
Santarem has the obligatory cathedral on a hill, a rather unusual blue one with a similarly painted gazebo across the street. But other than some brightly painted streets (which we have seen a lot in Brazil) there isn’t too much else. We did see an unusual statue of a parrot and we passed a statue of a turtle in the bus (but I couldn’t get a picture of it). So we got on the bus & went back to the ship.