South America Circumnavigation

Manaus, Brazil (day 2)

We got up early on Friday, March 2, because we were scheduled to take a boat trip and we had to be back before the ship left in mid afternoon. The river itself is very interesting. There is quite a bit of boat traffic (there are 70,000 boats registered in Manaus) & a lot of logs and other natural debris. In Manaus they actually have floating gas stations, and we have seen a lot of what appear to be floating lawns, large clumps of grass floating down the river to the ocean.

04 floating gas station 01 floating lawn

We were very lucky because the weather was quite beautiful that morning, while the people who took this trip the day before saw nothing but rain. The first part of our trip was in a two level Amazon river boat. We saw neighborhoods of Manaus with houses near the water on stilts, and some with river boats ashore (perhaps to be floated when the river rises, or else pushed into the water when needed).

02 Manaus stilted houses 06 River boats ashore in Manaus

65 River boats at Manaus

We saw some villages on tributary streams built largely on stilts and others in which the houses actually float on the river. The children in these villages are picked up each morning by the school boat, which takes them to school.

10 Rural stilted houses

13 Floating houses

14 Floating houses

At a fairly remote stop we transferred into 10 person canoes (which are actually boats with motors) for the trip to Lake January & through some of the flooded marshlands & streams.

22 River canoe 15 Rick & Mary in river canoe (with Steve)

17 river tour 18 Mary on river canoe

We saw a number of unusual birds on this trip, some pretty butterflies,  a sloth (hanging upside down with his head away from you), a caiman and others I wasn’t able to photograph.  For example, this area is home to anacondas and the guide told us that the movie of that name was actually filmed here.  Another form of wildlife that lives only in the interior of the Amazon is the pink freshwater dolphin.  We didn’t see any of these and although some other folks on the ship said they did we have concluded that they are like pink elephants, which can only be seen when you are inebriated. I guess that sounds like sour grapes.

34 White heron at lake January 38 Sloth (upper left corner)

35 Alligator (Caiman) at Lake January

On Lake January we also saw giant water lilies. The leaves of these things are about five feet in diameter and there are about a dozen leaves to each flower (although the leaves float they are connected to the bottom of the lake by stems). The flowers only open at night and only for 3 days each, changing from white the first day to purple the third. We found them very interesting.

33 Mary at Lake January, with giant water lillies25 Lake January, giant water lillies 31 Lake January, giant water lillies 23 Lake January, giant water lillies

They took our boat off the lake & river & into the already flooded rainforest (the flooding will get much deeper by June but a few months ago this entire area would have been dry land). Our guide spotted a tiny wasp’s nest on a hanging tree branch & carefully maneuvered around it.  But then the second boat came barreling past us & smacked right into the nest.  Needless to say, this made the wasps very angry & they swarmed out (very tiny looking wasps), but the other boat had gone so fast that we were the only ones they could see.  So we hightailed it out of there.  As you can see, there are a lot of trees here deep in water and there were also a lot of yucky looking termite nests.

42 Mary in swamp 40 Swamp

41 Swamp 43 Termite nest

On the way back to the river boat we saw a 400 year old tree, which had an unusual root system and was tall enough that we couldn’t see the top through the rainforest cover.  We also saw a house in the rainforest with a platform by the river covered with grass.

48 400 year old tree 44 house & grass roofed platform

By the time we got back to the river boat it was pouring rain (did I mention that the weather around here is amazingly changeable?).  We got in the boat & they pulled down plastic sheeting all around so we couldn’t see much, then we left to go downriver to the Meeting of the Waters.  Manaus isn’t actually situated on the Amazon. It is about 3 miles up the Rio Negro river from the spot where the Rio Negro & the Rio Solimoes converge to form the Amazon proper. The water of the Rio Negro is very dark (hence the name) while the water of the Solimoes is light brown, like cafe au lait. Because one of these rivers flows faster than the other (I can’t remember which) & the chemical makeup of the water is different, the rivers don’t mix together immediately but flow for several miles side by side. You saw a version of this phenomenon in the episode for Santorem (which is pronounced with an accent on the first & especially on the last syllable, so it doesn’t sound like Rick Santorum, thank goodness).

Anyway, with the pouring rain we did not expect to be able to see much at the Meeting of the Waters.  However, as I mentioned before, the weather here is very changeable and we did get a very good look from close up on this relatively small river boat.

54 Rick at Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

57 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro) 61 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

Later, as the ship passed this spot, we saw it from a larger perspective.

68 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

71 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro) 78 Meeting (Marriage) of the Waters (Rio Solimoes & Rio Negro)

Then the ship took us down the Amazon toward our last Brazilian stop in Parintins.

75 Mary, with Steve, at front of ship

81 Clouds over Amazon

Manaus, Brazil (day 1)

In the early morning of Thursday, March 1, we sailed into Manaus.  This is a city of almost 2 million people located almost 1000 miles up the Amazon River.

01 Manaus, Brazil

02 Manaus from ship, with cathedral 03 Customs House (Alfandega) from ship

I don’t know about you, but this is not what we would have expected in the interior of the Amazon.  Manaus was founded in 1669 but really hit its stride in the second half of the 19th century as the center of the rubber boom, when huge amounts of money flowed through.  Rubber trees are native only to the Amazon region, so this area had a monopoly on rubber (one of the essential ingredients of the industrial revolution) and there were strong laws to protect that monopoly.  Natives were ruthlessly exploited as laborers to go through the rainforest where the trees were scattered & tap out the latex.  However, in 1876 a fellow named Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds to England, where they were grown into trees in Kew Gardens in London & transferred to British possessions in Asia, the source of most rubber today.  Wickham was branded a criminal & traitor in Brazil, but was knighted in England.

During the height of the rubber boom local rubber barons built fabulous mansions & even an opera house.  The famous Teatro Amazonas (trust me, its famous even though you and we may never have heard of it before) is an elaborate pink & white structure, all of which was imported from Europe.  Even the wood floors & seats, made of Brazilian wood, were manufactured in Europe & then sent here.  It took 15 years to build, was opened in 1896, and has hosted many world-class performers (there are no highways here, so the only way for performers & the components of the building to get to Manaus was by boat, & now by plane).

89 Front facade of Teatro Amazonas 10 Mary near Teatro Amazonas

56 Dome of Teatro 49 Mary looking over railing at Teatro

We took a tour of the Teatro.  The orchestra was rehearsing on stage and the concert hall was quite elaborate (remember, every bit was imported from Europe & shipped up the river).  It was very rainy that morning (this is a rainforest, after all), so that is why Mary looks a little soggy in these pictures.

12 Orchestra rehearsing on stage of Teatro Amazonas 16 Gallery facade of Teatro

17 Verdi facade 26 Mary in Teatro upper gallery

19 Ceiling of Teatro 20 Mary in Teatro

Upstairs were several salons with inlaid wood floors, painted ceilings and a porch with statues on the corners.  We had to put slippers over our shoes to protect (and help polish) the floors.

 34 Ceiling of salon in Teatro 36 Ceiling of salon in Teatro

 35 Painting in salon of Teatro 45 pile of slippers upstairs at Teatro

37 slippered feet on floor of Teatro salon 30 Manaus from porch of Teatro

A lego model of the Teatro was on prominent display in the front corridor.

48 Lego model of Teatro Amazonas 48 Lego model of Teatro Amazonas

Next to the Teatro is the Palacio da Justica.  The woman with the umbrella in the first picture is the orchestra’s concertmistress.

51 Palacia da Justica 50 Rick at Teatro in front of Palacio da Justica

We went to see the Cathedral, officially the Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral, which was nice & not overly elaborate.

07 Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral 06 Inside of Nossa Senhora Conceicao Catedral

There were some nice mosaic sidewalks near the Teatro, reminiscent of Copacabana in Rio, and we passed the clock tower & many vendors’ stands.

64 Mary & sidewalk near Teatro

08 Clock Tower 05 Fruit & vegetable stand in area below cathedral

We visited a building called the Palacio Rio Negro, which was originally a rubber baron’s mansion but is now a cultural center.  Inside were some beautiful wooden stairs & rooms (presumably made in Europe too) & some unusual paintings, including one depicting Amazon women warriors attacking the Teatro with flights of angels descending.  Another showed the first flight of a Brazilian named Dumont who, they claim, invented the airplane before the Wright Brothers (a claim not accepted by anyone outside Brazil, as far as we can tell).  Just looking at that thing you can tell that it could never achieve controlled flight.

66 Palacio Rio Negro Cultural Center 69 Palacio Rio Negro

70 Staircase in Palacio Rio Negro 71 Immortality - painting in Palacio Rio Negro

73 First Flight of Dumont (1906) - painting in Palacio Rio Negro 75 Manaus from porch of Palacio Rio Negro

78 painting of parrots in Palacio Rio Negro 77 Rick by courtyard of Palacio Rio Negro

Of course, we found the Biblioteca Municipal (although it seemed too small to be the central library of such a large city) and we also walked by the old Customs House,  built in England and then disassembled and transported here piece by piece.

85 Mary in front of Biblioteca Municipal 87 Biblioteca Municipal

92 Alfandega (Customs House) 97 Customs House

The dock area of Manaus is particularly interesting.  The river’s height varies by some 40 feet from the dry season to the wet season (we are about halfway through the wet season now so there is still quite a bit of rising yet to come).  So they have built floating docks, which rise & fall with the river.  Also near the dock are the ruins of a block of old buildings, reduced now to their interesting facades with vines & trees growing through the openings.

04 Manaous floating dock 99 Floating Dock

93 Overgrown bldg facades near port 95 Overgrown bldg facades near port

We had a beautiful sunset, then that night we had a Folklorico show on board the ship depicting Amazonian dancing from the Indians through the Samba.  The pictures are pretty fuzzy but they give you an idea.  After that we went to bed, having had a very full day & needing to get up early the next day.

104 Sunset

115 Amazonia Folklorico show 117 Amazonia Folklorico show

120 Amazonia Folklorico show 128 Amazonia Folklorico show

124 Amazonia Folklorico show

Boca de Valeria, Brazil

On Wednesday, February 29, we stopped for a few hours in Boca de Valeria, a tiny Amazon village of about 75 people.  This was quite a change from all the cities with millions of folks.  While it gives an idea of the lifestyle of rural Amazonia, since cruise ships have started visiting here it has changed some.  We saw a couple of satellite TV dishes & we were told that some of the monetary influx from the ships has been used to improve the schools in the area, at least one of which now has a computer.

The locals have also adapted to the ship visits to earn a few dollars.  On ship days people come from all over the area & some dress themselves or their children in colorful feathered costumes.  Some of the children have exotic rainforest pets like sloths & monkeys.  They then put themselves on display & request a dollar from anyone who wants to take a picture (you won’t see any of those here).  So, it has become kind of commercial and Disney-fied, in a rudimentary way.  We discovered later that all of the children we saw were from out of the village, because the village children were all in school while we were there.

Anyway, it was high water when we were there, so much of the land was covered with water as we went into the town.

40 Entrance to Boca de Valeria

26 Boca de Valeria 27 trees in river

The village consists of a small church & a few small rickety looking houses built on stilts to accommodate the rise & fall of the river.

05 Church 12 Parrot house

  25 dock 28 house on stilts21 Village center

What you can’t see in the last picture is a dog that was sacked out lying on his side in the road in front of the church steps, while people were walking all around him, probably thinking “how boring, another tourist day.” The town was full of chickens, running loose on the muddy roads & under houses.

01 Chicken & chicks 18 Chickens under house

This is a river village, so of course there were lots of boats on the shore.

 17 Riverboat04 Boats from grass hut19 Houses on stilts 

We also saw some interesting rocks & funghi.

10 Rocks 14 Log with fungus

We were there too and not to forget, these folks live in the rainforest (lots of it).

07 Rick & Mary 15 Rainforest with red flowers

16 Rainforest 31 rain forest

32 Rain forest 33 rain forest

Several enterprising folks got into canoes & paddled (or motored) out to the ship, where they importuned passengers entering or returning from the tenders to take pictures & give money.  One young fellow had a pet sloth with him, which he would hold up to the tender entrance & sometimes the sloth would grab onto the ship.

34 boats by ship 36 kid with sloth by tender

 43 Kid with sloth in boat near ship 48 Kid with sloth in boat near ship

 38 Kid with sloth in boat near ship

We left Boca de Valeria in early afternoon and there was a nice & calm sunset on the way to Manaus.

53  Sunset on the Amazon

Santarem, Brazil

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.

06 Amazon near equator

07 Amazon near equator

09 Amazon near equator

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.


06 Meeting of the Waters

06 Meeting of the Waters  11 Mary & meeting of waters

12 Rick & meeting of waters 05 Meeting of the Waters

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.

18 Cathedral 21 Gazebo

14 Santarem street 19 Santarem street

16 Parrot statue 22 Mary in bus & river boat

Belem, Brazil

On Sunday, February 26 we came to Belem (Bethlehem), a city of a couple of million located on the Rio Para, southernmost branch of the mouth of the Amazon.  Founded in 1616, Belem was the financial clearinghouse for the rubber industry that dominated the Amazon region in the late 19th & early 20th centuries.

34 Belem

Our ship was anchored a few miles down river, and the tenders dropped us at the village of Icoaraci.  Village it may be but it had a (rather tumbledown) public library!

01 River boats at port of Icoaraci 30 Mary by Biblioteca at Icoaraci

We were driven into Belem by a shuttle bus & dropped off at an old warehouse complex on the water that has been converted into shops & restaurants.  It was a rainy day but there were nice views of the flowing river from behind the complex.

02 Rio Para (or Amazonas) 03 Rio Para (or Amazonas)

From there we walked to the Mercado Ver-o-Peso (“verify the weight market”).  Begun in 1688, the name reflects the strict Portuguese taxes on everything entering or leaving Amazonia.  In the market were live chickens, ducks & goats, as well as colorful fruits we had never seen before.

04 Mary in Mercado Ver-o-peso 05 Mercado Ver-o-peso

09 Chickens & ducks at Mercado 08 Mercado Ver-o-peso

26 Fruit cart at Mercado

Not far away was the old port, which was crowded with the ubiquitous Amazon river boats, on which people live, sleeping in hammocks.  Vultures & egrets patrol the port.  The fourth picture below is a painting near the port, not a street.

11 Vulture & boats at old port 25 Street near old port

12 Egret on river boat 13 Faux street painting

Of course Belem has an elaborate cathedral, built in 1755, and there was a clock tower that does not look like Big Ben (but this time there was no claim that it does).

15 Catedral De Se 14 Clock tower in Praca Dom Pedro II

We visited the Forte de Presepio, erected in 1616 as the first building in Belem, but did not tour it since the signs are all in Portuguese.  Here, and at many other places in Brazil, there were vendors selling coconuts, which are very popular.

18 Rick by cannon at Forte Do Belem 20 View of Mercado from Forte Do Belem

19 View from Forte Do Belem 17 Coconut vendors in Praca Brandao

Finally, there were several interesting mosaic sidewalks, quite different from what we saw in Rio.

 22 Mosaic sidewalk23 Mosaic sidewalk

28 mosaic sidewalk 29 mosaic sidewalk

It was Sunday in Belem so a lot was closed & there weren’t a lot of people out & about.  We started to walk to the theater, about a third of a mile away, but we found ourselves on empty streets which made Mary uncomfortable, so we went back to the shuttle bus.  We found out there that a woman from our ship had been attacked not far from the warehouse restaurants by a woman with a knife (who, we were told, had been sniffing glue, a problem in this city apparently).  A couple of other passengers have been mugged in other cities (one right outside the dock in Recife).  So maybe turning back from the empty streets was the correct move.