Monday, March 1, 2010

Circle South America: Fortaleza Brazil

Dear Family and Friends,

On Saturday we arrived at Fortaleza, Brazil, a port and resort city on the east side of the continent which sprang up around the Dutch fort, the Forte de Schoonemborch, built in 1649. After the Portuguese defeated the Dutch the settlement grew but didn’t thrive until the port was opened for shipment of cotton to the United Kingdom in 1808.

When we arrived in port at 7:00 PM we went directly to the Teatro Jose de Alencar, a 19th century theater where we enjoyed a presentation of Edisca ballet performed by the most delightful young people, ages eight to late teens. These children are part of a program to take disadvantaged and homeless youngsters off the streets and teach them a craft and develop their artistic skills. They were incredible and their athleticism and grace were a pleasure to see. Following the ballet we had a cocktail party in the theater garden complete with freshly made Caipirinya, the national drink of Brazil and a Brazilian dance team with entirely too much energy. Caipirinya is made from fresh limes and sugar cane crushed in the bottom of a glass with ample portion of a special rum distilled from sugar cane and crushed ice.

The next day we had a private car tour. Vicki decided that shopping would be a better use of our transportation and our guide’s Portuguese language skills so we only briefly cruised the beaches, the pier and one more church and the rest of the time we spent in the 400 shops of the Mercado Centro. Shopping was not all that successful but we did enjoy our time in Fortaleza although I do not believe we will return any time soon.

Today at 3:59 PM we crossed the Equator for our fourth time at 0° 0’ 0” Latitude and 45° 21’ 13” Longitude heading northwest and here, in the middle of the southern hemisphere summer and the northern hemisphere winter, the temperature was a mere 77 degrees with rain. This is compared to the weather in Fortaleza of 89 degrees, scorching sun and 90 % humidity just 3 ° south.

Tomorrow we will put in for a technical stop at Macapa, Brazil for two hours to pick up our river pilot. At this point we will be at the mouth of the Amazon River, the largest, albeit not longest, river in the world. At 9:00 PM tonight, 18 hours before we reach Macapa, we will run into the plum of fresh water which extends over 200 miles out from the mouth of the Amazon, such is the volume of water coming into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Amazon River Basin is one of the most unique and critical ecological regions in the entire world. Covering nine South American countries, the Basin is nearly as large as the continental US in land mass and the biggest tropical forest in the world. There are over 1000 rivers, all of which are over 1000 miles long, in the Basin feeding into the Amazon River. 20 % of all the fresh water in the world is contained in the Basin. 4.5 TRILLION gallons of water enters the Atlantic from the Amazon each day! And along with all that water, 7.1 million cubic feet per second of sediment is discharged. Compare that to the Mississippi River where a mere 651,000 cubic feet per second is deposited into the Mississippi delta and Gulf of Mexico.

There are over 5,000 species of fish in the Amazon River Basin, which is an incredible statistic considering there is less than that in the entire Atlantic Ocean. One quarter (1/4) of all the species of animals on earth live in the Amazon Basin and more are being discovered every day. In just one hectare of land in the Basin, there are nearly 200 species of vegetation and, interestingly, in the adjoining hectare, there can be 200 additional species with virtually no overlap.

The geological explanation about how the Amazon River Basin was formed, beginning over 2 million years ago, is fascinating but I will leave that for the next Blog. In the meantime, we are looking forward to our 1000 mile journey up the Amazon River to Menaus (pronounced me-NOWS), the largest village at the top of the river we will reach. Until then, God Bless you all.

Jud and Vicki

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