Monday, March 8, 2010

Circle South America: Parintins & Santarem Brazil

Dear Family and Friends,
We just left Santarem, Brazil at latitude 2° 49’15” S and longitude 54° 16’ 20” W for our final leg back down the Amazon River and back to the Atlantic Ocean. Our final two stops on this easterly course, Parintins and Santarem gave us an up close and personal look at the rainforest and jungle that comprise 98 % of the Amazon Basin.

Parintins, Brazil is a small town of 80,000 on the island of Tupinambarana, which we were told was roughly the size of Belgium, in the middle of the Amazon River. The town survives on fishing, logging and cattle most of the year, but between June 28th and 30th each year, half of the town’s annual income is derived from the annual Boi Bumba (Ox Music) Festival competition. The Boi Bumba presentation is an experience similar to Brazil’s Carnival and virtually the entire town is involved, men, women and children, putting together the elaborate, multi-feathered costumes, floats and participating in the show itself.

Regent put together a special presentation of Boi Bumba which was moved indoors to the only air conditioned building in town large enough to hold 500 of our fellow passengers and the elegant regalia of the show and its 200 or so participants. It was quite spectacular with all the colorful dancers and sensual Brazilian drums and flute music. We estimated Regent probably spent $ 10,000.00 having the town put on this special 45 minute presentation for us. It was hard to get pictures but you will get the gist of it I think. Because it was 92° and 90 % humidity, a cold local beer and the show was about all we could handle of the town of Parintins, but it was worth soaking through our clothes to see it.

A quick overnight sail and we arrived at Santarem, Brazil this morning. This city, with a population of 300,000, lies at the confluence of the clear Rio Tapajos and the muddy Amazon in the driest region of the river’s length. With half the annual rainfall of the Amazon delta, the weather is fair most of the time. It was only 88° today but the humidity was high, so we soaked through our clothes once again as we took a river tour out into the jungle to observe the river dwellers, both human and animal alike.

Santarem was founded in 1661 and has seen several bursts of economic growth. First, there was wood. Then came rubber (Henry Ford once tried, and failed, to create a series of rubber plantations in the region) and, finally, minerals. Today, Santarem has a new boom on the horizon…..soybeans. The creation of BR 163, the main highway that connects the soybean fields with the river, brings the produce to where they are stored in a recently constructed (2002), enormous grain terminal before they are loaded onto barges. Things are picking up.

Our river tour took us out to the “meeting of the waters” which I described and showed you in my Manaus blog….looks quite similar…and on to Maica Lake which is the home to some of the 2000 species of fish which populate the Amazon and hundreds of birds and other flora and fauna. We spied dolphin, Macaws, egrets, vultures, and “White Naked Heros”….well, that’s what our heavily accented guide said….but I think he was identifying the elegant “white necked herons”. Although, I did notice the ladies craning their necks for a peek. Dirty old women!

We stopped at the mouth of the lake and anchored for about 30 minutes. The crew distributed baited fishing gear to each passenger and we all fished for the voracious and fearsome Piranha. My bait got nibbled to death but one guy caught two and a lady caught one and everyone had a lot of fun. The crew cooked them up in the galley on our way back to the ship and we each got to sample a bite of this surprisingly tasty fish which the locals eat with crunchy, fried flour crumbles.

By the time we hit the mouth of the Amazon we will have crossed back over to the north side of the Equator and will arrive, after a day at sea, at Devil’s Island in French Guyana. That final stop will complete our tour of South American countries where we visited Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and French Guyana. The only countries we missed were the two interior countries (with no coastlines) Bolivia and Paraguay, Columbia and Venezuela (which we will visit when their politics change) and Guyana and Suriname (which 95 % of you could not have identified as being South American countries anyway until today). Not bad for a 65 day jaunt which included four days getting to and from Antarctica.

Until then, God Bless you all,

Jud and Vicki

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