Penguin Island, Antarctica 2008

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

SATURDAY, MARCH 12 - Manaus, Amazon,River, Brazil

We were told that we would be at "The Meeting of the Waters" at approximately 6AM. This is where the light-brown water of the muddy Amazon meets the coffee-colored, clear (sort of) water of the Rio Negro. Dick did not sleep well and was up to see but the ship was already off the city of Manaus, past the meeting point.

We have been very surprised by what we have learned about Manaus. We had it pictured as a sleepy, little, river village. Not likely! This place has 1,800,000 residents and is a major economic factor in Brazil. This is amazing since it is so isolated. There is only one road out of Manaus and it runs north into Columbia. Everything not produced here must come in by ship and Manaus is 900 plus miles from the Atlantic.

We have a tour this morning to see "The Meeting of the Waters." It meets at 8:50AM so we have time for a quick breakfast before heading out. Leaving the ship we walk a short distance to a boat marked "Amazon Adventure Tours." It is a two-decker like we have seen all along the river. We are greeted by a short man with a friendly smile who will be our guide. He speaks English well and welcomes us aboard.

The ship has hired several of the these boats and we are not crowded and have plenty of room to move around on the decks and from one deck to the other. The ladder up to the top, open, deck is quite steep so Carolyn decides to pass and confine her viewing to the lower deck. Dick moves from deck to deck as the mood strikes him. Several of his trivia team are on this boat and they enjoy visiting as we sail down the Amazon for several miles.

Our guide gives us the usual running commentary. There is a lot of activity to see. One of the most interesting is the numerous little "Mom and Pop" ship yards along the river where they are manufacturing these river boats.
We see 10-20 boats under construction, one large ship being cut up and dismantled, floating docks with various river craft tied up, floating gas stations for all the water craft
 and one military, river patrol boat, about 150 feet long heading out and down river with us.

After something over an hour, we reach "The Meeting of thee Waters" and spend maybe 20 minutes along the demarcation line
where the two colors of water run parallel, swirl and eddy but do not readily mix.
It is an interesting phenomenon.

With this done, we head back up river for another hour or so. This boat was not very fast running with the current and is even slower running upstream. Across from Manaus and a little downstream from our ship’s dock, we head off into an area called January Lake while passing by a small village across the river from Manuas.

January is a corruption of a local word, spelled similarly, that means bad spirit. All along the edges of this channel are tiny, floating houses.They float on logs with no evidence of any man made flotation devices.  Most of them look like they will collapse at any moment. Some have wash hanging out to dry.
How that will happen on this cloudy, humid day is anyone’s guess! There are signs of everyday life all along this back water.
We pull up to a floating restaurant where two other boats that came directly here are tied up. As those guests return from their motorized canoe ride, we swap places. The canoes each have a 40HP motor and bench seats for 12 passengers plus the driver. Boarding, for some of us, is an exercise in twisting and bending and finally sitting on the dock and sliding in feet first. One guess which of us is included in that group! The canoe has a roof and sits very low in the water so you can’t just step in and sit down. They put 10 of us in each boat and, once loaded, the freeboard is less than six inches above the water. Obviously, the boats are designed for people who weigh less than Anglo, cruise ship passengers!

As the boats are loaded, they move out into the open water and wait for the others. We are one of the last to load and the head guide steps into our boat. He never sits down but rides on the bow standing up while giving directions to the young driver. Our ride takes about 40 minutes and takes us by more floating houses in various states of collapse.
We are told to be aware that, even though the river is 18 feet above normal, they are expecting another 20 feet of rise over the next month and that level of water will last for several months. This is an annual event and the level of the river is actually marked for each year on a huge plaque near where our ship is docked. In 2009 they had a record river level. You can see on some of the trees the level from last year because the trunks are a dark color where they were under water. Above that level they are much lighter in color.

We stop in an open area and raft up for a few minutes
while we are told what to expect and then we take off, single-file, into some narrow channels that lead back into the swamp.
Our destination is an area that contains the famous, giant lilly pads. We are a little early in their season and the lake is not covered with them as it will be in another few weeks.
But, we do see quite a few along a bank, some with blooms.
The ones we see are roughly 3-4 feet in diameter with a raised lip around the edge that shows some vicious looking thorns. Our driver gingerly picks one up so we can see the underside and its network of supporting veins and defensive thorns.
Here, we turn around and head back out of the narrow channels, with one stop while one of the boats unclogs its motor after staling out skimming across a shallow area clogged with water plants.
That problem solved, we return, at top speed,
to the dock and restaurant where we boarded the canoes. Once up and out of the canoes, a not always graceful or pretty sight, we have a few minutes to look at all sorts of crafts and general junk for sale. Nothing strikes us as necessary and we pass.
After finally rounding up all the people who just had to look at each and every item, we begin our one hour run back to the dock. During this run, we pass several of the long-range, river boats loading passengers. One is heading down river to Santarém. This trip will take three days and one can already see that the top two decks, of the three decked ship, are packed with brightly colored hammocks already hung and ready for the owners siesta. We do not know how many people these boats carry, but everyone we see seems to be overloaded!
This was supposed to be a 4 1/2 hour tour and it turns out to be 5 1/2 hours. This cuts into our plans for the afternoon as the ship sails at 6PM with all aboard at 5:30PM. We head for the ship, drop our pack and extra stuff, grab a snack and immediately head back off for a walk around the old part of Manaus. It takes quite awhile to get out of the terminal
as they force you to walk through it and then up and over a sky bridge to the street. This is Saturday and there is a huge street market going on that is aimed at the local residents. We walk through part of it
and then up to the church, built on a high spot,
 and then back down into the market.
We are looking for Jack's pin, a T-shirt for William and, perhaps, a souvenir. Well, no pin and no T-shirt but we do buy a small, well made basket. It is labeled as being from an indigenous tribe and at 15 reals ($9.96) we can’t go too wrong.
Having enjoyed all this we can stand, we head back to the ship through the stalls
and heavy traffic.
Dick goes to Trivia, sliding in just before it starts and his team wins for the second day in a row!

After watching sail away
and a very nice sunset,
Carolyn decides she is ordering dinner to the room and Dick goes to La Veranda for Osso Bucco. We watch the news reports on the Tsunami disaster in Japan until sleep calls.

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