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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Brazil - 9-13 March, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Aboard the Sao Francisco III on the Amazon River
-  8 March (start in Belem) S0126.471' W04829.710' 22 m .
-  9 March at 6:15 PM (speed 13.7 km/h) S0114.214' W05048.214' 18 m 310 km (by river boat)
-  10 March at 6:05 PM (speed 14.6 km/h) S0147.584' W05307.126' 18 m 310 km (by river boat)
-  11 March at 6:40 PM (speed 11.9 km/h) S0217.792' W05445.873' 18 m 220 km (by river boat)
-  12 March at 6:05 PM (speed 14.9 km/h) S0231.531' W05634.937' 24 m 250 km (by river boat)
-  13 March at 5:50 PM (speed 14.6 km/h) S0314.988' W05837.609' 24 m 300 km (by river boat)
Finish -  14 March (arrive in Manaus) S0308.372' W06001.217' 30 m 190 km (by river boat)

Leg 3 Total:

7,850 km

Leg 2 Total:

12,140 km

Leg 1 Total:

9,010 km

Galapagos:

771 km

Grand Total:

29,971 km

 

Weather: Tended to be partly cloudy, sunny, humid and very hot.  Brief rain showers on a few days.  Some lightning storms.  Cool at night.

 

 

This is a hard experience to write about - so much happened and spread over so many days.  So, we will first tell you about the Amazon River, then what a typical day was like on the boat and finally relate some more specific experiences from each day on the boat.

 

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The Amazon River:  It is difficult to know where to start when describing the Amazon River - the mightiest of rivers.  The river has its origins high up in the Andes in the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, gathering the water from many tributaries and headwaters.  By the time all this water reaches the Atlantic ocean, the daily flow of the river is said to be enough to supply a city  the size of New York with water for ten years.  It power is so great that the muddy waters of the Amazon stain the Atlantic Ocean brown for over 200 km out to sea.

 

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There are something like 80,000 square kilometers of navigable river in the Amazon system.  We were told that it can be over 45 meters deep.  At places it is many kilometers wide.  Ocean going vessels can travel up the Amazon River virtually all the way across South America to Iquitos in Peru.  When the river reaches the Atlantic Ocean, its mouth is as wide as the distance from London to Paris.  The Amazon catchment basin at any one time holds one-fifth of the world's fresh water.  This water sustains the largest tract of forest in the world - the Amazon rainforest.

 

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Until Charles Goodyear arrived in the Amazon and invented the rubber tire, the Amazon jungle was a backwater with no great potential.  Then came the great rubber boom, which created extraordinary wealth and created the cities of Manaus and Belem - some of the richest cities in their day.  The remnants of this is seen in the great opera houses both have.  The rubber boom abruptly died when stolen rubber tree seeds were planted in the Far East in mainly Malaysia and rubber could be produced much cheaper in plantations there.  There was brief resurgence in the Second World War when these rubber plantations were controlled by the Japanese (this is when the rubber army was raised and sent into the jungle to tap the trees), but once the war ended the brief mini-boom came to an end.  Now economic development is being fueled by a duty free zone that has been set up in Manaus.

 

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The Daily Routine on the Boat:  The day would start early - the breakfast bell would be rung at about 5:30 AM, but many of the locals would be stirring and moving around well before then so we would often be awake already.  We went for breakfast the first day, but never after that.  It was simply a small roll, butter and coffee.  Certainly not worth getting out of the hammock for.

 

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Some time later in the morning we would get out of the hammock and wander around the boat.  We might go up to the third and open deck and hang out and read or work on our journal.  At times we would be there with our cameras to see if we could get a good photo.  After this busy morning, we would have lunch.  The meals, a major activity for the day, were served on tables at the stern of the second deck, where we all slept.  The people who had hammocks there, spread above the tables, had to tie them up during meals.

 

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There were two long tables.  The first time we tried to sit down we quickly discovered that one of the tables was for women and the other for men.  Meals had to served in three or four sittings as there was not enough room to sit everyone.  As you can imagine, there were long lines and we would sit where ever there was an empty seat.  Well, this caused problems if we sat at the women's table - the servers would come and chase us away.   What trouble makers we are.

 

Well, the meals were interesting, or rather not.  Every meal that we had, other than breakfast, consisted of spaghetti, rice, manioc (more on that later when we get to the jungle), occasionally beans and some form of meat, such as beef or chicken or, on one occasion, fish. It was quite bland, but we came prepared with our own bottle of chili sauce.  Even with the chili sauce, as you can imagine, we got a little tired of the rice and spaghetti.  But the food was quite tasty and the well prepared and there was plenty of it.  The only problem was that you had to gulp down your food so that you could free up your space for all the people hovering around you waiting to eat.  The meal times, however, were a bit strange.  Lunch often started before 11 AM and dinner before 5 AM.

 

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The afternoon was spent pretty much the same way as the morning.  We would take a nap or read in our hammocks, or go up to the upper deck and hang out watching the river go by, read, relax or play some cards.  We were introduced to a card game called "shit head" which is a simple card game, but kept us entertained for many hours.

 

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Dinner was similar to lunch - same routine and same food (rice, spaghetti and something to go with it).  One interesting thing was watching how some of the locals on board seemed to dress up for dinner and the evening.  We really could not be bothered.  After dinner, we would back up to the upper deck and watch the sunset, maybe play some cards and have a drink.  They had a small bar on the upper deck where you could purchase drinks and light snacks.  The nights were never late - we would go to bed early.  But sleeping was not always easy, but it was a good idea to get to your hammock first.  We were all crowded in pretty tight, so if one person turned around in their hammock, the people right next door would know it.  There was also the problem of the chain reaction - if one person swung, this would start the neighbors swinging, which would just move down the line until you got to one of the steel posts.  And the person next to the pole may get a bruised hip.  But in general it was amazing how quiet it was on the hammock deck during the night.

 

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9 March, 2002:  The main highlight of the day was the traditional throwing of gifts to the Indians.  As we cruised up the river, locals would row out in their dugout canoes against the strong current of the river and hope that a passenger would throw then a gift.  We had some flour, salt and rice that we had wrapped up in plastic which we threw to a few different people in their canoes.

 

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We also stopped in a town, where the boat was surrounded by locals who were waiting for gifts.  The paddled up and just hung on to the side.  Two things amazed us - the first was the young age of some of the boys and girls that would row out in this river to meet us.  The other was that some of the native children had strong Caucasian features, including blond hair.  We find out later that this is a legacy of the rubber army that was brought here during the Second World War to tap for rubber.

 

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10 March, 2002:  Just after lunch today we stop in the small town of Almeirim.  We get off the boat for a short while and stretch our legs as they unload and load cargo and some passengers leave and others get on.  There are vendors selling everything from ice cream to hearts of palm that hang out on the jetty and even get on the boat.

 

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That evening we hang out on deck - the sunset is a bit of a disappointment, but the Chivas, cigar and ground nuts were not.  We retire for the night at 9:30 PM, but we are disturbed in the middle of the night when we arrive at a port at two in the morning.  They turn on the lights and people and cargo are moving around.  We do not leave until just before five in the morning, so it is not our best nights sleep on the boat.  It also warms up when the boat is still.

 

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11 March, 2002:  The highlight of today is arriving in Santarem - one of the bigger towns on the Amazon River.  We get there just after having our lunch on the boat.  We are here for about five hours, so we head ashore.  We decide to walk to the town center along the shore.  The river bank is lined with boats - many smaller versions of our boat.  We are not sure how they all get enough business, seeing how many are tied up.  But they must.  While in town, we do some shopping and pick up a few more supplies, including drinking water.

 

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We get back to the boat early - not much to do in town - and hang out.  There is a huge cruise ship called Victoria also tied up.  We go and chat with they crew.  They have been on a long cruise starting in London and coming over here via the Mediterranean.  They had just been up to Manaus.  It is amazing that such a huge boat can go so far up this river.  The passengers on the cruise boat are curious about these Westerners on this local river boat and come and talk to us about it.  We watch them pull away and head down river - now that is the way to travel.  Maybe next time.

 

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We are off to bead early again, but once again our sleep is disturbed when we arrive at another town at 3 AM and do not leave until 6 AM.  Also, the dog on the lower deck is yelping and making a bit of a racket.

 

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12 March, 2002:  Breakfast is dry (stale) toast this morning - we find out from someone else who went.  We continue to sleep in.  Another usual day on the boat.  We stop at a small town for a brief stop - we get off and wander around.  Not much to the town.  The rest of the day passes by slowly as we cruise up the river.  The shore line is dotted with homes and occasionally someone will paddle out in their canoes to see if they get anything.  On other occasions, they will paddle out and try to meet up with the boat and then grab on.  Just as they reach the boat, they will be paddling furiously to keep up and then reach out and grab on and get a free ride up the river.  It was amazing watching them in action.  The river is their life blood.

 

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The evening was livened up by a stop in a town.  Just before 8 PM we arrived at the town of Parintins.  Many people, including some in our group, seemed to have big expectations for this town.  Clubs, pizza places, etc.  Some even got dressed up!!  Well, when we arrived, it did not seem so promising.  We wandered to the main square, but as it seemed pretty dead, we just sat down at one of the small bars and had a drink.  The most exciting part was getting shown the rats that were the size of rabbits.  They were huge.  We just hoped that none got on the boat.

 

We went back to the boat early and watched as they unloaded the cargo, which included toilet seats, chairs and some pipes.  Then things started to get exciting.  The Captain said that we were leaving soon, but we discover that not all of our group are back.  Even though they are not back yet, the engines start up and they begin the process of taking off the lines and backing up the boat.  They we see them in the distance up the road and we start yelling at the to run.  Mike, the co-driver, gets off preparing to stay with them f they do not make it back in time.  They are running like mad and they make it back in time before we leave.  Good fun!!

 

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13 March, 2002:  We are supposed to arrive in Manaus this afternoon, but we have been hearing rumors that we will be delayed.  It is amazing how many different stories we hear in a few days about when we will arrive.  But it becomes clear through the day that the best bet is that we will arrive tomorrow morning. One more night on the boat.  Sounds like fun.

 

While we are hanging out on the upper deck today, we see a few things in the water.  Someone sees a snake - we are told that it is an anaconda.  It was not too big.  Lars sees something huge jump out of the water and drop back with a big splash.  The best is seeing the dolphins swim along as they gracefully came up for air every once in a while.  We think they are pink dolphins.  Amazing seeing them so far up river.

 

Dinner is a big disappointment - it seems they have run out of rice and spaghetti, so it is only some form of stew.  We pass and decide to eat up the rest of our snack.  We hang out on the upper deck and watch the sun set.  Then there is a huge lightning storm on the horizon - it is beautiful watching the flashes of light that occur almost all around us.  The clouds and land are lit up by the huge and sudden bursts of light.  As we cruise along, the skipper uses a bright spotlight to check out the river in front of him.  He wants to make sure that we do not run into any huge logs or floating islands of vegetation, nor run into the shore.  I am sure that he is also looking out for the small canoes.  The spotlight flashes on for a few seconds and then goes out, only to flash on a minute or so later.

 

We go to bed early as we expect to arrive in Manaus at sunrise tomorrow.

 

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14 March, 2002:  We are awoken at around four in the morning - everyone is moving around and getting ready for the arrival in Manaus.  It seemed a bit early, so we just hung out in our hammock until we saw the bright lights of Manaus appearing on the horizon.  But this is a slow boat, so we had some time to get ready.  We packed up our things, gathered our bags from the cabin and then took down our hammocks and rolled them up.  We went up to the upper deck to watch the sunrise - one of the more beautiful ones on this boat trip.  We arrived in Manaus just at sunrise - what a moment.

 

For the rest of the day in Manaus, see the journal entry for 14 March, 2002.

 

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