Friday, March 10, 2017

Cruising the Amazon, and Santarem

8 March 2017 - posted 10 March in Manaus

We entered the Amazon Delta at high tide on Monday, though it took us several hours to actually get through the channel that provides enough depth (or squat, the space between the bottom of the keel and the ocean floor or river bed).  According to the captain, who gives us a daily report, the amount of squat we had in this particular channel was just barely ten feet, or three meters – not much leeway!  But he said that the river bed here is very soft sand or silt, so we could just plow on through.  I guess we didn’t have any problem, since it seemed to be a smooth entrance.

So we’re on the Amazon.  The AMAZON!!!!  Wow!  We passengers race from side to side on the ship to see which bank is closer, has a better view, or what small boats are nearby.  Hoping to catch a glimpse of exotic birds, monkeys, maybe a crocodile in the chocolatey waters.  We hear sounds that might be birds, might be monkeys, might be people in the small river ferries.  We have no idea, we just know that this is thrilling and exciting and we’re finally HERE! 

The forest closes in on both sides of the river, and it really is dark, mysterious, and impenetrable.  This is the Amazonian jungle, full of legends and maybe indigenous tribes and gorgeous flowers.  The jungle is lush and green, full of trees and vines.  There is animal life in there, but we see very little from the ship. 

The river is also changeable, reflecting blue at a distance but truly a murky café con leche color up close.  At early sunset, the water turns a beautiful molten copper color, burnished to a pinky golden sheen.  And then, as the daylight fade, the waters turn a dark oily blue black, hiding all its mysteries in those darkened depths. 

We’re stopping along the way at some of the river towns, so that we get a taste of life on the world’s longest river. 

 Our first stop was the town of Santarem, on Wednesday.  (Tuesday was merely cruising the first portion of the river.)

Santarem was founded in 1661, named after a city in Portugal.  This town, or small city, lies about halfway between Belem at the mouth of the river, and Manaus, the largest city along the Amazon.  So Santarem has become an important city for refueling all the ships that cruise along the river.

Santarem is also close to the Meeting of the Waters, where the clear blue waters of the Tapajos River joins the murky brown Amazon water.  The two rivers have different viscosities, so the waters don’t mix for about 30 miles, and the two colors can easily be seen!  We haven’t seen this yet, but I hope to while we’re at one of these locations.

There’s also a lovely blue cathedral in the center of Santarem; this building was completed in 1761.  (The first church was built on the same site in 1661, but was built of palm fronds.  So this replacement church was much more permanent, lasting another 250 or so years.)

A long waterfront promenade runs along the bank of the river here, with all kinds of boats.  River ferries feature both benches and hammocks for the passengers, and hammocks seem to be a major item in the markets.  They really are beautiful, with crocheted trim and embroidery.  Can’t you just imagine floating down river while relaxing in a gently swinging hammock?

Along the water front I found a park with giant cement animals.  The river has both grey and pink dolphins – and the pink dolphins are actually grey when born, but the color fades and they become pink as they mature.  So the dolphin statue was half and half, which matched the very goofy look on his face.

I think the giant fish is a piranha.  Yes, we’re in piranha country.  No river swimming for us!  There are also crocs, and anacondas, and who knows what parasites in there.  Also bull sharks, who somehow change their body chemistry so that they can migrate from salty oceans to fresh water rivers – weird, huh?  Bull sharks aren’t the friendliest of sharks, and they’ve been known to attack people in the rivers of South Africa.  Plus the Amazon has that tiny fish that swims up into your body if you pee in the river.  Yeah, no swimming!!!

And then there was a sea turtle – I’m not sure if they also swim upriver, but he or she was in the park.

I wandered around Santarem for a bit – and while the temperature isn’t that high, maybe 80 F (26ish C), the humidity is probably about 99%.  So it feels hot and sticky and muggy.  There are also mosquitoes both day and night, and rather than wear protective clothing which feels hotter, I just spray up with insect repellant.  Sticky and muggy and slightly oiled up from the spray.  We can only manage several hours outside, and then we find a cool café for drinks and wifi.

We have several more stops along the Amazon; the ship stays two days in Manaus, then we turn around and head back, with a few ports to visit as we head toward the Atlantic again.

We'll do our best to stay in contact.  The Amazon communities range from isolated villages to big cities with two million inhabitants - so it just depends on where we happen to be!



  1. I just love your travelogue, your descriptions and pictures, both beautiful and colorful, always make me feel like I am there. Thank you!

  2. Loving your blog and love this hammocks