December 27 Manaus Day Two
MEETING OF THE WATERS
The morning started inauspiciously. This is the rainy season in Brazil—but I never gave it a thought two months ago when I signed up for the early morning river tour. As I scurried in the early dawn to make the 7:45 am Meeting of the Waters Tour, I watched the steady rain drops hitting my room window. How would I ever get down those 45 steep, slippery gang plank steps safely? I dug out my light weight nylon windbreaker and fretted that it wouldn’t be enough to protect me from a heavy and constant deluge. This did not seem like the best of days to be on a small boat in open river waters, but I was determined to see it through.
As we queued on deck five, the rain slowly abated and turned to a fine mist by the time I reached the stairwell. But the rungs were wet and dangerous. I handed my equipment—walking cane and small travel bag-- to an attendant and with great care, gingerly, one step at a time, holding on to the slippery side rails, worked my way slowly down. To my surprise, despite the unfavorable conditions, I was a lot more confident today that I was yesterday. It has been reassuring to know that, for those of us who need assistance, there is always an attendant close by to offer a hand. It was impossible to avoid puddles in the road bed on the short trip, and I arrived at the tour boat in wet Tivas and wet feet. The next challenge was to safely enter the swaying two story boat and climb the narrow open stairwell to the top deck which was still shrouded in view-blocking blue tarp to keep the rain out. As we got underway the rain stopped and the tarps were drawn, so that we had a good view of the harbor as we moved out into the river.
ON THE RIVER
We left the pier in the local riverboat, passing native houses on stilts, local boats, wharfs, floating gas stations –great picture ops. Our guides, Renaldo and Massimo, spoke articulately and in great length, in remarkably understandable English, on the history, ecology, and life on the river.
Manaus, as I mentioned yesterday, is located not on the Amazon, but on a parallel river, known as the black river (Rio Negro). The waters of the Amazon are uninviting silt- filled, mocha brown color. Sometime during the night as we traveled upstream we entered the waters of the River Negro (Black River) whose color is a dark blue-black. We learned that Manaus is mosquito free because of the high acidic contents of the river water, which is not only inhospitable to mosquitos but not as welcome to some fish life and is less palatable for drinking than the waters of the Amazon. At the point where the rivers join there is a stong, visible difference in the colors. It is as if a line has been drawn through the water and one side is the chocolate brown of the Amazon and on the other the inky blue black of the Negro.
The phenomenon of two rivers moving separately,side by side, but at different speeds is rare. It happens twice in the Amazon Basin, where the Negro and Amazon meet at Manaus , and at Santarem (our next stop) where the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers join.
We turned into Lake January, an ecological park, situated between the two rivers, and boarded smaller boats with outboard motors, to travel through the small tributaries and flooded creek to view the flora and fauna of the Amazonian rain forest. It is difficult to understand the size of the Amazon basin—still a mostly primitive, lowly populated area with few cities, some villages, and the forest yet undisturbed—unlike the lower areas of Brazil where heavy deforestation is destroying the land. The Amazon forest area is equal in size to all of the lower 48 United States!
The water level of the forest varies from year to year, depending on the rainfall. During the rainy season the rivers and lakes rises above the tall grass levels, and spread along the forest floors—as the water level rises, it can reach even the second stories of houses on stilts and the natives living along the shore need to move deeper in to the forest until the dry season starts and the water recedes. As we moved along, we were surrounded by an amazing abundance of greenery and wild life --pythons, sloths, monkeys, colorful birds, pink fresh water dolphins, water lilies, other exotics. While much more primitive this area is, in many ways, reminiscent of the still undeveloped sub tropical areas of South Florida Everglades. Since Florida is subtropical, we share much of the plant life and bird population.
We returned to the floating dock and restaurant for a buffet lunch featuring interesting local Brazilian specialties—hot dishes, salads and an abundance of native fruits. And of course—the prerequisite stop at the adjacent gift shop filled with T shirts and some native crafts. I succumbed and bought two fantastic hand carved masks created from local wood, bird feathers, straw, fish bones, and seeds. They were more expensive that most of the other items and as soon as I showed and interest the owner kept trailing me. I knew what I wanted to spend for the masks—others on board has made a similar purchase at the local museum the day before—so I had a pretty good idea of what the price should be. In the past, Lionel had always been my stalwart negotiator, but today I was on my own. I probably could have done as well by myself, but I asked one of the male Semester at Sea guides to help me. He enlisted two of the Portugese speaking boat guides and between the four of us, we got to a fair and reasonable price-where the shop owner made a reasonable profit and I paid a fair price for the items. It was more fun that I thought it would be—maybe the next time I will be able to handle it on my own. But I am still fully aware that a man will command more respect than a woman in this type of situation.
We returned to the port on our original riverboat, with our guides filling us in with more history and local color. Thankfully the sun had stayed hidden most of the day, under grey laden clouds, but by mid afternoon, the temperature and humidity had risen to an uncomfortable degree as I struggled to get back up those miserable 45 steel steps.
Tomorrow, thank goodness, is a full day on the river—I will need it to recuperate—and to download and work my photos and try to figure out how to make a slide show about all the exciting things I have done so far.