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The Fantastic Amazon...


The above photos are how the Amazonians (that's what they call themselves) transport their families, cargo, food, doctors, medicine, passengers ect., ect. There are no roads and precious few airports.  We rode aboard these boats going up the tributaries that connect to the Rio Negro and Amazon rivers.  We fished for piranha, snakes, whatever we could snag and the boats captain would skin it, cook it and serve it to us for breakfast, lunch or supper.  As you transport up or down the rivers you sleep in a mosquito netted hammock hung from the deck of the boat. 


Hot, humid and buggy describes anywhere you travel in Amazonia.



The first stop before entering the Amazon was Devil's Island (French: Île du Diable).  It is the smallest and northernmost island of the three Îles du Salut located about 6 nautical miles (11 km; 6.9 mi) off the coast of French Guiana (South America). It has an area of 14 ha (34.6 acres). It was a small part of the notorious French penal colony in French Guiana until 1952.


The rocky, palm-covered island rises 40 m (130 ft) above sea level. The penitentiary was first opened by Emperor Napoleon III's government in 1852, and became one of the most infamous prisons in history. In addition to the prisons on all three islands, prison facilities were located on the mainland at Kourou. Over time, they became known collectively as "Devil's Island" in the English-speaking world, while they are known in France as the bagne de Cayenne, (French: Cayenne penal colony) Cayenne being the main city of French Guiana.  In any language it's a hell hole.  We visited this series of 3 very mall islands and came away with the impression that anyone who could survive this place must have been a superman. 


Here are some photos.


When you arrive, you are faced with climbing a very steep hill with rocky, mismatched steps in ninety degree plus heat and oppressive humidity levels.  The climb is interspersed with prisoner cells carved into the solid rock hillside (Lois and I are standing in front of a cell, above),


Once on top of the hill, you are greeted by a series of dilapidated buildings that once housed the brutal guards and the warden.  Peacock's roam freely.  The Devil's Island's teeny tiny gift shop (Lois is standing in front of it, above) is located in one of these ramshackle buildings manned by characteristically rude French people.  It's so small you can hardly turn around once inside the place. And did I mention they were rude?


While the colony was in use (1852–1946), the inmates were everything from political prisoners (such as 239 republicans who opposed Napoleon III's coup d'état) to the most hardened of thieves and murderers. A great many of the more than 80,000 prisoners sent to the harsh conditions at disease-infested Devil's Island were never seen again. Other than by boat, the only way out was through a dense jungle; accordingly, very few convicts ever managed to escape.


Devil's Island was used mainly for French prisoners from 1852 to 1946. Clément Duval, an anarchist, was sent to Devil's Island in 1886. He was sentenced to death but this sentence commuted to hard labor on Devil's Island. He contracted smallpox while on the island. He escaped in April 1901 and fled to New York City, where he remained for the rest of his life. He eventually wrote a book on his time of imprisonment called Revolte.

Clément Duval, and Henri Charrière and Sylvain were the only three prisoners that ever escaped Devils Island.


The photo on the left is of Clément Duval's house.

In 1938 the French government stopped sending prisoners to Devil's Island, and in 1952 the prison was closed. Most of the prisoners returned to metropolitan France, although some chose to remain in French Guiana.

In 1965, the French government transferred the responsibility of most of the islands to the newly founded Guiana Space Centre. The islands are under the trajectory of the space rockets launched eastward, toward the sea, from the Centre (to geostationary orbit). They must be evacuated during each launch. The islands host a variety of measurement apparatus for space launches. The Guiana Space Centre is quite a sight for tourist (like us) to see.


After leaving Devil's Island, we headed for the entrance to the Amazon river.  We ran aground about 100 miles from the mouth of the Amazon on a large, underwater sandbar.  Here we were, a hundred miles from land and the Captain and crew from the Goodship Lollypop (Princess Regal) wasn't giving us any information.  No one knew if we were a. sinking? b. what hit the ship? c. If the ship had to be evacuated?  d. What then? or e. JUST WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?


When the ship hit the sandbar, deck 12 (where the cafeteria is) dishes, table condiments and chairs went flying as we listed port-side at a pretty steep angle (we hit the sandbar at about 18 knots).  The ship righted herself and then the Captain started his maneuvering back and forth, to and fro. The "Goodship Lollypop" spent the next eight hours trying to free herself from the shifting sandbar.  But we did get off, it would seem with no notoriety and set sail, albeit a little more carefully and at a slower speed for the mouth of the Amazon.


Traveling across the Equator is an experience rife with tradition and ceremony.  When we crossed the "line" we had a party.  When I was in the military, we just drank beer and celebrated that way but on a cruise ship...It's different.  You also get a pie-in-the-face (right). King Neptune and his wife Salacia, the goddess of the salt water, presiding over the whole affair (left).  You can see from all the spectators that it was indeed a "spectacle."


The mouth of the Amazon River is the portal to the largest river in the world with a total river flow greater than the next ten largest rivers combined. The Amazon, which has the largest drainage basin in the world, accounts for approximately one-fifth of the world's total river flow. Photo at right is a NASA photo depicting the huge Amazon River's mouth (looking south).


One of the things we were watching for was the dangerous pororoca or tidal bore.  The tension between the river's strong push and the Atlantic tides causes a phenomenon called a tidal bore, a powerful tidal wave that flows rapidly inland from the sea up the Amazon mouth and nearby coastal rivers several times a year at high tide. Tidal bores also occur in other river mouths around the world, but the Amazon's are among the world's highest and fastest, probably second only to those of Qiantang River in China. In the Amazon, the phenomenon is locally known as the pororoca.


The pororoca occurs especially where depths do not exceed 7 meters (23 ft). It starts with a very loud roar, constantly increasing, and advances at the rate of 15–25 km/h (9–16 mph), with a breaking wall of water 1.5–4.0-metres (5–13 ft) high that may travel violently several kilometers up the Amazon and other rivers close to its mouth. It is particularly intense in the rivers of the coast of the state of Amapá north of the mouth of the Amazon, such as the Araguari River, but can be observed in Pará rivers as well.


The bore is the reason the Amazon does not have a protruding delta; the ocean rapidly carries away the vast volume of silt carried by the Amazon, making it impossible for a delta to grow past the shoreline. The region also has very high tides, sometimes reaching 6 metres (20 ft) and has become a popular spot for river surfing.


In its upper stretches the Amazon river is called Apurímac (in Peru) and Solimões (in Brazil).

During the wet season, parts of the Amazon exceed 190 kilometers (120 mi) in width. Because of its vast dimensions, it is sometimes called The River Sea. At no point is the Amazon crossed by bridges. This is not because of its huge dimensions; in fact, for most of its length, the Amazon's width is well within the capability of modern engineers to bridge. However, the bulk of the river flows through tropical rainforest, where there are few roads and even fewer cities, so there is no need for crossings.


Our first stop was Belém, in Pará state, and it's one of Brazil's busiest ports - and it's about 60 miles upriver from the Atlantic ocean! The river is the Pará, part of the greater Amazon river system, separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Ilha de Marajó. Belém is built on a number of small islands intersected by channels and other rivers. See the map.

Founded in 1616, Belém was the first European colony on the Amazon but didn't become part of the Brazilian nation until 1775. As the gateway to the Amazon, the port and city grew tremendously in size and importance during the nineteenth century rubber boom, and is now a large city with millions of inhabitants.


The newer part of the city has modern buildings and skyscrapers. The colonial portion retains the charm of tree filled squares, churches and traditional blue tiles. On the outskirts of the city, the river supports a group of people called cablocas, who live their lives almost untouched by the busy activities of the city.  Belém is a rainy city and hot. Humidity is very high. The climate is equatorial which means little variance from day to day. The wettest months are between January to May, but whenever you travel, be prepared for daily rain and high temperatures.


 Another stop was at Santarém, a city in the state of Pará in Brazil. We boarded a tour boat (left) for a tour of the tributaries that form the Amazon.  Logging is the mainstay of Santarém and the Tapajós joins the Amazon River at Santarém, which makes it a popular location for tourism. It was once home to the Tapajós Indians, a tribe of Native Americans after which the river was named, and the leaders of a large, agricultural chiefdom that flourished before the arrival of Europeans.


As a point of interest, Santarém is also the name of the original city in Portugal, that gave the name Santarém to this Brazilian city.


The city is the home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santarém.

Its Santarém-Maestro Wilson Fonseca Airport is an important alternative and supporting airfield in the Amazon region. It has regular connections to cities in Brazil.


Santarém is an important regional market center in Lower Amazonia located midway between the larger cities of Belém and Manaus. The economy is based on logging, agriculture, cattle and mining.


The city has seen many 'cycles' of development dominated by one or a few economic activities, including (in the last century) rubber tapping, coffee production and gold mining. Most recently, there has been a huge growth in the area of soy plantations.


Santarém is bordered by the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers. Both run along many kilometers in the front of the city, side by side, without mixing. The Amazon's milky colored water carries sediment from the Andes in the East, while the Tapajós's water is somewhat warmer and has a deep-blue tone. This phenomenon is called "The meeting of the waters" by the locals.


But what is a trip to the Amazon without mentioning the bio-diversity...When you first picture the Amazon... What image first springs to mind? Chances are it's one of the animals unique to the Amazon. People think of parrots, or monkeys or maybe snakes. Some think of piranhas, or poison dart frogs.


In any case, our photos can never encompasses even a tiny fraction of the animal life. Scientists estimate half of the world's animal species live in rainforests. This is the world's treasury of biodiversity. In these pages you'll get some feeling for the wonder and diversity of Amazon animals.

How about starting with a Anaconda...


Or a parrot (they are everywhere) or a moth with a 6 inch wing span (one of these landed on Lois's leg on Deck 14 of the cruise ship as we traversed the Amazon river.


Or maybe a giant apple snail (they inhabit the tributaries feeding the Amazon river are are truly huge creatures (imagine these in your garden). 


Maybe a Jaguar is your idea of a Amazonian creature.  We saw Brazilian soldiers with jaguars on leashes, taking them for a walk like the family dog... Not me!  When we took tours up and down  the various tributaries of the Amazon, the captain of the little boats we were riding in would pull the boat up to the nearest bush (it was the rainy season) and the crew would (blindly) sweep the branches aside, dislodging all manner of inset life and poison frogs from their respective perches. 


We were absolutely amazed at how cavalier the crew was towards the unknown quantity of the bushes given the abundance of poisonous snakes, spiders, or whatever...


I didn't mention the Caymans or said much about the Piranhas that proliferate the Amazon except that we went fishing for them (see Lois's photo at the top of this page for how the captain had us use rolled-up fishing line and bait to catch these rascals.  If we had been successful the captain's wife would cook them for us (the family lives in the bottom of these river boats)  We weren't successful in our fishing adventure but I did get a photo from those who were...  






After traveling almost a thousand miles up the Amazon, we came upon the place where the Rio Negro and the Amazon meet and blend together. The Rio Negro or "Black River"  is the largest left tributary of the Amazon and the largest blackwater river in the world. It has its sources along the watershed between the Orinoco and the Amazon basins, and also connects with the Orinoco by way of the Casiquiare canal. In Colombia, where the sources are located, it is called the Guainía River.


Its main affluent is the Vaupés, which disputes with the headwaters of the Guaviare branch of the Orinoco, the drainage of the eastern slope of the Andes of Colombia. The Rio Negro flows into the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River below Manaus, Brazil.


While the name Rio Negro means Black River, its waters aren't exactly black; they are similar in color to strong tea. The dark color comes from humic acid from incomplete breakdown of phenol-containing vegetation from sandy clearings. The river's name arises from the fact that it looks black from afar.


Rio Negro is navigable for 700 km above its mouth for 1 meter of water in the dry season, but it has many sandbanks and minor difficulties. It forms part of the international boundary between Colombia and Venezuela.


In the wet season, it floods the country far and wide, sometimes to a breadth of 30 km, for long distances, and for 650 km up. During this time, from April until October, it is a succession of lagoons, full of long islands and intricate channels as far as Santa Isabel do Rio Negro. The foothills of the Andes begin just before reaching the Vaupés River. At this point, the Negro narrows and is filled with many large rocks over which it violently flows in cataracts, rapids and whirlpools. Despite the impediments, canoes and motor launches ascend past São Gabriel da Cachoeira to the Andes.


Another 150 miles up the Rio Negro brought us to a city in the middle of the Amazon named Manaus.  It's an amazing place.  After a thousand miles plus of river and jungle spring this city of two and one half million inhabitants and some huge industrial complexes. Manaus even boasts a world class opera house.  Manaus has no roads in or out of the city but sports a enormous airport complex that does a huge airfreight business and of course, the Rio Negro and the Amazon is used to freight products manufactured in Manaus.


Manaus, capital of Amazonas, is located in the middle of the Amazon forest;  A few air companies link USA to Manaus; European visitors may find easier to come to Manaus via a city in Brazilian northeast, like Fortaleza, instead of going to Rio or São Paulo.

In the early years of the twentieth century the city of Manaus, capital of Amazonas, became very wealthy and the most important cultural centre in the Northern Region of Brazil.

The old rubber barons dreamed of transforming it into a European style city and called it "the Paris of the Tropics"; the movie Fitzcarraldo, by German director Werner Herzog, was shot in the Amazon and gives an idea of what life was like during the rubber cycle.  A reflection of this period of opulence is to be found in the mansions and monuments of Manaus, such as the Amazonas Opera House (photo Right), opened in 1896. Built with the aid of materials and artists brought from Europe, its central area, in the shape of a harp, can seat 640 people in the stalls.


In 1965 it was declared part of the Brazilian National Heritage and was reopened in 1996 after complete overhauling. Manaus also retains replicas of several British constructions, such as the floating dock for the port and the surrounding buildings. The Palace of Justice has traces of the French architectural style, and many buildings, such as the Municipal Market, were influenced by the art nouveau style. Another example of period architecture is the Palácio Rio Negro, former seat of the State Government.

Our first view of Manaus wasn't so flattering see photo above left) nor was our first view of the riverfront (Right) With the end of the rubber boom, Manaus went into decline and only entered a period of renewed development in the 1950s. A turning point was reached in 1967, when the Manaus Free Zone was established by the federal government. From that date on, the capital of Amazonas has passed through great changes, becoming an


of electrical and electronic goods (nowadays, Manaus is the supplier for the entire country of, e.g., DVD players and computer monitors).






As you can certainly determine from ALL the above photos, there is a lot to see in the Amazon.  The thousand plus mile journey from the mouth of the Amazon to Manaus was more than enlightening it was a revelation. 


We saw where the rainforest had been decimated but in it's place were thousands of acres of sugar cane and sugar beets most of which was being converted into ethanol for use in ALL of Brazil's millions of vehicles. 


Everywhere we went in Brazil the cars, buses, truck, motor scooters, etc. ran on ethanol.  Fact is Brazil is now energy independent as reported in all of Brazils's news papers, here is an excerpt; "With the price of oil nearing $100 a barrel on world markets, Brazil is in the privileged position of looking on with indifference.

When OPEC imposed an oil embargo on the West in 1973, sending the industrialized world’s economies into a tailspin – economic stagnation and inflation gave rise to “stagflation” – Brazil vowed never to be at the mercy of oil producers again. It launched a national program to create a viable alternative to gasoline, one that could use the nation’s sugarcane industry to produce enough ethanol to meet its economic needs. At the time, Wall Street scoffed at Brazil’s conceit. Why would any nation need to change its lifestyle when the world adjusted to intermittent interruptions in oil?

Brazilian officials dismissed this mockery by New York and London and pressed on, often with spectacular setbacks, and a public resistant to the inconveniences of “flexible fuels” – cars that run on either ethanol or gasoline, the cheaper of which was not universally available throughout the country.

Brazil’s determination, however, paid off last year when, to the dismay of the industrialized world, Brazil declared its energy independence: Its sugarcane-based ethanol industry replaced gasoline as a cost-effective alternative fuel.

With the price of oil skyrocketing this year, Brazil has managed to pull off what the United States vowed to do when Jimmy Carter was president and is not any closer to accomplishing energy independence with
Obama now in his second year and still has no clear energy policy for the United States.

Brazil’s success is remarkable: In a single generation it has ended its dependence on imported oil."


See you on the next trip up the Amazon...











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