Brazil

The village of Manicore

I left Manaus and the Amazonas river a couple of weeks ago when I jumped on a boat going up the River Madeira direction Bolivia. This river is one of the biggest contributors to the Amazonas (besides the Rio Negro and the river Tapajós) and has a special trick up its sleeve. It grows in the rainy season and not just a little bit. In fact the water level raises about 15 meters. But now it is still the dry season. Even though, the river is still huge.
The journey to the next town i.e. village, called Manicoré, took 2 days.
Manicoré is probably the smallest village I've seen so far. The most noticeable things were 2 enormous parabolic antennas, towering at the villages edge. I assumed these things provide the people of Manicoré with mobile internet. Which they sort of did but only early in the morning and only for a couple of hours and with only really, really slow internet. In fact, loading any page required frequent refreshing and then probably failed. Since there wasn't much to do I thought, I get on the next boat and move on.
Surprise, there are only 2 boats a week!
And I just missed the 2nd one. So in the following week the village got to know me. Soon people greeted me in the street.
In that week 2 things happened.
First, one evening (it was beer o'clock) there was a procession/demonstration. People, led by a man holding a figurine, demanded justice!
When the hundred or so people had passed on towards the church I asked the bar keeper what this was all about. I understood, a boy was killed. But why or how I did not understand.
The second thing happened in the afternoon at the town square. Lots of motorbikes, cars and even some bicycles had gathered. An agitator stood on top of a pick-up and shouted at the masses -well small crowd really- and got them organised. The bikes were going first, revving their engines and making a lot of noise and then the cars with speakers inside or on top playing loud music. And then everybody else. Again, this demonstration headed towards the church.
All this happened because the people were not happy with the governor of the state. However, the governor in question was in a different town hundreds of miles away and didn't hear any of it.

Then it was time to move on. The long awaited boat arrived at sunset (only an hour late) but it was much smaller than any of the previous ones.
It was so small I couldn't stand up straight anywhere except on the roof. Which is where I spent most of my time during the next 3 days. I saw lots and lots of dolphins. I've given up trying to photograph them. They only appear for a moment and one never gets a proper photo. It's really frustrating. But if you just scan the river, they are everywhere, sticking their heads out of the water for a quick look or flashing a dorsal fin. Quite often I heard them breezing and just before leaving Manicoré I actually saw one leaping. Yeaaah!!
In hot climates I naturally wake up early.
In the twilight just before dawn, when it's still fresh and cool, is a beautiful time to experience nature. It was then when I took the above shot. A bird of prey was coming up behind the boat, several times. I guess it was looking for fish in the stirred waters behind the boat.

On this part of the journey I also saw the nests of the Brazilian weaver birds or oropendola. Sadly I didn't manage to get any photos of the bird itself.

Apparently the river bed holds quite a bit of that precious metal judging by the amount of people looking for it. These are the infamous gold diggers of Brazil. Even though here they don't actually dig.
They dredge the river bottom for it.

8th. of October, 2018

Walking through the center of Manaus is quite different.
Because of the constant, excessive heat there are water sellers every 10 meters. Standing at the side of the road, each with a polystyrene freezer box in front, they advertise their goods at the top of their voices. Everyone has a unique 'Aqua' call. Some whine 'Aquaaaaaa' others echo 'Aquaquaquaqua'.
Shops have sales reps, too. Armed with microphones, they praise the goods of the shop they are representing. If the shop can't afford a sound system, the reps just shout and when they run out of air they just clap their hands. Most shops have vigilantes as well. They sit on very high stools overlooking the shops.
A water seller who sounds like a double barreled shot gun 'aqua -aqua' sells me a bottle of semi-frozen water.
I was so looking forward to seeing this town. When I was a boy I read many stories about the Rubber trade. Stories of snakes and spiders, of men sitting in bars philosophising about the latest inventions and adventurers planning on steeling seeds. I was very young!
As you probably know, Manaus is a city in the middle of the amazon jungle. It was built as a result of the worlds need for rubber. At the time this was the only place where rubber trees grew. It was the late 19th century.
Rubber was so useful. It could be used for tires, raincoats, boots etc. People came from everywhere to seek their fortunes. They came to grow rubber or planned on trading it.

The natives were enslaved and died by the thousands. Nobody cared, the world wanted rubber.
Then one day an English man called Henry Wickham bought a lot of seeds and took them to the Botanical Gardens in London. They grew, which meant they would grow anywhere. Before anybody could stop it Rubber trees were growing in Africa, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. The Brazilian monopoly had died and Manaus was doomed. There was no reason to endure the incredible heat, the humidity, the snakes and mosquitoes or the really long journey. Soon the city didn't even have sufficient money any more to generate electricity.

In the 1960s the government established the Manaus Free Trading zone which brought the city back to life. The population increased massively until Manaus became one of the most populous cities in Brazil.

And now I am here!
I would like to show you some pretty pictures but that is difficult. So I picked the above 2 of the harbour.

Here is a picture of a fruit juice to cheer you up. Trying to see the bright side I decided to call Manaus the Fruit Juice Capital of the World. The variety is unbelievable. There is Cuipaçu, Açai, Marracuya, Acerola and Guaraná to name just a few. I haven't tried them all.

a delicious yellow-green Abacaxi and mint juice

1st. of September, 2018

A crystal clear river in the jungle

Near Santarem is a national park called Floresta Nacional do Tapajós and in there a small village called Jamaraqua. A native American called Iracidu Bata lives there with his family. Mr. Bata, the proud father of 14 children and thirty something grand children (he couldn't remember the exact number) agreed to show me 'his' jungle.
He led me to incredible clear streams, gigantic trees and fantastic flowers

3 days I stayed at his place, sleeping in a hammock. Every morning a cacophony of howler monkeys and big rooster woke me. Mrs. Bata made a very good coffee and tasty juices of fruit growing in the jungle.
In the afternoons just before sunset I ventured out in canoe. At first, I had a notion of sitting in the back of the boat. This was very entertaining to the children who watched me. To them, a single paddler has to sit in the front which of course makes perfect sense. Being alone in a canoe one needs to paddle on the left and right to keep going straight which is much easier while sitting in the front.
I got the hang of it soon enough and started to enjoy the flooded parts of the jungle. It was all very nice and peaceful until I discovered my 2 passengers.
I felt something running across my bare foot. I looked down and saw a 2 centimetre long bullet ant leaving my toe to climb up the canoe wall. A bullet ant is called bullet ant because if it bites you it feels like being hit by a bullet. It's that painful!
The ant did not like being on this boat and I absolutely agreed. When it reached the top of the canoe wall I gave it a push and watched it swim to the next tree. That is when I spotted its mate. The second bullet ant was in the back of the boat i.e. behind me. This worried me immensely.
A canoe is very narrow and turning around in one is a precarious action best avoided.
I observed its progress by looking over my shoulder, a lot. Soon it made the same mistake its colleague had done and I pushed it over board.
Sorry, I did not take any photos of my passengers.

view of the jungle from a canoe

12th of September, 2018

A small village at the shores of the Amazonas with white sandy beaches

So I took a boat to Santarém. That's a 24 hour journey upriver. Not so long compared to the previous trip which lasted 3 days. Any boat going upstream needs to avoid the strong current in the middle of the river. An experienced Captain steers his vessel through a maze of narrow tributaries running more or less parallel to the main stream. As we advanced, the fauna seemed to get bigger. This giant, 2 inch, flying beetle crash landed on the boat right in front of me. Poor thing bounced and ended up on its back. I turned it over and it allowed me to take this photo before taking off again. A dozen or so very large, scary looking wasps came and inspected the boat and everything on it. Judging by the reaction of the locals, these insects could be mean. Giant birds paroled the shoreline. Occasionally we saw a small village.

You might want to know what it's like going up the Amazonas on a boat like this. Most of the time is spent in your hammock, enjoying the scenery. If the boat is crowded, your swing needs to be synchronised with everybody else's or you bump into your neighbour. Sometimes, there is a bar on the roof. But it only opens in the evening because it's too hot up there. However, the view is amazing, specially at night.

Santarém is much bigger then Almereim but kind of boring. Nothing special really. Except the meeting of the waters or Encontro das Àguas. Here the Amazonas meets the Tapajós but due to the different speeds and temperatures of the rivers, the waters don't mix but run side by side for a few miles. The Amazonas is at the top of the image.

The meeting of the waters

5th of September, 2018

Almereim early in the morning

Let me tell you about Almereim. It is a small, peaceful town. A few shops, a few bars and lots of churches and religious assembly halls, nothing special. I thought I stay for a couple of days and move on. But then I discovered another Almereim.

Almereim on stilts is much bigger. A lot of people live here and there are shops on stilts, too.

Not sure why this is. It maybe convenience. Maybe because it's easy to park your boat which is essential in this part of the world. You have to have a boat! A car or motorbike only gets you to the edge of town but with a boat one can go anywhere.

It also maybe because it's cheaper to built a house here.

Whatever the reason, it's a quaint and picturesque part of town.

And then came the weekend. Everything changes at the weekend. People party everywhere and they really like loud music. See the car with the trailer full of speakers? Well they are all working while the car is moving about. There a a few of these set ups in town. Sometimes they meet at a square, each playing its own music and compete. This goes on all night.

It's time to move!

31st. of August, 2018

Our ship which carried us up the Amazonas

A few days ago I moved from Belém up the Amazonas to Almereim by boat. Actually it was more of a ship. On the first level was the cargo which in this case consisted of a car, some motorbikes, boxes and boxes of vases and last but not least tons and tons of onions. It took hours to load all those bloody onions. The next level up was the VIP hammock level. VIP meant they had air-co.
Further up came the regular hammock area, my area. It was basically it wide open space, no windows, just a railing at the sides and hooks on the ceiling to hang up ones hammock. I hang up mine, organized my bags near a steel pillar which supported the roof and watched the boat fill up with people and cargo. The ship was supposed to leave at noon but we left at 6pm.

We were going upstream and to avoid the strong current in the center of the river we mostly stuck to the sides. The Amazonas is so big, quite often we could not see the opposite shore. The side we did see was, of course, all jungle. Every now and then a house could be seen and sometimes there were people.

The next day children in boats appeared. The turned up in little long tail boats and chased our ship. When they reached it they tied their little boats to it and climbed up the various levels and sold assorted vegetables to the passengers. When done, they jumped back into their boats and disappeared again. Watching this process repeatedly was very entertaining. The kids seemed to enjoy it, too. But I couldn't help thinking about the possibly terrible result if one would slip and fall into the river. No doubt they would be chewed up by the powerful propellers at the end of the boat. A dreadful thought.

A day later we arrived in Almereim. It was time to collect the hammock and all my belongings. My phone was charging at a power source hanging from the ceiling. I grabbed one of the blue pillars to steady myself and retrieved my phone when a fellow traveller touched my arm and pulled it away from the pillar. 'Look' she said.

As a rule, I don't research a place prior to visiting it. I enjoy the exploring and discovering of 'new' sites. Of course, sometimes this doesn't quite work out as expected.

The first day in Belém I walked to the river and then went right. I found the boat terminal, a shopping center and a lot of high-rises. That was disappointing.

The modern Belem. This is what happens if you go right at the river

The second day I went to the river and turned left. Wow, there was so much to see. A huge street market, a fortress, the meat market, a cathedral, the fish market and lots and lots of pretty quaint sites. Oh yes, and vultures, millions of vultures.

18th of August,2018

Macapà is on the equator.
To me that is a big thing. Apparently, it's a big thing to the Brazilians, as well.

They build a huge monument called Marco Zero do Equator. In its top is a giant hole which matches up perfectly with the sun during the equinoxes. Just next to the monument is a football field. (In the photo on the left you can see the stadium just behind the monument) Its half-way line is exactly on the equator. So every game is a game of North against the South.

I liked Oiapoque! I liked watching the little boats moving to and fro. I liked the typical border town activity and I like the food.

I've learned Brazilians eat a lot of Farofa which is a yellow Cuscus look alike but completely different. I think it's an acquired taste which I didn't yet acquire. There are bags of the stuff at the market. I did notice the colour is not always the same so I wanted to learn more about this strange food. The Museu dos Povos Indigenas do Oiapoque seemed to be the right place. Here I discovered, not everything that is yellow is Farafoa, it might just be Farinha and Caxixi (yes I know it's also a percussion instrument). All 3 are made from the Cassava plant but in different and very laborious ways.

After having spent a few days in this charming little town, it was time to move on. There are only 2 ways to get to Macapà.

The museum of Oiapoque

One was in a 4 x4 (200 Brazilian Real)and the other on a bus. I decided to get on the bus and socialise. Anyhow, the travel time is only 2 hours longer and about 15 Euros cheaper and brazilian buses are supposed to be luxurious. I found out this is only partially true.

When it comes to public transport I envy the little people. They jump up on their chairs and look and probably feel comfortable in hundred different positions. For those of us who are cursed with tall bodies and long legs there is only one position. We sit down and carefully arrange our legs in a manner which keeps the aisle obstacle free. We can't get comfortable because being comfortable blocks the said aisle. So we just sit there and let our limbs go numb. Then the guy in front leans back........!

I just had organised all my extremities when a fight broke out. Two middle aged women were bashing each other. They were big, serious women, screaming and pulling hair while falling about. All the men on the bus were smiling. Eventually the respective husbands got up reluctantly and tried to stop their wives. It took them a while. Not sure what brought this on but I think it had to do with children and their allocated seats.

That was the only onboard entertainment. The rest of the journey was uneventful. It was hot and uncomfortable!

We arrived in Macapà at 10 pm.

8th. of August, 2018

I am a little behind here.

I've decided, French Guiana is not getting its own page. I only passed through here and nothing interesting happened. Well they have real coffee which is appreciated after a month of instant stuff. Everything else was just very expensive and boring. The journey from St. Laurant du Maron to Cayenne took 2 and a half hours in a shared taxi. I was then dumped into another taxi which took me to my pre-booked hotel which had a good view onto the Atlantic. From here I moved to Saint George in a minibus. We got stopped a couple of times by extremely pale French gendarmes. They obviously just arrived. I didn't mention, the French launch their satellites from here so I guess that explains all the security checks. I would have loved to witness a launch but no such luck. In Saint George the bus stopped right next to a river. I got onto a boat and for 5 euros was taken across the river to

Brazil.

What a difference! Lots of people moving on a reddish dirt road along the river. Shops everywhere, offering phones, meat, medicine and many more things. There were a few hotels and something what looked like the entrance to a market. Most of the houses had swapped their original good looks for character.

I checked into the first hotel I came across. Then I remembered, I need get my passport stamped.

The hotel clerk was kind enough to give me some directions (in French) and off I went, round the corner and up the hill. Nothing looked like a customs building. I had to ask again and was told further up the hill on the right. Eventually I found a building with someone in uniform on the outside. The man of the Policia Federale do Brasil seemed to be very happy to have someone with whom he could practice his English. Apparently he needed to get authorisation from someone somewhere before stamping my passport. He used that time to to talk to me about the weather, my journey, his education and a few other subjects I forgot. Then, finally I got my 90 day visa! Hooray!