06 March 2010

From Manaus to Santarem

A little street in  Manaus just behind the port.
Writing my blog in a cool room and at a good table!

1/3. Monday.  GPS position Manaus: S 3° 8' 21'', W 60° 1'36'' and altitude 4 m.
Our "Best Western" hotel lies close to the old, run-down Hotel "Premier" were we stayed two years ago. Walking to the same port where we then arrived by boat from Tabatinga, we find an office selling lancha-passages to Santarem. Although the lancha only leaves next day, we could already go aboard and sleep that night on the boat.
How much cleaner and better organized does this quay now look! Only the market and the dirty little streets where they sell tons of watches and mobile phones have remained the same. It is a hot day, but we can stay in our cool room with WiFi until 2 p.m.; then we bring our backpacks to the boat into a camerote and leave again to eat a pizza and have a beer....

Left: At the site where we arrived two years ago on an old, crowded quay there has now appeared a nice terminal hall, well-guarded and clean.
Right: maximal water levels. The years 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 give average levels. 2009 was a maximum. At the beginning of this rain season the level still seems rather low.
The lancha "Luiz Afonso" finally comes back....
When we came back from the terminal restaurant our boat, the "Luiz Afonso", had left. It was fetching cargo on some other place. After two hours of uncertainty, it was 8 p.m. when the lancha finally came back in the dark.
Our camerote has an airco, but when this was switched off at 12 p.m. a hot night followed without a single breeze. Orion is right above us. We realize that at their time, La Condamine and Maldonado didn't have an airco and must have experienced many of such hot nights.

A skiff! The first rowing boat we have seen so far.

2/3. Tuesday. In the early morning Hilbert, who slept in a hammock on the lower deck, wakes me up: a skiff in the harbor of Manaus! How is that possible with all the rapid boats criss-crossing everywhere at full speed?
Then, close to our lancha we see dolfins. What are they doing in this dirty water? At 9 a.m. the lancha takes off; but only to go to another quay in the old, crowded part of the harbor. There, many more people come on board and the lower deck slowly fills up with hammocks. These are other people than in Sarameriza, towns people and less friendly. To my surprise I find the upper deck almost empty. There we meet Pontus and Raquel, the only other tourists on board with whom we can speak english (and try out our spanish...). He is a translator (from Barcelona) and she a journalist (from Florianapolis). They will go to Alter do Chao, east of Santarem.

Unexpectedly, the lower deck completely fills up.
Raquel and Pontus, the only other tourists on board.
Finally, at 3 p.m. we leave the harbor of Manaus.
On the upper deck few people had placed their hammocks. In the afternoon we find out why. The lancha enters a kind of small tornado: big waves, only rain to be seen and very strong winds that could easily have swept away a child! The people shelter behind the bar and except for a cap nothing was swept away. Soon we could dry up in a warm afternoon breeze. At 10 p.m. I see for the first time a bright sky with stars and a full moon. The Great Dipper stands "upside down", its tail pointing to Arcturus high up above the horizon. We already passed the mouth of the Rio Madera.

We leave the Rio Negro and enter the Rio Amazonas, here called Solimoes.
Rio Solimoes,now fully mixed with the Rio Negro, with an approaching storm.

3/3. in the early morning Hilbert has a present for me: a watch! He had bought it on the market in Manaus. Finally, I do no longer have to ask him ¿Qué hora es?. "Dank je wel, Hilbert!!".
Sometimes the river is full with large tree trunks, hundreds of trunks probably brought in by the Rio Madera. La Condamine already mentioned that this river is named "wood" because it contains so many trees  felled by nature.
At 8 a.m. we arrive in Parentins (AM). Some people depart. Many sellers of bread, cakes and fruits come on board. Within 15 min we are on the Rio Solimoes again.

Short stops at Parentins and Obidos.
View on the narrow passage east of Obidos.
One of the passengers with a two-headed Eagle (like in the arms of Naarden) on his T-shirt, bought in Manaus.
Last toast with Raquel and Pontus: "buen viaje!".

At 12 a.m. we land at Juruti and at 3 p.m. at Obidos; very short stops. Finally at 9 p.m. we arrive at Santarem, where the police let us wait 1 h before we can land. But then, unexpectedly, everything proceeds very smoothly and well-organized. There are taxis waiting and no "chorros"! Soon we are driven through a deserted town to Hotel Barao Orla. There, at the entrance a long, slender person asked us whether we were dutch! It was Edwin Keizer, who worked in Brasil for Greenpeace, who spoke well portugese and who organized for us an english-speaking guide for the next day. He also gave us directions how to go to the "campinaranas" near Alter do Chao, where we hoped to see La Condamine's "Golden Monkey".

While waiting before moring in Santarem, a full moon rised above Santarem.

Edwin Keizer, sent by the "Amazonian heaven".
But we also talked about what he and Greenpeace were doing here. If I understood him well he was working as a geographer (remote sensing) for the Brasilian Greenpeace Organization. They were developing "agrocultural models" (?) that would be "better" in preserving Amazonia than those of the present Brasilian Governement. Their aim is to halt the destruction in what he called the "deforestation arc Rondonia-Mato Grosso-Para" and still make the people happy. We could have talked for hours about how to save our planet, but he had to leave very early in the morning for Mato Grosso. So, at midnight, we went to bed fully exhausted after a day of, again, diarrhea, caused by eating from a spoiled beefsteak in Manaus.....

05 March 2010

Tabatinga-Manaus: flying over the Amazon

On the Tabatinga airport with our plane of "Voetrip".

28/2. Sunday. In the morning a girl, Jessica, from the hotel appeared to speak a littlebit english and portugese. She had been able to take lessons in a school for which she did not have to pay. So, we got our first lesson in portugese: "Até logo, Jessica; obrigado!". That girl will make it, I thought!
For the second time we have breakfast in the Leticia restaurant with Alejandro and Jose. Then they bring us to the hot Tabatinga airport where we took a flight with "Voetrip" to Manaus: 1150 km in 2.5 h. Two years ago it took us more than 3 full days by boat (see Blog 2007). Then we only saw the river borders. Now we could see what lied behind those borders: woods, marshes and rivers.

A few minutes after departure: trees, trees, trees.
Looking back on Tabatinga/Leticia and the Rio Amazonas.
In the middle of the woods: a Petro-Station? 
Spread-out in the woods, grey spots indicate trees without leaves. They or not dead, but just decided that it was winter.
Strange, yellow lakes: plants or algae?
After some 20 min: Probably the Rio Putumayo near Tacuma.
After 1 h flight. Left: unknown rivers and marshlands. Right: The Rio Amazonas. 
How could they ever make a map of such rivers without flying over them?
After 1.5 h: This must be the Rio Japura at some 600 km from Tabatinga.
We are close to Manaus after 1150 km: the Rio Negro with narrow beaches.

04 March 2010

Iquitos and Leticia

Floating houses in Iquitos-Belén.

24/2. Wednesday. This day we enjoyed the luxus of Hotel El Dorado, while recovering from our "Lancha"-diarhea. We made plans with Alfredo Chavez, an ornithologist, who could bring us at 5 o'clock next morning to a place for watching birds....

Hotel El Dorado.
25/2. Thursday. At 5 o'clock we are waiting in the hotel, it is still dark. Towards 6 o'clock Alfredo finally shows up with a mototaxi. It is full  daylight and already very warm. We visit a piece of land where a shaman is living under very poor conditions. We see his hut where the "ceremonies" are carried out with the help of the hallucigenic leaves of the Ayahuasca (Vanistiropis?) plants growing here everywhere. His little son leads the way. We see a Blue-Gray Tanager, but that is all; many flowers and fruits, a brown frog and a centipede. On the way back we visit the well-known parc Quistococha, where we see many animals from the jungle in captivity and not always looking healthy.

Walking through the jungle: its hot and humid and we are still in a bad condition....

A "walking palm" in la selva, the jungle, always intruiging. A centipede of about 8 cm.
In Iquitos there are hardly automobiles. Our hotel has a nice bus for tourists, but we were happy that we choose Alfredo with his mototaxi.

The streets of Iquitos filled with mototaxis and a friendly, little boy in town.
26/2. Friday. At 5 o'clock again we leave the hotel to take a Golfiño, a rapid boat that will bring us in some 9 hours to Santa Rosa, near Leticia/Tabatinga. We leave at 6:30 a.m. with some 20 people at 70 km/h. Every 15 min or so the boat has to stop because of some garbage in the propeller....; not surprising!
We enjoy the familiar river-image: on both sides the green borders with a brownish, earthen dam of ~1.5 m, in front waterplants and behind low woods with isolated, higher trees often with white trunks. Once in a while banana-trees, a little house, some smoke. There are very few other boats to be seen. Once we pass a big boat loaded with tree trunks slowly going upstream. The service in the boat is almost like in an airplane, the food is good. 
After 3 h we pass Pebas at the mouth of the Rio Napo. According to La Condamine this was the last of the Spanish missions. Two and a half hour later we stop and moor at San Paulo or Saint-Paul, the first of the Portugeese missions. It took La Condamine 3 days and 3 nights from Pebas to San Paulo!
Our boat ("deslisador") is sometimes in the middle of the river, then again at one of the borders. It is avoiding the large trunks floating everywhere in the stream. The raft of La Condamine folowed the river border with the risk that a tree trunk would suddenly fall down.

 One of the many rain storms we encountered.  -  San Paulo (Saint-Paul).
San Paulo is still a leprosy village, like in the time of Che Guevara (1953), who came here to help. 
From there on, La Condamine travelled in bigger boats ("brigantes") driven by 40 rowers (!) and a sail. We have never seen a rowing boat nor a sail.
We met one of the passengers of the boat, Nixon, who worked for Petro-Peru in the jungle. He found the work "bastante complicado". He said that he would ask his brother, who was a guide in Leticia and who would pick him up in Santa Rosa, to help us. So, when we arrived at 3 p.m. in Santa Rosa, we were led without difficulties to the emigration and police offices and then, with a peque-peque we left Peru and arrived in Tabatinga (Brasil) at the other side of the river. Nixon then brought us to Hotel La Frontera, at the (open) border with Colombia, where we called Alejandro Jaramillo. It was a cordial meeting-again, also with Jose, who now had a new car!

Breakfast in Leticia with Alejandro and Jose.

27/2. Saturday. This was a day of organizing our trip. We called Marc van Roosmalen in Manaus and learned that he would not be in town before March 10. We went to the banc (pesos, reales or dollars?), to the emigration service, to the Fundacion Gaia Amazonas for which Alejandro is working and had dinner (ajiaco bogotana!) in the house of Alejandro and Marthamiamor. After dinner we made a walk to the Rio Amazonas, where very poor people lived. It was too hot for us, but children played, mothers were feeding their babies and men were reparing their wooden houses that would soon become (almost) flooded again.
In the evening, like two years ago, we ate fish in the Libaneese restaurant, where we gave balloons of the globe to the boys of Jose.

Jose's family with Maria and two sons. 

The route of La Condamine and Maldonado depicted on the globe in the Lebaneese restaurant.

01 March 2010

La Lancha and arrival Iquitos

New passengers are brought in with a "peque-peque"

23/2. Tuesday. At 1 o'clock p.m. we pass the mouth of the Rio Sameria. Position S 4° 38' 39'' W 74° 17' 19'' and altitude 133 m. With great dexterity and almost unnoticed hot plates with our lunch are "served" through the maize of hammocks. The monkey Pehpeh is continuously twittering or crying. We are not allowed anymore to give it something. The children, all very nicely dressed, eat their meal with a spoon, sitiing with two in a hammock or on the iron floor. All garbage (plastic bottles and sacks) is thrown in the river.

Meal on the floor under my hammock.

A.t 3 p.m. we pass the mouth of the Rio Tigre. Position S 4° 28' 33''  E 74° 4' 38'' and altitude 120 m. At 8 p.m. we arrive in Nauta. From here many passengers take a taxi to Iquitos. We will stay on the boat together with the "Borja-boys". We cordially say goodbye to Juan-Carlos and the Adventist, stll laughing "Es hermano...".

Unforseen and unexpected experiences
One surprise of our trip so far is that there remains so little time for writing or drawing, that there are few opportunities for reflections or watching birds, that we are often só tired (because of the diarhea that already had struck Hilbert, but now on the lancha also me?) and that there is never a chair where one can sit at a table. Even when passing the Pongo de Manseriche, La Condamine pictured himself on the raft sitting at a table....(see the 1751-etch in a previous post).

Dangerous hygienic conditions....
Left: The open kitchen bordered by the toilets. Right: One of the water closets; not to be seen is the tap
on the low plafond, serving as shower and deadly for longer persons standing up in the dark...

Many people on deck are coughing, sneezing and spitting all the time. Handkerchiefs (pañuelos) are not used. And then there is the hygienic condition of kitchen and water closets: The kitchen is open and borded by four terribly dirty closets that also serve as shower. The shower is represented by a tap that could be mortal for longuer persons. There are no lights, but enough, brown river water. How is it possible that both men and women emerge from these pig kennels looking refreshed and nice? For me it was reviving the experiences in Java some 66 years ago....

Already at 4:30 a.m. we arrive in Iqutos. When it becomes light the boat is unloaded. Many people go on and off the boat. Cesar told us to stay on board because there are many "chorros" (robbers). Waiting in our hammocks on the now almost empty upper deck, some  8 young men (those who had helped unloading the boat?) came standing on the rear deck and looking curiously at us, gringo's. We thought that they were waiting for new cargo to be brought in there. When Hilbert went to our Camerote on the lower deck, they had suddenly disappeared. I didn't suspect anything. But when I also went to our cabin Hilbert told me that they had robbed him when going down the iron stair. We lost "our pot" with some 100 Soles. After this experience I decided to give the box of Washurú to Cesar. He would call Washurú's son and deliver the box to him. When I called the son later, all seemed to be okay. Cesar brought the boat to another place where we went safely through a police control from where we took a mototaxi to Hotel El Dorado: A larger change from poor conditions to luxus is hardly possible.

From Sarameriza to Iquítos

21/2. Sunday. Somber weather, but no rain. Washurú has prepared a large box and asked me to bring it to his son in Iquitos. His son speaks well english and could help us there further. The well-taped box only contained cloths, "ropa". Of course, I immediately promised him to do so, but was it wise....?

Our lancha "Monica Medina". Most other lancha's we saw looked somewhat better.

At 6 o'clock we walk to the boat where cows and pigs were still being embarked. We put our luggage and the box in our "Camerote#1" and say cordially goodbye to Washurú, who introduced us to César, the owner of the boat whom he asked to take good care of us. 
We hang our hammocks on the upper deck in the back where there was still much space. When it became clear that the boat would not leave before 8 I walked back to buy some bred.
In the street I met again Washurú who brought me to the bakery, where he asked the owner to show me the oven. We had to wait for a new batch of the small breds. When they finally came the village people were first served in spite of the urges of Washurú: 24 small breds for 3 Soles (~$1.=).

The oven of the bakery of Sarameriza and the small breds that still have to become baked.

Back on the boat we measured the position of Sarameriza: S 4° 34' 2'', W 77° 24' 55''. 
And then, indeed, we leave without much fuss or waving the muddy place at 8 o'clock. The Cerro de Campanquiz slowly disappears behind us in the clouds.

The whole village is waiting for the lancha to load their heavy cargo.

Almost every half hour the boat stops at one of the borders of the Rio Marañon; then it becomes humid and war. People are waiting with huge bunches of platanas (bananas) or heavy sacks with mais (corn). Sometimes a whole village is standing there, watching how their stronguest, young men carry these 70 kg(?)-bags on bare feat into the boat. Also animals, this time a bull and sheep, are brought in; pulled and pushed down the muddy slope and up over narrow planks into the boat, where they are all put together into one box on the front deck.  Hilbert saw how part of the ears of pigs were cut off in order to distiguish them from those already present....Ultimately, the box will contain 3 cows, some 20 chanchos (pigs) and 9 obejas (sheep). In this crowd a male obeja immediately starts to fulfill his biological task.....Is this the way we treated our slaves some 150 years ago? This is not a tourist boat and members of the dutch "Party for the Animals" should not come here. This is a working boat where the people hope to earn some Soles.

Was this the way we treated our slaves some 150 years ago?

One of the passengers on our upper deck carries a baby monkey with him. Watching from my hammock its behavior during the long day made me wonder why it took me so many years to discard the idea that there is a fundamental difference between man and animal: of course, there are differences, but will the neurobiologists be able to find a fundamental one?
La Condamine drew a seemingly similar conclusion (p. 62 of Voyage sur l'Amazone): "...l'homme abandonné à la simple nature, privé d'éducation et de société, differe peu de la bête.", but this applied to the Indian rather than to himself.
The baby monkey is a "Chorro", not a Makisapa (baboon) as I first thought. It likes very much the sweet, cotton-like inside tissue around the seeds of the long guava fruits.

Pehpeh, the baby choro, sometimes cried when hungry or thirsty.

Edgar (12 yrs), whom we had met in the village and who had helped me carrying the box into the boat, came shyly up from the lower deck, where most indigenes or mestizos were lying in their hammocks. I asked him to draw his house, but I first had to draw my own... The children are clearly hungry. Another passenger, Juan Carlos (who had searched me in the village when I was buying bred because it was becoming late), gave them some of his little breds (ours were down in the camerote).
The drawing made by Edgar of his house somewhere near Sarameriza: a cacao-tree?

Only in the second half of the day we encountered three times a "Chaloupa", which can transport some passengers and contains a little roof (carapa). One is called "Transporto Marona". We had just passed the mouth of the Rio Marona. Perhaps we could have continued our journey on such boats. But we should have been able to speak better spanish and we would have needed mány more helpful Washurú's...... We were told that there were only two boats like ours ("lancha's") connecting Sarameriza with San Lorenzo.

A "Chaloupa" boat with carapa. Such a boat (without the motor) La Condamine may have used.

Around 3 o'clock we pass Punto America, with a large sign giving its position: S 4° 43' 57'' and W 77° 3' 50''. Our GPS gives: S 4° 44' 38'' and W 77° 3' 45'' and an altitude of 149 m. We pass other villages. Now and then a strong wind is coming up. Sometimes dark clouds pack above us. We enjoy a beautiful evening sun set.

View from our hammock; here time passes quickly.

It is already dark when we arrive in San Lorenzo, capital of the Provincia de Datem de Marañon (?). Its position is: S 4° 49' 54'' W 76° 33' 22'' and an altitude of 136 m. Here we will stay for the night. Edgar and his brother come to say farewell. We give them a coloured ballpoint and a compass. Edgar waves many times back before disappearing in the small crowd leaving the lancha.

Edgar and his little brother. A shy friend came to say goodbye.

22/2.  Monday, the second day on the lancha. It is 5:30 h when we are woken up by the crowing of the many cocks in their little baskets tied on the floor. Slowly new passengers enter the boat. Also our deck is becoming full. Without any words or comments, new hammocks are being tied  up in places where there seemed not space. The trick is that you can hang them alternatively high or low! Next to Hilbert comes an ever-laughing 7th-day Adventist: "Ah, mi hermano..ha, ha, ha.". The owner of Pehpeh comes in completely drunk; he will sleep the whole day. We finally depart with full decks at 9:15 h.

This second day on the lancha our deck has become completely filled up with hammocks.
We pass the mouth of the Rio Pastazza. Maldonado came down this river from Quito (he met La Condamine in Lagunas, where our boat will not come) without Morainville, who apparently died on the way.
Our lancha continues to make stops for new cargo. How many sacks and pigs can still be loaded? Now, at the stops, village people come on the boat selling fruits. At 2 p.m. we go through a tropical rain shower. One hour later it is dry again. I hear the Adventist preaching, telling his neighbour that the Catholics have wrong ideas. Juan-Carlos joins the discussion. Luckily, my spanish is insufficient to do the same. We meet Cyro Schmidt-Schüler from Lima, working for a wood company in Iquitos. He can only say "scheisse" and he knows that the dutch have strong mariuana....
At 7 p.m. it is dark again and we enter a new rainstorm. We have to pull our hammocks up higher; everybody is helping others. How does the boat find its way in this pitch darkness? It appears they only have a strong lamp. Via the radio they here where new cargo is waiting.

New cargo from whole villages or a solitary house.

Every now and then we enter a rain shower.

23/2. Tuesday. 5:30 h. We pass Miraflores. Position: S 4° 40' 25'' W 74° 50' 11' and altitude 130 m. Again, we make many stops. It becomes warm. Juan Carlos entertains us by giving Kun-foe lessons. Everybody is very impressed.
At one stop a large family has come in and find still place around us. We give Marcial Vela Tulumba, a young boy from Borja and his brother Ramón, a balloon. It costs him great trouble to blow it up.

We give a balloon to the two brothers of Borja, who helped us several times with displacing
our hammocks and who were happy to get our meals. Right: depicting the route of La Condamine and Maldonado
on the globe.

Left: Cesar, the owner of the boat, whom I told about our journey, sticks our folder on the wall of his bar.
Right: a proud father with his son. Although, on this upper deck, a railing is lacking on the back, these children
freely walk around.....