12 March 2010

From Belém to Macapá-2

Sunset (9/3) and sunrise (10/3) viewed from our boat as we sailed past Ilha de Marajó. 

10 and 11/3. Wednesday and Thursday. Tuesday evening Hilbert woke me up saying: "I found a person who speaks french and is also going to Oiapoque!". I immediately went with him and met a large figure on the dark deck. We spoke a long time about his journey and ours before I went to bed again.
At 5:50 a.m. it was still dark, but the sun was rising. People are cleaning the ship. Someone talking Brazilian to me, walks away and then comes back from the lower deck with a cup of sweet milk coffee. I can only say "obrigado". After 20 min, at 6:10 a.m. it is already light.

Only once we saw a sail on a boat in the far distance.
During this trip just half around the Ilha de Marajó, we obtained more than ever before a feeling of the vastness of these Amazon waters. We are going North-West and are about half-way between Belém and Macapá. Even what is drawn on our map as narrow channels west of the Ilha, appears to be a sequence of broad rivers or rather vast lakes. The Delta in Zeeland (Holland) will look very small when we will see it. What an immense task carthographers like La Condamine had when trying to map these waters.

Typical houses along the coasts of this part of the Rio Amazonas.
Note the large satellite dish and the wooden planks with which they probably can earn some money.

Everything on the boat is still humid. On these waters we see no trunks or plant-islands. The land bordering the river is owned by the Provincia. The people living here are more or less illegal, but the governement allows them to stay. Most houses seem to be very poor. Regularly, however, we see larger settlements next to a wood factory.

One of the rare narrow channels we went through; mostly we went over vast, wide lakes.
Talking with the only tourists on board. From left to right: Konoka, Marise Bianay, Hilbert, 
Tetsuhide and Christophe Bianay.
(Again they told us that we resembled Clint Eastwood and Cousteau.....)
At 3 p.m. we arrive in Macapá. Christophe helps us to find a taxi on the busy quay. In spite of the crowd I could not identify "chorro's", young people looking for their prey. But Christophe was careful and told us to wait a bit before going down the gangway. It was nót his fault that we payed the taxi that brought us to the busstation (Rodoviaria) twice the amount he had agreed upon. At the bus station there were many people selling seats for different prices. It was not easy, but Christophe managed to get some last seats in a bus to Oiapoque leaving that evening. Otherwise we would have had to wait 24 h, because the buses appeared to be driving only during the night.

At the busstation in Macapá. Christophe with wife Marise and daughter Mona and a lot of luggage.

I had not been able to get enough satellites to measure a position in Belém. But now it went smoothly. Position: N 0° 4' 23'', W 51° 3' 17'' (altitude -24 m). I am using the GPS borrowed from the San Francisco University at Quito. What a long time ago was that! How much patience did it cost La Condamine before he could write down a position?
During his journey from Belém to Oiapoque, La Condamine was accompanied by a "black slave", Louis, originally from Cayenne, who had been sentenced to death by the french authorities (because of disobedience) and had fled to Belém. According to the book of Neil Safier (Measuring the New World; see previous blogs) the Potuguese governor  returned him to Cayenne "under the condition that he be spared the gallows, absolved of his crime, and returned to his rightful owner. La Condamine's canoe provided for his secure transport from a Portuguese prison back to the shackles of French servitude."
In our case it was the other way around: It was a descendant of slaves, Christophe, born in Guadeloupe, who helped us from the boat in Macapá to travel securely to Cayenne.

Our night bus on his way to Oiapoque at a stop in Cunani.
Note the luggage of "extra passengers" sitting in the entrance and the bags surrounding the seat of the bus driver!

We left the Macapá bus station at 6 p.m. The road was paved and the bus driver drove as fast as he could. We drove through a landscape with tree plantations on both sides. We couldn't see what kind of trees.... Then it became dark. The bus had no toilet, but stopped about once in 3-4 hours. The toilets at the restaurants became very dirty. If I understood his body language well, one Brazilian complained about it. After about 6 hours the road became an unpaved; red sand, many holes and one little valley after other. It seemed endless but after another 6 hours we arrived in Oiapoque, still in the dark. Christophe went on a mototaxi to the police station: it would open at 8 o'clock. So, being the only strangers, we had to wait before we could cross the border. I measured the Position of the Oiapoque bus station: N 3° 50' 27'', W 51° 49' 26''. We had left the equator.....

Crossing the Oiapoque river from Oiapoque to Saint George. 
A beautiful white-water river over which French Guyana and Brazil are building a bridge.
In Saint George Christophe again led the way to the French border police and arranged a minibus to Cayenne. It was a beautiful, new road through a jungle that, even to a non-botanist, showed a large diversity of trees. In the distance we passed beautiful mountains (the Kaw Mountains?). Later I was told that this region contained 260 different tree species (Phil Boré). 

From Belém to Macapá-1

9/3. Tuesday. This morning we leave the hotel at 8:15 a.m. and drive in a taxi to the "Embarque" where we had purchased our passage to Macapá some days before. People were asking us "Manaus??", but we said "Macapá!". We only understood that something was wrong... After a while the same man who had sold us the tickets showed up, brought us without many words to the other side of the busy street and signaled us that we shoud stay and wait. Finally we were put, together with a Japanese man (in Sao Paulo live 1 million Japanese), in a car with an old driver who was transporting an outboard motor on his back seat. We could sit next to it. Screaming under our weight the old car slowly brought us to another port. There, still in time, we could settle in an air-conditioned camerote (cabin) wíth toilet; what a luxury!

Hilbert waiting before embarkation on the "Almirante do Mar", that would bring us to Macapá.
Only the middle deck (with our camerote to the right) and upper deck can be seen.
 On the upper deck we met two other tourists, a young Japanese couple, Iwasaki Tetsuhide (36 yrs) and Higashi Kanako. He was a buddhist monk who spoke english and portuguese as he had worked in a temple in Sao Paulo.  To my surprise he smoked; he told me that he was also allowed to drink beer and to eat meat! (How different from the Chinese buddhist I had met last year in Boston.) Kanako only spoke Japanese and didn't look too amused. And she had good reasons: Our middle deck only contained cabins while all hammocks were hanging on the lower deck with an incredible density, higher than we had experienced on our boat to Santarem. The hammocks were hanging at three to four levels and completely filled the space. The upper deck was relatively small but contained two huge loadspeaker combinations and a TV, showing singers and dancers screaming the same "song" over and over again. But the people were looking at it in full fascination. So, where else to go than on our middle deck?

Left: Where can I hang my hammock? Hammocks in 3 to 4 layers on the lower dack. Right: Hilbert with Kanako and 
Tetsuhide (third and second from the right) still on the upper deck. When the "music" started we fled to the middle deck.
But, apart from all this, after 4 days in a hot and crowded Belém, feeling the breeze when the boat took off and viewing again the wide, brown water was a pleasant experience. We could offer Kanako our bathroom and that made her very happy as expressed by her reverences. The people on the boat were smaller again and very kind; more like those we had met in Peru.
Towards sunset, we passed villages from where small canoes took off in the direction of our boat. With great skill they attached themselves to the side of our boat. They tried to sell fruits. Some passengers handed over some food and cloths.

Left: Canoes with a boy and a girl: the boy jumps aboard and skilfully attaches the canoe to the side of our boat, while the girl is stearing. Right: A girl on her way to another world on the other side?
Hilbert receiving a lesson in portuguese and other things from a charming Brazileña.
Belém slowly disappears, while the boat is heading .....West, towards Ilha de Marajó!

09 March 2010

Last day in Belém

8/3. Monday. At 8 a.m. we took a taxi to the "Club do Remo" near the port, which we had detected yesterday. There we were cordially received and, with only a few words of english we were invited to row in the rough, brown water. A double skull, "Olga Nobre", had just arrived and they let us row in it! Many pictures were taken,  we gave them a globe-balloon and wrote "Rowing Club Naarden" on it and we exchanged e-mail addresses. So, we finally rowed in the brown Rio Amazonas, although it actually was in the mouth of the Rio Guamá, coming out in the Baia do Guajara.

At the Club do Remo we were invited to row in a double skull.
Rowing on the brown Amazon water with waves from many motor boats.
Left: Fabio Sicilia and right the globus on which we depicted Holanda, as large as Isla Marajó!
Then, after a shower in our hotel, we walked to the museum Emilio Goeldi lying in a beautiful parc with immense trees. But it was "fechada", closed. After a siësta we took a taxi to the Arquivo Publico on Campas Sales #273, but it was "fechada" too. We walked back through the little streets of the old town full with shops and sellers to the fruit market and the docks.

The closed Arquivo Publico where we hoped to get some information about La Condamine's visit to Belém.
Big ship entering the port of Belém.
Our favorite restaurant in Belém.
The last evening we would eat with Steve West, who as an Evangelist, asked whether we allowed him to bless our meal and our journey. After the blessing he remarked that he had only asked God for our safety and not told Him how crazy we were. We had a pleasant last dinner with many conservative-republican, political viewpoints, stories and questions about Europe. You too, Steve, have a safe journey!

08 March 2010

Two days in Belém

Fruitmarket of Belém: one of the biggest in the country.

6/3. Saturday. Immediately after breakfast we take a taxi to the port to buy a passage to Macapá. We had been told to ask for Ciptour or Paratour. We asked in many places and people kindly gave directions; finally we found out that Ciptour did not exist anymore and that Paratour was just not to be found. So, after visiting the old Portuguese fort and the fruit market we walked back to the terminal of the lancha's where a man indicated that he could sell us a passage for Macapá. We bought a cabin with baño for 180 Reales p.p. and went back for a siësta in our Hotel. In the evening an american from Florida helped me with the internet; he spoke portuguese and we made an appointment for the next day.

The port of Belém: as dirty as that of Djakarta.
Here the black Vultures seem to function as flying garbage bags. Are the White Egrets there only for the contrast...?
7/3. Sunday. After breakfast we walked with the american of yesterday evening, Steve West, to the Praça da Republica. He had to contact various people there with whom he had placed orders. On this Sunday morning at 9 a.m. the place was already crowded. Steve works for "Cross Trade" (see: http://www.crosstrade.org/index.html ). After having brought-up 4 children, Steve and his wife adopted 4 Brazilian children aged more than 10 years. In addition, they work for Cross Trade as Christians: "Our desire, and prayer, for each person we serve in Brazil is that they will experience God’s love, and through any blessings Cross Trade may bring, they will give thanks to the Lord and share generously with their others." 

Walking with Steve West over the Praça da Republica.
 In the afternoon we visited together with Steve the parc "Mangal das Garças". Again a beautiful parc with nice birds in a large cage. In a historic exhibition we found a drawing of a brigant with sail; we could not find a reference.

In the Mangal das Garças parc a drawing of a XIIXth century brigant.
 Some Brazilian impressions:
- For tourists not speaking portuguese it is véry difficult to find your way.
- Everywhere in the hotels there are  saving bulbs (Philips?), but in the gas stations I never saw a car tanking alcohol.
- In the toilets you have to press an electric switch to flush. There is always a basket for used toilet paper, like in Ecuador and Peru and even on the lancha!
- People have never heard of La Condamine & Maldonado and also do not appear to be interested in this history.
- According to a lawyer from São Paulo, whom I met in the hotel, everything in Belém proceeds very slowly; he had been told that even a heart attack takes here two days....
- The more east you come the larger the chairs and tables, the better you can sit. Perhaps the people are also larger?
- In Brazilian restaurants beer is tapped from a huge, cooled glass put in the middle of the table. The service is very quiet, like in Colombia, unlike in Israel.
- There seems to be one gesture of either negative or positive understanding: a fist with thumb up.
- Parking in Belém seems to be no problem: everywhere along the streets men are waving with a towel to help you to park in or out.
- If I had to spend "church-money" I would try to organize the garbage collection along the streets in the same way. Steve thought that this was a good idea.
- In Brazil it seems that less women are pregnant or have a child in their arms than in Peru or Ecuador. Hilbert has many more observations on the women, which he will tell you when asked.

07 March 2010

Santarem and Alter do Chão

The port of Santarem, with most lancha's going to Belém. Only once a week to Macapá.

4/3. Thursday.  We had asked our taxidriver, Josias, to come at 8 a.m., but when we went for breakfast at 7, he was already waiting with a guide. This is Brasil, not Peru! The guide was Albert Boy, who spoke very well english as he had worked in the U.S., helping his father with a pineapple plantation.
We first went to the harbour to ask for a passage on a lancha to Macapá. But most lancha's went to Belém. For Macapá we had to wait several days. Then we informed about a flight to Belém and this appeared to be not much more expensive. So, we made a reservation for a flight on the next day.
We told Josias that we wanted to look for "macacos" (monkeys) in Alter do Chão (pronounce like in french 'auter do champs'), according to the directions given to us by Marc van Roosmalen: he had seen La Condamine's "Golden monkeys" in the savanna's ("campinaranas") near Alter do Chão, east of the mouth of the Rio Tapajós with the Rio Solimoes. But Josias insisted that we first go to Zoofit, the Jardin Zoológico de Santarem. And there, in a cage, we saw Mico argentatus! Luckily, some time later, we saw these Amazone marmosets also in the trees around us, more or less in the wild....
Zoofit was a well-kept garden with animals that seemed to be in a good condition. It looked better organized than the Quistococha in Iquitos (25-2-2010).


Left: La Condamins's "Golden Monkey" from the book of Neil Safier (see previous posts).
Right: We found Mico argentatus in the Zoofit of Santarem!
Left: Luckily, we saw the monkey also in the trees around us. Right: Mico argentatus in a cage.
A young manati, that would soon be freed into the river. La Condamine still thought that this was a big fish.
I was a littlebit disappointed: where was its red face? La Condamine wrote about the present given to him by the governor of Pará: "The monkey's tail, in contrast to a body whose skeen radiated like 'the color of the most beautiful blond hair' was of a dark and lustrous brown, almost black. But most impressive of all were the bright red tints with which his ears, his cheeks, and his muzzle were adorned, a vermilion so vibrant that one could hardly be persuaded that the color was natural." Our monkeys were not that red in the face. Did La Condamine exaggerate or is it a matter of age or diet? Perhaps Marc van Roosmalen can comment on it.
Then, finally, we drove the nice, new road to Alter do Chão, where we took a boat to the "Moro de Piroca", a hill sticking out of the savannah plain. We climbed the hill (100 m?) in the middle of the day, but it was worth the view! We heard a few birds, but no macacos......

In Alter do Chão we took a boat to a place close to the hill "Moro de Piroca" (see left panel).
On the top of the Moro de Piroca. Far in the distance (to the north) the brown water of the Rio Solimoes.
North-West: where the bluish-coloured Rio Tapajós flows into the Rio Solimoes.
In a fish restaurant in Alter do Chão with Josias and our guide Albert Boy.
5/3. Friday. In the morning a rain shower kept us in the hotel. But at 10 a.m. the sun was shining again and we can walk through this nice little town. We walk up a hill towards a Fortaleza. Although La Condamine mentions the Rio Tapajós, he does not mention the fort here. In a nearby museum we do not find much information about the fort. An old, almost blind man, who spoke well english and who said to have lived in this beautiful house before giving it away as a museum, had never heard about La Condamine & Maldonado. A wall painting in one of the rooms showed a brigant with sail, perhaps similar to the one La Condamine and Maldonado had sailed on?

Rain in Santarem.
In the museum: no information, but a nice painting of a brigant with sail.
At 2 p.m. we are at the airport Santarem-Fonseca, lying quite far west of town. The GPS gives position: S 2° 25' 29'', W 54° 47' 9'' and an altitude of 47 m. it was a well-organized, pleasant flight of 1.5 h. This time we were sitting above the wing. At the airport we met Alex Alfred, lawyer in Alter do Chão, but born and raised in the south of Brasil. According to him a completely different country with different people of German and Italian descent and ...múch cleaner! He brought us with a taxi to Hotel Soft.
From the airplane the Rio Solimoes: brown water everywhere.
La Condamine writes that his principal task is the construction of his map: "Il me fallut redoubler d'attention pour ne pas perdre le fil de mes routes dans ce dédale tortueux d'iles et de caneaux sans nombre".
View on Belém from our Hotel SOFT, 13th floor.