Monday, January 28, 2013

UP A HAZY RIVER: CRUISIN’ THE AMAZON



“Emotion has a name: Brazil.”  -Pele

                               
The Amazon River!  O Rio Mar!   The River Sea! The world's largest river, that fires the imagination of all who dare to dream, dominates the land and the people who come in contact with it.

The muddy and mysterious Amazon is a majestic presence. To those with an insatiable spirit of adventure, it is a strange mixture of primitive and civilized.  The Amazon is a kaleidoscope of mud huts and mini-highrises, dugout canoes and sleek ocean liners.  There are man-eating piranhas that you don't see and immense Vitoria Regia water lilies that you do.

A foray into the land of tribesmen called Waura and Kuikuro, this1000-mile voyage of discovery from the mouth of the world's mightiest river to the port city of Manaus (at the confluence of the Amazon and Rio Negro), was once virtually inaccessible to the leisure traveler.

Two popular port stops along the Amazon are Alter do Chao and Parantins.
 

WELCOME TO ALTER DO CHAO


Alter do Chao:  As far back as 1661, early settlers staked their claim to the jungle-draped Alter Do Chao, an idyllic beach a short distance from Santarem. 
Butterflies and blue water beaches adorn this virgin strip of vine-choked land that is thankfully ignored by the native piranhas (man-eating fish). Locals, fishing along the banks of the Amazon and the nearby Tapajos Rivers, reminisce about the glory days of the rubber boom when Henry Ford’s nearby rubber plantations prospered.

As luck would have it, I arrived in Alter do Chao during Carnaval.  Trust me, you will sweat as you weave your way through this humid sea of celebrating humanity.  But also trust me, you will feel the flavor of Brazil as the youthful beer-infused Brazilians sprinkle you with “lucky flour” made from the manioc root.  


CARNAVAL GIRLS WITH "LUCKY" MANIOC FLOUR BAGS


When it was all said and done, my guide drove me a short distance to the Manioc Flour House where they process the manioc root into flour.  Needless to say, I declined their kind offer of tasting the fly-attracting products made from the flour. 


MANIOC FLOUR HOUSE

Parantins:  This tiny 200-year old village, located on a mid-Amazon archipelago, celebrates its Indian heritage with an annual Boi Bumba Festival.  

BRAZILIAN BOI BUMBA BEAUTY
 
At the Boi Bumba Folkloric Presentation you can experience this magical mystical ritual, rooted in the 19th century fable of the disputing Cids and Monteverdes families.  The festivities, in the Caprichoso Pavilion, culminate with the serving of Brazil’s national drink…the Caipirinha.  Made of Brazil's national firewater known as cachaca, the first one can be relaxing but the second can be deadly.     
  
BOI BUMBA FOLKLORIC PRESENTATION

While cruising the Amazon you are able to experience one of nature’s most spectacular sights.  Encontro das Aguas…the Meeting of the Waters.  This rare phenomenon is caused by the sluggish, inky black waters of the Rio Negro meeting with the fast- flowing, café-au -lait colored waters of the Amazon.  The two rivers, differing in density and speed, flow side by side for nearly 40-miles before they integrate completely.


JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.






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