South America



Through the Amazon

Crossing the equator between Boa Vista and Manaus (27321)
  The heavy rain pouring noisily on the roof of our car is no doubt a sign that we have left the dry Savannah behind us and are entering the deep jungle of the Amazon basin. We are approaching the Equator, the air is filled with humidity, we can formally smell the imminent rainy season. The temperature has risen to 104F [40°C], as we are struggling through the red soil of the deserted jungle track towards Manaus. Storks, herons and other bird species are inhabiting swamp and waterholes along the road, where lush palm trees and dead trunks are reflecting in the peaceful waters and huge water-lilies are spreading.

Deep potholes and corrugated road conditions are increasing the more South we are driving. It is strenuous as we never know how deep the waterfilled holes will be. Mile by mile we are advancing slowly, passing through many unlovely timber cuts in the rain forest. But suddenly, at an Indian reservation, we are in the middle of a wonderful untouched prime jungle. The dense vegetation on either side of the road is still virgin, blue-lilac butterflies are flying through the endless tropical green, and lush red flowers are climbing towards the light. A group of small Indian boys with bows and arrows are approaching us with a dead bird hanging over their shoulder. Later, we meet a stranded family with two little children at the edge of the flooded track. They have a broken shaft on their truck and have already waited for four days in this tropical hell for a spare part from Manaus. They installed themselves as comfortably as possible at the far end of the dirty track, fixed their hammocks and a washing line on the trees and are cooking under the frequent showers of this rainy tropical skies. Apart from leaving them some food behind, there is not much we can do for these unfortunate people.
Amazon circuit between Boa Vista and Manaus (27328)

Swampy district in the Amazon (27326)
In the evening of the seventh day, after 620 miles [1'000km] and 50 stressful driving hours, we reach the jungle port of Manaus. The next days we spend a relaxing time at the beach Praia Dourada at the Taruma river, a black colored by-pass of the Amazon river. We are reading and swimming a lot, and in the meantime we try to find out about the precarious road conditions from here to Porto Velho during the rainy season. Very soon our worries come true. There is absolutely no way overland, as the road surface is six feet below water level. We will have to ferry on the streams, either downriver the Amazon to Belem, or upriver the Madeira to Porto Velho.

In the busy harbor of Manaus many old fishing boats are leaving daily to different Amazon destinations. They all look very exotic with all the colorful hammocks, serving as sleeping opportunities during their journeys. Nervously, we are looking around for a cheap passage. And very soon we are successful: a Portuguese truck driver immediately agrees to load us on his empty bridge by sharing the transport fee to Porto Velho. Through a nearby soil platform and using our strong sandladders, we first drive onto the bridge of the truck and then together to the pontoon, which will be pushed by a relatively small tug. During the next five days, this will be our exciting residence.
Harbor in Manaus for Amazon boat trips (27406)

Pontoon-Ferry on the Rio Madeira from Manaus to Porto Velho (27512)
  After postponing several times the announced departure, suddenly towards the evening, everything is becoming very busy - food and other freight are loaded. Then we leave the glimmering lights of Manaus definitely behind us. Together with the ships' crew, we number about 20 people, all nice and lovely, who try their best to explain to us all the beauty of their country and teach us their Brazilian language. In the evenings we often are sitting together at the illuminated 'Plaza' of the board kitchen and are watching with fascination the fast changing colors of the skies and the silhouettes of other pontoons passing by, loaded with precious jungle trees.

Due to the strong current, we are not sailing in the middle of the Madeira river but along the edge. Like in a movie the whole wonderful jungle vegetation is passing by continuously. The high water level has flooded parts of the rain forest and the Indians have to use their modest dugouts to reach their scattered wooden huts on stilts. Their numerous children are watching curiously the busy river life and are waving happily to us. Most of the people living here are born here and die here without having seen anything else other than their immediate environment. Often, we are lucky to watch Dolphins playing - also pink ones which are living in the waters of the Madeira river - and screaming monkeys on giant tropical trees.
The jungle is passing by (27537)

Camping on the truck's-bridge during the boat trip (27422)
  The white, slim and high trunks of the gum trees give a wonderful flash in the endless green. They deliver the Latex, which is gained by scratching the bark and collecting the liquid in attached tins. But this lush jungle vegetation is producing also more products, for example the fibers for jute bags and edible chestnuts. Now and then we spot the colorful feathers of tropical birds, and in the mornings we awake with the noisy screams of parrots. With a predictable regularity, each afternoon heavy tropical showers are pouring down. Then, it is getting active on the tranquil pontoon, when the truck drivers interrupt their siestas in the hammocks hung underneath their lorries in favor of a refreshing natural shower.

After the confluence of the black river Aripuanà in the brownish colored Madeira river, we are crossing many floating rafts of the Garimperos, the gold diggers. They are sucking with huge tubes the mud from the riverbed and are sifting it carefully through a fine wire net in search of the glittering metal. Now, at high water level, there are not so numerous. But in the low water season apparently more than 2'000 rafts, filled with men hoping to find a fortune, are inhabiting the waters of the Madeira river.
Rio Madeira (27608)

Stormy atmosphere and sunset at the Rio Madeira (27625)
  We enjoy every moment of this 700 mile long river drive with the tasty food of the board kitchen and the interesting talks with all the lorry drivers. The only thing which makes life sometimes difficult are all the big mosquito swarms on calm nights, and the high humidity which makes even a rice corn sprout again and is covering the food with two inches of mould in the shortest of time. But this is belonging as much to the tropics as the tarantula which finds its way from a floating tree trunk to our barge.

The scorching heat is nearly unbearable as we reach Porto Velho safely after a journey of 132 exceptionally beautiful hours on the river Madeira.