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Voyage on the Amazon to Brazil, Pt. VIII, Santarem, Brazil

Posted Jul 17 2009 12:31am

Tuesday, April 7

Santarem, Brazil Santarem-map1a

Bom Dia!

Today dawned earlier than expected, when we were awakened at 7:00 AM by the sounds of a band tuning up! We threw on some caftans, and went out on our balcony to see a high school band sitting on the dock right below our cabin. Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 285 They began to play the most Brazilian music we have heard since we got on the ship. They played sambas, a medly of Brazil 66 songs, and wound up with a rousing version of "Brazil." It was a bit startling, totally unexpected, and joyous. The band began just a bit raggedly on the first tune, but when all the balcony denizens applauded, they suddenly got better. I think they didn' t realize they had an audience, since only earlybird stragglers were coming off the ship. We were samba_ing on our balcony, and having a great time, shouting "Obrigada!" "Obrigado!" (male and female ' thank yous' in Portuguese)

I called and woke Ronit up a few moments after we figured out what was happening. Since she' s a music teacher, I knew she' d love it, and I was right. They have an inside cabin, so couldn' t hear until they went outside.

Later, at breakfast, we were all samba-ing around --it was such fun.Then, we got it together, and went outside. Whew! Even at 10:00 AM, it was hot and humid, and the sun was relentless. We had to walk about 3/4 mile on the dock to get to the little area of craft stalls and taxis. We found a cab and went into Santarem, thinking we' d see the museum and the Cathedral. The Joao Fona Cultural Center (museum) was small, but lovely and interesting, A young woman who spoke some English toured us around. The first room is a re-creation of the first Assembly room (city government) which is lovely, with a very impressive Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 290 parquet wood floor, wood carvings on the walls, and a council table and fancy chair for the President. The next room was lined with all the portraits of the Prefectors (Mayors) from the incorporation of the town in 1661. Modern portraits were photos. They had a woman Mayor in 1936 -- pretty progressive.

The next room was a wow! A huge skeleton, Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 296 displayed like our museum dinosaurs, turned out to be a whale, and not a very big one. The next room was Pre-Columbian pottery artifacts. Truly ancient pottery was displayed here. It' s quite intricate, a chief' s drinking vessel had small figurines on it, and was amazingly well preserved. The pottery room opened back onto the main entry, and we had come full circle. In the middle of the building was a lovely garden, with all the rooms built around it. 

Coming out of the museum, Ronit and Jacob wanted to walk, but Richard and I knew it was too far for us in the heat. We got a cab to take us to the Cathedral, which was surrounded by a  marketplace. We were disappointed to find that the Cathedral closes from 11:30 AM until 6:00 PM, and we would not get to see it this visit. But, we are coming back here, and hope to see it later. We wandered for a while among the stalls, and soon found the most beautiful offerings were the hammocks. Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 299

In Amazonia, people live in hammocks. Beds mildew and are too warm.  Hammocks are easily hung, and can be carred with you on boat trips. They carry your belongings, and provide seating and sleeping space on the boats. Every boat is equipped with rows of strong hooks--and no chairs or benches. According to our Port Lecturer, you bring your best and most beautiful hammock when you travel -- it indicates status. There certainly were gorgeous specimins for sale, from about $25 to $40.

We walked for a while, but the heat was oppressive and the sun was fierce, so when we encountered Ronit and Jacob again, we tried to find a boat to take us on a tour, but no one spoke English, so we got a taxi to go back to the ship. Outside the port were some tour agencies, and Ronit spotted a young man who had been leading tours for Princess in town, and we asked him if he could arrange a boat and come with us to give a tour. After some haggling, we reached a price of $100 for the boat and $60 for our guide, George. This came out to $40 per person, half of what the ship charges, and it would be only the four of us on our own boat.

The boat owner paid for a taxi to take us right back to where we tried to find a boat earlier, and we boarded via the customary plank connected to the boat by being wedged inside a tire suspended by a rope. Scary! George was wonderfully helpful, and said he had taught himself English at home, so he could work part-time for the cruise ship tours. His full-time job is policeman, which he said was a ' steady job.' Touring was less reliable, but paid well. George looked about 20, but is really 27, and has a wife and a nine-month-old baby to support.

Our cruise tour was wonderful! The river has a constantly cool breeze, so the temperature was very pleasant, and the upper deck of the boat had a shade cover. We were totally comfortable.  Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 305 Santarem is actually situated on the Tapajos River, a tributary to the Amazon. The Tapajos is a ' black' river, which means the water is clearer, but tinted dark like tea from submerged

vegetation. The first thing we saw was the "meeting of the waters' where the cafe-au-lait colored, silt-laden Amazon met the clear, black waters of the Tapajos. The waters have different acidity levels, density and speed, so they run side by side for several miles before they are able to mix. We passed igapos --flooded forests. Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 323 These are trees and grasslands that become submerged in the wet season, which began early this year. Islands of floating grasses and lilies with trees in the center greeted us with the call and the flight of many birds. We also saw houses on stilts, and a charming little church just standing in the water, where people obviously just paddle their canoes up to the front door. We saw ducks, herons, egrets, buzzards and many other species I didn' t identify. We came close to the elusive pink fresh-water dolphins, but never actually saw any. George told us a charming dolphin myth: Dolphins love parties, so when there is a big party in a house in the river, the dolphin changes into a man who wears all white, even his shoes and hat. He joins the party, and nine months later, when an unmarried girl has a baby, she can blame it on the dolphin, which is magical, and her parents won' t yell at her. Of course, there is no father to be found, because the dolphin changed back into his normal shape after the party.

The river tour gave us a glimpse into the life of the people who live in the river, and sightings of many birds and flowers. A totally enjoyable day.  After we disembarked, George found us a taxi, fixed the price for us, and said good-bye. We got back to the port, shopped for a few minutes at the little Brazil Cruise Mar-Apr 2009 344 market, and then walked the hot 3/4 mile back to the ship. By the time we got on board, we were wilted and exhausted. We went up for a bite to eat, and dropped into bed for a nap.

Richard and I napped so deeply that we had a hard time waking up, and were late going swimming, but the pool was glorious-- warm, salty, soothing and refreshing. We went up late to the Pacific lounge and got in one dance, then on to a lovely dinner, where the Maitre d' made Bananas Foster in the dining room.

We stumbled back to the room, made it upstairs to download e-mails, and then back here to write this. I' m falling into bed very soon, because we have another early day tomorrow, at Boca de Valeria.

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