Thursday October 11th, 2001
Last evening: As dusk intruded into the day, fireworks were set off by the people of the village nearby, and craft from other villages began arriving.
Robin (at age 19 and in his gap year prior to studying engineering at university) takes up the story at this point.
“Around 1700 hrs yesterday, Ollie, who was doing the watch up on the bow, spotted what looked like a village of ‘statues’. Having watched this group of people standing in exactly the same position for the last half an hour, we were fairly intrigued as to what they were up to.
Miguel, our guide for the trip, told us that it was an event put on each week by a given community in the river - a get-together for families. Some people travel from as far away as Santarem (50 miles) to join in the parties.
Fireworks were launched from the shore to attract people from other villages and we thought it would be fun to fire a couple of time-expired parachute flares to help the evening along.
It turned out that everyone ran for cover when we did this, as they didn’t have a clue what the bright red lights were, hanging suspended on their parachutes.
Having checked with Carlos that it was suitable for us to join in with their party, some of us went ashore. Arriving on the beach, we played with some young children who had been resting in their hammocks aboard a ferryboat, and then headed up the beach into the village. This village, Tucyma, seemed very quiet when we first arrived; it felt like a scene from one of those western films, a sandy ‘road’ in the middle with buildings set either side.
Having arrived in the center of the village we came across the bulk of the population, some of who were partaking in a religious meeting outside the church. We were immediately surrounded by at least 30 people (mostly children) and it gave me immediate pleasure to see how interested they were in a different ‘species’ of person. I felt like an alien.
Marc had brought some “glow sticks” ashore, which proved a real hit and after giving a few out to the children we felt pretty happy with the reception they gave us. I have rarely seen people as happy with such a small and simple gift.
There was not one moment where I felt unwelcome in this community and there was not a time when there were less than 30 people around us. It was a fantastic experience for me as well as the other 6 crew members who ventured ashore with me. I think the villagers enjoyed it as well.“
Today: After 4 hours of motoring at 7 knots, we actually made good no more than 16 miles as the crow flies - the river was very winding and shallow in places - we went aground briefly on a mud bank even though the dinghy was leading the way with the echo sounder and Alistair was keeping watch from the crows nest, 25 metres up.
The water became darker as we progressed up-river - the banks on each side at times several miles apart, at others down to a few hundred metres. But we could not tell where the river was 2 metres deep - or 22 metres deep.
With no charts we were very careful and the dinghy out in front proved a great help, alerting us a number of times to shallows, but it was then able to help find the deepest part of the river again and lead us through.
We are now anchored off the small village of San Pedro - situated on a sandy spit jutting out into the river.
Some of the crew went sailing in a bongo this afternoon, with Max - a young Brazilian boy from the village. His bongo has a bright blue sail.
Don, Ollie, Marc and I went with Carlos to another village a further 6 miles up the river - where they build bongos for sale - sending them to the city of Santarem.
The houses were built in rows either side of their main sandy “street” - with mango trees laden with fruit and palms of all shapes and sizes in between.
The boat builders were working on 15 new craft of varying sizes - all built with great skill from one particular type of tree - a hard but workable wood that withstands (they told us) up to 40 years in the fresh water of the river. We asked the price of a 6 person bongo - a magnificent small craft - double ended, about 4.5 metres long with 3 seats and a jaunty sheer. One hundred dollars was the answer!
Most of these craft were being constructed out in the open - but beneath the canopy of tall trees surrounding the village.
It is Saturday night in the Amazon, but it won’t be a late night as we have a very early start and a long way to go to get to the waterfall at Cachiera do Arua - find the man who looks after the manatees - swim - pack up and retrace our steps back to Seamaster.
Manatees - strange docile mammals that are vegetarian only. Maybe the idea of mermaids came from the manatee. They harm no-one and are thankfully fully protected here - by the local people and the government alike.
But it wasn’t always so.
In the 1820’s there were more than 5000 caught nearby in a 2 year period - in one large bay - and killed for their blubber. An industry to make the pots to hold the precious oil developed at the same time.
It is approximately the same timing as the slaughter taking place in the Antarctic of fur seals - for their fine coats, and elephant seals, penguins, and anything else with fat or blubber that could be “rendered down” to light the lamps of the streets of large cities - or lubricate machinery.
The fur seals are making a better recovery than the manatee.
We want to spend some time with the manatees in their natural environment at some stage of our time in the Amazon - before they all disappear altogether.
What a sad and totally avoidable state of affairs - but one that applies to so many species.
Isn’t it time for a conscience?
It is now 5:30 pm and it will soon be dark.
We are anchored for the night in a deep “hole” between sand bars, with the village of San Pedro only a few hundred metres away.
Seamaster is probably the largest craft to come this way for many a year.
We are an oddity amongst the bongos, the thatched houses, and the silence that is one like nowhere else.
All the best from the Seamaster crew.