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Lost in the Amazon

Lost in the Amazon

Lost in the Amazon

20 Aug 2019 Experiences, Couples, Family, River Cruise, Travel Stories, Travel Tips

Words by Roderick Eime

 

If it weren’t for the brown, turbid waters and the little, powered canoes, you’d think the riverine city of Belém was a mini Miami or Surfers Paradise – given all the highrises piercing the low clouds. This busy port was the site of the first European settlement in the Amazon, dating back to 1616. It is situated on the Guama River, one of the many arteries that comprise the Amazon Delta.

 My guide, Cicero is, at 64, an authentic man of the jungle and makes our visit to Belém an enriching experience. We walk with Cicero through the local market – a stone’s throw from where our ship, Ponant’s superb Le Soleal, is moored at the old rubber industry wharf.

 All manner of peculiar fruit and vegetables are on display for our inspection. Fruits with names like cupuacu, bacuri, tapereba and acerola are piled on wobbly tresses. Like dense little apples, the acai fruit is the only one I recognise.

 “This fruit has made the fortune of the river people,” Cicero says. “We export it all over the world for its amazing medicinal properties. Once we had rubber, now it’s acai!”

 Cicero’s eyes light up when I ask to try some of these colourful elixirs. I hand him some reals (about AUD$5 worth) and ask him to buy some juice for us, which produces an amusing range of expressions as the unfamiliar flavours assail our tastebuds. Our regenerating livers, revitalized synapses and vanishing kidney stones rejoice in unison.

 Deeper inside the historic shed we meet Batu, a feisty woman of 70-odd who presents us with a baffling range of jungle remedies. A small photo gallery displays her extensive celebrity clientele. The fish market reveals an even more astonishing variety of produce, with several species looking like prototypes for the next Ridley Scott movie.

 After lunch, we motor a short distance upriver with Cicero, visiting a plot of secondary forest where we meet big furry spiders, industrious ants and a few remaining kapok trees – once the lords of this jungle. Our local hosts offer us a powerful spirit made from sugar cane and some mysterious leaves. I try some and my tongue immediately electrifies. I turn to ask Cicero what the heck I just sipped and he laughs uproariously.

 On the return journey, past the many little stilt houses and moored ferries, we discuss the radical changes in the jungle that he’s witnessed over a lifetime and not all tell a cheery tale.

 Today proves that expedition cruises, like the ones on offer at Ponant, are about more than sightseeing in exotic locations. It’s a chance to interact with the locals and hear their stories.

 

FIVE FACTS

  1. The AMAZON DELTA is 300 kilometres wide and pours water into the Atlantic at the rate of one litre for every person on Earth, every second.
  2. ACAI is the most popular fruit of the Amazon region, extolled for its many health benefits, and is widely cultivated and exported.
  3. BELÉM was founded in 1616 by the Portuguese and was the first European colony on the Amazon.
  4. There are more than 3000 DIFFERENT SPECIES OF FISH in the Amazon and almost half of those are catfish.
  5. DEFORESTATION remains a problem in Brazil, which recently released its worst annual deforestation figures in a decade – equivalent to one million football pitches.

Travel writer Roderick Eime specialises in expedition cruising, and has been sailing to remote locations for 20 years. Twitter @rodeime

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