(Click on photos to enlarge.) We have done some interesting trips since our retirement. Definitely self-driving through Africa was one, as was our incredible trip to Uruguay, The Malvinas Islands, Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, and Antarctica. Another amazing trip was our river trip up the Amazon. If you want to do this trip prepare yourself for bugs, bugs, bugs, some discomfort due to heat and humidity, and an unforgettable experience!
Our Amazon experience started with a visit to Devils Island. The island is part of the Iles du Salut Island group in the Atlantic, located 9 miles off the coast of French Guiana in South America. This island was a infamous penal colony run buy France for over 100 years discharging its last prisoner in 1953. It was in fact one of six prisons run by France in South America during this time frame.
Famous inmates included Alfred Dreyfus who was innocent but imprisoned for treason, and Papillion.
The island still contains the cell block structures, the “insane” asylum, the hospital, and the solitary confinement cells, where prisoners like Papillion were held for years. All can be toured except the asylum, which we toured anyway. (Hey, I wanted to see it!)
This place is truly one of the most forbidding places I have ever been. The temperature and humidity seemed equally in the 100’s. The insects, despite industrial strength DEET applied all your body and hair still tortured us. We learned to slather DEET on ourselves, then cover with mosquito proof clothes and hats, and then spray your clothes, hair and hat with DEET. This helped. The insects that bit my husband on Devils Island caused huge ulcerating sores that lasted for several weeks. Sharks surround the island.
Not exactly a typical tourist destination. Although several people who were yachting around the world were anchored off the island and there is a small restaurant.
We next crossed the area where the contents of the Amazon empty into the Atlantic Ocean, called the Atlantic Confluence. An amazing sight! The fresh water from the river, being lighter, flows up on top of the seawater, diluting the ocean and changing its color over an area up to 250 square miles. This is a big river confronting and beating, for the aforementioned miles, a really big ocean. Remarkable.
See photos: (Hard to get good ones.) The process was so diffuse, lasted so long, and was so frustratingly hard to photograph, because there was no clarifying markers. In the photos you see odd brown water mixing with ocean water. This is something you have to see yourself to fully appreciate.
SANTAREM (Note: the river was seasonally low when we visited. The Houses, ramps, etc., are built to accommodate seasonal changes in the river.)
Our next stop was Santarem, a town 500 miles upriver, near the confluence with the clear water of Rio Tapajos. This was once a thriving rubber port supplying Henry Ford with rubber for car tires. It is the third largest town on the Brazilian Amazonas.
In Santarem we saw “The Meeting of the Waters,” where the blue Tapajos River and the silty Amazon River meet. We went on jungle hikes admist the incredible flora and fauna and saw monkeys, boas, many different types of parrots, sloths, turtles and a huge variety of large and small insects. We visited the incredible Mercado Modelo, which is a large market halfway between Belem and Manaus, selling amazing fish, produce and supplies.
Traveling further upriver we were constantly sighting the elusive pink dolphins which was quite exciting.
BOCA DE VALERIA
Our next stop was Boca De Valeria, home of the Cabacio Indian Settlements. This was an incredible place. We hiked in the jungle with indigenous guides seeing much more flora and fauna. We took a trip up a tributary off the Amazon in a dug out canoe with a native guide and his two-year-old son and visited villages scattered all around. We spent time in the main village and interacted with the very friendly people. We toured their school and donated school supplies we had brought for this purpose.
One does get a very clear sense in the Amazon that one would probably not be able to survive here if lost for several nights. It is a stunning, but sobering place. The people who have adapted to living here permanently are remarkable and impressive. They were also very nice and were welcoming towards us. Once you have been here, your desire to protect and preserve the people, animals and jungle becomes even more intense! It is a amazing place!
Parintins is an island town halfway from the mouth of the Amazon to Manaus. It has a population of 100,000. In Parintins we toured the interesting floating markets, essentially shops on boats on the river.
We explored downtown and the water front markets, visited the cathedral and most exciting of all took a small riverboat down a tributary for a day, where we fished and caught piranha, observed the incredible homes along the river and watched the spectacular wildlife.
We were mesmerized by the constant flow of water taxis up and down the river. People jump on the boats with the items they came to buy, sling up their hammocks and get ready for the ride up or down the river.
Our final stop was Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. This is the most populous city in the Amazonas, located 1000 miles from the mouth of the Amazon. It is situated near the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes, the two major rivers that form the Amazon. Manuas is becoming an eco-tourism destination and has some wonderful Eco-resorts which we did not stay at.
In Manaus we explored the city on foot, visited the Teatro Opera House, The Our Lady Immaculate Church and took a tour by riverboat up the Rio Negro to the January Ecological Park where we saw the giant water lily pads, more of the natural flora, fauna and Riberinhos (river house) settlements along the river banks.
This was the end of our Amazon experience. Several people we met were continuing on up the river for more adventure. Highly recommend you add this experience to your bucket list. It is a fascinating other world!
Interestingly The Opera House in Manaus had a plaque on the front of the building, stating that Matt Damon had paid for the building to be restored. It was strange seeing this sign in the middle of the Amazon. I guess he gets around!
We flew to Eleuthera on our way back to the US by puddle jumper. This is an interesting Caribbean Island in that is uncrowded and untouristed. The neighboring Harbor Island receives the bulk of visitors, so Eleuthera gives one a sense of the Caribbean without all the development. Apparently it was once a major tourist destination, but the tourist infrastructure was destroyed by a hurricane and never rebuilt.
We didn’t have room in our luggage for all the shells we collected in Eleuthera!
A trip up The Amazon isn’t for everyone. I am grateful to my husband for going along with me. It was a trip of a lifetime, that we will never forget!