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  • Writer's pictureSal Schmidt

Christmas on the Amazon - Brazil

Santarem | Parintins | Manaus

After four days at sea from the Caribbean on our 110-day cruise from Miami, we arrive on the Amazon River in Brazil to spend Christmas and bring in 2023 the new year aboard the beautiful Marina with Oceania Cruises.

Day nine - Santarem, Brazil

Yesterday was Christmas Day, which saw us sail into the Amazon River; we spent a day in awe of the vastness of the river and the colour change as we celebrated Christmas in a new country. We all woke with a little jolt as the ship ran aground, but we were back on our way after a few hours.

The Amazon travels through four countries at 4,345 miles in length and holds more water than any other; the Amazon River has no equal in its significance to the global ecosystem. It is one of the world's longest, feeding and nurturing the equally remarkable rainforest surrounding it. The enormous rainforest covers over 2 million square miles and is credited with harbouring roughly one-third of all species of living creatures.

As we cruised deeper into the Amazon, our first destination was Santarem, where the rivers meet. Two rivers surround Santarém: the Amazon, of muddy water, and the Tapajós, of clear and green water, forming a unique meeting of different waters that do not mix for several kilometres; it was pretty surreal. The "Meeting of Waters" phenomenon occurs due to temperature, speed and water density differences.

We were booked on a boat cruise afternoon excursion today; we wanted to see more of the Amazon and get up close and personal, so we skipped the city.

We were all aboard, about 20 of us making our way through the meeting of the waters, watching the local life on the water pass us by. It was interesting to see how the locals transit between towns; their seats are hammocks on boats and can take up to a few days to arrive. There were fuel stations out on the river for all the boat life and, surprisingly, dolphins in freshwater, pink and blue; we were lucky to catch a few glimpses as we navigated the rivers.

About one hour in, we arrived at a narrow part and enjoyed the change of pace as we navigated slowly, taking in the peacefulness and new landscapes of the Amazon and pinching ourselves. We were in The Amazon, another Bucket list!

Our captain found a shady spot on the river's edge, and it was time to all test our skills for Piranha fishing. It has been a while since I have been fishing or yabbying, so this would be interesting! They were kind enough to have the wooden reel tackled up for us, which would help avoid any accidents! Over the lines went, and we all spent an hour trying to catch a little one. Only two were seen amongst us all (Wayne & I were not successful), and they were tiny little ones who, of course, were returned to their natural habitat.

After our fishing experience, we were to head back up the river; again, we ran aground, and our crew were immersed in piranha waters to push us out; it was an eventful afternoon.

As we returned during the golden hour, we were blessed with more sightings of the dolphins, including the majestic pink dolphins, a first! Unfortunately difficult to capture, but the memories will remain with us.

After a long and hot afternoon, we were ready to freshen up and enjoy cocktails before dinner.

Day ten - Parintins, Brazil

Wayne and I love capturing the personality of a city, and today in Parintins, we did just this.

After arriving by tender boat at the pier, we turned left whilst everyone else turned right to get lost and unwrap the layers of the city street by street.

As we followed the paths, we discovered the vibrant street art on the homes, shop fronts, and streets. Parintins is home to an unusual number of artists, artisans, musicians and poets to produce the festival. You will find such a concentration of talent in no other city on the Amazon.

The architecture of the homes and churches was unique, and the local life surrounded us. Everyone was an absolute joy, and we smiled and waved as we walked by. Realising we need to learn a few phrases in Portuguese as this is now the local language.

The city was operating as a public holiday the day after Christmas, so it was quiet, and only a few stores were open.

After a few hours, we found our way back to the ship and spotted a few local young lads fishing by the water edge with a net and a bag to collect them, they gave us all a show and launched the net by the boats, and we watched them in awe as they pulled out a selection of fish for their bag!

Fun fact: In Parintins, everything revolves around the ox, the 'Boi Bumba'. An ancient fairy tale from the Amazon tells the story of the pregnant Catirina who suddenly desires to eat beef tongue. Her husband Francisco kills his master's best ox and is imprisoned for the crime. After a lengthy imprisonment, Francisco is finally freed because Paje, a medicine man and witch, brings the ox back to life.

There is an 86-year-old rivalry between the two Boi groups; the Garantido club uses red, and the Caprichoso club uses blue. This friendly and creative rivalry between the two Bois (oxen) is contagious and has divided the entire north of Brazil into two camps.

The houses of Parintins are all painted red or blue. The public telephones, the tickets, the clothes, everything is either red or blue. Even the event's main sponsor, Coca-Cola, had to invent a new logo for Parintins. People refer to the rival club simply as the "others".

Day 11 - Manaus, Brazil

Welcome to Manaus, the heart of Amazonia, 900 miles inland on the Rio Negro from the Atlantic and home to the famed Amazon Opera House. Also just a few miles from the meeting of the rivers.

We have heard about the Opera House from many fellow travellers. Hence, we opted for the Golden Era of Manaus tour to tick this off, in hindsight we should have opted to do the city independently as we became trapped on tour with the guide and 40 other passengers, also receiving a detailed history lesson on each visit, which extended the allowed time and became a very long day, without any free time to explore, eat or relax, definitely not Sal & Wayne style.

Back to the tour, our first visit was to Museu da Cidade, a museum in a neoclassical palace featuring hands-on exhibits tracing the culture & history of Manaus. This was supposed to be a 20 min visit, which lasted over one hour.

Following the museum, we arrived at Teatro Amazonas (Opera House), whereby we needed to wait out the front for 20 minutes before we could enter; we took a few snaps, and then we all entered the historical building from 1896 for a one-hour tour, it was impressive to see!

Partway through the tour, we snuck off to visit the cafe and fuel up to get through the remainder! A few other passengers had the same idea. Our guide soon came to rush us back to the bus for the next instalment, a visit to an old mansion built in 1903, Palacio Rio Negro.

Palácio Rio Negro is a former seat of government and residence of the governor of the state of Amazonas. The original name was Scholz Palace, built by the German entrepreneur Karl Waldemar Scholz, who was considered a "Rubber Baron".

We were nearing the end of the tour, last stop was a visit to the local municipality market; we took advantage of our 'free time' of 20 minutes and sourced an ATM and phone shop to purchase a prepaid SIM to stay connected; this caused a few hiccups as Brazil time is anything, but fast, so we asked our guide if we could walk back to the ship; the response was 'No' again, and we had 3 minutes to get back to the bus full of passengers! There was only so much we could do to expedite the purchasing process, and soon he was storming up the stairs to personally escort us; no idea how he found us in the busy centre, but he clearly had his contacts! We ran back to the bus (successfully purchasing the sim) and were greeted with a bus full of passengers waiting to go home! Very pleasant! The bus drove the two minutes to the pier, and we were back on the tenders heading for the ship! We quickly cancelled all future tours and chose to stay with the 'Sal & Wayne' style of discovering destinations independently and with flexibility! We are just no good with rules and restrictions.

Manaus was quite an intense city, with high poverty, pollution, rundown, and significantly populated, so you definitely need to have your wits about you. Uber was available to help you get from A to B safely and comfortably.

Day 12 - Manaus, Brazil

The ship stayed overnight in Manaus, so we all enjoyed a peaceful night on the Amazon. We opted to cancel our full-day excursion to the meeting of the rivers based on fellow passengers' feedback, having decided this would not be Wayne and Sal style. We chose to remain on the ship for the day and enjoy the quiet time to catchup on work. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset as we set sail to navigate our way out of the Amazon.

Day 13 - Amazon River, Brazil

Today was a day of enjoying cruising the Amazon River and making the most of the views from the balcony. It was also New Year's Eve, so a perfect excuse to pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate another exciting year of travel.

Here are a few fun facts about the Amazon to soak up with some cruising captures from the day as we travelled to the Atlantic Ocean and cruised south.

  • The Amazon is the world's largest tropical rainforest; it covers 40% of the South American continent and is home to over 2,000 species of animals.

  • One in ten known species in the world lives in the Amazon Rainforest, as do one in five known bird species, meaning one-third of the world species can be found in the Amazon. Some animals that live in the Amazon include jaguars, sloths, river dolphins, macaws, anacondas, glass frogs, and poison dart frogs and the most famous residents of the Amazon River, the Amazon river dolphin or boto, which can grow larger than a human.

  • It is unknown why the river pink dolphins develop their distinct pink colouration, but it is thought it is due to blood capillaries near the skin's surface.

  • The electric eel is the only known species in the electric fish genus. Despite its name, it is not actually an eel but rather a knife fish. They are more closely related to catfish than they are to eels. They can produce powerful electric shocks of up to 600 volts as a defence mechanism and for hunting. Known for their unusual breeding behaviour, in the dry season, the male constructs a nest from his saliva into which the female lays her eggs. As many as 3,000 young can hatch from the eggs of one female.

  • The Black Caiman is the largest of the Amazon reptiles and one of the largest and most effective predators. They have a dark, scaly skin, grow up to 10-14 feet in length, and sometimes exceed 800 pounds in weight. They hunt pretty much any land-based or river-dwelling animal. They've even been known to eat old or weak Caimans.

The evening was filled with fun moments with our dear cruise friends and more mouthwatering food on the beautiful Marina.

Join us for our next 'Brazil' chapter as we continue cruising southerly the Brazilian border with Oceania Cruises on our 110-day voyage around South America.

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