10 March 2012 | Belem, Brazil
Belem (population 1.5 million) is the gateway to the Amazon with all international traffic flowing in or out the river passing through this bustling port city. We were made aware of this at 5 am when we were hit by a group of rowers. Being too hot to sleep inside the boat the loud thud woke me instantly in the cockpit but after a few words and no damage done they carried on. I was only asleep for a few more minutes when I thought an alien craft was going to land on us but finally realized it was just the early morning triple decker river ferry shining its spotlight down on us. The confusion lessened with the rising sun and now the boat traffic that swirled around us could be seen and admired.
Ashore cannons lined the riverfront dating from the 1600s when the Portuguese kicked out the French and the Dutch. Old churches had greenery growing out of every crevice as a reminder of the proximity of the jungle. The hot air was heavy with humidity and upon entering an air conditioned bank I was actually content with the slow pace of the tellers.
Back at the boat we saw a passing sailboat (our first on the Amazon) and we dingied over to say hello and exchange information. It was a French couple and we learned of a quieter anchorage with two other French sailboats two hours around the corner in front of the Beira Rio Hotel. As the current was whisking us away as we talked I wasn´t able to get more details or a distance but didn´t think it would be too hard to find. We picked up hook and headed the direction they had pointed, but with so much current against us we dropped hook again for a few hours to wait on the switch. By the time the tide reversed again it was dark and we were now moving along at 8 knots desperately trying to pick out two masts from the glowing backdrop of the city. Realizing we passed it we turned around, but trying to make way against the current proved futile and so being less than a mile from our intended destination we put the brakes on once again and waited for another 5 hours until the tide switched back. The two hours to the anchorage ended up taking us more than 12 hours.
The next day Diego spent trying, unsuccessfully, to fill our propane tank with cooking gas while I ran to the Port Captain and Navy base to collect info and charts for the river. Not allowed in with shorts on I had to buy a used pair of pants ($5) from a street watch vender just to be let in. I was finally able to score some river charts although they were from 1987 and lacked latitude and longitude coordinates.
Arriving back at the hotel I found my brother Dave and nephew Elias (Indiana) waiting with a bucket of ice cold beers. They had flown in on a last minute visit, taking a break from cotton farming in the Brazilian state of Bahia. A few minutes later the lovely Molly (Nebraska) arrived in to join the crew followed later in the evening by Steve (Texas). Along with Celesta, Rebecca, and Diego, the 8 bubbles crew took a night out on the town practicing our Samba moves with the locals. We heard of a river surfing festival that just started 60 miles up a side river so the next day the plan was make a move.