20 March 2012 | Amazonia, Brazil
We are now in a labyrinth of rivers trying to make our way around Marajo Island (largest freshwater island in the world and bigger than 70 of the world’s contries) to get to the Amazon River (even though in Amazon waters the river itself is still days away). We did a short pit stop at the river town of Breves for water and ice cream before taking a shortcut that we hope leads to another river which will eventually lead us to the Amazon. Called ‘furos’ in Portuguese these mini rivers connect the many larger outflows of the Amazon estuary, but caution must be taken because although they are usually deep (around 50 feet), some end is sand bars just as you reach your intended river junction forcing you to turn around and go all the way back just as a dead end in a maze would.
Only a hundred feet wide and full of river people and their homes (all built on stilts) there was a ‘Venice in the jungle’ feel to the furo we had selected. After a monsoon downpour people came out to witness our passing with as much curiosity for us as we had for them. Small children (sometimes as young as five) would row out to us waving and smiling happily. Sometimes they would grab Bubbles and hang on for a ride while we passed them some juicy fruit chewing gum.
Getting back to a bigger river the homes and people thinned. To avoid the axis of the current that flowed against us (the tide no longer reaching us) we hugged close to the jungle which offered something to watch as we slowly moved along at 3 knots. The jungle was thick, lush, steamy, green alive. In it we saw monkeys, macaws (large colorful parrots), wood peckers and buffalo. Whenever we would pass a river house we would get the occasional holler from the residents and always a thumbs up, a common salute amongst the Brazilians.
Loving the smaller rivers most we would leave the larger river at every opportunity. Once we saw an opening and turned in to have a look. With solid, green jungle rising over 100 feet on either side of us we were in a narrow corridor leading deeper into the forest. Then we came to a fork where like a magical oasis palm trees studded the banks. There was a house on stilts and a dock. We stopped and two native boys paddled over to us in their dugout canoe. Tying Bubbles to one of the palm trees we jumped in for a swim. Their father paddled over as well. His name was Burt and we talked of what it was like for him to raise his family in such a remote jungle paradise (the map even labels this site ‘paraiso’, Portuguese for paradise. 1’19S 51’26W). As the sun was getting low we needed to get back to the main river with light so we took a picture (I printed one for Burt) and away we went.
Back on the main river just as it was dark we were hugging close to shore to avoid the current. I was below when a loud thud knocked on the hull and I was thrown forward to the familiar lunge of running aground. Rushing on deck, the first thing I noticed in the darkness was that we were listing. I had Diego jump overboard to see if a hole had been punctured in the hull. Fearing we might be sinking I put Steve on the manual bilge pump while Molly held her breath. When Diego couldn’t find a hole and Steve had the bilge dry and confirmed it was staying that way I began to worry next about getting us unstuck. A native appeared in dugout canoe offering assistance and informing us that an old dock was beneath (explaining the loud thud). With a little push and high revs we were off and on our way back up river.
A couple hours later the engine made a grinding noise and immediately throwing her in neutral discovered with a flashlight that Molly had driven through a massive patch of lillys. At first trying to remove with the boat hook and gaff, to no avail, Diego and I both had to get in the water to wrestle the jungle out from under the boat. I feared what might be in the water, but it was the ants living on the lilies that caused the most suffering to me as they were biting my neck at the waterline. As each time I dove to get to the prop to free her of the entanglement I feared not the dark water but the ants that I knew would bite me as I resurfaced. Once all removed and back on deck we fired the engine back up and were under way once again. However, because the current had taken us downstream while we cleared the debris it took as an hour just to get back to where we were. At least we got a refreshing night swim in the river.