Amazon River, Day 21 and 22, Lassoing Logs
01 April 2012 | Amazon River, Brazil
We were told by many a Brazilian not to miss that most beautiful beaches of all the Amazon at a place called Alter do Chao. What they failed to tell us was that during the flood season the beaches are under water. Not running off the locals, life goes on and approaching the flooded beach location we found many of the bars and restaurants still open (and under water) with many people still with their toes in the sand, although lounging in chairs that sat in a foot of water. There was so much water we were able to dingy inside one restaurant and order our beer and fish without leaving the dingy.
Back in Santarem we fueled up at a live aboard floating Shell station (with free coffee) , kicked a bucket for a local television station (literally the host singled us out in the park, interviewed us, then had me kick a tin pale as hard as I could, much to the amusement of any onlookers), and enjoyed a cupacu (tropical sweet and sour fruit) chocolate swirled soft serve ice cream cone before heading off down river. We had a bit of late start as our anchor had got hooked on massive piece of concrete which Diego finally relieved us of holding his breath and doing a dead lift by squatting off of the anchor 30 feet underwater.
With the current now with us we stayed in the middle of the Amazon River where the water is deepest and would sometimes hit speeds of 10 knots. Still plagued with floating river grass islands and debris we had to jump in the water to clear the prop every couple hours. The floating grass islands are so big they contain an entire ecosystem within themselves (cricket and frogs included) and at night we could hear them coming before we would see them. A lighting storm (they only seem to hit at night) gave us 30 knots of wind on the nose which against the 5 knots of current created quite a nasty chop that would slap against boat making Molly think we were being attacked by river monsters.
I woke the next morning (still going day and night on 8 hour shifts) to some texas hee hawing and came on deck to find Steve, wearing his leather cowboy vest, had just lassoed a massive log. I then noticed all the other logs and driftwood attached to the boat as ornaments and sticking out of the bow. While navigating some of the thickest debris we had seen, the boys were entertaining themselves by lassoing passing logs, seeing who could catch the biggest one and then tying them to the boat. I quickly joined in the new game and lassoed such a behemoth that when we tried to crank her out of the water with a halyard it heeled the boat over and we had to release the prize catch. This carried on for quite some time much to the enjoyment of the three of us boys, although Molly was thoroughly unimpressed.
Even though on our way out the Amazon, we weren't done exploring just quite yet and so took another detour down a side river. Snaking our way down a smaller and smaller river some locals in dugout canoes approaches us waving their arms. We stopped just feet from where a single electric cable crossed the river just 50 feet above us (well in range for our mast to hit). We threw hook and decided to stop for a visit. We were invited inside their simple, but colorful homes (built on stilts amongst the flooded jungle) where we exchanged some shirts and pens for some fruit and a hike through their jungle. Because it is flood season much of the hike was done through a foot of water with occasional jungle creek crossings of waist deep. The hike revealed much of what could be expected of the Amazon jungle with massive palms, uninviting trees covered in spikes , and huge vines snaking their way around everything.
Back at the small village everyone gathered on the dock to wish us off and as we rounded the bend 200 meters away they were all still waving as we disappeared from view. We picked another, but much smaller, river to explore. The creek narrowed to 20 feet at times and I wondered how we would turn around to make it back out. Twice we nearly got stuck in the trees with the mast as leaves and branches fell on deck. We were finally forced to stop where a log blocked our path and so we tied to it. A large pink river dolphin had followed us up the narrow channel and would occasionally splash around the boat. Diego and I ventured further into the jungle by dingy over logs and up rapids. The jungle was Jurassic park thick and we half expected to see a dinosaur, but to our disappointment did not.
There were three huts up the channel all with families that were related to each other. One family with three kids invited us over for some fresh acai juice. The acai grows wild on palms that line the river bank and ashore in their hut they showed us how to husk and grind it into a pulp. Served in a bowl, without the addition of sugar, farinha (ground up dried manioc, similar looking to sawdust) is added and the mixture is then consumed by spoon. While eating we learned that they had married when he was 17 and she 12 (a common practice here). It then took some effort to pry Diego away from the kids, but we had to get back to main river by sunset and the sun was dropping fast and so we carried on.