and mystical, the Amazon always amazes. It is the "lungs"
of the planet as its tropical rainforests replenish half of the
world's oxygen, and also its "fountain" as it has the
largest volume of fresh water on earth.
4,000 miles long, the Amazon is the second largest river in the
world (after the Nile, which is 4,145 miles long). But its list of superlatives is second
to none: Of the 22,000 known species of plants in the world, 18,000
can be found in the Amazon
Basin, including numerous orchids and the gigantic Victoria Regia water
Amazon has more than 1,500 tributaries, eight of which are
themselves more than 1,000 miles long. It and its tributaries cover
2,722,000 square miles or 40 percent of
Brazil, crossing the South American continent from its source in the
Peruvian Andes to its mouth in the Atlantic, where it deposits eight trillion gallons of water each year (that
is 60 times more than the
and 11 times more than the
Mississippi). More than 1,500 of the world's known 2,000 species of fish are
found in the Amazon including the infamous piranhas. And its rich
fauna also includes jaguars, anacondas, pumas, caimans, monkeys,
macaws and toucans. Not to mention 1,300 species of butterflies.
shamans—its rainforest is considered
a sacred and powerful place—have
worked with scientists in the development of such drugs as quinine,
steroids, muscle relaxants and cancer treatments.
on the Amazon River
beauty is legendary—with different
color rivers colliding with it and running parallel for miles
without mixing. No wonder a voyage up the Amazon is in many
travelers' wish list for the trip of a lifetime.
was on my husband's and mine, so we selected Fred. Olsen Cruises'
19,089-ton, 727-passenger Braemar (the former Crown Dynasty) for a
14-night cruise out of Barbados that would journey the 900 miles
from the mouth of the great river to Manaus, the capital of Amazonia.
we boarded the Braemar we felt like explorers in the wake of
Francisco de Orellana, the Spaniard who in 1541 named the river
"Amazonas" for the Amazons of Greek mythology as his
expedition encountered fierce female warriors in the area.
the Braemar, two lecturers aided our understanding of the river and
the region: Luiz Pifanio Da Silva, a Brazilian tour guide who lives
in Manaus and who gave slide talks on the ports, and David Saunders,
a British naturalist who lectured on the Amazon's fauna including
such creatures as the Bota dolphins (similar to bottlenose dolphins
but pink) and the endangered Amazon manatees.
enrichment and pastimes included art classes by British
watercolorist Frank Halliday, cooking demonstrations, trivia
contests, bingo, golf putting, and because five out of six of the
688 passengers were British (Fred. Olsen's voyages are marketed
chiefly in Great Britain) also such activities as darts, whist and carpet bowls.
onboard included a pool, two jacuzzis, gym, sauna, beauty salon,
library and two sea-view restaurants. The main dining room features
two seatings for dinner with extensive menus offering two
appetizers, two soups, two salads, seven main courses, cheeses and
five desserts each evening. A casual buffet-style restaurant served
breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight
buffets. The food quality and presentation and the service from the
Filipino staff were excellent.
ship also has limited casino facilities featuring two gaming tables
and slots and a variety of lounges including a show venue where
musical revues alternate with variety entertainment. Our cabin was
attractively decorated in earth tones with such conveniences as hair
dryer, safe, a fresh fruit basket replenished daily, and television
with CNN, CNNfn, TNT and three movie channels. Chantana, our
stewardess, kept it spotless. Orellana would have been green with
of our explorations included the following:
Several hours before reaching the 125-mile-wide mouth of the Amazon,
was no longer blue, but tinged yellowish-brown with the water from
the river. Astounding!
adventure begins," said Gary Nicholson, our cruise director.
in the river, at the town of
, which lies at the equator, the ship was cleared, we picked up two
pilots and proceeded up river. Its shores are lush with vegetation
and we passed an occasional hut on stilts and canoes and boats—the
people always waved to us.
first sunset on the river was dramatic with the sun coloring the sky
in gold and scarlet and turning the water a rich tone of ochre.
A highlights tour of this port, the second largest in our itinerary
Manaus) included visits to its market, the Cathedral and an old manioc
flour factory where rubber trees could also be seen. Another tour
offering was a nature walk in the Santa Lucia forest with more than
400 species of trees. We opted for a boat tour to Maica Lake
($56). This excursion took us to the "Wedding of the
Waters," where the brownish Amazon and the green
River meet and their waters run parallel for miles. Amazing! Da Silva told
us this is caused because the Amazon is colder, denser and faster.
Cambodia," a woman said at the railing while enjoying the panorama
unfolding before us: huts on stilts, rice paddies, water buffaloes,
locals in canoes. Interestingly, anthropologists theorize that the
native peoples of this area came over from
and other parts of
before the continents separated and their faces have a definite
Asian air, Da Silva explained.
our way to
we spotted two dolphins jumping in the distance. We stopped at a
corner of the lake and the crew passed out fishing line with chunks
of meat for bait and about 20 of us fished for piranhas. Soon we
caught a mid-size black piranha—its teeth were triangular and
small but very sharp. A few minutes later, another piranha was
caught. The crew fried the two fish in oil and a little manioc flour
and served them to us—a tasty and meaty treat—kind
of like sole.
This corner of
is known for its folklore, so we signed up for the Folkloric
Festival Tour ($56) in the
Parintins. Buses took us to the Caprichoso covered stadium where we were
welcomed with "capirinhas" (a local drink made with lime
juice, sugar and "cachaza" or sugar cane alcohol). Dozens
of dancers and musicians entertained us non-stop for more than an
hour with an overflowing joie de vivre, rhythmic music, colorful
costumes and elaborate floats. The Boi Bumba Caprichoso show,
considered one of the best folkloric shows in
Brazil, Da Silva said, told the story of two disputing families: the Cids
and Monteverdes, who each created an artistic bull and competed to
see who would sing a better song and recite a more beautiful poem.
The experience was like a mini-Carnaval.
is a city of 1,700,000 inhabitants at the confluence of the Amazon
Rio Negro, a river with black waters that meet and run parallel to the
brownish Amazon for miles. A City Highlights Tour ($52) took in the
Teatro Amazonas, the famous opera house inaugurated in 1896 and
surrounded by 19th century and turn of the 20th century buildings. A
symbol of the region's rubber boom, the elegant 700-seat Belle
Epoque-style theater—as beautiful as an orchid blooming in the
jungle—was built using the finest imported materials:
Italy, dome tiles from France, stone from
Portugal. Its many chandeliers are of Murano glass from
small museum has costumes from early productions and memorabilia
from artists who performed in the opera house such as Margot
Fonteyn's pink ballet slippers, looking very delicate in a glass
tour also took in the
with its displays of Amazonian animals including caimans, manatees
and blue morpho butterflies, and an aquarium with piranhas and
200-pound pirarucus, at six-feet in length, the largest scaly fish
in the Amazon. "But every year we find a new species of fish or
other animals, or a new tribe—the Amazon is still a mystery,"
our guide Jairo said.
also visited the National Institute of Amazonian Research, a vast
botanical garden where we spotted monkeys, two macaws and a sloth.
Two days in
allowed for such adventuresome options as a Nighttime Caiman
Spotting Tour ($60), jungle treks ($80) and a two-day stay at a
jungle lodge ($450).
de Valeria arrival
seemed to be doing a samba along the green banks near the small dock
at Boca de Valeria as our ship's tender arrived. It seemed that
everyone in the small village had come out to receive us: several
children in feather headdresses and native costumes, most everyone
else in Western-style clothing. They brought their pets, from snakes
to toucans. "It's a party for them when a ship comes in,"
Da Silva said.
had set up booths with beads and wood carvings for sale. And we were
able to walk around the village of thatched huts and wood houses on
stilts and visit their small and simple church on stilts and their
one-room schoolhouse with 16 desk-chairs and a blackboard.
river runs clear at this village and there are white sand beaches—so
this was our opportunity to swim in the Amazon. "Since the
water is clear you can see the piranhas coming," Da Silva had
locals greeted us at the dock—many with their pets: lots of sloths,
some turtles and parrots. A short trip across the bay to a pretty
island with a white sand beach was $1 via 4-passenger canoes—a
great chance to try the local transportation. The water was clear
and cool—refreshing against the hot sun.
of the people in the villages spend their whole lives there—leaving
maybe once a month to go to a town to get some supplies," Da
Silva said. "They fish. They plant a few things. It's another
world—a different world."
only port on our itinerary outside the Amazon was Ile Royale, one of
the trio of the Isles du Salut islands of French Guiana—the most
famous (infamous) of which is Devil's Island, site of the French
penal colony where according to local lore more than 30,000
prisoners died between 1852 and 1939. Depicted in the film "Papillon"
with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, Ile Royale was the
administrative center of the penal colony. We were able, on
self-guided tours, to visit prisoners' cells (no larger than our
closet back home, with a solitary, high and heavily barred window)
and view the church and other buildings. Nature—lush and free—was
the main attraction, though, with abundant vegetation including
palms, bamboo, bougainvillea and hibiscus. And such footloose and
fancy-free inhabitants as monkeys, peacocks, macaws and caimans. A
red macaw flew down from a tree to nibble on a passenger's toes—he
was, unwisely, wearing sandals.
we walked on the island's trails, we were serenaded by birds and
every so often we could hear the loud cries of peacocks—as
memorable and exotic as our journey to this corner of the world.
Cruise-Only fares for the 14-night voyage began at $2,665
per person. Currency on board the Braemar is the British pound, but
major credit cards are accepted and U.S. dollars welcomed for tips.
Requirements on our sailing included a Brazilian visa and a yellow
fever vaccine. Protection against malaria, hepatitis A, and typhoid
is recommended. Bring insect repellent, binoculars, plenty of film
and a raincoat—it rained frequently during our cruise. Call