Santarem - Merging of Rivers

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March 14th 2014
Published: March 15th 2014
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Friday – Mar. 14/14, Santarem

Today’s port of call is Santarem, which is located midway between Belem and Manaus. The city is situated at the joining of the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers. The notes from the Location Team state this meeting as follows: Santarem is where the murky, brownish-yellow waters of the Amazon River meet the aquamarine waters of the Tapajós River. For miles beyond the merging of the rivers, the different colored waters don’t mix and there’s a very visible dividing between them.”

The city of Santarem was first established in 1661 and is named after a city in Portugal. The original residents of the area were the Tapajós Indians who developed an agricultural dominance in the area before the Europeans arrived. Today the city of 300,000 still relies on agriculture, primarily soybeans, cattle ranching, and exports of those products, via the river, for its main economy. Previously the area was noted for its large rubber plantations including the one established by Henry Ford.

Today we opted, once again, to take two different tours: Brooke going on the “Santarem Highlights” and I on the “Tapajós National Forest”.

The Highlights tour included a drive along the colorful waterfront of the city and a stop at the open air Municipal Market. Here the local inhabitants can purchase their fish (hundreds of varieties exist in the Amazon), meat, fruits and vegetables. The tour continued on to the Cathedral for a photo opportunity and then to a lookout point to observe the meeting of the rivers. This was followed by a stop at the Joao Fona Cultural Center, which is a small museum that houses a collection of ceramics, items detailing the African slave trade. The final stop was at the Manioc Flour House outside the city, where the group had the opportunity to see Brazil nut trees, see the tapping of a rubber tree and the production of tapioca.

My adventure took us 1½ hours out of the city into the Tapajós National Forest for a walk through a portion of rain forest. The national forest itself covers an area of approximately 1.5 million acres and is protected by Federal Law. This mean that “managed” removal of trees from the forest is permitted under strict permits. Brazil also has extensive areas of forest where no one is allowed to remove any timber.

On our tour we were accompanied by several local native residents who assisted us by: 1/ using a chainsaw to clear the road of fallen trees so that the bus could enter the forest; 2/machetes to clear our walking paths; 3/ help our tour guide identify local plant species.

As the tour was recommended for those guests who were primarily interested in forest flora the trip did not disappoint. Since most animal inhabitants of the rain forest are nocturnal we did not see any creatures. We did see a number of bugs, though fortunately none bit us, and we heard the calls of birds high in the canopy out of sight and high-powered camera lenses.

On our respective returns we looked over the native handicraft displays that had been set up on the pier. Brooke purchased several items for gifts and I went back after lunch to select a mask for our collection. Guests returning to the ship with wood products are required to surrender them to a crew member who then places them in the ship’s freezer for at least 48 hours in the hope that the cold temperatures will kill off any insects that may have infected the wood. We were given receipts for our purchases and they will be returned to us before we reach Ft. Lauderdale in two weeks.

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