Stories from the Amazon
The skyline of Belem Brazil, which sits at the mouth of the Amazon River.
Jacobs Journey Brings Him to the Mouth of the Amazon River
The skyline of Belem, Brazil, was barely visible in the early morning light as our boat approached the dock.
This part of my journey had been a challenge. Three days earlier, before I was scheduled to leave on this leg of my journey, someone stole my computer. Right from under my nose in the Internet café.
Depressed, I didn’t eat for two days on the boat. I struggled to engage with people.
A million times I replayed the scene in my mind, trying to figure out how it happened.
Eventually, I came to this conclusion. I can lose my computer or cameras, but no one can ever take away my experiences. The moments that remain in my heart and mind are what it was like to drink from the source of the Amazon at 17,000 feet in Peru. What it was like to swim with piranhas, to be covered by monkeys and to be deep in the Amazon Rainforest with the Achuar nation in Ecuador. The list of things to be grateful for will always be longer than thinking about how my computer got stolen.
The computer and cameras are tools that help me communicate the experience. They are not the experience.
So, my first order of business in Belem was to find a temporary replacement for my stolen computer.
I went to a local department store and found a clerk to help me.
From the display case, I selected the cheapest computer. It looked more like a toy with a handle attached on the side so young students could carry it to school. All it was missing was kitty stickers.
“I will help you set it up,” explained the clerk in Portuguese to one of my traveling friends, who then translated for me in English.
He pushed the power button; no response. Second computer; same result.
“This is the last computer we have in this style in stock,” the sales clerk said.
The third one was the charm. Good thing, because every other option cost at least $500 more.
I asked, “Now, what about this Portuguese keyboard?”
“We can change that for you, ” he replied.
“Good, because we don’t have a big pile of people in Nebraska who read Portuguese.”
Back in my room I took a Sharpie pen and remarked the keys on the keyboard. The toy computer was now ready to accompany me during the rest of my journey.
The mouth of the Amazon River is 200 miles wide. That’s like a trip from Fremont, Neb., to Kansas City, Mo.
It had to be crossed by boat because it’s part of my story. Back to the dock I went.
The dock of Macapa, Brazil.
For 24 hours, my boat traversed the mouth of the Amazon River to reach Macapa on the other side of the river. By this time I’m an old river hand on the boat and know the routine pretty well — hang hammock, find bathrooms, locate mess hall.
Determined to keep moving, I had already bought my return ticket to Belem on the boat scheduled to leave the next day. I had six hours to explore Macapa before it got dark.
I hitched a ride into town and was dropped off at the equator. Five months earlier, I had explored the equator in Ecuador. Now, I found it one more time before it darted off into the deep Atlantic Ocean.
Right next to the official marker, the equator divides a soccer field. One goal is set in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. It seemed like the perfect way to resolve disputes from different parts of the world.
The next stop was a fort the Portuguese built along the edge of the Amazon River. Apparently, the Portuguese didn’t trust the French, so 250 years ago they erected a formidable fort to protect their territory. Today the fort is lined with silent cannons that point toward gigantic ocean-going ships anchored offshore. The wooden ships where the cannons would have been housed are now long forgotten.
Next to the fort was a long pier that jutted into the river.
I quietly strolled along the pier and found some steps leading to the water. As I sat on a step, I reached down to touch the Amazon River. I wanted to feel the water one more time, to smell it and to know and understand it a little more.
Almost 4,000 miles upriver from this point, I touched the same water high in the Andes of Peru. It only seemed appropriate to touch it once again, like a congratulatory handshake between river and explorer.
In the evening, I watched a full moon rise over Macapa. I was making plans for my final stop along the Amazon River – the Atlantic Ocean.
The marker for the location of the equator in Macapa, Brazil (left).
A canon is pointed towards the Amazon River from the Portuguese Fort in Macapa Brazil. The structure is 250 years old and was built to protect the Amazon Territory from the French (right).