Stories from the Amazon

  • Home along edge of Amazon River
    A house sits along the edge of the Amazon River in Brazil.

    Jacobs Gets a Glimpse of Poverty Along the Amazon

    By the time the horn blew to announce the ship’s departure, my hammock was tied and my backpack was stored for the next leg of my journey down the Amazon River.

    With almost 1,000 miles left to the Atlantic from Manaus, Brazil, I was anxious to be on my way. The mouth of the Amazon River still seemed far away, but that light at the end of the tunnel was getting closer.

    Eastward bound, the engines churned and the jungle passed.

    I stood on the deck and leaned against the railing that separated me from a long fall to the river. The humid air rolled across my face and cooled my skin. At this stage, the water is probably around 150 feet deep.

    A silly thought crossed my mind. For a guy who doesn’t know how to swim, this is probably not a good place to jump into the river.

    As I stood there deep in my thoughts, a plastic bag sailed out from the ship. It landed with a splash on the river. Soon another bag followed.

    I wondered, “Why would people pollute this amazing river?”

    My initial judgment turned out to be premature as I watched the floating bags bob up and down in the ship’s wake.

    A woman with three small children in a canoe paddled aggressively and snatched up the plastic bags.

    Apparently, they were filled with treasures for the people who were poor and lived in the jungle. Clothes, toys and food were stuffed into the bags and given to those who lived along the river’s edge.

    More people in canoes left houses perched on stilts and maneuvered toward the center of the river to meet the passing ship. At times, the children in the canoes would wave vigorously; apparently, that increased the chances of a flying treasure coming their way.

    Boats floating below the ship
    Canoes edge the boat on the Amazon River route to Santarem looking for handouts.

    Young boy in boat looking for handout
    A young boy looks up from his canoe on the Amazon River in Brazil, hoping for a plastic bag filled with goodies.

    I contemplated what it must be like living on the edge of a river that rises and falls an average of 30 feet each year.

    The closest I got to experience the lives of the people in the canoes is when I stepped into one of the ship’s toilet areas when it was time to shower. The ship didn’t have large tanks of clean and clear water running through the pipes. Instead, water was pulled straight from the river. So, each time I turned on the shower, out came the same brown murky water that was in the river.

    I tried not to think about it, but I still wondered where the water in the pipes went each time I flushed the toilet.

    When it came time for lunch and dinner, I never had to guess what would be on the menu. The selection never changed. Rice, beans and chicken or beans, chicken and rice — changing the order didn’t help either.

    After a couple of days, the ship pulled into the port at Santarem. This was the halfway point from Manaus to the city of Belem that sits at the mouth of the Amazon.

    I jumped off. Even though I was anxious to see the mouth of the Amazon, I wanted to take in more of the jungle. I had already noticed the sides of the river looked differently. There were fewer large trees that often towered above the canopy in the upper Amazon rain basin.

    Our ship had passed several small lumber mills on the edge of the river. The number seemed to increase as we continued east toward the Atlantic.

    Several other travelers had recommended I stop at the village of Alter do Chao near Santarem. So, off I set on a local bus headed that direction.

    After a bit of searching, I walked into a hostel in the village with a couple of new traveling companions from Italy and Paraguay.

    Outside the hostel in the trees were several iguanas.

    “A place with guard iguanas works for me,” I said as I unloaded my backpack and made my way to the shower.

    When I turned on the shower, I watched clear water squirt out.

    Even better.

    Young boy in boat
    A young boy views the Amazon River on the front of the boat Sao Bartolomeu III, heading for Santarem, Brazil.

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.