Riverdave’s Journal
November 1997

NOVEMBER 1, 1997 - Miami Airport

I sit and watch an incredible sunset ablaze over the airport tarmac. Would anyone out there just hire me to observe and give accounts of sunsets? That would be the most ideal job I could imagine. I have a sense that this two thousand mile river excursion ahead of me will entail many a memorable sunset. I am glad that the Miami airport authority felt so inclined to include this restaurant and lounge up here on the eighth floor so hopeless romantics like me could begin and finish our voyages to the tropics from such a potentially inspirational vantage point.

Although derided by some, I love this airport as a departure point for trips south into the new world tropics - the announcements in Spanish and English, the milling of Latino and Creole peoples along with the usual run of the mill, white American sun seekers. There is always a festive atmosphere here. People from the North are euphoric to be finally in route to their chosen paradise playground. Folks from the South are relieved, at last, to be in the great "land of opportunity."

From this roof top lounge I can step out onto the open deck area and have warm southerly winds blow in my face this evening. Above the din of airport traffic noise, I faintly perceive the call of the wild that still beckons from distant tropical forests and waters. Am I just imagining it? Yes, of course! I have come to trust my imagination as the wild in me yearns and then leaps out to connect with the tropical energy from the south. It is an arc I feel on every trip I take to the tropics. It reassures me that my plans for traversing the Amazon this time have a cosmic calling to them. I am in the right place at the right time.

My personal circumstances are amenable to this adventure, late into this year of 1997. The youngest of my three children is finally off to college this fall, leaving me as a single parent with an empty nest. I also had a good year of river guiding in my home town, thanks to unusually intense el-Nino weather patterns that brought the most serene and mild weather to my region. With that extra boost, I have saved up time and money to make this excursion possible. With kids underfoot in past years, my tropical excursions averaged only ten days or so. I couldn’t justify such a luxury without also leading a group, so that at least my way was paid for. Now I am freer than before to explore and will flaunt my newly obtained freedom by pampering myself with twenty three days on the Amazon!

As I sit in this lounge I recall all the friends I made in my ecotourism adventures in years past. We would all meet in this lounge as a sort of pre trip ritual, getting to know one another and taking a deep breath before we hopped on that plane to Peru, Costa Rica or Belize. I remember with fondness those faces and their companionships. A tinge of loneliness sets in as I realize I am traveling without the comfort of comrades in this present journey. But now I will be able to go places and test new opportunities that I was not able to do with my community of friends around me.

Since my childhood I had dreamed of extended expeditions. Twice my folks responded and took my sister and I camping across the Great Plains and the Rockies in our “covered wagon” -  a 1962 Plymouth Station Wagon. As an adolescent, I first discovered the wonder of a primeval forest on a fifty mile backpacking trek through the Smoky Mountains and for years afterwards longed to return and traverse the entire two thousand mile Appalachian Trail. But my early adult choices in life found me living in the Middle East for over a decade and responsible for a young family, unable to fulfill my Appalachian Trail dreams. In mid life I feel that I no longer have the energy to make such a physically demanding journey. So maybe my two thousand miles of river exploration ahead of me will finally be the voyage of my dreams.

I left my home in North Carolina this morning at the peak of fall colors. As I gaze out over the airport I notice that the planes belonging to Jamaica Airlines are of a sumptuous mango hue. I am particularly aware of this as I realize that the autumn leaves back home were showing off this color as I departed. This shade of reddish orange looks so tropical, but yet, is so typically highlighted in my home state at this time of the year. I feel that arc again, leaping from my home town to meet the wild tropical energy from further south. I am on my way ...

NOVEMBER 2, 1997 - Manaus, Brazil

Amazonia. I am here at last. On my own. So far the airport has been real low key and I am sitting on a nice chair in an open area waiting for the five a.m. bus into town. Finches twitter outside. It is hot and very humid, even at this pre dawn hour. There is a persistent smell of cigarette smoke, diesel fuel and tropics. I watched a Marilyn Monroe film on the flight down from Miami called Some Like it Hot.  It is a dream come true to be in Manaus, a totally unfamiliar place and with a challenging language. My only hitch so far has been to find my canvas boat bag slashed with a knife. I probably shouldn’t have put a lock on it. I have one day here to buy a hammock, spend a night and then make it back to the airport by early next morning to catch my flight up to the western Brazilian border at the Amazonian port of Tabatinga.

A purchase of a hammock was my first order of business as I descended into the battle of the market place. Brazilian hammocks are quite beautifully made and Manaus may be the hammock capital of the continent. Most are quite reasonably priced and after surveying the huge varieties of colors and patterns, I chose a black and white one. The ropes looked sturdier than on the others I saw and I thought the colors were appropriate for the meeting of the two colors of waters here in Manaus, the light colored Amazon and the black Rio Negro. I walked away proudly with my twenty dollar purchase but also flustered to find that no one spoke English in the market.

I guess I am disappointed to find that we are in the low water season for the river. That makes things a bit icky around the city and impossible to use my inflatable kayak here which I brought along in a duffel bag. The low river water will be incredibly nasty with all the run off from this huge city. Not a good place to paddle. But this is part of reading the river. I hope, maybe somewhere downstream near Belem, that I will be able to put my little boat on water. A ten year old kid is peeing directly onto the street across from me.

My feet are on the verge of blisters from walking all over town in my new tevas, but keeping up with socks and boots in soggy Amazonia would have been impossible. My strolls through the markets were pleasant and were not the battles I had feared based on my years of experience in the Middle East. No one accosted me or bothered me. The Brazilian vendors have been very polite so far and have not been pushy. They know when to politely step back.

The low water level of the river has brought out a great fish market as fish are more concentrated at low water and easier to catch. Prices for meat and vegetables are about what one would expect in a farmers market in US. I find juggling all my important stuff - tickets, currencies, passport, certificates, phone cards, and credit cards very stressful. I am really paranoid about losing something. I hope there will be a more relaxed mood on the boat that I take that will allow me to let down my guard some.

I am sitting in Galo’s Restaurant after eating a serving of Pirarucu - the world’s largest freshwater fish. I saw them face to face several months ago in the Amazonia tank at the National Zoo in Washington. Today I found them either whole or filleted in the fish market by the river. This restaurant fixed the fish with onions, tomatoes and parsley with a yellow sauce seasoned with lime. I added lots of salt to replenish my supply after sweating all day.

Also, ground manioc in a big shaker is placed on each table to pour on the yellow sauce to use as a thickener instead of bread. It was delicious indeed - a reddish meat, like the fish itself. I thought about going vegetarian this evening, or eating nothing, as I was not very hungry because of my dizzying air travel. But I reasoned that a good injection of native Amazonian protein might give me an extra boost for whatever lies ahead in Tabatinga. For safety, I also began my usual travel habit which I learned in the Middle East, of dicing up garlic on all restaurant food. Wow - I feel good and stuffed!

My only tourist stop for the day was at the famous opera house, the Teatro Amazonas. This is really a spectacle of cultural eclectics, but fabulous art none the less - the Amazon through the eyes of Europeans. I was particularly taken by the upstairs ballroom. It has a wrap around, three hundred and sixty degree painting along its upper walls of the Amazon rain forest with native peoples and wildlife. Below, the room is encircled in mirrors. When I stand in the middle, my reflection is mirrored infinitely in all directions.

For some reason the thought occurred to me that I would love to be married in that room with the mirrors reflecting eternity and the portraits of the muses celebrating the arts in the Amazon all around. It is truly magnificent. It is framed with marble and mahogany in both black and white to portray the meeting of the two great rivers here in Manaus. Surprisingly, there are no Christian themes represented at all. Every image reflects on pagan Greek and native Amazonian themes. I wonder what the European missionaries thought of all this pantheism? The Catholics had no answers to the wonders of this immense riparian habitat - only a desert deity of bedouin Jewish origin. I am quite captivated.

I went back after the tour and studied more carefully all the depictions. I stood alone, less self consciously, to marvel at the effect of my image reflected in all those mirrors. My favorite scene is the lone boatman on the river under the ceiba tree. What a fabulous place to make a vow. There seems to be some kind of energy vortex in that room. I wonder if it would be possible to find a local priest who would do such a service? What kind of partner would want to share this intense heat and exotic space with me? I wonder where she is right now ...

NOVEMBER 3, 1997 - Tabatinga, Brazil

I decided to return from the bustle of Manaus and spend the night on the roof of the airport. I had noticed the day before that there was a nice open area with a few trees in planters on the roof. After weighing the possibilities for hotels in town and the fact that I had to be at the airport early for my flight, the roof seemed the best choice. I spread my new hammock out as a mat on the concrete roof floor and placed my sleeping bag over it. As I lay down after a long day with blistered feet, I congratulated myself on this choice away from the noise and claustrophobia of downtown Manaus. The canopy of equatorial stars spread over me like a fine silken sheet and was disturbed by no plane traffic at night. This Amazon expedition will unfold as I enjoy each moment as it greets me, savoring my opportunities and freedom. It is now seven a.m. and I have just learned that my flight to Tabatinga has been delayed as very heavy rains have rolled in. Well, I was almost expecting something to go wrong with the flight to such a remote, outback location. Who is in a hurry anyway ...
When the rains subsided, we flew above the cloud cover out of Manaus and headed a thousand miles west. The descent into Tabatinga pierced the clouds revealing a magnificent expanse of river and forest as far as the eye could see. The airport consisted of a bungalow type building with nicely planted gardens around it. I walked right out of the building with my two bags and asked in which direction the river docks were located. I walked several hundred yards until someone acting as a taxi came by and insisted on taking me down to the river about a mile away.

I was dropped off at a single cement platform by the river and quickly noticed that there was one medium sized boat docked that was being loaded. I approached the crew and pointed downstream and simply asked, “Manaus?” They nodded in agreement. It was as simple as that. I walked on board with my gear. I did not even bother to ask how much the fare was as I had both read and heard that the thousand mile journey runs about fifty dollars. I understood that the fare would be collected later on.

I had wondered if I would be stuck for days in Tabatinga waiting for a boat. This seemed just too easy. I was relieved and grateful for such a simple walk on experience. I was one of the first on board as the crew was still scrubbing the deck. I strung my hammock at the front of the breezy middle deck. I struggled with my desire to go into the town of Leticia, Columbia for the night and waft its harbor in the morning. The Colombian border is located on the western edge of Tabatinga. But this boat is ready to go. Who knows when the next one will be.

It had been five years since I had first brought a group of ecotourists down river from Iquitos to Leticia. Now, looking upstream from my boat, I see the town about a mile away. But I think I should move on downstream as soon as possible, and maybe finish a week early. Perhaps in the mangrove creeks and tributaries in the delta I will get my chance to paddle my inflatable. From what I can gather from my guide book, it should be just what I am looking for if low water does not continue to bring surprises.

The sun has finally broken through the clouds for the first time today. It is still hazy, but it is exciting to see the waves on the Amazon River sparkle. Boats cruise in and out of Leticia’s harbor. Swallows and terns dance in the mist over the river. There is still a lot of rumbling down under as the ship’s belly continues to be loaded. A nice breeze gently buffets me from the west. Everyone on deck moves about eagerly with an air of expectation about the departure. I guess it is to my advantage that I cannot understand the swearing in Portuguese. Kids fish for sardines with hand lines from the wharf. Exhaust and fuel smells become an irritant with all the traffic now coming in and out making deliveries. Pickup trucks are loading sand from a barge next to us. I just noticed the first thatched house on the opposite shore. A sulfur butterfly just whizzed around our boat in the breeze.

I have been drinking guarana, a drink made from a native plant of the same name that has a caffeine related constituent. So far all the brands I have tried here have a much milder flavor than the “Josta” that Pepsi has been marketing in the US on a trial basis. Actually, I like the Josta better. The American company probably carefully researched the recipes and came up with a better product than the natives. The crew just backed a VW bug onto the bow of the boat by means of just two planks laid down from the dock to the boat. I can see now that boat loading is quite an art. I would have never dared that stunt with my car! I would have thought a crane would be needed for such a maneuver.

A dugout moves down the river with a man at each end paddling and a woman in the middle holding a pink umbrella. As people board and fill up the middle deck, they string up their hammocks and then face towards the wharf. Except for me. I face the river. I guess the river is a total bore if you see it every day. Ever since I visited Leticia five years ago, I have thought about living in a thatched house across the river from the town as I acclimated to the area and stayed in contact with home. Then move upstream to a remoter region as I learned the ways of the river. Maybe I could even become a guide in the national park just north of Leticia! It sounds like a nice park. There is a jungle lodge and a ceiba tree with a platform in the canopy for visitor viewing. A fabulous zebra butterfly just flew under my hammock.

Uh oh - a boom box just appeared! And there it goes!  “Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world!”  This possibility was definitely not foreseen. Motorcycles and scooters are all over the wharf now with well wishers to send off their family members. Three ice cream vendors are making quite a business. I just had a cone myself. A boat full of bananas just arrived to be loaded. A very Indian looking young girl stands next to me looking over our bow. The incoming hammocks have now pushed their way up to my position in the front of the boat. A solo wafter in a dugout, wearing a yellow shirt, drifts downstream in the sun. A fisherman in a red shirt pulls in a catch to my right. So far I have noticed no one using a pillow in their hammock. Maybe I will learn from the pros on this trip and become a real hammock fan - Rio Dave.

We began our voyage about 5 in the evening.  As the sun went down, I had a rapturous period of about an hour as it set with the wind in my face. The Amazon River lay spread out before me and I had the best position of all the hammockers being the farthest forward on the deck. I congratulated myself for managing to pull this off so effortlessly today. No anxious days of waiting for boats or haggling over prices. But soon we pulled into the next riverside town, doubled our load of people and took on dozens of empty gas canisters. At that point a huge stereo system was turned on from the top deck that is still booming at this moment. It is a modern version of the opera house all over again! Somehow I had not foreseen all these developments. My initial, blissful, sunset breezes were very short lived.

I estimate there are over 50 hammocks on board - mostly young adults and small kids. We are just like it was shown in the guide book - wall to wall hammocks of all the colors of the rainbow. I tried out the toilet and nearly choked to death from the smell. I hated to even touch the latch on the door it was so nasty. This is another interesting development that I will have to adjust to. Actually, the music booming above is really the element that is most upsetting.

Is it that people can’t stand silence? They would rather not hear their own hearts beat? Is the Amazon so scarily silent and oppressing that it needs opera houses, massive stereo systems and CD boom boxes? I suspect that to the young people coming out of their remote settlements along the river, the quiet they experience each day is deafening. This modern music probably gives them a charge and makes them feel like they are heading in the direction of change and progress.

We are at our second stop and are loading a mountain of bananas in the dark. This will take forever. I realize that the arrival of a boat like this in town is a big event. Watching the cargo loaded on and off might be the main entertainment of the community. Most of the villages seem to have gasoline generators though, and are probably receiving TV satellite stations. The smell of burning gas and the rumble of engines certainly disrupts this otherwise peaceful night for me.

The deck hands realize that they are the center of attention and put on quite a show with their tawny muscles exposed doing barefoot acrobatics, shouting and whistling orders to the folks on shore. It is very hard work. They seem to enjoy it though. No one has collected money from me yet. Someone did come around and register my passport though. This is a lot for me to take in. No one at the ship’s cantina can change the fifty denomination bills that the bank gave me, so I have only been munching on the stuff I brought ...

NOVEMBER 4, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

Around midnight the bananas were finally loaded and the music on the top deck died down. It drizzled slightly and was hazy most of the night. I vaguely saw stars above. It was quite cold as the wind whipped us from the forward motion of the boat which I calculate to be about twenty five miles per hour. The cold even penetrated my new sleeping bag which I opened over me for protection After testing out different positions in the hammock I finally slept well, but woke up at five a.m. with the presence of federal customs agents that had swarmed upon the boat like locusts.

The scene was quite comical to me as almost all the cargo, except for the used VW bug, was agricultural products and the belongings of very poor Indians and river peasants. But the customs agents at this remote police outpost were taking their jobs very seriously. In fact, they showed a little too much enthusiasm as they rifled their way through our luggage in an authoritarian and overly brusk manner. Perhaps there was a serious concern about illegal drugs. I could not tell.

What makes these kinds of dockings particularly irritating is that once our boat stops and the wind dies down, great hoards of insects zoom over from the shore onto the boat. The sloping hammocks act as funnels to catch and send the insects tumbling down to the center of the each hammock where a body reclines. As we are all wearing shorts, it is not difficult to guess where these critters wind up next! If the docking occurs at night, the captain flips on the lights above our hammocks and of course that compounds the number of insects. Fortunately, so far, none have been of the stinging varieties, but instead seem to be endless hoards of airborne beetles. Thank goodness the black flies have not shown up yet.

I realize now that trying to follow my carefully laminated maps is not particularly useful, as I have no idea where we are. There are no signs or billboards along the banks on this trip, only endless forest and an occasional small village or township. Often we are in the middle of the river, a mile or more from shore. An enormous pile of bananas on the bow obstructs some of my view now anyway.

A small boy plays with his toy car on the floor next to my hammock, its tiny wheels whining mercilessly as he repeatedly drags them across the deck. I was startled to see that most everyone immediately pulled out tooth brushes as soon as they woke up this morning. I noticed that when we boarded the plane yesterday morning, we were handed a small, colorful bag containing a toothbrush with toothpaste. This must be either a Brazilian cultural imperative or a new campaign by the government to encourage the care of teeth.

As I survey the river there are many pieces of floating, organic debris - water lettuce, flowering water hyacinth and now one hefty clump with several large, arrowhead leafed stalks pointing skyward.  All of this material comes from black water tributaries feeding into the Amazon. Enormous flocks of parakeets are chattering as they pass overhead. Terns are the most common birds I see on or close to the water. At sunset swifts come out and begin their aerial acrobatics. As darkness descends upon the river, bats appear as if they materialized out of thin air. I keep thinking of a line from the children's book The Wind in the Willows, where Ratty the muskrat proudly proclaims “There ain’t nuthin half so worth doing as simply messin around in boats!”

It is 9:30 a.m. and I am quite comfortable after a breakfast of a white bread sandwich with white cheese in between, served with sweet, milky coffee. I sat on the top deck early for two and a half hours observing birds and formally inaugurating my bird list for this trip with fourteen species sighted so far. The large-billed tern is the leader followed by the osprey. I noted one osprey with a catfish dangling below him in his talons, flying high over the forest edge. There are many kingfishers perching on the dead snags that lean out from the water’s edge. A black-collared hawk circles overhead.

Being that it is the low water season, I have been searching the sandbars carefully for interesting things, but nothing stands out yet. One oriole blackbird was handsomely perched in tall grass. Based on other birding experiences I have had in this region in the past, to have sighted one hundred species of birds will be a reasonable goal for this excursion.

I finally got change for my 50 denomination notes and bought a coke. I definitely have the best seat in the house, sitting cross ways on my hammock with feet propped up on a metal pole at the front of the middle deck. I rather like having the piles of green bananas out in front of me. When I think about all the varieties of fruits I have consumed in my life from infancy, through childhood and up to middle aged adulthood, I reckon that the banana comes out number one in terms of quantity and enjoyment. It is my totemic fruit. No other fruit is so easy to peel, consisting of such a luscious and squishy texture. I wonder how many of my bananas came down on river boats like this? Maybe I was once a banana in a distant past life and had the good fortune of enjoying a long river boat ride down some steamy tropical corridor like this ...

The music continues on the top deck. Although I would much prefer to do without it, I will manage. The Portuguese love songs about “amour” I can handle. It lends both a romantic Latin and tropical feel to our expedition. It is certainly more digestible for me than the rock music that was blaring last night. Where I am, down under in the lower hammock deck, I hear the music only softly. It has become fairly tolerable and at times even pleasant. Maybe it even helps override the drone of the boat engine. On my previous Amazon voyage from Iquitos to Leticia, there was no music and the engine noise was particularly bothersome. A quiet sailing vessel would be the best possibility of all but that type of transportation has not evolved into this present era on the Amazon.

Just before I left for this trip, a friend suggested that I might want to read a book that she found particularly helpful entitled Flow. As she described what the book had meant to her, I decided to purchase it and take it along on my Amazon excursion as my only serious book besides my Birds of Columbia field Guide, a Lonely Planet Guide for Brazil and a more detailed travel guide to the Amazon region. I deliberately did not want to be absorbed with books when there were so many natural wonders to take in and sponge up along the river.

So, the initial chapters of my book, Flow, state that there are people who may frequently put themselves at risk in order to experience the high that is obtainable from exercising control in difficult or challenging situations. I have certainly done that cross culturally through all my years of living in the Middle East. But I tend to take on more cross-cultural challenges than I do situations that are imminently physically dangerous - like paddling class six rapids or climbing vertical canyon walls. Perhaps because I precariously entered  the world through an abandonment at birth, and then had to learn how to emotionally survive on my own, that I now have to repeat that trauma again and be in constant control of my outward circumstances. Do I not know how to relax and feel secure in a safe, flowing environment?

Besides this personal, metaphorical quest into my past, which is a part of every expedition that I undergo, other goals for this trip include: sharpening my naturalist skills of observation, comparing human life along the Amazon with that along my hometown river and expanding my understanding of Neotropical ecology.

It is mid afternoon and hot. We are at a small town called S. Paulo de Olivensa, not very far along according to my map. At this rate it will be a long journey. The sun is bearing down on the western end of the boat where my hammock is and I am dripping wet. I have not yet braved up enough to take a shower. Both the shower stall and the toilet occupy the same, three foot square space and are used by one hundred people!. There is an inch of indescribable slime on the floor there that I cannot bring myself to stand naked in. The guide book warned of this possibility and now I am having to finally face this hurdle. The other possibility is to simply jump overboard for a few minutes when the boat is stopped at a town. I am leaning towards the latter option, although that will involve still another level of unpleasant aquatics. Town runoff at ports can be quite nasty as well ...

There are a lot of young parents on board now with their small children. Diapers of paper are routinely tossed over the edge. In fact, it seems that everything - plastic cups, utensils, plates wrappers, toiletries - you name it, if its use has even momentarily expired, it goes flying overboard into the Amazon. As far as I can tell there is not a single garbage can on board this boat. It is hard for me to fathom what must be at the bottom of the Amazon! Just pondering this mess caused me to inadvertently miss lunch, so I napped fitfully instead. When I woke up, I bought a bag of plantain chips and ate them with three garlic cloves. Actually, I think that is why I am so hot - from eating so much raw garlic! Maybe I will put on a swim suit. Eventually I will have to either take a shower or swim.

The group changes with each stop. It is truly a river taxi since most passengers are just overnighters moving on downstream to the next village. I have been reading through the Lonely Planet Guide and studying up on the country of Brazil. I am just now realizing what a huge geographical area this country covers. It is like reading a quick guide book to the USA, which would of course be a most superficial treatment. I am observing a family with two small children. It is so incredible to think that all my children are out of the nest.

I’m still parked at S. Paulo de Olivensa. I think these numerous stops we are making are also meant to provide a socializing break for the crew and possibly various other kinds of “recreation.” They quickly disembark when the plank hits the shore and disappear over the hill like they know where they are going. Could it be that the captain and crew have girlfriends in each village along the way?

And who knows, perhaps they may not even have a schedule. "We will arrive when we have arrived,” is probably the captain’s philosophy. If that be the case, villagers may then be deciding on the spur of the moment to pack up and leave when the boat blasts its horn as it approaches their village. This is when I long for the breezes of the moving boat. I am going to have to get up and get a beer once we start moving. This is what entropy and flow are about. I fantasize about flow as I restlessly wait for this entropy to be over. I want this trip to teach me a great deal about this concept. I do not want stagnation in my life in any form. But how does patience and commitment fit in?

At dinner I braved up and ate beans, noodles and rice, but without the chicken. When those sitting with me at our table saw me pull out a pocket knife and begin to chop up garlic onto my food, there were smiles and conversation about it. They were also concerned about my vegetarianism and one of the diners reached over and placed a piece of chicken on my plate. I returned it to the platter with a smile. So far my stomach is doing O.K. and I must take it slowly. I did drink some grape juice, probably reconstituted with river water ...

Afterwards things shifted to the upper deck. I saw my first skimmers, a bird that I know well from the coast of North Carolina. A beautiful triangular formation of these large birds flew by at eye level with our deck. The sun sparkling on the river to the west is a magical glitter of gold in my binoculars. There is a dark skinned Indian child who sleeps in a hammock next to mine. She often exchanges winks and smiles with me. She reminds me of my daughter Yasmiin when she was about six years old.

Thick low clouds rolled in and eventually excluded much of the sunset. I moved to the upper deck and turned my attention to the news. A television was set up on the bar counter and about twenty five passengers showed up to ponder a totally modern Brazilian culture in Rio and Sao Paulo. The huge satellite dish was turned every few minutes in order to fine tune the reception as the boat changed its course with the channel. I have noticed that most medium to large size boats have enormous satellite dishes now. I believe they have newly arrived since I was last on the Amazon just three years ago.

The previous long stop was indeed a business stop. Lots of cargo was unloaded and we lost a few passengers. I guess it takes time to locate the businessmen in the town and to settle all the accounts. It was a sweltering two hour stop. But the moment the boat begins to move and the wind is in my face again, my mood swings and soars upward like a swift! I am reminded of the thought from Henry Thoreau,  “A man’s life should be as fresh as a river. It should be the same channel, but a new water every instant.”

NOVEMBER 5, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

It is 5:30 a.m. and I am on the upper deck watching three gray river dolphins surfacing in front of me chasing fish out of the water. A long trail of copper colored sun dance extends from the point of sunrise in the east all the way to my chair. Parakeets and parrots move squawking from east to west across the river. We have been parked at this village a long time. In the silent space between the changing of the music, I am able to hear a continuous roar of distant parakeets. The fog horn blows repeatedly to bring down the lingering folks, but here we sit. I am antsy to start moving again. I have sketched a calendar for the week so I can show it to a crew member and hopefully pin down approximately when we will arrive in Manaus. The island across from us in the middle of the river must be a roost for parrots. Wave after wave of them keep arising from its midst and heading our way.

I am reading about the religious communities around the Amazon tributary known as the Rio Bronco, who use the plant medicine ayahuasca as the centerpiece of their ritual. I will be eager to follow up on this. I wonder if there are ayahuasca communities in Manaus and Belem? My guide book said a number of prominent figures in the country have joined these groups. It sounds like they are living in communities so that they can receive government sanction for what they do with these powerful vision inducing plants. That would surely be a pilgrimage - to travel up the connecting rivers to the Rio Bronco and be a participant in ceremonies with such a group. Somehow I feel that I have been appointed, by nature, to take this plant medicine and to experience whatever happens. When and under what circumstances I do not know ...

The captain just stepped out and threw a huge bundle of trash overboard. There is something about respect for the river that even small actions show. We are finally on our way after a two hour stop. Here goes my spirit soaring. It always does when we begin to move. I just inquired of our arrival using my hand sketched calendar and was told that we would arrive in Manaus on Sunday. I will believe it when I see it! I was also told that we were “tarde.”

In mid afternoon, while docked by the town of Jutai, I finally cleaned off by jumping overboard and swimming in the river. I am not sure what was cleaner - the river adjacent to this small town with its runoff or the floor of the shower - but I sure feel better now. I had not showered in two and a half days. I also finally measured up to Brazilian standards and brushed my teeth well and got some of the stale garlic taste out of my mouth. I am only eating a little rice, noodles and kidney beans. I put ground manioc on my food the first day, but not today. A Cool Aid type drink served at meals, along with guarana and one beer a day from the bar, plus mineral water takes care of my thirst.

I walked up the hillside to the town of Jutai and bought six bottled liters of water. On the boat they only sell water in small 300 ml plastic bottles, which, once opened, need to be finished right away as they have no reusable top. Regrettably, even Amazonia has become a disposable culture now. One would think that local bottling companies would at least manufacture a plastic container that was reusable, as peasants surely would be practically minded enough to continue to use the bottle if it had a screw on top! But unusable plastic and aluminum is simply tossed into the river.

I have not been able to bring myself to do it yet. I have this secret stash of crumpled plastics in my big boat bag. I am not sure what I will do with it, but I am hoping it might be burned in Manaus. I find myself sneaking off and leaving beer cans on the bar counter on the upper deck while everyone else pitches them overboard when they are finished. The bartender finally caught me last time and got mad at me about it. He grabbed it and sent it flying. I probably should be tossing it myself and feeling the pain and guilt more intensely, for by leaving it on the counter, I am not facing up to my responsibility.

We are at a refueling stop now. We also just took on over one hundred crates of tropical fish with four large round discus fish in each box. I went below to the freight deck and surveyed this exotic cargo and I was shocked. So this is how it is done in the animal trade! Will only ten percent of these gorgeous fish actually reach the American or European homes alive as I have heard?

As I peered into the stacked boxes, I spoke quietly a word of peace to the fish as they gently fanned their tails in their tiny new captivities. Every time the hand trolley carrying another pile of crates was dropped onto the lower deck, the sudden crashing thud made all the fish below jump and spin around several times in their boxes. This revelation would turn out to be probably the saddest moment of my trip. As I slept in my hammock at night, my thoughts would frequently wander to all the captives in the slave gallery below.

The lower freight deck of our boat also contains an enormous mountain of orange palm fruits. I have a wild and almost uncontrollable desire to run and jump into the pile and bury myself inside! There are so many that the captain allows any passenger to simply drop down and gather as many of fruits as they can eat along the way. They are great hammock food! I find them quite tasty. But as much as I love to sample new exotic tropical fruits and vegetables, I am hesitant to introduce any significant amount of new food into my system at this point in my travel. It is amazing, though, how limited our exposure to food types is in the typical American grocery store. Who knows what marvelous nutrients are harbored in these bright orange palm fruits! And I bet they would go wonderfully with that old tropical friend and staple of mine the banana!

When I got out and walked around Jutai I noticed that numerous peasant houses now have satellite television dishes. As I ponder this outlandish development, I can foresee two possible reactions among these communities. Now that these folks are able to literally access the entire globe from their gasoline generator powered televisions, perhaps they can satisfy their curiosity about what lies beyond their limited horizon and stay put. Or, the lure of modern life with its accompanying consumer goods, may make them totally dissatisfied with their simpler traditional lifestyles along the river. They then journey to the sprawling shanty towns of Sao Paulo and partake of urban poverty and rarely ever see the light of day or enjoy orange palm fruits again, much less a beautiful undulating river.

Electricity - what has it done for us!? First it was the combustion engine that brought so much change. Now electrical circuitry. Combustion engines and fossil fuels have allowed us to travel the world. Electricity has spawned communications and media that have brought the world to us. What a strange century this has been. I have planned and taken groups of ecotourists seeking peace and solace to lodges on remote tributaries of the Amazon upstream in Peru, only to find a gas powered generator grinding away to provide us and the staff with a few electric lights to make us feel at home. In such cases the ambiance of the forest is violated by the generator noise to such an extent that I am hard pressed to enjoy our lovely setting.

Soon window air conditioning units will become the norm in many of the homes along the Amazon. Once that happens, the once open structures without walls will be sealed to keep in the refrigerated air. Community life will then plummet. Instead of chatting on the streets with neighbors and enjoying an evening stroll at sunset, people will entomb themselves in their air conditioned boxes to gather around a television set. The most popular programs will be soap operas, starring Brazilian actors groomed from a light complexioned stock of European immigrants, sporting their new consumer goods amidst sad and stressful lifestyles of overwork and divorce.

Last night late I sat up on the top forward deck of our boat and was overwhelmed by the sweetness of the forest fragrance that was wafted over to us from ashore. The smell was indescribably rich and like non other I had ever experienced before. At that moment we were passing the confluence with the Putumayo River to the north.

As a teen growing up in Durham, before I ever set foot in a tropical forest, I would enjoy sitting in the tropical conservatory green house at Duke University. Although somewhat colored by the odor of greenhouse pesticides, I could still get an inkling of what the sensuous delights of a tropical rain forest might be. And to imagine that indigenous peoples of these areas daily live and imbibe that forest aroma! This must be what Columbus and the other early European explorers experienced as they approached the new world tropics in their boats. I was transported into a high dimension of dreaming for a short season last night. But it soon passed as I began to smell boat engine exhaust. The wind must have changed.

I took off my money belt for the first time when I jumped and bathed in the river. I left it in my large bag, locked with a key and under my pillow in my hammock. I was very paranoid that someone was watching me as I nervously tucked it away. As we were at a wharf, all sorts of impromptu visitors were crawling like serpents into the boat from shore. But there seems to be a reasonable amount of trust and camaraderie among the passengers. It is slowly growing on me, despite the warnings of the guide books. How innocent, for better or for worse, I would have been to have done this trip without a Lonely Planet guide!

Some of the deck hands took turns water skiing on the side rear wake of our boat today using extended ropes. All the passengers cheered them on as they displayed quite heroic feats of wake mastery. I wanted so badly to try it as well, but was plagued with the thought of being sucked under the hull and shredded in the propellers. Reluctantly I put a hold on that extravagant notion. Although they are out of the nest, I still have children back home who need me around for a few more years.

The large-billed tern continues to be the leading river bird in the middle of the Amazon. Distant runners-up are the osprey and kingfisher. But the adjoining creeks would certainly be different with a much larger diversity of avian fauna. And of course there would be all kinds of different animals as well - crocodiles, monkeys, anacondas and more! Occasionally I see a smaller, yellow-billed tern as well, but I have not had a good look at one yet. Last night the moon was one night before the first quarter. It has been mostly hazy and so far not good for star gazing.

It is eight p.m. and most folks are asleep, except for a group of about twenty five at the rear of the upper deck watching television. I enjoyed deep breathing and stretching up front on the upper deck under the moon. When there are clouds or haze in the atmosphere, I have noticed that the surface of the water looks milky white when there is moonlight, the river taking on almost a ghostly appearance. I have got a strange little cough in my chest that I have to force up now and then. We were served rice and beans for supper with a really nice piece of fish. The assembled dinner crowd was greatly relieved that I had finally expanded my diet to include more than just vegetables! I was tempted to reach for extra pieces of fish, but I am refraining from overloading my system with all these new wonders.

NOVEMBER 6, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

We have been at the town of Fonta Boa most of the night. I am in an antsy mood again, needing fresh air and progress. I slept fairly well and dreamt about the Middle East, finally having to get up a few minutes ago to go to the bathroom at 4:15 a.m. Golly I wish I was not dreaming about the strife in the Middle East! I wonder if some day I will be dreaming about the Amazon. I wish I could talk to the crew about the details of these stops. It has been very cloudy for twenty four hours at least, but we have not encountered major rain so far. I am thankful, since being at the front of the boat may entail catching the brunt of blowing rain. The fog horn blasts repeatedly, as if we are trying to rouse some crew member who is having a difficult time breaking away from his night escapade.

I have moved to the top deck as the sun has risen and as I am overlooking the river at Fonta Boa still waiting to depart, I see dolphins in front of our boat. The gray ones jump out of the water higher than the pink ones. I keep hoping that the pink ones will come out just a little higher and reveal more of their interesting color. The dolphins seem to be most observable at the confluence of rivers, in front of towns, and also in the early morning. No one on the boat gives them even a second glance. Dolphins are to them as uneventful as a robin in the yard to me back home.

I have noticed the children on board to be exceptionally well behaved. Not much crying or fussing and no fighting! Often they will fall asleep in their parent’s arms while in the hammock, and if they are infants, on their mother’s breasts. I wonder if that accounts for contented children - swinging in a hammock with their parents. From what I have observed of village life around the jungle lodges where I have stayed upstream, most of these small children sleep in hammocks with their parents all the time.
What a much preferred sleeping arrangement over our modern cribs!
A few children on board our boat have small toys such as cars, stuffed animals or plastic soldiers. One computer Game Boy is on board whose tune drives me nuts!

This morning at coffee time, even the small children had the sweet, milky brew with a piece of white bread. But they first carefully peeled the crust off all around the border of the slice. I guess that is a universal habit of children everywhere. I certainly did it. Watermelon seems to be the most ubiquitous fruit for sale. Everyone is after them at market - big, long ones that are pale green.

Oropendulas, large oriole type birds that build dangling, pendulous nests, are calling. They are carefully moving from palm to palm picking coconut fronds for nest weaving. Their call returns me to the very first day I ever visited the Amazon. It was the most astonishing bird call I had ever heard, sounding like water dripping into a barrel and amplified many times. There is a flock of silver-beaked tanagers in the vegetation on the shore in front of me with crimson-black coats and shiny silvery beaks. A pair of macaws just flew over the river - big green birds with red flashing on top of their wings. A swallow with a little white rump darts about among the sapote trees planted along the bank.

We are really stuck here. I am grabbing at things to amuse myself. I first heard and then spotted piglets crossing the road on the hill. A fishing expedition from town in a dugout departs with a fifteen horse power Yamaha engine on the back, a bottle of rum and a watermelon for five fellows in their mid to late teens. Two big earth movers are working by the river to expand the ramp down to the dock area. A CD player in the hammock deck is on now with the loud haunting refrains,  “Wherever you go, whatever it takes, even if my heart breaks, I’ll be waiting right here for you!” I think I will go on shore and check out the boat house. I saw some one just enter there with a huge catfish that I would like to examine up close.

Returning to my hammock I discovered that the woman next to me with cartons piled up on the deck has opened one that has several turtles in it. Ugh - who knows what else is piled around my head. Parents are playing card games with their kids. The crew just purchased a supply of fish. If I knew we would be here for ages, I would break out my inflatable boat. There seems to be a sick man on the other side of me. His elderly father just asked me if I would give his son his hypodermic injection as the father’s hand was unsteady. I politely refused claiming no experience. The engine is finally cranking and my neighbor is getting his needle with the help of a crew member. I hope I am not being exposed to anything contagious.

It is 7:00 a.m. and we are finally pulling out! Our wait turned up a few interesting birds and lots of Amazonian dock side drama. I just tried to identify the macaws in my field guide. I did not get a good enough look at their color patterns in the cloudy morning light to be certain. It is now late morning and I am getting impatient with the reality that watching clouds has yet to be rewarding on this voyage. Since we began three days ago there has been only a monotonous, thin layer with small patches of blue. I fondly remember blue skies in the past that were patched with huge thunder clouds billowing up. Hopefully that is to come. But do I really want the rainstorms as well?

I finally took my first crap after seventy two hours. I guess if you just breathe through your mouth while in the bathroom and not look down, it is manageable. Does everyone else do this? I do not think so. Some folks actually sleep in hammocks right in front of the bathroom door! They must be accustomed to such a stench. Anyway, I am approaching normal cycles now. So far the food is holding up inside. I am lucky. I cut my finger nails and tossed them in the river, as I was warned by a local in a previous trip here to always bury them or throw them in a river.
While I am on the subject of waste, I am fairly certain that the huge, ugly patches of foam and white floating by that we occasionally pass on the river’s surface is paper and waste that is dumped from the latrines of boats. If so, there is more out there than I ever imagined. Very disturbing. To toss a diaper in the water may be convenient for a parent, but when that child grows up and is not even able to swim in the river or eat from the bounty of its fishes, life will be sad ...

A pair of blue and yellow macaws just flew in front of the boat from left to right! Wow, what beauties - and on the widest part of the river where I thought we would see absolutely no wildlife! I heard from them first, gently garbling to each other as they flew side by side - or maybe they were calling me to look up. A splendid moment. The river must be three miles wide here without any of the usual islands or sandbars.

I have a strange and magical attraction to macaws. I first noticed the relationship when I lived in Cyprus. I would walk my children to school in the morning and pass by a small grocery shop where we would buy snacks for the day. In a cage by the front door of the shop was a scarlet macaw. We exchanged greetings with that bird every morning. When we finally left that country to return to the US, leaving that bird was about the most painful aspect of the move for me. But that bird was a beacon for my life that was about to unfold in a new direction. If the Spirit of the Amazon River could be encapsulated into one form of life, it would certainly turn out to be the macaw.

I am down under facing our view of the bow from my hammock. I see rain ahead and thick clouds above, but amazingly, we have not been hit with a downpour yet. The cool breeze in my face is most incredible - well not exactly a breeze. It is a northeast wind. This moving air reminds me that I cannot quite tell what is trying to come up in my chest. I need to free it. I think it is tension that I let build up from fear of not making a good boat connection and then my three days of learning how to deal with the unusually tight quarters here on this boat. I must let it go and try to relax on board.

I chose this mode of transportation, in a hammock in front of a cheap banana boat, because I thought it would allow me to best waft my thoughts. I do have a good setup here for contemplating the river. A white-necked heron just moved along the shore. It is the functional Amazonian equivalent of my hometown river’s great blue heron. According to my field guide, the range of these two great fishers, Ardea herodias and Ardea cocoi , together stretch all the way from Alaska to the Falklands! I think we will miss the rainstorm again. It is so beautiful here!

The children, with whom I have been impressed with so far on this trip, finally broke down and started a banana throwing war among themselves. Out of the corner of my eye I had been watching them sneak bananas from the great pile up front and the thought did occur to me that they surely could not be eating all of them. At last the fruit began to fly from several directions at once. It sure looked fun. It almost seemed that there were two teams, the skins and the shirts. I fancied myself to be the referee in a great cosmic banana battle of the ten year olds.

But soon crew and parents descended on both battalions of banana heavers and the fun quickly fizzled out. I recalled when in school as a boy we used to hurl fruit onto the blackboard when the teacher was out of the room for lunch, just to see her reaction when she returned for class and found the splattered blackboard. No one would ever fess up and the frustration on her face was so indescribably satisfying to behold.

I just woke up from an afternoon hammock nap to very strong winds as we finally engaged the storm to the east. I dreamed that I was having a tremendous streak of luck. I was getting money as a huge pile of quarters was being returned to me from something like a slot machine. I felt euphoric as if I was really in a groove and things were going my way. I was in a true flow of positive energy. Finally! A dream with real energy on the Amazon! We have been cruising along for eight hours without a stop and I think that is why I am in a flow with ideas and writing. It has been cool today as well, plus, I am finally getting comfortable. Several vectors have converged. I like being up in the front of the boat best of all. It is the quietest spot, has the best view and channels the most wind into my face. I feel like I am on the exploring and cutting edge of this entire boating experience.

So far we have had four meals of rice and beans with noodles, white potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions added extra. I took fish once and avoided beef and chicken at other times and have not eaten fresh salad. I wish I had some chocolate to soothe my garlic mouth but it just does not keep solid in the Amazon! There seems to be a serious etiquette about the dining room, the “refeitorio-copa.” One must stand in line on the left side of the boat before entering. The dining room monitor counts you into fifteen set places, one group around a rectangular table, the other in a bar line counter. A sign clearly states that shirts are required. When all the diners have finished and departed, the monitor closes the door and cleans the table and puts out new plates, cups, silverware and then finally food in big bowls is placed on the table. Everyone is very polite with only a minimum of small laughter permitted and never loud talk. The monitor watches over everyone as if to keep his children in line.

Back out front I see a foggy, misty, dark line of trees above the light brown water and an even lighter brown sky above the tree line. This is a big, big river. What a privilege to be experiencing this! I have organized my life, waited patiently with my children, been careful with my money, and also been just plain lucky to have come this far in a dream ...

I think Amazonia first entered my thinking when I lived in Cyprus in 1989, near the end of my long years of work and residence in the Middle East. That is when I responded to an advertisement in an nature magazine and requested a brochure from an adventure travel company offering trips to Peru.  Perhaps it was a balance call for moisture and rainforest after years of exploring desert ways ...

I cannot remember much interest in the Amazon before Cyprus, except that south was always a special direction for me growing up.  My parents would often take my sister and I back to their home state of Florida to celebrate Christmas with relatives.  My body noted the pleasant warming transition from a cold carolina winter to a milder subtropical location.

I Just finished a nice soup for dinner. It was beef with noodles and potatoes, but I avoided the chunky meat. The manioc was a great thickener. It is too crunchy just to dump on dryer food. I plopped in five chunks of garlic as well. It is totally quiet now up front for the first time on this trip. The captain has no radio on and I cannot hear the television which downwind is far behind me. All I hear is the dull drone of the engine and the water shooting out beside the front of the ship. I cannot believe that I have a still moment like this. It is 6:40 p.m. and we have been on the water for at least nine hours straight. I am doing much better. Things seem balanced. I’ll just waft for a little while ...

We are stopping for the first time at a small village with no dock to exchange a few passengers at dusk. This will be tricky as we approach a steep bank with a current. A barefoot family of three just raced out to the edge to meet us and jumped on. Four of our passengers jumped off as the captain fish tailed the heavy end of the boat downstream and bumped the shore - just like I do with my inflatable when I am ready to disembark with a passenger! Very cleaver. I turned and looked up at the captain and caught him smiling and laughing at his success.

Everyone is barefoot here. I wonder about the tapeworms. Are they a problem just from keeping animals and then from walking in the animal poop? Shoes are so impractical in mud. And socks on the Amazon would be worse than going barefoot on a glacier! And it would take an incredibly good thong to stay put on a foot that is always suctioning in water and mud. What a fabulous connection exists between bare feet and Mother Earth! I envy the childhood of those so blessed as to be able to experience the earth in such an intimate way. As I have studied the local people from my hammock this trip, I often found my eyes often going first to their feet - beautifully shaped, flat huggers of the earth.

I can’t believe we haven’t docked in twelve hours. We are finally really scooting along. I feel the release. I hope dawn will come and not find us stuck at a loading dock. To wake up quietly and be able to have a peaceful morning upside watching birds would be fantastic!

NOVEMBER 7, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

I just woke up and it is 4:50 a.m. The captain said we are passing the town of Wareed. I dreamed a lot, but not very memorably. It was a restless night for me. The rain flaps were all fastened down with ropes as the torrential rains we had been flirting with for several days finally engulfed us. The edges of the nylon flaps fluttered furiously in the wind and the noise made sleeping very difficult. Someone was smoking nearby which made our quarters seem even more claustrophobic.

Our boat rocked back and forth in the side winds and water trickled under our hammocks. But this was the tropical rain forest being her natural self. I hunkered down in my hammock and road it out with restless sleep. The rain is coming down lightly now and the river is calm. The brunt of the storm has passed. That persistent cough is still trying to come up in my chest.

The soils along the main banks of the Amazon River appear to be mostly composed of a red sandstone. There is actually some bedrock poking out of the bank on the south side now. It is the first time I have ever seen that. Along the banks of the large islands in the middle of the river the soil is black. Often huge slabs of it will fall into the water as the river erodes away the banks and the resulting avalanche will sometimes bring down large trees with it. These trees then hang crown first into the river with branches rising skyward. They become perches for kingfishers, of which there are six species along the river.

These river birds run in size from the pigmy kingfisher, which is no larger than six inches to the ringed kingfisher which is twelve inches in length. The other four species fit in between these sizes in degrees. With several days of careful observation it is not difficult to train the eye to differentiate between them. The chattering of kingfishers is a familiar sound when the boat hugs the shore. In the middle of the river there are none to be found.

Well I am first in line for coffee this morning. I could go below and get a banana instead, but the sweet coffee does taste O.K. and is already addicting my undernourished body. I wish I had my own middle eastern coffee maker to make coffee and tea in the kitchen the way I like it. But if that was the case, I would also be peeing all the time and having to face that horrible pit in the back of the boat with unwanted regularity. A lurking thought that has arisen lately in my mind is that the congestion in my lungs that is bothering me so much is really the foul air taken in my lungs upon visits to the latrine!

It is late afternoon on the top deck. The weather remains cloudy and cool. It is amazing how temperate the day seems to stay if it remains cloudy, which has been the case over fifty percent of the time so far on this trip. Everyone was called up here around 3:00 p.m. to pay for their passage. By my calculations, we will be in Manaus by early tomorrow morning. I guess I will go on into town and visit the tourist information center first thing and develop a plan for my next move on downstream to Belem.

I just discovered that I have mild diarrhea for the first time. Damn! I hope I hold out until Manaus. It does not help my predicament and mood to have this music blaring directly behind me. I think I will skip dinner. This is my own carelessness. I ate way too much for lunch, departing from my light meals plan that I had been following since first on board. I need to let my stomach settle a bit. My mouth is baked with garlic. Two parrots are flying overhead to my left.

Maybe instead of dreaming of getting an open hut on the Amazon, I should think in terms of a closed house boat? Two more parrots are flying to my left. But protecting it while I am away would be the challenge. It would have to be a shared proposition with someone who lives permanently here. A friend said he had to sell his property in Puerto Rico because of vandalism and crime while he was in the states. Things left alone and not maintained deteriorate. Entropy. Goals, action and feedback are needed to keep chaos at bay. Things are always trying to come unraveled. It is Murphy’s Law I guess. If there is space and energy for something to unravel it eventually will unravel. All we can do is to delay the inevitable and attempt to let it unwind in an orderly manner. That is the way the universe works.

So here I am on the Amazon, said to be the world’s last frontier, vital to the maintenance of the planet. I want to become acquainted with it as both a sensual and spiritual experience, enjoy it, and contribute in some small way to its well being. I need to also make a token ceremonial offering to the river to atone for my waste that was dumped into the river and the petroleum that was burned to fuel the vehicle I traveled on. I will buy some ground manioc and cast it to the river ...

I have seen some of the Amazon’s remote places up close during past visits to the region. On this trip, I want to experience its breadth and length and observe the human interaction with it around its largest cities as the Amazon flows into the twenty first century. That will be a huge stretch for my puny life. It will increase my complexity. I will grow. Hopefully I will give back more than a handful of manioc. We are passing under the spell of a beautiful ceiba tree on the north bank. Like the elm on the Eno, I find the ceiba to be the most illustrious river tree on the Amazon.

The favorite beer in the Brazilian Amazon seems to be Cerveja Antarctica, depicted with two penguins in the middle facing each other. I guess that makes sense, although I would rather see a can with the emblem of a ceiba tree with a macaw sitting in its branches. I suppose that is left for the cold blooded Icelanders or the Greenlanders to do as a balancing act. I would bet, though, that those who chose the penguin for advertising this product were not natives of the Amazon.

I just went down to the lower deck bathroom to avoid the usual long line up here. Upon opening the door I discovered two live turtles, each about eighteen inches long, sprawled on the floor. I was suddenly seized by an impulse to grab them and toss them into the river! But if caught, I would have to reimburse their value. And then I would worry about someone tossing my gear into the river. When I tried to analyze the situation on the spot a fuse blew in my brain. I walked away and left them on the floor in the muck. Cross cultural travel sure can presents perplexing choices ...

NOVEMBER 8, 1997 - Manaus, Brazil

It was a second difficult night in a row on the boat. We were in a fierce wind storm that severely shook the boat with hammocks swinging and window flaps rattling. I believe I got dizzy from it all and that is part of the reason that I feel lousy now. I think I have motion sickness! I slept fitfully and counted the hours till dawn.

We turned off of the Amazon and onto its largest tributary, the blackwater Rio Negro and arrived in Manaus around 5:00 a.m. and disembarked about 7:00. It took us a while to find a slot for the boat on the river front. Boats were packed in for as far as I could see in both directions. This point is the most important confluence of rivers in the entire Amazon Basin as the light brown waters from the Andes in Peru mingle with the inky black waters running off the Guiana Shield from Venezuela.

Once on land I hailed a taxi for the ride up to the hotel as my bags were simply too heavy to carry in my weakened condition. I first walked into the hotel that had the best views of the river, but it had no water and the people were sleazy, so I came here to the “Hotel Ideal” listed in the Lonely Planet Guide. It is very cheery, clean and inexpensive. We have no lights now so I am downstairs. The electricity is off for about six hours every day throughout this section of town. I feel terrible. Diarrhea really set in this morning and I felt very draggy and weak. Fortunately, I have got a nice room with a view of the Rio Negro for about ten dollars a night. A cool shower and air conditioning have helped, although I will catch a cold from the air conditioner if I am not careful. I requested just a fan but was told they had none.

I called home to let family know that I had arrived safely at the half way mark in my journey. I flopped for most of the rest of the day, except for a fish dish at Galo’s Restaurant where I had eaten before. I also took a walk to try and locate information about boats for the next leg of my journey on downstream to Belem. At the government information center I inquired if there was an Ayahuasca community in Manaus but got no leads. The language barrier makes it so difficult, especially on such a sensitive subject. I got by with a little French at once place today.

At a travel agency I learned that it will cost me $475 to fly from Manaus to the Rio Bronco in southwest Brazil if I want to spend time with the Ayahuasca community know as the Santo Daime. But I feel like I am just not up to it. I need to rest up to face the task at hand of getting back on my feet and moving on downstream to Belem by boat. I have taken diarrhea medicine and I hope it does not clog me and make me worse. I still hear my guts rumbling. The way I feel now, it seems that another day of rest is imperative. The heat is so oppressive, but it is not because of the temperature. The air in my room is eighty two degrees with the air conditioner running while it is only eighty eight outside! There must be incredible humidity out there to create such discomfort. I would have guessed it was between ninety five and a hundred!

I just opened a cold beer. I hope that does me good. I think a day at the Ponte Negra Beach may lift me a bit as well. I really made a mistake by increasing my intake of food during the latter part of the trip when I was feeling well. And that last lunch had some kind of topping that I thought was shredded fish, but I really do not know what it was. I heard a “no” inside of me, but ate it anyway, and then even forgot to take garlic! I blew it! Or maybe the new bacteria of this region finally caught up with me. I feel like I am carrying a ton of drugs and toiletry stuff. Anyway, I am glad that I have arrived here in Manaus after a good first leg of my adventure and want to pull myself together and quit complaining. I will just take care of myself.

NOVEMBER 9, 1997 - Manaus, Brazil

I am standing on a floating dock at Ponte Negra Beach in a severe rain storm. Fortunately it has a roof to it. As I saw the storm blowing in, I climbed up in the rafters of the thatch roofing with my bag to stay dry. I have been up here about an hour now hoping the storm will soon subside.

The Rio Negro is huge at this point - I would guess four or five miles wide, maybe more. It is quite an impressive scene. Dolphins are jumping in the water in front of me. I measured the water temperature with my thermometer at eighty two degrees and an air temperature of seventy eight. The beach is totally empty. I understand that it is popular with the locals on weekends. I had a nice fruit breakfast at the Hotel Tropical and did my array of postcards - the one time I will write home on this trip. The hotel has the only nice beach in town and I am here to swim in the river as soon as the rain stops.

I walked through the Hotel Tropical’s mini-zoo, especially noting the agility of the black spider monkeys. My damn pen is out of ink! ... A lady just walked up to me out of nowhere, saw me shaking my pen and tossed me up another one! A river nymph! The lightning, thunder, wind and smells are quite a display. I feel very fortunate to be here. I am unwinding from the dizziness I felt from being on that boat for five days! It feels good to have my feet on the ground. I would have never made it straight to Belem. A break was much needed. The woman who gave me the pen just climbed into a boat that pulled up to the dock to meet her. I tossed her the pen and she tossed it back again with a smile!

The rock along the beach here is more of the same red sandstone that I have been seeing for the last one thousand miles. I can even see its reddish tint on the bluffs on the opposite bank miles away. I would love to have some for an aquarium but my weighty inflatable boat prohibits me from taking much else back with me. There is a sudden discharge runoff from the hotel floating downstream this way that will muck up my swimming water. Now I will have to wait for it to pass before I can get in.

There is a big sand bar in the middle of the river that stretches for a mile that is green with grass. It looks very strange on the horizon. This landmark hotel is somewhat dark with all the mahogany used to frame everything, but it has a rustic look to it. I think it was built in the seventies. The air is very cool and pleasant after the rain. It was very steamy when I first arrived. A north wind blows nicely. Two yachts are parked in the river. This appears to be a low time for visitors. I think there are six hundred rooms, very few of which seem occupied. All the discounts that are offered make it very difficult to figure out exactly what a price for a room would be here - maybe fifty dollars. It seems this is the most prestigious place to stay on the entire Amazon from one end to the other. Although I would much rather be in the forest in remote lodging, this is not a bad spot to meditate on the meaning of the confluence of these two great rivers.

I finally baptized myself in the Rio Negro. There was a pause in the rain. No one else was on the beach for miles in both directions so I abandoned my clothes and headed for the dark waters. Not knowing how cautious to be about sting rays, I did not stay long in the river. It was incredibly bath like. I would have loved to sit and stew in that tea colored water. When I came out of the water I had a piece of rose quartz stuck between my teva and my foot! I wonder what interpretation I can come up for that! A boat passed that is headed off with a group to a remote jungle camp. The natural ambiance here is not as luxuriant as that to be found in the aquamarine waters surrounding a Caribbean island. But this is the Rio Negro!

It looks like the black water in the Neuse River around New Bern in eastern North Carolina. There are no coconut trees lining the waterfront as one would find the Caribbean. But this is the Amazon. It would be difficult to replicate an island resort atmosphere here. Kiskadees, one of the Neotropics’ most common birds, call along the edge of the beach. I bet a sunset would be great from this floating dock. The Rio Negro vanishes due west from here. I wonder if I will ever be back to explore it? Wow, a lettered aracari just flew by. I believe that will go down as a new bird on my life list!

It is evening and I am back at Galo’s Restaurant once again. I enjoyed birding around the hotel gardens this afternoon, but some of the birds I saw were not listed in my Birds of Columbia field guide. The aracari was my prize. It is good to be in a humbler atmosphere at Galo’s. The view of the river from Ponte Negra Beach looking northwest was fabulous. I am sure my camera did not capture it at all. The Rio Negro looked mysterious, deep, inviting, wild and captivating. Maybe some day I will explore it. I returned to the Ideal Hotel with a couple of small chunks of red sandstone so as not to forget my dreams. I was tempted by curiosity to stop at the shopping mall Amazonas on the way back to town, but quickly let go of that whim. What a huge country. I have two more weeks to explore it. I am nervous about my next choice of boats. Thursday the eleventh looks like my departure date.

Wow, am I fished out! I downed a pescada with lots of onions and tomatoes. This certainly is a fish culture. I do not think I could stomach it fried like that every day though. Back in my room I put an opened candy bar down for ten minutes and when I reached to pick it up again there were fifty ants in it. Their sense of smell, direction and communication is incredible. I think that tomorrow I will head up to the Amazon Research Institute and maybe the Nature Center run by the Japanese if there is time. I must have my feet on the ground a bit longer before I get in that boat. I love the rainy weather as it makes things so much cooler. I guess that is why it is now called winter here. I think I will head down to the Hotel Ideal’s lobby to watch TV soccer with the fellows. It is such a simple game. I enjoy listening to the emotional coverage of the announcers.

NOVEMBER 10, 1997 - Manaus, Brazil

I am writing in bed this morning. I slept poorly because of my rich, fried fish dinner late last night. But I think I am over my intestinal problems. This is really a nice hotel. Even the water has its certification posted. The only thing I do not like is that the kitchen in the basement is without windows for light and air. But my room is several floors up so I can actually look out this morning and see the Rio Negro in the distance. Not bad for ten bucks.

So here I am studying tropical rivers, making use of my senses, having a splendid get away and simply sniffing the air. Maybe more importantly, I am also studying myself. This will be the longest time in my life that I have ever been without the comfort of family or friends. And to compound that affect, it will also be the longest time I have ever spent in a setting where I did not know the local language. So I am looking on the inside to see what I can discover about myself that I might not be able to see if I was bouncing off more familiar spirits.

It is mid afternoon, the sun is out full and it is hot as hell. A shower, a beer and air conditioning set me straight. I found my way across town this morning to the forest research institute and the fish museum. They were OK, but I did not connect deeply with them. I liked seeing the manatees and the giant river otters the most. I watched the river otters for the longest time. The white streaking on their fronts is so beautiful and they had such magnificent voices. I longed to know what they were saying. I watched them twist, turn and swim upside down. They fed the manatees water lettuce and hyacinth.

At the fish museum I finally got a clear picture in my mind of the different edibles here in the Amazon. Fish are so central to life along the Amazon. I think I have picked up my father’s interest in fish, although I'm not real keen on catching them with hook and line. My own study of the sixty species that are native to my hometown river has turned out to be my specialization in natural history and has given me a head start in appreciating Amazon fishes.

I managed the public transportation pretty well across town today and even hitch hiked part of the way back from the museum to my hotel in the back of a pickup truck. While I was walking the forest path today at the research institute, I came upon a prayer shrine with statuettes of St. Mary and St. Francis. I am not accustomed to stopping at such places and I did not even have a candle. But I did scribble a note on a scrap of paper, asking the saints to help me to see who my new partner in life is to be. I folded the paper and wedged it into a crack in the rock at the bottom of the statuettes and backed away respectfully.

I took a nap and then went down to the waterfront and sized up all the boats. I realized that my previous boat, the Don Manuel, was unusual in that I was able to put my hammock on an open front deck. No other boat that I noticed today has that feature. All the other boats are open only in the middle. I was really fortunate to get that  first boat. I will need the help of the river spirits tomorrow in order for me to find a non-claustrophobic, non-blasting stereo boat. I am itching to get moving and eager to write some more creative thoughts. I have not had any since I have been in Manaus. All I have done is maintain myself!

I am at Galo’s restaurant for the last time. I Just ate another jaraqui, the most popular fish on the Amazon and the cheapest. I forgot to bring my garlic, but I ate a huge pile of green and white onions that were served with the fish, along with the special green sauce which has herbs that are supposed to be eaten to aid in the safe digestion of river fish or wild game. I hope it all goes down well. This restaurant has been my mainstay. This whole experience in Manaus has made me wonder if a one hundred mile boat line on the Neuse River in North Carolina, from Goldsboro down to the coast at Oriental, would be fun. Or on the Cape Fear River from Fayetteville to Wilmington? What kind of boat would be able to navigate that distance and keep people comfortable?

NOVEMBER 11, 1997 - Manaus, Brazil

It is early in the morning as I sit on my hotel balcony to watch the sunrise. As I write there are about thirty vultures wafting in a great circle over the harbor. They are such an important part of every third world tropical city that I have visited. I see them often this trip and must learn how to receive from their experience. They are such dedicated recyclers and such meticulous cleaners of what I would consider to be messes. The meat and fish markets for Manaus are located down at the water front by the harbor and that is where the vultures keep a perpetual presence.

It is two p.m. and I am on my chosen boat, the Rodriguez Avez. Some fellow has moved in close and placed his hammock above me. But I am at the end of the line of hammocks and facing an open side of the boat in its middle, so hopefully I will catch some breezes. It turns out that the Rodriguez Avez is the only boat leaving today that is going the entire one thousand miles all the way to Belem. The bathrooms, sinks and lunchroom look in better shape than in my previous boat. But I am worried about all the speakers on the top deck and the light over my head. We will see. Hawkers of food, watches and various provisions are all over the boat, walking up and down the lines of hammocks and are making me nervous. I bought some slip-on sandals for the deck so that I will not have to latch on and off my tevas every time I get out of my hammock. I am going to have to go up on the top deck soon to survive this intensity. It is really cramped down here.

I could find no nuts of any kind in the markets of Manaus. While on the last boat I decided that nuts would be a good snack food if I could find them. So now I only have a few bags of dried bananas, one of which I just ate for lunch. I have got diarrhea again and am going to have to miss lunch. I took two pills. Damn it, I did not take garlic with my fish last night. I thought the onions would do it, but no! There is charm only in the garlic! I am very thankful for my time at the Ideal Hotel. They were really good to me there. So far I have made the right choices. I hope that continues with this boat which is due in Belem on Monday evening the fifteenth with only one stop in Santaren. The salt on the dried bananas was good - better than sugar. I think I need some more!

The sun is setting and we are on our way with the lights of Manaus still trailing along for some distance. The rain is coming down steadily now. To get a beer I had to order a “grande.” I am not certain there is to be supper, so this may be it. I ate three bags of banana chips during the afternoon.

There are three dark skinned men sporting many tattoos sitting next to me making jewelry. These men are very intense, obviously without formal education, and possessing a real wild look in their eyes. They tried to sell me some pretty things they had made. I feigned interest as they opened up their bags and brought out quite a show and tell. I have brought home way too many third world trinkets for my children in the past, decorated with the tropical floral patterns and native designs Now the men are weaving hemp. They seem like honest and humble folks and watching them work is rare entertainment for me. But the locals on this boat are all wearing hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the emblems and logos of modern western culture, sports and business. Everything seems to have come around full circle on this journey. The Amazonian Indians wear Nike t-shirts as they sell Western tourists hemp beadwork.

After two hours of river travel, we have finally left behind all the lights of Manaus. It is black as coal on both sides of this open boat. There is a moon close to being full somewhere up there, but we are still socked in with cloud cover and light steady rain.

NOVEMBER 12, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

A rooster crowing woke me up this morning on the river. I quickly climbed to the top deck and found him in a wire cage. Someone was feeding him corn. What a welcome surprise and confirmation that I have indeed chosen the right boat. I like him. I have been with roosters in the most unusual places. Our Arab neighbors kept them on their roofs in the old city of Jerusalem. They would occasionally sound off at inopportune times, but the rooster is one animal I will gladly wake up to hear. I drank a whole liter of Antarctica beer before I went to sleep last night and I did not get up to pee all night! It must have been the potassium in all those dried plantains that I ate. Incredible! I’ve have learned a new survival trick for my trip. To be aroused from a long deep sleep with the call of a rooster is among the most healthy of life’s experiences.

It is a forest of rain this morning, and has been for fourteen hours straight now. There is not much sheltered room on this upper deck but I have claimed one of the few seats with a roof overhead to observe the day’s wonders. We will see how long we go without stereo in this downpour. So, may I soar over the Amazon in all its fullness today. May its energy rise both day and night, in rain, cloud, storm and sun, and may it be a powerful source of inspiration providing me with unique and valuable insights!

Well I wished for garbage bins on the last boat. This boat has them and as a consequence there are flies all over the place! Every new technology creates its own set of new problems. And there is little doubt as to the future of this garbage upon its arrival in Belem. It will probably be tossed into the river for the tidal currents to simply swish it all out to sea and then be deposited along the beaches of northern Brazil. It would be one thing if it was just organic wastes, but the amount of plastic, aluminum, and glass that is involved is staggering.

It finally stopped raining and it is a sumptuously beautiful evening. Only slight sunset color, but the air is still and the river is calm and majestic. I am having another “grande” since they have no small beers. The guarana served on top is the best I have had since I have been in Brazil, but it is a powerful stimulant that I cannot handle in the evening. The band is getting set to play up on the top deck. I think we may see close to a full moon tonight - at least a hazy one. There is a light blue patch overhead. I am enjoying my Copacabana sandals that I bought in the Manaus market. They are much more comfortable on deck than my Tevas. I have made peace with the guy in the hammock above me, but I would have really liked that open space. Once again I guess that I have about the airiest and most enviable spot on the boat and it is hard to protect.

NOVEMBER 13, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

It was a long restless night with the customs police on board searching everything. They acted so serious. I could tell that they enjoyed playing the part of mistrusting everyone and sniffing out the goods. I am still not sure why customs is such a big issue between two Brazilian cities. I suppose that with all that endless jungle out there lots of contraband could move unnoticed. My inability to speak Portuguese keeps me in the dark. But I did enjoy flirting with the full moon last night and had an occasional good view of its trail of sparkles on the water. But that extraordinary night of moonlight wafting has not yet crystallized on this trip.

We are sitting at the dock at Santaren, a large city of several hundred thousand residents at the confluence of the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers. It looks like a nice town, more manageable than Manaus. I would love to explore it, but have decided to have my extra time down on the coast at Belem. I disembarked and took a walk down the beach here and discovered that the Tapajos River comes right up to our boat with its clear green waters while the muddy Amazon is just out a ways from us one hundred yards or so. I got a good photograph of the mingling of the two water colors when the sun came out. I baptized myself in the Rio Tapajos, so now I have immersed myself in brown, black and green water rivers on this trip! John the Baptist would be impressed.

I had not showered in two days so I used the occasion to wash and change clothes, although the showers are not bad on this boat. I almost got my inflatable boat out, but I just did not want to make a show. So I have just been lounging in the hammock while we wait, fortunate to have had a refreshing dip in the clear green waters of the Tapajos. I daydream about those fabled white sand beaches upstream on this gorgeous green water river that I will probably never lay eyes upon ...

Now I have seen it all. Jet skis just came buzzing around the bend of this river as we are still waiting at the Santaren dock. From dugouts to jet skis in one day! This is really too much. They are probably rented from one of the several large hotels along the waterfront by the wealthy vacationers from Rio de Janeiro. Shifting my focus to the more natural, I have been observing a yellow-headed caracara as it patrols the area around the harbor. The bird is a scavenger that has become a common sight on the river, almost catching up with the tern in frequency of appearances. I wonder what kind of evolutionary shift the caracara is making to adjust to the whine of jet skis on its river.

We are several hours out of Santaren now and the wind in my face is marvelous. At dinner time I cued in below with the other passengers for my food. As I was bent at the waist, leaning over the side of the boat and resting my hands on the railing, a three inch dragonfly suddenly came zooming in from the river and alighted on the ring finger of my left hand! It was clear winged with a gold spot on the forward edge of each wing and the body was golden. It rested on my finger for fifteen minutes as it washed its face and rested.

There was a mother in line next to me holding an infant in her arms. Amazingly, the baby also caught sight of the dragonfly on my finger. I noticed the infant’s face suddenly focus with curious intent on the insect and was for the longest time quite amused. When our part of the line was approaching the serving table, I gently flung the dragonfly off into the air. My heart skipped a beat for an instant as I watched this tiny creature suddenly crash and almost get swallowed up by the wake of our boat.

But the dragonfly rallied all it resources and managed to pick itself up and fly off over the river. I pondered the event for the remainder of the evening and wondered if maybe the sole reason for coming all the way from the USA to voyage the Amazon, was just to provide a momentary resting place for this special creature as it flew across the breadth of the river. How delicate might our interrelationships be in this vast universe ...

NOVEMBER 14, 1997 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

After the amazing encounter with the golden dragonfly yesterday, I did not think anything could happen on this trip to top that. But that evening brought an even more astonishing event. After dinner our boat turned up a creek to go to the town of Monte Alegre just at sunset. We exchanged a few passengers and did not stay long. But when we turned back east to go back down the creek and to the main channel again, there was the full moon, having just risen on the narrow waters in front of us.

We followed it out the slender channel and onto the main river where the horizon disappeared to the south. As we cruised along about a half mile from the north bank, I watched the full moon from out front on a bow seat for nearly three hours. The conditions were perfect! With the moon still low just  above the horizon, there was a long path of silvery and sparkly moondance stretching out on the river from below the moon all the way to my vantage point on our boat. I stayed out on deck following this wonder until the moon dance thinned out, when the moon was up more than forty five degrees above the horizon.

It was fabulous - just what I came here for! I was lucky to have such a clear evening, with our boat headed in an eastward direction. The captain was courteous enough to even cut off the music and the lights for us. Everyone on board came to an open part of their deck to silently take it all in. MOONLIGHT WAFTING ON THE AMAZON! I will be surprised if life on earth can provide a more wonderful experience than this. That moon will have to last me for a while, I guess. I sure bounced a lot of hopes, dreams and prayers off of that one, all around the world. Terrific! Wow - it really happened. I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. totally satisfied with my trip. And then I woke up at midnight to find that I had breathing room as the man who was hammocking above me had left. Whew! I was really getting annoyed with him. I saw him standing on the dock at al-Merian. Since then, a kid has strung up another hammock in the same place, so I will have to deal with him later. But I slept much better.

This morning I drank coffee up on the top deck at sunrise and watched half a dozen dolphins leaping all around by my side of the boat. I saw one gray dolphin jump and do a complete spin out of water! It seems that these displays are often feeding frenzies as small fish around the dolphins also jump in every direction at the same moment. I tried to get the perfect picture with dolphins at sunrise feeding on the Amazon, but they probably will turn out to be only ripples on the surface. I just could not predict where they would rise and by the time I had aimed my camera and clicked they were gone. They seem most active in shallow water near towns. Swifts were careening over the water as well, but I could not figure out the species as their constant motion did not allow my eye to catch the details of their markings. I found three masked tityras and a beautiful anhinga in a dead tree overhanging the water.

We are passing the mouth of the Xingu River to our south. The vegetation is looking swampier along the edge, markedly different than when I first began this voyage upstream. How I wish I could swim in the Xingu River and get my fourth baptism of this journey, but it does not appear that we will be making a stop. We passed through some narrows and by several buffalo farms or fazendas as they are known in Portuguese. A giant cockroach just crawled over my bags next to my hammock. It is hot now, but the light wind is marvelous. We may be getting ocean breezes now. We are in the delta ...

NOVEMBER 15 - On the Amazon River in Brazil

It was my favorite day of cruising the Amazon yesterday with the shore on both sides being very close as we twisted our way through the streams of the delta. Macaws and various species of parrots were abundant along with many capped herons. The homes built along the water’s edge were quite beautifully set, made of natural materials with docks, connecting walkways, and boats. Multitudinous varieties and hues of hibiscus were in screaming bloom. Clusters of potted plants on the verandahs and walkways displayed the herbal gardening that these river people depend on for food and medicine. People were planting corn and achiote in small plots by their homes.

Children paddled out to meet us in dugouts to receive articles of clothing that passengers would toss overboard to the outstretched hands. I was surprised at the generous response of those on board as most of them appeared to me to have little material goods themselves. I suppose they understood best what the people on shore needed most. The vegetation became very swamp like, more palms, tidal beaches exposed and lots of arrow headed shaped vegetation.

We went through some extremely tight spots in the delta last night, the channel being less than sixty feet wide. We were scraping trees on both sides of the boat at once. The captain navigated with a spot light that revealed the narrow passage filled with floating vegetation. I couldn't even see water as it looked, at times, like we were stuck in the middle of the jungle! The front part of the boat was filled with apprehensive onlookers as we needled our way through. It was an “African Queen” scene all the way. When occasionally the spot light was cut off, there was a twinge of fear in my stomach as well for the first time on this trip. The moon was late to break through the clouds, and when it did, it was still enshrouded with fog. A few panicky thoughts raised through my mind wondering if we could be lost. We had another night of full moon on the river. I got up once in the middle of the night and climbed up on top to find the moon was directly overhead and eerily encircled with clouds.

This morning, after more weaving down interesting delta creeks, we finally turned the last corner and saw the modern skyline of Belem in the distance. I was shocked at the sight and lost my breathe for an instant. It was quite a skyline to come upon after just emerging from a jungle creek! I immediately recalled it from the movie Emerald Forest. This must be where it was filmed. It is like Dorothy seeing the Emerald City. I could feel the same reaction in the other passengers as well. The transition was immense. I was not prepared for it. Neither was I prepared for the gritty character of the port section of this city. As we pulled into our dock we passed an old port brimming with trash, the smell of rotting fish and waste.

For what I am willing to spend on my low budget, the hotel situation is not as nice as I had in Manaus. So, my first reaction was to see if I could get a plane home early. But I needed to see what this city and its coastal surroundings could teach me. I would figure out a good plan. I walked to the Hilton away from the port area to find a telephone and called home and found everyone OK. That helped my spirits some. I went by a recommended vegetarian restaurant and had lunch by the kilo. Pretty darn good. Things are looking better! I walked the market some. Now I am catching a wonderful breeze by the waterfront with a beer. The river here is very tumultuous with tides. It looks like I will not be using my inflatable boat here in front of the city. It estimated a five miles per hour tidal pull when we came in, which is quite scary for a paddler. As in Manaus, I have found no one who speaks a word of English in this city of one million.

So the logistics of my river trip have turned out pretty much as planned and expected. No big surprises, no major hitches. All I had heard and read about on how to do this in the Lonely Planet Guide fit right into place. I could fly out of here tomorrow and have had a memorable and rewarding excursion. I have been lucky, and the river has been good to me too. I would like to get my inflatable boat in the water and write some more thoughts down for a week and possibly push my trip another one hundred miles through the delta all the way to the sea. How best to do that I am not yet sure. I will have to bump around and find the right connections.

I am in the Hotel Victoria Regia. I went with the hotel that carries the Latin name for the giant Amazon Lilly. I am a real sucker for things sold with nature names. I think I chose it because it reminds me, both in name and in similar style, of the Lotus Hotel in Cairo, Egypt where I stayed on my first trip to the Nile back in 1975. I remember that feeling of remoteness from everything familiar to me, that strangeness of foreign culture. The mosquito nets romantically draped over the bed. I remember wanting so badly to take the trip up the Nile to Khartoum, but decided it was too big of a risk with a one year old child and mosquito borne illnesses still around.

I have doubled my age since then. Where has life gone so quickly?
It was so refreshing to hear on the phone just now that my children were OK. I wonder what they think of their dad? I hope I am setting a good example, one that they respect and are proud of. I wonder when they will be able to come with me on a trip like this? When one of us makes a hell of a lot of money I suppose. This is my celebration trip for getting the final one off to college this fall. Feeling that they are somewhat secure allows me to take the time and expense to explore the Amazon like this. I am looking forward to our family reunion at Thanksgiving next week.

NOVEMBER 16, 1997 - Belem, Brazil

The first thing I did this morning was to make a beeline to the central botanical park and find a large ceiba tree which I am sitting under as I write. It is a beautiful one, seven or eight feet in diameter. I feel grounded and well connected under the influence of this cosmic tree. I have had a good morning in the park. I like it better than the one in Manaus. It is better kept, though smaller. I was glad to make the acquaintance of a pair of harpy eagles which I will probably never see in the wild. The giant mimosa tree next to the ceiba is also stunning.

I was run out of the park at noon because it closed. I have been slowly walking back to the old city, window shopping and buying fruits and postcards. I visited the opera house which is nice, but not as artistically done as the one in Manaus. I have been admiring how the mango tree lined streets efficiently block out the pedestrian’s view of the high rise buildings in the new part of the city. Mangoes are just dangling from them everywhere. I feel better about the town now that I have gotten out of the chaotic old port section. I am glad that I stayed in town today and got my balance instead of racing off to some hinterland. I went to the Amazonas Bank and it was a big deal just to change fifty dollars.

It is 4:00 pm and I am back down on the waterfront at a café with a marvelous view of the river. Dark clouds hang over the water with a bright distant horizon. Music with a manageable volume level plays in the background with a soft beat. Another grande beer! Once I am settled on land, my pattern usually develops of leaving for an outing in the morning, then taking a siesta and finally finding a waterfront vantage point to have a drink. Then I am ready to settle my thoughts and write. I am considering doing a final stretch of the Amazon by taking a three day tour to Marajo Island at the end of the delta. The guide is English speaking and he will fit me in with a group of Japanese tourists that he is in charge of. That would then leave me a day to shop before I return to the US. I feel like I need to be around a knowledgeable English speaker to finally ask some questions.

The sky is complicated now with so many types of clouds, patches of blue, rain and shades of light. And there is that ever present thin strip of distant rain forest along the horizon. The contrast is so sharply defined between Belem and what lies just beyond its borders. I have never felt it like this before with city and wilderness so close to one another. When our boat pulled away from Manaus it took two hours for the city lights to finally fade away. In Belem it would be only a matter of minutes. Now the sun is out and it is warm, the water has calmed down as well. Many venders are approaching my table trying to sell me stuff like gum, candy and fruit. If I show the slightest irritation with them, the bar tender hollers over and orders them to leave. They slink away into the alleys allowing me a brief respite, but after several minutes come creeping back like hyenas. They are very persistent.

I left and came back to catch the tail end of the sunset here at the café. I went and visited the tourism office and got some nice maps. I then went and met Lalo, the Brazilian tour guide at the travel agent’s office and went ahead and signed up for his Marajo Island trip. He seems like a nice guy. He has a friend involved with the Santo Daime group locally and he said he would ask him if a guest could attend. The river is absolutely gorgeous! I feel like it is going to be a good week here. I seem to be sniffing around the right people and places. A kid off the street just came up to me and tried to sell me some beautiful wild bird eggs. Wow ... robbing the nests of the local birds to sell to tourists! Boats are every where, every size and every shape. I love it! I love fresh air, breezes, open space with expanses of water, flow, fragrances, sunshine ... this is where my home is. Am I am a macaw, an osprey, a butterfly?

Earlier I found the big yellow guavas that I used to enjoy so much in the Middle East! They taste sooooo delicious. I ate one immediately and bought two for tomorrow morning’s breakfast. They are excellent medicine for almost any stomach ailment, of which I have had a few recently. I am sure that it will turn out to be my favorite fruit of the trip. At the end of the day the small mangoes that were brought to market, but were passed over after the larger ones were sold, are packaged up and sold in mesh bags of twenty for a dollar. A pig is squealing as he is tied up and carried on the shoulders of a man heading for the market. The river taxies constantly come and go. It would be great fun to take them one after another, just to see where the rural people return to at the end of the day, exploring their villages and byways. At this late hour they head off into an inky, black darkness across the river. Well, I feel the need for a shower. It has been a good day. I feel content. I feel like I have sniffed an exotic air.

NOVEMBER 17. 1997 - Belem, Brazil

It is noon and I am at Rodriguez Aves Park, but I have had a hike! I noticed on a map that there was a lake several miles out of town, so this morning I walked from my hotel all the way out there. I felt like I was walking out all those sedentary hours on the boat. I am drenched in sweat as if I had been swimming with my clothes on. I had hoped to find some new birds but only came up with a white-throated toucan and a house wren. But the toucan sighting was special. When I heard it call, I looked up and found it crossing a sky filled with an inverted rainbow! There were also huge, mixed foraging flocks of blue-gray, palm and silver-beaked tanagers. These are among the most common birds in Amazonia, but to see them moving together and wielding all that color was unique for me. Lots of "fruit loops" in the sky today!

The lake turned out to be an artificial reservoir and felt dead compared to the local rivers. A military person greeted me with a pistol at what was supposed to be a visitors center. I was friendly but he followed me around very suspiciously. It was only me and him alone in that remote area and for the second time on this trip I had a bout with fear. I left without appearing to run away and hitchhiked back to the edge of town in the back of a military truck.

I am at the Aves park now, drinking a refreshing cup of cold guarana. But for the most part people have been friendly, or at least have left me alone. If I were traveling in Egypt, I would be hassled to no end on a walk like that. I guess I am still in ‘America” here and I do not look too foreign with my dark hair and brown eyes. Only my hat and knapsack stand out. I have been trying to let down my guard here in Belem. I like walking through neighborhoods and seeing how the people live. The choice for the locals is between a small boxy house or the modern high rise.

I am sitting in front of a nice water garden. A frog calls. A food vendor nearby plays typical Latin American romantic music from the radio dangling from his cart. Blue morpho butterflies zigzag across the open area. The Amazon water lilies are in bloom. I noticed that a large wild cashew tree across from me was dropping its bright red ripe fruits from high above the ground. They hit the ground with a loud thud. I rushed to pick up a few before the ants could find them. This juicy bright fruit, like the guava, is supposed to be good for digestive upsets. I am fine at present, but a little preventive medicine might not be a bad idea!

I am down at the port side café again at sundown. It started to rain hard this afternoon so I took a bus back from the park, ate at the vegetarian restaurant for the third straight day, took a shower, hand washed clothes and rested. My clothes smelled so bad I had to soak them, not just wring them out like I had been doing up till now. I have not been eating dinner since I have been in Belem. The excellent vegetarian restaurant is only open for lunch, so I eat enough then to last me through the evening. A fabulous sunset is developing in front of me across the river to the west. It seems like a long time since I was on a boat. I think I am ready to tackle a day tip to Mosqueiro Island on a public ferry tomorrow.

On the way down to the port I passed by two wonderful medicinal plant shops. I had not seen any quite like this in Manaus, but remembered them in previous trips to Iquitos, Peru. When I walked in I was met with the most powerful fragrance of forest imaginable. There in bins all around were piles of roots, tubers, branches, leaves, dried nuts and fruits of every conceivable size and shape! Everything was labeled with Portuguese names, few of which were recognizably similar to any of the Spanish and English names I had learned in my limited familiarity with Amazonian medicinal plants. I felt like a dodo, but was drawn to this shop like iron filings to a magnet. It felt so real, so wondrous, so grounded.

To think that I grew up with my parents taking me to a sterile drug store. If I was sick, a man in a white jacket tinkered behind an elevated counter that seemed designed to deliberately exclude me from seeing what his magic was all about. But the end result was always both distasteful and fearful to me - a little brown bottle with white pills or gel capsules that I had to gulp down with cold water. There was no drama or ritual, no color, no smells, no direct or obvious tie to nature. I was supposed to feel good about the fact that this university trained pharmacist was able to pass on synthetic medicines that were invented in a laboratory and punched out in a pill factory! Although not able to articulate my feelings at that time, I sense now how disconnected I felt from raw mother earth. And how pulverized and refined my childhood upbringing in modern western culture had been. I would have liked to have taken life a little more unpasteurized than I had received it. To drink its sap directly from the tree!

NOVEMBER 18, 1997 - Belem - Brazil

I woke up at 1:00 am last night to drunken laughter from the dining room and went downstairs to complain at the front desk. Things quieted down soon thereafter. It was a hot night though. Men together are terrible when they carouse. It is very humid this morning as I have been dripping all over the place. I got up early and walked down to what is known as the Rodomor section of the port to catch the boat to Mosqueiro and found that it doesn’t leave till 6:00 p.m.! So here I sit for breakfast at a nice outdoor cafe next to the old fort overlooking the river. Anyway, I forgot to bring my swimsuit with me so Mosqueiro wouldn’t have been much fun without it. But I was looking forward to being on the water again this morning so I am disappointed. I will have to wait until tomorrow when I head on out to Marajo Island.

Ahhhh ... a breeze for the first time this morning. I have to remind myself that I am on the equator. But it would be worse in Cairo or the Arabian Gulf. A log cabin with a fireplace back in North Carolina this winter does not sound like a bad idea from this perspective. I can readily understand how the changes in seasonal weather in temperate climates stimulated technology. On the equator one just wants to take each day at a time, while up north, it is necessary to plan ahead, store up and prepare for the winter. This great equatorial river is quite dependable but it only gives you what you need and no more. It doesn’t allow you to save and get too far ahead of it.

The ceiling of this cafe is made of cane or bamboo matting. It is quite attractive. Natural materials used in building rest my spirit while synthetic ones make my spirit feel restrained and claustrophobic. I have been sitting here a long time without being asked to move. It is nice not to have music on. I’m hoping the natural air conditioning of breezes off the river will continue as the day warms up. I wonder how Gator Aid would do here on the Amazon? Is it in Rio but just hasn’t made it up here to the river yet?

Several games of Dominoes have begun around me in the cafe. It certainly is the most common form of noticeable local entertainment. People play it at all hours, both men and women. It is the functional equivalent of backgammon which was the standard game where I lived in the Middle East. I worked so hard to master that game in my years of residence there. Why I gave it up I do not know. Something about rolling dice I intrinsically did not like. It seems that dominoes is like the game of scrabble, but with numbers instead of letters. I bet it is a very ancient game that the Portuguese brought with them to the Amazon.

The kiskadee is the only urban bird one hears, except for the cooing of an occasional pigeon or when a flock of parakeets descends into a treetop. The kiskadees rule the city gardens, yards and store tops lustily singing. From my own perch high up on this fort café, I can see two species of kiskadees in the trees below - the black tops and the orange tops. A palm tanager moves along with a crumb of bread in his mouth. A kiskadee just flew up to the railing in front of me hoping for a handout. It reminds me that, what I am aspiring to better understand on this Amazon excursion, is how nature has adapted to rapidly expanding human culture and how human culture has adjusted to the ever constant river. The kiskadees also fly at the walls of the café to pick off insects that are highlighted against the whitewashed plaster. The music has finally come on now as it inevitably does. It does distract my attention from writing to a certain degree.

The men pee everywhere outside - on the grass, on the streets, next to buildings. I guess the public rest rooms are few, and even disgusting to the locals. Where the women go I have no idea. Garbage just now was dumped from a barrel over the back fence of the café into the river. Now bottles are being cast onto the rocks on the edge of the river. I wonder if there is any trash collection at all here?

Is the bottom of the river a veritable collection of metal, plastic and glass that this city of one million people continually pours over its banks? Does the Amazon take it out to sea where the bottom of the ocean receives it? Or does it just sit there, piling up until one day it will begin to surface as islands of garbage? Or does silt and sediment wash over it and slowly integrate it into the earth's crust? Does anyone out there know what the hell we are doing? Are we digging our own graves? Pushing our trash onto the shoulders of future generations to deal with? Why have Homo sapiens gotten on this irretractable kick of producing masses of unrecyclable materials?

After lunch I brought a votive candle to light in this cathedral that was built in 1640. It was hot and still in the back pew, but I found a breeze up front that is pleasant and allows my spirit to waft as well. It feels like an ancient place. There is no stained glass, just statues of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and what looks like Portuguese colonists. The stations of the cross line the aisles and niches. Beige, gray and turquoise marble line the lower walls and a dark mahogany covers the ceiling. Directly below the wooden alter is an engraved depiction of the Last Supper. On the left side of the alter is an engraving of a mother pelican with her wings spread over her young. On the right side is a portrayal of a deer resting peacefully. Cherubs and angels are everywhere. How remarkable is this holy trinity of church, palace and fort that the Catholics of Europe brought as divine light to the Amazon!

Men and women, never more than a half a dozen at a time, drift in and out and stand before the various statues to pray. From behind us filter in the sounds of a busy intersection with pedestrian voices lifted to a shout, car horns blowing, breaks squealing, motor cycles roaring and buses grinding away. Candles are lit in each of the niches. It all brings back Jerusalem and the culture of its old Christian and Armenian Quarters, my children winding their way to their school in the midst of it all with their Arab friends. My kids would tell me that in one dark corner of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was a picture of Mary in which, if one gazed long enough, the Virgin would wink back to the beholder. And there was the Duke University Chapel that was a hometown experience that predisposed me to a strangely tentative affinity with big, old, gothic cathedrals. Without these experiences in my past, and not being a Catholic myself, I would be an alien here and probably not have even bothered to enter.

It is evening and I am at my regular dockside bar for the fourth day in a row. There is a huge thunder cloud over the distant forest and I see lighting inside it racing around. I am reading a guide book on the Amazon and am particularly interested in the account given of a Brazilian professor’s initiation into an Indian tribe. They used the water from a ceiba tree to wash both his face and eyes so that he would be able to look to heaven for help. I wonder if I will ever have such an experience with native American peoples, or will I always be confined to the position of outsider and tourist in regards to this region’s forest inhabitants.

It seems that the one thousand miles between Manaus and Belem makes somewhat of a difference culturally. The beer that is served here is called Cerpa instead of Antarctica. Curiously, the same river fish have different names as well. In general, there is more of an African influence downstream here on the coast. A big, brightly painted balsa wood Macaw hangs from the ceiling in front of me along side of Japanese lanterns. The speaker system is enclosed in a box, seven by seven feet in size. It is painted red and white. I am going to watch the lightning for a few minutes longer and then move on. Tonight the music here has a very heavy beat with lots of dancers. I am going to have to leave my dockside retreat early and take a walk up to the city square tonight because seven o’clock seems a bit early for bed time.

I am awake in the middle of the night with the sound of children playing on the floor above me. My restless thoughts seem to drift to my astonishment at my energy drain just due to personal maintenance while traveling in this third world setting: 1- keeping up with documents - passport, health card, entry slip; 2 - keeping up with two kinds of money, credit cards, traveler’s checks and worrying about exchange rates; 3 - eating and drinking carefully to avoid dysentery, buying and carrying bottled water, keeping my body clean and cuts protected from infection; 4 - watching out for thievery and being targeted as an American tourist; 5 - struggling with the language barrier with my pocket Portuguese phrase book and dictionary; 6 - adjusting to climactic differences of heat, humidity and dehydration.  All this combined is a big challenge for this traveler.
NOVEMBER 19, 1997 - Marajo Island in the Amazon Delta of Brazil

I am on Marajo, an island half the size of North Carolina and fixed like a plug at the Atlantic end of the Amazon River. We were all packed like sardines into what is known as a “fast” boat. I was suffocating with the Japanese tourists as we literally sat in each other’s laps. Once on the river the waves were cresting at five feet and tossing the tiny boat everywhere. When we were in the troughs of the waves I could not even see above the horizon. I was concerned about my safety for the third time on this trip. We were in the middle of a river that was ten miles wide, furiously being flailed about by wind and waves and not a life jacket in sight anywhere! Our guide, Lalo, occasionally turned my way and grinned and raised his eyebrows. Talk was impossible over the roar of the boat engine and the wind.

By the grace of the river gods, we arrived safely at Marajo one and a half hours later and were bussed and then ferried across a smaller river to our hotel in Soure. It is an attractive, three star hotel with charming covered walkways and an outdoor eating area, but the individual rooms are air conditioned and dark. This is no jungle lodge. We ate lunch and I had the local buffalo steak because it was the cheapest item on the menu. That will be the first and last time I order that, a dark an terribly chewy meat that fell like a lead sinker dropping down my hatch.

In the afternoon we paid a visit to a flooded field with scarlet ibis. There were about forty out there. As far as flocks of birds go, these ibis may be the most spectacular feast to the eyes it is possible to have in the world. There were also lots of spotted sandpipers, a bird that migrates up north to our Eno River in the warm season and one that I am very familiar with. To see our common sandpipers against the background of such a renowned and exotic bird as the scarlet ibis was boggling. A new bird for me were the crested caracaras perched on mangroves at the edge of the fields.

As soon as we got back to the hotel at five p.m., I got out my inflatable boat and wafted the Amazon solo for the first time! It was pleasant as the sun set in the west. I was at the mouth of a deep tributary known as the Paracauary River that flows into the Rio Toucantins which in turns merges with the main channel of the Amazon in the delta. I brought my boat out to an area where rough edged rocks were scattered over the beach and the water’s edge, being the same red color as I encountered up on the Rio Negro. Anableps, a fish that skims the surface with bifocal eyes able to see both above the surface and below, skimmed the surface near the shore as I put my boat in the river. Paddling on out I observed both great and snowy egrets, neotropical cormorants and white-winged swallows on my first Amazon waft.

Swells were rolling in from the open water. The wind smelled of fish as I was weaving in and out of fishing boats with men cleaning their day’s catch. The grind of the distant power generator for the hotel was the only unsatisfying sound. Huge cumulus clouds loomed all around and it looked like a storm might be blowing in. I felt a few sprinkles that caused me to turn in about 6:30 p.m., but it was already close to being dark. The eastern horizon glimmered into a mirage of merging sea and sky as I lost sight of it with the curvature of the earth. It was a very good first Amazon waft in my inflatable kayak that has been my silent traveling companion on this trip of over seven thousand miles on air and river just to get to this spot!

NOVEMBER 20, 1997 - Marajo Island in the Amazon Delta of Brazil

I rose early and took my inflatable boat out at six a.m. I paddled out towards an open area on the river to get in position to experience the sunrise. I did not rest well last night. I tried sleeping in my hammock on the porch for a couple of hours, then back on the bed with the doors open for fresh air. There are no screens on the windows or doors. But the sound of a squeaky bat and the thought of vampires made me rise and close the door and put on the air conditioner. With all these buffalo farms on the island, I had heard that vampires are indeed very numerous. But I still tossed and turned with the air conditioner on. Hotels of any kind rarely fill my bill for a comfortable place to sleep.

Later in the morning, while Lalo and the Japanese were off in the tour bus, I paddled all the way across the mile wide river to the mouth of a mangrove creek that I had tentatively spied out with my binoculars from a distance. I traveled an hour up the creek and then took an hour and a half slowly drifting back down the creek. Anableps and enormous pipe fish were shooting out in front of me as my boat cut the surface. I was in the company of great and snowy egrets, little blue and striated herons, anhingas, Amazon kingfishers, spotted sandpipers, osprey, muscovy ducks, rufous-backed oropendulas and huge red-clawed crabs dangling from mangrove roots. That was a lot of company for being so late in the morning.

When I returned to the main channel where the creek empties out, I beached my boat and climbed out onto a pristine looking, white sand bar to swim. I had blissfully waded up to my knees when two fisherman passed by in their boat and gave a warning signal with hand gestures which I immediately recognized to mean the presence of stingrays on the sandbar. Having heard many times of their particularly painful spine, I made a hasty retreat to my boat. Boy, did I ever feel like a tourist instead of a naturalist! The wind had picked up since I first traversed the river and I headed back across with two foot waves hammering my bow. It took forty five minutes of muscling my little boat to make the passage.

It is 7:00 p.m. and I am at dinner waiting for my crab chowder. I chose to go with our group in the afternoon trip to visit a buffalo farm called Fazenda Bom Jesus. A German working at the farm named Bernard led our group. We even got to ride bareback on the buffaloes! Bernard asked me if I was returning to America soon, as if he would like me to stay on the farm for a while. I would have loved to go birding on horseback. When we had finished petting the monstrous black buffaloe we went on a walk to see the birds around the farm: spoonbills, lapwings, stilts, yellowlegs, Brazilian ducks, black-bellied whistling ducks, gallinules and fork-tailed flycatchers! And of course, loads of egrets, ibis and other more familiar friends. The most stupendous sight were the scarlet ibis, snowy herons and roseate spoonbills all together in a clump of giant stilted mangroves. Amazing color and form!.

Afterwards we had snacks. I ate a sumptuous fresh cashew fruit which I had picked earlier. Lalo said fresh cashew cleans the body of parasites. I also delighted in a fabulously sweet avocado washed down with a half gallon of star fruit juice. I had become dehydrated and the juicy food got me back to where I needed to be. We returned to the hotel just in time for me to catch a sunset waft on the river. It was terrific. Just when I was getting ready to cross the river in the face of the wind, an osprey appeared. I hollered to him and for a second my eyes went out of focus in a blur and when I looked up he was gone. Only black vultures remained in every direction. I really am weary of them at this point, even though in North Carolina they are a threatened species. There are just too many here! I returned to shore and let Lalo take my boat out for a while. As I lingered on the shore waiting for Lalo, I discovered that the snails in the shallow water are quite beautiful. I think I will collect some to take home for jewelry.

It was a good tropical day on the equator and I feel like I have had some new experiences. I expanded my understanding of the neotropical world. The buffalo fazendas do not make much money by USA standards. The one we visited was enormous with seven thousand hectares on which were one thousand buffalo. Of these are sold only two to three hundred head a year at fifty centavos a kilo. The farm is locally owned and the meat is consumed in this corner of Brazil. Their production is not up to western safety standards and cannot be exported. That means that twenty employees make a living out of annual gross sales of one hundred thousand dollars. For a ranch of that size, it is bare subsistence. People just scrape by. The rest of the Marajo economy centers around the production of coconut, pineapple, and fishing.

Once again I notice that everyone goes barefoot. The kids of all ages play soccer barefoot. I watched them play this afternoon in a school lot. The ranchers go barefoot as well. My guide book warned of parasites and not to go native and walk without shoes. I guess the locals eat lots of raw cashew fruit! Wow, what a life with feet connected directly to the earth and bright red, juicy, sweet fruits to keep it all in balance! It is amazing how these guide books psyche me up. I almost did not come to this island for fear of these infamous wormy parasites and vampire bats!

I have retired to my hammock on my hotel room verandah. I had crab chowder for both lunch and dinner meals. It seems to be the cheapest, tastiest and safest option for meals. After dinner, the Marajo dance troop and band played and performed. I joined in barefoot several times when the dark skinned young ladies came and grabbed my hand. The Japanese froze stiff as boards when encouraged to join in with the dancing. It was difficult to dance on slick tile. Afterwards I walked along the water line after the tide had gone out. The only forms of life I could find were the little striped snails and barnacles. A few anableps swam further out. On the surface this did not seem to be a very complex ecosystem.

I did a brief star gaze and found the eastern constellations of Gemini, Orion and Cassiopeia pointing north. There was little familiar to me as I faced towards the south. I was surprised not to find paraques, the ubiquitous nightjar of tropical America, calling around the street lamps as I usually have found on other neotropical adventures. There are really too many street lamps here to see the sky well at night. The owner of this hotel needs an ecotourism consultant to help him understand that if he wants to bring Americans to his place, he will have to work on toning down his noisy generator and high profile outdoor lighting. The owner of the hotel, Mr. Edimor Fontinelli, has been very friendly to me, but he speaks no English. We communicated by means of a weird assortment of broken French, Spanish and Portuguese phrases.

Well I love islands and Marajo has been an interesting one. Others I have been on: Cyprus, Trinidad, Tobago, Ocracoke, Hatteras, Marathon, Cumberland, Catalina, Ambergris, Vancouver, Cape Cod, Block, Mt. Desert, Bahrain, Zamalak - well, at least fifteen great ones. Yes, and now Marajo, in the delta of the Amazon, my favorite big river, a pinnacle experience after eight years of winter discovery excursions on the equator. Does this mean that next I will have to journey up the Ucayali and Urubamba rivers in Peru to complete my Amazon experience on the Amazon’s headwaters? Do I need to spend time with some remote Indian group in order to really understand its people? Do I need to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony in order to get a better taste of the spiritual dimension of this magnificent place ? Speak to me tonight, Amazon River !

NOVEMBER 21, 1997 - Marajo Island in the Amazon Delta of Brazil

I slept well in the hammock on the porch all night. I just could not bring myself to sleep indoors in the Amazon Delta! Only a few mosquitoes buzzed about the porch. They have a slight sting and leave no swelling. I got up early and paddled out to the middle of the river to experience another sunrise in the delta. Then I packed my inflatable boat and boarded our tour bus as the group headed out to the coast for a swim.

When we passed a small tidal mangrove creek on the way, I asked to be dropped off. My plan was to paddle three kilometers down the creek to the sea and be met by our group, but after an hour, the creek came to a trickle and was clogged with dense mangroves. I turned around and paddled back and waited until the bus arrived. As I boarded the bus, for the first time I noticed real animation on those typically stoic Japanese faces as they had figured I had met with some disaster or become lost.

My paddling experience was a real delight though. But it was difficult getting in and out of my boat in a mud flat that was extremely slippery and also quite a trick to avoid hellish palm needles that were scattered about on the ground. Ten buffaloes watched me with great curiosity as I precariously made my way to the creek’s edge and then down the steep muddy bank with a boat above my head. But once on the creek all was bliss.

I followed a sun bittern for half the way. I could get within eight feet of it before it took off into a butterfly dance and moved a little further downstream. Lots of kingfishers, herons, lineated and crimson crested woodpeckers, the latter up very close just two feet off the water. The former played hide and seek with me on overhanging coconut palms. A Black-collared hawk followed me, squealing like an osprey. A rufous-necked wood rail sauntered down to the edge out of the mangroves and then disappeared among the tangled prop roots. Zillions of four-eyed fish skimmed the water. An osprey finally arrived as well.

I came upon a fisherman who showed me how to catch shrimp with a cast net, a tool I consider myself quite proficient with already. First he staked his boat with bamboo, then baited the water with a ball of manioc flour. Next he let his net swirl over the feeding shrimp. He lived in a charmingly simple bamboo shack right by the creek. My stupid electric camera rewound automatically after seven or eight frames, so I missed a chance to record the moment. Back at the hotel I decided to have shrimp chowder for lunch after a final dip in the river. A local cast netter worked the river in front of the hotel.

A local teen who sells fresh coconuts to tourists showed me another useful Amazon survival skill. With his machete he first chipped off a piece of the outer green husk about three inches wide to use as a spoon scraper. Then he split the nut with a sharp blow leaving the fruit in two half spheres. Finally he used the sharp scraper he had first cut off to spoon out the soft gelatinous meat of the fresh coconut interior. The taste of the fresh coconut is far more delicate and dreamy than the hardened, dry pulp that most of us are familiar with in American supermarkets. When sampling such coconuts from street vendors, it may be worth while to ask oneself what the vendor’s machete was used to cut just prior to his round of coconut vending!

As our bus was ferried over the Paracauary River, I watched someone ride a horse into the river, then slide off and swim across next to his animal. The horse just followed him around like a puppy dog in water. I wish I cold have spent a day on a ranch with a horse and swam with one! Oh well, I have left myself with plenty of opportunities to return to some day. Amazonia is a big place and full of rich experiences to offer. It would take many lifetimes to experience it all with satisfaction. Maybe I am in the middle of that process right now!

It is mid afternoon and we are running late and missed the fast boat back to Belem, thank Allah! We are on a nice, slow, unpacked boat and I have a bow seat alone - just where I wanted to be! Lots of parrots and parakeets are crossing the river. The fact that there are so many species, that they move so quickly with rapid wing beats and that all of them basically appear green from a distance, makes it a real challenge for me to identify their species with certainty, especially while on a moving boat! The avifauna of the neotropics is fabulous. Africa and Indonesia do not have macaws! They may have the various species of hornbills, but those birds, although gorgeous, just do not have the personalities that macaws so wonderfully engage us with. I find that the macaw is the Amazon’s most phenomenal form of wildlife.
We are passing some fabulous little islands with white sand beaches and coconut palms. Inviting creeks and a paths lead into their interiors to places with no respect for human laws and structures, where nature rules and humans may only tentatively subsist. Big swells rock us once again on the river, but this larger, slower boat takes them in stride. I am going upstream on the Amazon for the first time as we head back west towards what looks like a big storm over Belem. It sure does feel different. This direction has a more exploratory sense to it, as if I was seeking the inside or the interior instead of just riding it out after already having been there. The Sun is hot on my face as we face west. I originally decided to begin my excursion from the Tabatinga and head downstream on the Amazon in order to better understand the concepts of flow and waft. I can see now how that is only one side of the coin. Maybe in another lifetime I’ll return in reverse ...

NOVEMBER 22, 1997 - Belem, Brazil

It is 9:00 a.m. and I am sitting under a ceiba tree in the central park. There is clear sky with a moderate air temperature. I dreamed about wandering the labyrinth of ally ways where I lived in the old city of Jerusalem - not about paddling the maze of mangrove creeks in the Amazon delta that I experienced the day before. I guess the unresolved material of our past that has found no place yet to settle gets rehashed and the free flowing experiences of today do not really need dreams to digest them. Are dreams just part of our troubled self? The unfinished unconscious life? Did the maze of mangroves trigger familiar scenes of the labyrinth of old Jerusalem? Will I ever be able to completely resolve the unfinished issues of my younger years, leaving my unconscious free to be in the present and to dream consciously about the things I presently love? Could Ayahuasca possibly help in this healing process?

Coming back on the boat yesterday I felt like I still did not have a handle on why I am here this time. Obviously my search for an experience with Ayahuasca has not been fulfilled on this trip, but will still go on. Maybe that is a bigger issue for me than I have been willing to admit . I found a contact with Lalo, but will not have time to follow it up on this trip. Perhaps I need to return again making Ayahuasca the focus of yet another excursion. For now, my present experience may be nothing more than a healthy sniffing of the air. Yes, an expensive one, but I got in a lot of good sniffs for my investment.

How will this experience become a part of me? Maybe I have become just a better naturalist and river guide. If so, I will consider this part of my continuing education. And then there is the likelihood that I am building up the aura around “Riverdave” as the naturalist, river advocate and world traveler based at West Point on the Eno River in Durham, North Carolina. So, go home, Riverdave, and continue to take care of your hometown river with your newly learned skills!

I’m sitting under a ceiba tree in a park in Belem. Clarity in vision, the Brazilian anthropologist reported, is what the tribes received from the ceiba tree. They prepared an eye salve from its leaves to be applied before an initiation rite, so that the initiate could see where he is going inwardly and would fathom what the true meaning is of events happening around him. I’ve asked that of this ceiba tree now, as I return to  America, to give me that inward vision to make the right choices about my work, search for a partner, raising children that have become adults, taking care of parents and place of residence ... and to allow me to take a few leaves from this tree without being seen or stopped by the park officials. Thank you, ceiba tree ...

It is evening again and the sunset is fabulous next to the river, courtesy of a northeaster that has blown in from the coast in the last hour. Wow! What a privilege to see these sunsets! There cannot be anything more spectacular in the universe! Reds, oranges, blues and even greens. Yes, we need to feast our eyes upon such marvels. WILL SOMEONE PLEASE HIRE ME TO BE THEIR FULL TIME SUNSET WATCHER! The river taxi boats are unloading and bobbing like corks by the docks. People are squealing and crossing themselves as they quickly dash and then leap over to the dock. A wrongly placed step or a miss would be tragic. It is really quite a spectacle.

Well I finally did the Belem markets today in the old port section. It was fun. I was not pressed by shopkeepers as I would have been in the Middle East. There are very few foreigners here, and with the dark tan I’ve gotten from riding on the upper decks of river boats, I don’t look that much different than most of the locals. I bought all my children big, Brazilian made beach towels with macaws on them, along with a few odds and ends for everyone else. I got in one last meal at the vegetarian restaurant, for a total of five, it being the only restaurant that I’ve dined at here in Belem. As much as I loved all that fried river fish at Galo’s in Manaus, my digestion has settled down a lot since I’ve been here in Belem. I napped and awoke to a nice rain. This, my last sunset, is turning out to be the best yet!

It is 11:00 p.m. at the Victoria Regia Hotel. It took me three hours to pack and get myself ready for my early morning flight tomorrow. I feel quite organized, but a little nervous about my slashed boat bag being accepted as baggage and then holding up on the trip back. I took a walk up to the Hilton for a breather and bought a sandwich which I ate walking back. There was an interesting art exhibit in the Hilton lobby focused on local nature themes. There were several nice moonlight river paintings. I was tempted to join in the hotel restaurant’s shrimp feast at twenty dollars a plate, but resisted overeating. since I will be flying all day tomorrow and don’t need added digestive stress. I bought two big guavas at a fruit stand on my walk back to Victoria Regia which I will eat for breakfast before I head out in the morning. I prepared some ceiba tea from the leaves I took from the park this morning and rubbed my eyes and washed my face with it to prepare me for my return home.

NOVEMBER 23, 1997 - Belem Airport, Brazil

I get to see another rain forest sunrise as I sit on the airport balcony and face east. After downing my guavas, I left early in a taxi from the hotel fearing that I would sleep through and miss my connection. Everything has gone well so far. A kiskadee has come to perch nearby and watch me drink my coffee. Thumbing through my journal makes me feel better about my meditations and writing. I’ve got lots of stuff to work with here. The issue of me exercising control over my life in precarious or challenging situations is a good sized personal revelation to take home with me.

It is 9:00 a.m. and we are on our way in the air northward. I enjoyed a great panoramic view of the Amazon delta from the plane window as we headed out. Marajo Island is so immense that it took us twelve minutes to fly over it. To the east the sky was very cloudy. I could see the streaks of red and green on the waters of the Rio Para side of Marajo, but not on the Amazon side. Our flight above the island revealed how extensively savannas cover the interior.

A beautiful winding river flowed into the Rio Para side of the island from a small town upstream a ways. The Amazon side of Marajo looked wilder, more untouched. Capillary streams and creeks seem to randomly cut through the cushion of tropical trees. I picked out an island from the air that I could come back to explore some day, or perhaps just in my dreams with macaws. Once into Guyana I could see nothing but a solid blanket of forest without being able to make out so much as a snaking river for the longest time. Then came the blue Caribbean and I’m gone ...

photo #1 by Riverdave:  Riverdave explores a pristine beach on Marajo Island in the Amazon River delta
photo #2 by Riverdave: towering Ceiba tree in a city park in the Brazilian Amazon delta city of Belem