Day after day I have the mighty Amazon River as my companion, and I feel honoured. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to live by the river bank – so remote – with no houses for km after km”, I muse while I’m on the riverboat from Belém to Manaus – my first trip to the Amazon. “I can’t imagine I’d last longer than a week.”
In 2008, as part of finishing my master degree, I went to the Brazilian Amazon for three months to do field work on ecotourism. Months into my research, I would truly learn what it feels like to live close to the Amazon River, but that’s another story.
Day after day I sit here on my spot in the sunshine – just contemplating life and the vast Amazon River.
When you are on the Amazon River, it seems to go on forever – especially if you are on a riverboat for 7 days straight. There are parts of the river where you can’t really see the other side. The colour of the water keeps on changing every day from a murky beige to dark green.
Life around the Amazon River is vibrant and seems never-ending.
The river banks are full of life – although the animals seem disinclined to make an appearance. Despite the overbearing sound of the boat’s engine, every now and then, we’re in luck, and an ara or a toucan flies out of the trees.
Along the horizon, we can see small settlements. We pass clusters of riverine pole houses, a lonely church from the Assembleia de Deus, a herd of water buffaloes. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live by the riverbank, with no houses for km after km, but I’m certainly intrigued by this way of life.
There are no roads here. It seems peaceful, but after a few days on the boat, I realise that it’s a brutal kind of life. While I’m sitting there – contemplating – a fight for survival is going on right before my eyes.
The ribeirinhos, riverine people, depend on the river for everything, even their transport and especially their livelihoods. People, even children, hook their small canoes to our big boat – no easy feat, and a quite dangerous endeavour – to sell us their merchandise as the boat is their only way to market for their produce in this endless but remote space.
It’s a different world out here
The people on the boat, many returning from a short work stint in Belém or Santarém, seem to feel that the environment is never-ending. They seem to think like the river is almighty, and nothing – not even pesky pollution – can defeat it. No wonder the Boto Cor de Rosa – the Amazon’s pink dolphin – is under threat of extinction by overfishing and loss of habitat. It hurts my heart to see the floating beer cans, plastics bags and other relics from the many boats cruising the river every day, carrying everything from people to life stock to building materials.
Enchanted by my vision of the Amazon River.
This was my first encounter with the mighty Amazon River. It’s vastness paints a picture of invincibility, but when you look more closely, you can see the struggle for survival by man and nature alike.
Ultimately, my encounter with the Amazon was my undoing. It set me on my journey – changed me forever.