Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

The town or city of Manacapuru is close to Manaus. Although regarded as a city it looks and acts like a town.

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The harbour of Manacapuru is my favourite place to people watch. There is a bustling community of people living and working there. There are small family shops, cafes and carpenters at work and fishermen setting off or returning with a selection of fascinating and sometimes odd looking fish.

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The walk down to the decking can be a precarious one for flat footed Westerners. Brazilians, even in their flip-flops, are more light footed and agile. The walk down is best done with a partner for balance or a helpful local. In the dry season a large tree trunk serves as a bridge between the slippery concrete ramp and the wooden harbour decking. Fortunately a terrified look will usually generate the help of a man or two who will help with the crossing.

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There are ferries coming and going. Large wooden ferryboats and smaller, faster aluminium craft. They carry locals to their communities on other parts of the river.
Canoes of various sizes are tied up to the harbour posts.
Before the ferries became a mainstay the canoes were the only way of traveling longish distances and could take a day or two of rowing in the heat of the sun to reach town.
Now the canoes are rowed out to meet the ferry midwater if the people can afford the cost…cheaper on the wooden ferry than the speedier metal boats.

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Along the harbour decking shops sell all sorts of goods…fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and turtle meat, drinks and water, alongside newly built canoes and plastic kitchen goods.
Washing hangs on lines across the walkways and families, including children, sit chatting, arguing and laughing.

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Across the wide river you can catch a glimpse of rainforest…so close and tempting.

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Indifference to the rain-forest plight will kill us all.

The TV programme here in England called #’I bought a rainforest’ showed last night. The show was about Charlie who had bought an area of rainforest in Peru in an effort to conserve it and protect it from deforestation.
His story is similar to my own and his desperation as his dream is shattered is equal to my own.

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It’s easy to sit on the stones of a clear, cool forest stream as the water runs through your toes, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the rainforest, and think life is perfect.
But then your daydreams are crashed into by the sound of tree saws and you’re faced with the reality as you hear and feel the thump of the tree hitting the ground.
People, often those living in towns, often well off, come into the forest or send others to cut down the best trees…the hardwood trees that have taken hundred of years to grow, to sell abroad or to clear the forest for food, soya, production.

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There are two kinds of locals in the rainforest. There are those that don’t want change, who want the forest they love left alone. People who live and work within the forest.
And there are the other kind. The ones who see the rainforest as a thing to be used and abused and flattened if it provides money, however temporary.
The soil of the rainforest is thin it won’t provide decades of farming. I’ve seen fields after a few years…… now useless …stark, dry and treeless, abandoned by the farmers.
I’ve seen streams and rivers polluted and made unusable by mining. I’ve seen thick forest burnt to the ground and with it thousands of animals and birds and insects, some not yet seen by man as new discoveries are being made all the time.

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The forest has evolved over millions of years. The animals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians…the trees, shrubs, plants have evolved to work together. The Brazil-nut tree for instance needs a particular orchid, a specialist bee and a sharp toothed rodent to reproduce.
Take away one item from the forest and the effect on everything around it is dramatic.
The rainforest is not only beautiful with extraordinary wildlife, it provides a third of the oxygen we breath. Cut down the forest and human life on earth ends.

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When are governments around the world going to take this seriously and help the countries with rainforests to protect them or must we just accept the inevitable. Are Charlie and I banging our heads against a wall of indifference.

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The Amazon: The Worlds Longest River…new research.

The Amazon: Worlds longest river.

New research has found a possible new source for the Amazon…..a river in Peru called the Mantaro or Great River.
The results of the research are questioned because the river dries up for four or five months a year, but if they are confirmed the Amazon will be officially the worlds longest river.

The Amazon is an incredible river. I first travelled on it when I went to see the Meeting of the Waters. The black waters of the River Negro and the tea-coloured waters of the River Solimoes flow side by side eventually blending to become, in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon.

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The river is huge, sometimes from one bank looking across, its impossible to see the other side, its so wide. And, it feels powerful too.
It is a busy river and getting busier. Transport ranges from small wooden canoes, ferries, on to massive world-class liners.

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It has also been opened up by a new $400 million bridge the Ponte Rio Negro Bridge or Iranduba Bridge from Amazonia’s capital city Manaus across the river to small towns on the opposite shore.

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I hear that it has already caused the deforestation of large areas as I feared when I saw the first parts of the huge structure being put in place. It was not obvious to the populace in Manaus what the bridge was for…. to open up the other shore for more farming and people, or for exploitation of gas or oil finds. Either way the forest would suffer and this is happening.
Nothing is sadder than driving along the road that used to be thickly lined with rainforest to see vast areas of nothing stretching into the distance and always a solitary Brazil-nut Tree in the middle as a reminder of what was. Wildlife and birds are non existent along the tarmacked roads.
Snuggling in small pockets along this road are small areas of thick forest and sparkling streams full of people enjoying what’s left. People escape to these spots in the evenings and at weekends, desperate to enjoy the ‘Green Effect’ that nature alone supplies….a feeling of well being that no amount of concrete and metal can reproduce in the concrete jungles of cities.

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New study by the University of California, Berkeley, argues for new origin, according to a report by Jane Lee in National Geographic.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2559490/Have-finally-discovered-Amazons-source-Scientists-pinpoint-rivers-origin-60-miles-longer-thought.html#ixzz2tKnuRfzr

Amazon Rainforest…living in the forest. Questions people ask me.

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People often ask how is it possible for someone used to a comparatively easy Western life to live in the Amazon forest for any length of time.
For me it was easy….I wasn’t concerned with the lack of communication. I know some people would go crazy without constant stimulation and entertainment from TVs and radios, or contact by mobiles, telephones and i Pads or laptops. I had none of those to keep me company and only missed them when I thought of my family.
I found a constantly changing environment and the extraordinary wildlife kept me fascinated instead.

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The heat and humidity of the rainforest tended to drain the body, well mine to be exact, of all energy. I was, therefore, quite happy to sit for long periods in my rocking chair on the verandah, camera at the ready, pen in hand, recording and writing about what I saw. I was richly rewarded in this way every single day by the forest, its wildlife and people, but I did have to get used to things I take for granted being different.

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Hammocks “Do you have a bed?” “How do you sleep, aren’t you scared?”

My bed was a hammock. Quite comfortable, but cold around three in the morning so I doubled up a blanket and lay it in the bottom of the hammock and kept a light blanket ready to pull over when the cold awoke me.
Was I scared…….rarely is the answer. The mosquito net kept out creepy crawlies and the secured door and window ensured I wouldn’t be surprised by animals at night.

Interestingly it was lack of privacy I found hard to adjust to. Privacy appeared to be something alien to forest dwellers. I often shared my lodge with neighbours, friends, relatives of friends etc. They thought little of hooking up their hammocks to my bedroom walls or to the verandah. I often woke to find a stranger or neighbour sleeping on the verandah or in the kitchen.

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Invited Guests…..
People came visiting without warning too, often at lunchtimes, which meant sharing my sometimes meagre, dwindling rations. The thoughtful visitors brought fish, nuts or fruit to share, but some assumed because I was a foreigner I was rich and would supply a sumptuous spread, these folk were quickly disillusioned as they were handed a small plate of sticky rice.

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“How do you keep clean?”

Washing…bathing was done in the river several times a day. I knew there were all sorts of possibly dangerous creatures, some able to remove a body part or strangle or poison me, in the water, but needs be. River dipping was the only way to keep clean without modern facilities. Really I rarely thought about the possible consequences.

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Our tiny second-hand generator only lasted a few months, so lighting in the evenings was provided by solar lights brought from England or by candles. Impossible to read or write but enough for dinner table conversation or cosy chats.

For all its difficulties, I miss the forest every single moment.

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Inviting river at dawn…..but what lies under the calm glassy surface…….

Agami Heron…Chestnut-bellied Heron…Agamia Agami

Agami Heron…Chestnut-bellied Heron…..Agamia Agami

The Agami Herons were regular visitors to the waterfall area. Being shy they kept hidden in the undergrowth most of the time, but occasionally I would catch sight of them on a branch or moving slowly along the river bank.

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The Agami is a long billed, long necked, short legged, medium size heron. It has a chestnut neck and chest and with a creamy white stripe down the middle of the fore-chest. The wings are dark green in mature herons, brown in immature birds.

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Agami gather together to nest in large colonies and usually have two blue eggs. A quiet, shy bird, when gathered together they make a low snoring sound. They eat fish, frogs, snails and small reptiles.

Despite their reputation for shyness the Agami did not fly off as we passed by in our canoe, but carried on picking amongst the reeds for fish, frogs and small reptiles.

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Ferry Boats…Amazon Rainforest Travel.

Ferry boats…Amazon Rainforest Travel.

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Travelling in the Amazon is usually done by boat, either canoe, small fast boat or ferry.
Ferries can be small, sleek and fast, but more often medium size and slow.
These wooden craft are the boats favoured by locals for longish trips, because they are the cheapest way to travel on the endless river systems.

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They are also relaxing. Passengers will often bring their own hammock on board. The hammock is then attached to hooks on the boats ceilings and used to sleep and rest in and to keep children entertained and safe.
It is usual to see men fast asleep and snoring, women breast feeding small babies or reading or playing with children, old people talking animatedly in family groups, teenagers flirting and holding hands, all laying in their hammocks.
I found it a peaceful, calm and civilised way to travel and preferred it to the sleek, fast, modern craft with the noisy engines humming away, vibrating through your body and ending all possibility of conversation.
Although admittedly the engines on these old wooden boats can be noisy themselves and can belch out unpleasant diesel fumes. Distancing your hammock from the engine compartment is an art and requires good knowledge of the boats design.

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I had to board one of these ferries in the middle of a deep caiman and piranha infested river one summer morning.
I stood up in the canoe and grabbed one of the huge tyres on the side of the boat. I had one foot in the canoe, the other in a tyre. For an instant I panicked, then turned towards the ferry and held on for dear life. All the while the canoe and ferry were moving, but in different directions.
I managed to climb up on top of the tyres and grabbed the handrail and hauled myself over.
The captain and passengers looked on nonchalantly as the ‘Gringo’ ie me, boarded in this unusual fashion…..ferries are usually boarded from harbour decking. The captain came up to me with a broad smile and shook my hand with a look of respect.
I was royally fed and watered by the kind locals on the five hour journey back to town who prepared meals like fish soup in a tiny kitchen.

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A forest neighbour built this model of a ferry for his son.

Caiman…Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Dwarf Caiman. Brazilian Amazon.

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Caiman….Black, Spectacled, Yacare, Cuviers Caiman.

There are several types of Caiman in the Amazon rainforest…Black Caiman, Spectacled Caiman, Yacare Caiman-(Jacares in Portuguese), Cuviers Dwarf …..The Black Caiman is the largest at 13/20ft (6m) and the Cuviers Dwarf the smallest at some 3ft (1m).
The Caiman resembles alligators. It is a four legged reptile with a long snout and long tapering tail. Their dark coloured, plated bodies have markings, stripes and spots, that help them blend in with the rainforest.
Caiman eat fish, birds, small animals and snakes. They can live for 50 to 80 years.

Caiman lived on the banks of the river close to the lodge.
I didn’t realise just how close, until a friend, a forest guide, went for a late dip in the river. He took a torch and on returning regaled me with a description of the size of the biggest one, worked out by the distance between its eyes, which glow in torchlight.
‘You are joking,’ I said with surprise and ignorance…but no, he was not joking. He assured me that bathing during the day should not be a problem, but to be cautious in the evening.

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I was concerned by the behaviour of Caiman only twice. Once when I was fishing with a local and a large log seemed to be following the canoe. He laughed when I pointed out the ‘log’. It was a Caiman, he said, and it can smell fresh, Britisher flesh!
The other time I was concerned by a Caiman was when I was doing the washing up, sitting on the harbour decking with my feet in the water. I caught sight of the eyes of a large Caiman staring at me from a short distance away, then it sank and I jumped up and moved quickly away from the waters edge depriving the large reptile of its English breakfast.
Sadly, confirmation of their existence close to my lodge was made when, on returning to the lodge during the dry season, I saw the shrivelled body of a caiman on the sandy banks of the river, picked clean by vultures. Maybe it had been surprised by the rivers quick departure or maybe one of the Jaguars who lived in the forest had got him.

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