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Monday, 17 December 2012 08:27

The Trials and Triumphs of the Amazon River - Part Two Featured

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The next morning I made coffee with chocolate and chatted with a friendly aged local who came up to my campsite and talked dryly of river life and his nearby cattle ranch. I asked him about the praia grande and what that meant, the business about passing on the outside. He told me yes, don’t pass on the inside, it’s too shallow.

 

“Even for a canoe?” I said, unbelieving.

“Hm, maybe a canoe can pass, but I know it’s very dry this time of year…”

 

After squinting at my blurry printed Google Map for a little while I figured out that the praia grande was in fact a large island in the Amazon River perhaps twenty kilometres before the city of Jurutí. There were two ways around this island: the south side (or “inside”) and the north side (“outside”). The southern route was massively shorter and not exposed to the openness of the main Amazon River, and seemed the obvious choice. Perhaps boats couldn’t pass this time of year, but on my map it seemed plenty big enough for a small canoe like mine.

 



Now that I had solved the mystery of the big beach, I set off paddling (windless yet again) upriver towards this so-called praia grande. After about an hour the wind decided to make a favourable appearance and I happily weighted my boat for sailing and enjoyed several hours of very decent sail time with an almost direct tailwind.


After perhaps an hour of I noticed what seemed to be the island emerging out of the distance to my right. It did not, however, look like any kind of beach I’d ever seen. In fact, it looked more like a large marsh. Regardless of its appearance, I would not have to look at it for long, since I would be taking the shortcut and passing on the inside. Several passing fishermen on motorized canoes warned me to not pass on the inside, but I resolved to attempt doing just that and ignored their warnings, thinking there must be some way to get my tiny canoe through there; I mean it looked wide on the map.


I sailed with an ever-stronger tailwind into the shortcut, ignoring the warnings of passing locals of aquí não vara, here you can’t pass – surely there was a way. After another hour or so of very fast sailing (maybe five knots) I promptly wished I had heeded the warnings of – well, of everybody.


No, not even my canoe was going to make it through there. There was a good five kilometres of dry land to pass before I could see on the horizon – just barely – the continuing portion of the river that went towards Jurutí. Thanks to my hard headedness, I had just lost about half a day, easily. Perhaps an entire day. As penance I was forced to paddle for three and a half hours into the wind with no current to help me (closed off, remember) back to the east point of the praia grande. That’s what I get for not listening!

 



I had seen, so far, very little beach on this island. What I saw instead was lots of marshy grass and what seemed to be an orgy of birds, whom were not at all amused with my arrival and squawked indignantly and dive bombed me for a good hour until I was too far away for them to bother with anymore. Upon arrival to the point I decided it was a good time for a lunch break and decided to eat some dried, powdered fish mixed with farinha that I had brought with me from Óbidos. However, as it turned out, the point of the island was not the best place to stop for lunch – this due to the fact that the mud was actually quick mud and I sank up to my waist in it as soon as I got out of the canoe. Undeterred and hungry, I resolved to lunch there anyways – I had already stopped and was already out of the boat – and was forced to crawl on three’s (the fourth hand carried my lunch and water) like a crocodile through the mud for a good fifteen metres until the ground solidified somewhat. There I sat, covered in black, stinking mud under a blazing afternoon sun and ate dry powered fish washed down with muddy river water. And the birds came back to dive bomb me some more.



Upon rounding the point I found that at least the wind was now once again in my favour; I weighted for sailing (more troublesome than usual – anything is more complicated when you have to do it while waist-deep in mud) and enjoyed a much-needed two hours of pleasant sailing until nearly sundown, where I docked on the large beach that had finally decided to show itself.


The downsides of camping on beaches, for me, are the fact that there is nowhere to hang my hammock. Since I do not have a tent this means I must pass the night with basically no protection from the bugs. Bugs, on the beach? Oh yes. Worse than in the jungle, in fact – due largely to the fact that all around that beach is marsh with stopped, stagnant water – the perfect breeding ground for the little bastards.


Fortunately I located an old dead tree nearby, no doubt washed here during the flood season, which at least provided me with firewood with which to prepare dinner. I intended on frying some of the leftover piranhas and aracú – but it seemed that I would learn a lesson in fish preservation with the lives of these fish, all of which were quite spoiled and stinking. I figure I should have not left them all in the same bag together – and perhaps went a little too easy on the salt.


Fortunately I had a can of sardines for occasions such as this one, as well as leftover rice from the day before, which I heated and ate in the darkness while crouching in that area where the mosquitoes don’t come due to the campfire smoke. After that it was time for bed; my beach bed is constructed as follows: raincoat, hammock, me, and on top of everything, my mosquito netting, used as sort of a blanket. This, however, is not so efficient when it comes to keeping the bugs off you, since in every place the netting rests upon your skin the bugs have no trouble at all biting through it. Still, it was better than nothing.


As it turned out I would not have to worry too much about bugs that evening, since a nice nighttime breeze blew from the northeast for a good hour, keeping the insects hunkering down in the stinking marsh where they belonged. But every yin has a yang, and with that breeze came rain. I myself stayed dry, since I had laid my sail on top of my bed, but some of my other things got a bit wet and I had to shovel quite a bit of water out of my canoe the next morning.


It was as I was doing this that I discovered that my boat had suffered an invasion during the night; in the roughly ten hours that she lay pushed up on the beach near some reeds, my canoe was taken over by hordes of little yellow ants, whom had somehow managed to construct Ant Tokyo overnight in between the struts of my canoe. I tried to wash them out but it seemed the ants were determined to stay; I would need to get some ant poison somewhere pretty soon, or they would probably eat all the sealant out of my canoe and render her extremely leaky.

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