Tag Archives: Amazon River

Letter From The Amazon: Parintins and the Boi-Bumba Festival

Letter From The Amazon: Parintins and the Boi-Bumba Festival

We arrived at Parintins on Wednesday 23rd January. Parintins is situated on the southern bank of the Amazon River in the largest river archipelago of the mid-Amazon, on the boundary of the states of Amazona and Para. It is a small town dating back almost 200 years, with a rich Indian heritage.

Between November to January the town becomes an island (Tupinambarana) due to the low water level. There are no roads to Parintins – you either need to sail there or fly! In fact the principle types of transportation are donkeys, carts and motor-cyles.

There are few notable sights, but there are several local markets including a floating market along the waterfront. The town’s main income is derived from cattle farming and the export of wood and minerals, but it’s main claim to fame is the tourism pilgrimage each June to the Boi-Bumba festival. We were privileged to have had a special performance to coincide with the visit of our ship. Arguably the highlight of our tour so far!

The Boi-Bumba Festival

Parintins is not a common tourist destination, except at the end of June for the famous annual folklore festival. The town divides into two competing teams: Caprichoso – blue, and Garantido – red, and wearing spectacular costumes the populace re-enacys the story of Bumbodromo – of Pai Francisco and his wife who steal the prize bull from the landowner they work for, and kill it.

When the landowner realises this he threatens to kill them unless they manage to resurrect his bull by midnight. The couple employ the talents of a shaman, a priest and an African pai santo who manage to resuscitate the animal, thus saving Pai Francisco.

This is the setting in fact for an official competition between the bois-bumbas. The performance usually lasts around six hours (we were limited to a one hour segment), and each team is judged by a panel of judges for the elaborateness and expressiveness of its dance, its costumes and body painting, and its music and supporters. The Bumbodromo Stadium is the location for the main festival in June, which lasts for three days. The stadium has a capacity for 35,000 spectators. Around the town, shop and house facades are painted red or blue, according to the owner’s preference for each of the bulls/taems. Even Coca-Cola signs can be seen painted in blue!

We enjoyed a liberal and free supply of the local rum and sugar-caine drink (I think I may have had a few too many) during the performance, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!

Our next stop is Alto do Chao, a rustic beach community, on Thursday 24th January.

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Boca da Valeria

From Evernote:

Boca da Valeria

The tiny village of Boca da Valeria sits at the confluence of the Rio da Valeria and the Amazon. This remote and primitive Indian village of 75 inhabitants is surrounded by the great rain forest of the Amazon, and is typical of the thousands of isolated communities within the Amazon basin. It is a startling contrast to life in Brazil’s modern Amazon cities of Santarem, Belem and Manaus. The primitive Caboclo (descendents of Portuguese settlers who intermarried with the local Indians) village, which consists of just a few wooden houses has no tourist infrastructure, and the inhabitants of the small settlement live by hunting and fishing 

Boca means “mouth of” and is the entrance of the Valeria River into the mighty Amazon, located on the south bank of a 400ft-high hill overlooking the Amazon river. A distinct line in the waters is visible as the two rivers run alongside each other for several miles before they finally blend together. The settlement itself is located midway between the towns of Parintins and Santarem.

 

There are no roads, nor motor vehicles; a simple dirt footpath leads through the village, crossed by other paths which lead into the rain forest. The villagers’ homes are made of wood, with openings for windows and a door, and have no panes of glass. The houses are supported on long stilts, which protect them from the varying levels of the river (the flooded area can spread out to up to 200km from the riverbanks). When the river is high during the rainy season of December to May, the trees are covered to waste-height by the water. In the dry season they plant manioc and vegetables on small pieces of land where their livestock roam. The rest of the year their livestock are kept on their balconies. The focal point of the community is the simple school, the single church, and the village ‘bar’.

 

So that’s some background to the place we visited on Monday January 21st. The real experience was somewhat controversial. Yes, it was a poor and simple community, and for the first time we could get a better understanding of how these communities live, cut off as they are from what we westerners might call “civilisation”. But, it was clear to see that tourism has affected the community. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can see that tourist dollars will help in some ways, and no doubt this is how they came to have their own electricity generator, providing power to all of the homes in this small community, and some modern facilities such as TV’s and fridges, the latter being particularly useful in temperatures that rarely fall below 30C at any time of the year. But commercialism was apparent everywhere. Every photo had a cost, and though we had given pencils, notepads and other goods to the school, it was raw cash that most of the people wanted. Maybe this isn’t so bad where they have taken the trouble to put on their native dress for the benefit of us tourists, or where they were selling locally made handicrafts, but it was clear that many of the “pets” – sloths, lizards, Toucans, parrots etc, that the children had were there because they generated business, and not because they had real affection for them. The ‘pets’ were in fact commodities to be exploited. This, more than anything else, was a stark example of how tourism can take away the innocence of remote communities.

 

As you will see from my photos, I am guilty in propagating this problem, having given a small cash token for the pictures of the animals. I did wonder afterwards whether I had contributed to the problem of children capturing what could be rare species of wildlife for the benefit of the next group of tourists, and if so, I’m not feeling too good about it. I can only hope that by writing about it here, other travellers may at least be made aware of this issue. I’m left pondering whether, taking all things into account, tourism provides a net benefit for these remote communities, or whether it inevitably leads to some form of exploitation. I’d be interested in any views from fellow travellers.

 

Traditionally dressed girl holding Sloth
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Me with traditionally dressed local girl.
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A local pin-up?
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Lynda with local girl and Sloth. Lynda is on the left 🙂
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Lynda with local warier in full tribal dress.
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Sloth
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Santarem – a real taste of the Amazon

From Evernote:

Santarem – a real taste of the Amazon

We arrived at Santarém at 7.30am on Saturday 19th January. Even at this early hour the temperature was edging 30C, and projected to rise to 36C later in the day. It was also very humid.

 

Santarém lies midway between Belem and Manaus in the state of Pará in Brazil. It was founded as a Jesuit mission in 1661. The blue-green water of the Rio Tapajós joins the muddy brown Amazon River here and the two waters flow side by side without merging due to the rivers’ different speeds, temperatures and densities.  The meeting of the rivers is a popular location for tourism.

 

In the 1920’s, during the rubber boom, Henry Ford spent $80million to establish an enormous rubber plantation foe the production of tyres to supply the American automobile industry.  The first men and equipment arrived in 1928, marking the beginning of a large project called “Ford Industrial Company of Brazil”. Two cities, Fordlandia and Belterra were created in the middle of the jungle and more than 3 million rubber trees were planted. The project ended in disaster when many of the workers died from malaria and yellow fever. Insects destroyed the plantations and the project was ultimately abandoned when Ford realised that there were too many obstacles to overcome. The rusted remains of trucks and electricity generators and abandoned American-style bungalows are still visible 40 miles outside the city.

 

Santarém is now an important trading centre for the region and is the third largest city on the Amazon after Manaus and Belem. It exports wood, minerals and is the world’s largest soya export port.

 

We were supposed to be alongside the quay when we first arrived, but found that another ship – the Qust for Adventure  – had “queue jumped” our birth, which meant we had to disembark by tenders – a process that took the best part of 2 hours. We didn’t go on any of the official tours here, but spent our time walking the 1.5 miles along the busy waterfront to the city centre. This provided lots of photo opportunities to photo the wide variety of exotic birds we saw along the way, and presented an interesting diversion to the floating market, where we found the fish landed that morning, including the Pirannah, pictured below. I thought I’d also include a few photos of the insects that have taken up residence on the ship, including one moth that was the size of a human hand, drawn by the lights on our superstructure.

 

Next stop, the remote village of Boca da Valeria, a small Indian community where we should have a chance to meet the locals, visit their homes and see the wide variety of pets they keep, including sloths, monkeys, lizards etc.

 

Moth – around 5 inches wingspan.
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Moth – around 7 inches wingspan
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Santarem waterfront – note the exotic bird in the foreground.
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Pirannah
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Another exotic bird (variety to be determined).
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