46 – Amazonia: where the river is the road
46 – Amazonia: where the river is the road

46 – Amazonia: where the river is the road

How health is a major issue on board, all of us riding buffaloes, living 8 days on a catamaran, enjoying great company and meeting warm and generous locals where the river is the road. On the Amazonian rivers!

What happened before

Alexander had developed a spot on his leg, whereas the pain spread over 30 cm along his calf and there was a reddish solid lump the size of a plum under his skin… We had had exchanges with our paediatrician in Switzerland, who had strongly recommended to get to a doctor as quickly as possible. Therefore, with slight regret, we had left the peaceful island of Lençois to head towards Belém, at over 2 days of sailing. In the meantime, we gave Alexander the second time in 2 months, a generic antibiotic treatment. On a boat you don’t joke with things like that!

We take care of it!

Situated closer to the exit of the Pará River than Belém (40 miles instead of 100), we anchor in front of Soure, on Marajo Island. We immediately head for the little “hospital” and after 2 hours we come out with a prescription of antibiotics, the advice to wait and the diagnosis that Alexander does not have insect eggs under his skin… Reassuring! But it was to be taken seriously: it was a skin abscess, due to an infected bite. We decide not to wait for the effect of the antibiotics, and, after applying a hot compress, we “operate” (torture!) Alexander on the boat…

Screams in the bay!

We don’t know what all the fishermen around our anchorage thought when they heard a boy screaming for 10 good minutes while Jean-Luc presses out the custard-like, multicoloured paste the size of a walnut! Never seen anything like it… Oliver retreats to his cabin, disgusted by the sight of this overflowing liquid!…

Finally, we had done the right thing: with our surgery, good cleansing and disinfecting and the new antibiotics, the abscess was gone and his leg got better day by day.

Info: if you look at our post on your phone, you might not be able to see the photo completely as our texts are sometimes quite long. To see the full photos, read the article on your computer.

  • boats
  • bins
  • man
  • rain
  • mast
  • buffalo

Marajo island

To be as efficient as possible to visit the island, approximately the size of Switzerland and known for its buffaloes, we take a guided tour in a 4×4 7-seater. Luckily a friendly Brazilian lady who booked the same tour, speaks a little bit of English. Without her translation, we wouldn’t know much more about the island than before, as the driver only spoke Portuguese… (but he spoke very well and very much!)

Buffaloes and red ibises

On the tour we drive across a vast private ranch: swamps, fields, forests, buffaloes, horses, many different birds, red ibises, spoon bills, (in the day invisible) caimans, … amazing sights and atmospheres! We also see beautiful beaches, a fishermen’s village on stilts, make a boat tour with a prawn fisher and go to a buffalo ranch. This is the highlight especially for the boys: we ride and even stand on a buffalo and fill our own little cup with buffalo milk (that we extract ourselves!). The tasting of their own buffalo products is delicious, we can’t stop eating!

  • leather
  • pottery
  • horns
  • landscape
  • landscapes
  • landscape
  • buffalo
  • landscape
  • boy
  • food
  • houses
  • house
  • river
  • boys
  • boat
  • text
  • beach

Longing for clear waters

It comes slowly, but then increases day by day… the feeling we need to move on: leave the muddy waters to discover crystal clear seas in the Caribbean. Our last real snorkelling had been on the island Fernando de Noronha, over 2 months ago. To remind you, we’ve been hanging around in river waters for over 5 months (except for the Atlantic crossing of course). But then, we’re in Brazil and being so close to Amazonia, as well as countries like French Guyana, Surinam and Guyana – the opportunity of visiting these countries so easily would be lost forever! So, we decide to be patient…

We stick to muddy waters

Next thing that happens, we get an invitation from our catamaran friends Touka and Orion to join them for a week 100 miles up the Pará river. The decision is easy! Who says no to enjoy a week in good company and discover sailing life on a catamaran in Brazil’s rainy season? 😂

So, we sail Illika close to Belém and dock her safely to a pontoon of a private yacht club. We have a great evening of catching up on news, not having seen Cécile and Tibaut from Orion for nearly 2 months. Being the 3 boat crews together again, we had a memorable evening… The cat crews have it all organized, we just need to board. Which we do after a full day of tidying and getting Illika ready to be left on her own.

The catamaran experience

Touka’s team is reinforced by Oliver and Alexander, whereas Jean-Luc and I crew for Orion. Being on the river, we’re mainly motoring, so we don’t get much of the sailing sensation. But we fully enjoy the space a catamaran provides. To move with the tides, we need to get up at 4-5 o’clock several times and move along the river arms according to the streams. Often, we stop for lunch on one of the cats and always organize suppers together.

We help with manoeuvres, steer, have nice exchanges with our Belgium hosts, get food ready, work and write or just contemplate. We even manage to catch up on our bookkeeping! In the meantime, the boys do school on Touka, play (even computer games!), talk and assist the French family on the boat. We get a positive feed-back on the schooling, which we are obviously glad about. Thank you so much Christophe and Margot!

Photogenic catamarans

On the two catamarans we hop from place to place. We stay 3 nights in Japiim Grande, which is the most memerable stop. We are welcomed warmly by Amerindians and are shown their houses, meet so many families, visit the school, the brick factory, the “palmito” palm heart production and even have our extra welcome song sung by everyone at the church. After that, as the catamaran owners open the door to it, a lot of families come to our boats, all neatly dressed, to visit the boats and take pictures. We have up to 40 people dropping in at the same…

The rain is always with us, either to come or just past. We get showered several times a day, sometimes so strong, you can’t see the next boat. We knew what we got ourselves into, when we decided to sail to the amazonian region during the rainy season. But it’s interesting and sometimes quite funny!

Where the river is the road

There are no roads on most of these hundreds of islands in the Pará river. Everyone uses boats to move around: to go to work (if), to go shopping, to school, to the hairdresser, to the doctor, to get a massage, get petrol or to see their neighbour…

In a group of houses with one or several families, you find wooden walkways more or less safe to move from one house to the next. Under the houses on stilts live the chicken, ducks, guinea fouls, pigs and lots of creepy-crawlies. A lot of these little communities are nearly self-sufficient. For us an unthinkable way of life, but we find it fascinating, and the people all have a huge smile across their face and are very proud of their heritage. Simply beautiful!

  • boat
  • houses
  • bridge
  • kitchen
  • fish traps
  • parrots
  • pigs
  • spider
  • herbs
  • palmito
  • palm
  • jars
  • boat
  • boat
  • 2 people
  • hawaianas
  • school
  • boat
  • brick factory
  • bricks
  • dinghies
  • family

The big city

After 6 days sailing Amazonia mainly in side-rivers, we arrive on the south side of Belém early evening. We still see enough to realize that the whole shore over several kilometres is jammed with fishing boats and river cruisers popping in and out constantly. So, not easy to find the perfect spot to anchor and by the time we find an acceptable place for at least one night, it’s dark and the hundreds of boat lights look even more threatening…

From this anchorage we visit some sights in Belém as well as a huge shopping mall. One day we also take a taxi-boat across to the next island, eat lunch in a restaurant serving delicious regional specialities and visit a very expensive chocolatery. 

Back on our monohull

Back at Illika’s pontoon, we find her in top shape, except for the humidity, which is a pest. Since 2 months, we’ve been living with it, but the boat being closed for 8 days, helped the mould to spread all over, especially in cupboards, under the floor and around the window frames. A lot of cleaning…

Club Aero-Nautica

While Illika was docked on the pier of the Blue Marina north of Belém, Touka and Orion had a place at the private Aero-Nautical club, just 200 metres further up the river. This is the kind of place you don’t really expect to land, living a rather low budget travelling life. We’re confronted with an airfield with hangars, some of them modified to be luxury weekend houses. They all have secondary garages with either a little plane, and/or a boat, a couple of jet skis, motor bikes or sports cars as well as one or several model planes.

We are welcomed with wide open arms by this community of pilots and captains, all steered by the President (Delcio) who’s contact Orion had received on one of their stops earlier along their trip. We get shown around, introduced to a lot of other members, can use the clubs facilities and pool and were invited to a great BBQ. Delcio and other members then later join the catamarans sailing from Belém to Soure.

An exclusive ride

It’s Easter and we’re planning to leave in a few days. We need to settle the exit papers for Brazil, so we go back to Belém. Delcio suggests us two drivers he knows: they normally drive for the Amazonian large ship pilots. Those are the guys who manoeuvre big ships in rivers, channels or harbours. To be a ship pilot in the Brazilian rivers, is an extremely well-paid job (20’000 to 30’000.- €/month!).

Their trade union is also very well organised and after the high-jacking and killing of one of their pilots, they were granted dark windowed, bullet proof taxies. So, this is the transportation mean we use to get our papers settled! Discrete and exclusive, like the club we spend a few days at.

  • river
  • ship
  • town
  • theatre
  • building
  • docks
  • beer
  • park
  • butterfly
  • toukan
  • boys
  • food
  • painting
  • friends
  • taxi
  • party
  • hangars
  • model plane
  • house
  • illika

Até a próxima, Brazil!

In order to profit of the tides, we make another quick stop in Soure. Then making use of the optimal weather window, full easterlies 15-20 knots, moderate swell (well that’s what was forecasted…), we head out into the large Pará river towards the open sea. We struggle, as well as Touka does leaving half a day after us and Orion the following day. The wind is in the nose (meaning north-north-east wind) so we run with the engine 😠 with very unpleasant waves and heavy showers on and off.

This is not a nice last experience in Brazil, but we will forget that very quickly! Because what we lived in the 2 months in Brazil and Amazonia will stay forever as a highly enriching and wonderful souvenir❤. If you haven’t read the other articles, follow these links: 44 – Brazil – islands, Jacaré and carnival and 45 – Fifty shades of Brazil

Fighting tides and rains

Once out of the river we head north-west, past the Amazone river delta. Now the wind’s coming from north-east. But the tidal stream of the Amazone is so strong that we have to steer north-north-east, which makes us sail very close to the wind. This means listing heavily. We even have to help with the engine at one point to avoid moving backwards…!

After the amazonian delta we at least have the stream with us most of the way. But the sea and the wet weather make the sail rather uncomfortable. Hence, we are happy to arrive at the anchorage of Les Îles du Salut, French Guyana, after 3-and-a-half days. Aaah, not to forget: we arrive quicker than planned, by night! Our speciality. 😉

If you’d like to know our position in real time, use this link to see our journey: https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/illika


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