“One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.” Helen Keller
Nothing quite compares to a flight over the Amazon region with the world’s largest jungle interlaced with rivers. Doris and I have made that flight many times and looked down on the huge fresh water river, the Amazon. Me, I’ve wondered what adventures might await while travelling on the Amazon or its tributaries. When we lived in Brazil I’ve wished so many times to travel some of those exotic waterways of the Amazon basin–but hankering for it never made it happen.
No, neither of us ever made it to Manaus, the grand city on the Amazon that during the time of the “rubber barons” was known as the “Paris of the new world.” Remember Brazil with its rubber trees exported rubber to the whole world. Manaus is situated some 1,600 Kilometres from the city of Belem at the mouth of the Amazon. Since we cannot turn back the clock to the time when money poured into Manaus we’ll never visit its opera house that in those days equalled that of Paris. All we can do is to use our imagination to look into the unknown and imagine just what a visit to the Amazon would be like. You see, even with the industrialization of the Brazil, the background for most any thoughts about Brazil touches the mighty Amazon rain forest, its tributaries and all the marvels of flora and fauna of that huge area.
Let’s take an imaginary trip on the Amazon. Let’s travel by common river boat, the ones that carry goods and people–not a floating hotel geared to tourists. We’ll crowd our way up a rickety gangplank and find a place on the open deck where we might hang our sleeping bags. We’ll not focus on the little space we have nor on the commotion that might well include the cry of a baby held by its mother and wishing to be fed. We’ll want to board early to hang our hammocks away from the engines and the toilet. As for food you can eat their meat, rice and beans but if it does not suit our palate, we’ll have much of our own food with us and a little stove to aid preparation. Out on the water it is not long till we find we are accompanied by pink dolphins that live in this fresh water. We have our accommodations on board so we’ll not be stopping at any jungle lodge. But we do visit small villages built on stilts along the water’s edge and even stop at a place where we can leave our boat to walk on the soft while sand of the river’s beach.
The world’s largest rain forest seems to be an endless carpet of green on either side of our boat though with its width in places of three kilometres, it seems we are travelling the ocean itself. This green jungle covers some 10 million square kilometres and produces something in which we are each interested—that is one-third of the world’s oxygen. We stop at a home on the water’s edge and with a few questions we discover how these people survive; the jungle trees are full of fruit and the water teems with fish and though good soil is scarce the manioc root provides a good part of this people’s diet.
Now a little history–the most famous early voyage on these rivers was by a Spaniard Francisco de Orellano who though looking for food no doubt knew of the legend of El Dorado where the monarch covered his body in gold dust each day. When Orellano returned, his crew told tales of women warriors they called “the Amazons” and of course the story gave the region its name. Accounts later by Portuguese explorers note that the natives were primarily hunter-gathers but soon those contacts were not peaceful for diseases brought by the foreigners took a huge toll–then attempts to enslave them did the rest. Just consider: when the Portuguese came there were 4.5 million Indians while to-day there are fewer than 200,000 in the Amazon basin and a total in the country of just 300,000. (These stats are a few years old.)
Isolation describes the 9,600 riverside communities along the Amazon. To meet that need Christian mission groups have partnered up with Brazilian churches to travel the Amazon and its tributaries to provide ministries that include medical, dental and optical care. Strange as it may seem when there seems to be an overabundance of water, they also help to drill wells. The larger mission boats with big teams provide much of the services mentioned as well as offering free Christian literature and Bibles. Other small boats are used to contact those who live on shallow rivers or where vegetation partially clogs the waterways.
How I wish that we had been able to take a work tour on the Amazon. One reason is that, since I like to fish I might have had the opportunity to wet a line and land one of those 2,000 species of fish. With one of those mission sponsored trips a person would experience life on the Amazon and have a chance to lend a hand to the poor who live along the waterways. That wasn’t ever possible for either Doris or me. But you could go if you wish. Just Google up the topic and I’m sure a door will open up for you. In our hearts we’ll be going along with you.