The first thing Bob did each morning of our cruise was to turn on our TV and tune to channel 80 which is a live feed from the camera on the bridge looking at the front of the ship and where we are headed. This morning it showed brown water and overcast skies and the temperature was already 80 F at 7:30AM. Welcome to the Amazon!
Smells of sun block and insect repellent were soon wafting through the hallways as people prepared to go ashore in our first Amazon port, Macapa, Brazil, “the capital of the middle of the world.” Why, you ask? Because Macapa is right on the equator.
The brown water was churning all around us as we anchored and the tenders were prepared for our journey ashore. The current in the river matched that of what we saw in China on the Yangtze. We watched the trial run for the tenders. The rushing water made them look as though they were moving sideways as the little boats struggled to shore.
The ride to shore wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be and our tender made it in about ten minutes. The tender pier was not ideal. We stepped over warped board and thin wooden steps to the top of the pier. Thankfully the ship had placed crewmen all along the way to catch a misstep especially from those who had been warned that anyone with walking difficulties should really not try it and went anyway.
It was really hot and humid and another couple from our dinner table shared a taxi with us since we had discovered that the monument to the equator was not anywhere near the city but rather right in between the port and the place the shuttle bus would drop us off. We did what we’d done in Rio. Pointed to the map and he shook his head. We tried to ask how much and he held up five fingers. I’m not sure if that meant $5 USD or BRL or that it would take 5 minutes.
We got in the taxi and were delighted to discover it was air conditioned although it took a little while to get it cooler. About fifteen minutes later we were at the “Majo de Munde” (I think that’s how you’d spell it). It took a few minutes to understand that was what the driver was calling it in Portuguese. They offered to show us a video as the tour groups had already arrived and were about to watch it but we declined and went on out to the monument which was up a flight of stairs.
The monument is a tall tower with a hole in it. From its base a cement divider runs along a walkway showing the divide between the northern and southern hemispheres. It is said that at the equinox that happens twice a year, the sun fills the hole in the monument. At the time the sun was beating down on us and the humidity beginning to wear us down so we quickly took the requisite pictures and found our driver again.
Bob “negotiated” with the map again pointing to the fort that was in the city. About another fifteen minutes and we were there and the meter read $60 BRL. Bob gave him $70 BRL (about $30 USD) and he seemed happy. We were. We’d avoided a hot cramped shuttle bus with no A/C and were seeing everything we wanted to see.
The fort, Fortaleza de Sao Jose, is in a star shape and was built betwee 1764 and 1782 to defend the north side of the Amazon against French incursions from the Guianas. A group of locals in bright traditional clothes were dancing as we entered. Again locals thought we were part of the ship’s tour and offered us bottled water which we happily took as ours was about gone.
While we explored the fort, we could see rain clouds gathering in the distance and wondered if we’d get back to the ship before it rained on us. But then part of us wished for the cooling rain. We were really sweltering. After all, this was the equator.
We chanced walking through the town and found it delightful. Yes, it had depressed buildings and cheap merchandise in the stores but the folks we encountered were friendly and happy to interact with us even though we didn’t understand them and vice versa. Smiles, handshakes, and giggles are a language all their own.
After a few pictures, we rounded the block and headed for the artisan’s building where the shuttle bus was to pick us up. A quick look in at the stalls of crafts and we were sure we didn’t want to buy anything. It was too difficult to even see since outdoors it was cloudy now and there wasn’t much light inside.
When we noticed the crowd waiting for the shuttle bus, we decided instead to go across the street and get something cold to drink at the bar and restaurant. Another couple joined us and we sat for a while, enjoyed the breeze blowing in the shade of the pavilion and watch as people crowded onto the shuttle bus. It was a half hour trip and many were standing for the ride.
Our drinks finished, we decided to get in line for the next shuttle. When it arrived, everyone got a seat because the big crowd was gone. We did however manage to arrive at the tender pier in the rain and have to walk on the muddy dirt road a ways to get to the tender.
Still, it had been a good day and hopefully there would be enough water for all the showers that would be needed. You see, just as we were to enter the Amazon, we were told that we needed to conserve water because they could not use the river’s water for our supply and we would not have opportunity to get fresh water for a couple of days when we would arrive in Santarem. The guest laundries had been closed to conserve water so we rinsed sweaty clothes in the shower to keep from smelling up the room. We don’t have a private balcony to air things out.
Our night and part of the next morning would be spent sailing on the river as we moved to our next port, Alter do Chao.