Shine on you crazy diamond (part 2)

Manaus, Brazil

Sitting in Manaus its a bit odd, and a bit abrupt, looking back over the three weeks we have spent on the Amazon. A trip which seemed so intimidating at its beginning seems so straightforward in hindsight. And while we worried if we’d get here quickly enough, there’s a part of me that wishes it wasn’t over so soon.

The final leg was a second multi-day cruise, which proved that like everything else (except The Godfather), the sequel isn’t as good as the original – though it was a mighty pleasant experience none the less.

It was strange as our boat rounded the corner and the unremarkable, but none the less urban, skyline of Manaus was finally in front of us, to realise how small our boat suddenly seemed surrounded by ocean going ships. Yet only a few days before, in Tabatinga on the Peruvian border, it had seemed so big. It’s hard to believe now that this trip began in a canoe.

Manaus is the final link in an odd chain. Iquitos in Peru was a decidedly peculiar place – with its thrum of motorbikes but absence of cars, with its seaside atmosphere overlooking the river and jungle, and most of all with its sprawling shanty stretched out over an area that floods each year as the river rises. A huge number of people live in floating houses, complete with floating shops and floating toilets.

Then at the three way border you wander unchecked between Peru, Brazil and Columbia – never quite sure what language to speak or which currency to use. Never quite sure why these places exist in the first place.

But at Manaus it all seems to make sense at last – the weirdness has become prosaic. The floating petrol stations seem perfectly logical, and it’s no surprise to see lifejackets for sale in all the hardware stores.

It’s somehow fitting to be back in Brazil soon before we leave South America. There’s a sense of closure. And the fact that we can’t remember how much things cost, how the buses work etc. serves to remind us that its a long time since we set off from Rio, not as we might otherwise delude ourselves, merely yesterday.

I am a Jungleman

In the midst of it all we were lucky to spend more than a week on Lago Zacambu (its near the 3 way border, though technically in Peru) exploring the jungle. A beautiful place. The water level is high right now and we were able to paddle our canoes in and out of the forest. Above us the monkeys in the trees chattered away. Below us the dolphins swam – regularly popping up to give us a display.

We all have a preconception of the jungle. But we hadn’t prepared ourselves for the tranquillity. It was a mellow place to be. I hadn’t thought the pace of life could get any slower, but it did.

I was fascinated to be told stories the indigenous people tell of the dolphins. These revolve around the basic premise that dolphins are the men of the river – either taking human form on occasion (apparently mostly to turn up at local parties and get drunk) or living way up river in a great dolphin city that, supposedly, local fishermen have visited (and been imprisoned for murder if they’ve previously harmed a dolphin).

In essence, what the stories seem to say is that the dolphins are intelligent creatures who deserve our recognition and respect. Isn’t it odd that modern man has taken so long to come back to the same conclusions?

I wondered too (you can only think this if you are floating very very slowly) at the butterflies swimming across the river. You don’t see many, but you see quite a few. And the rivers are wide so it must take a substantial amount of a butterfly’s life energy to do this. Why do they bother? Its not as though there are more flowers on the other side, it couldn’t look any greener.

But I guess any species that is going to survive has to spread. A species of butterfly that didn’t cross rivers would disappear. So it must be in their genes. But it’s still not clear what’s in it for the individual. I find it reassuring to think that inquisitiveness is so deeply inbuilt in us.

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