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February 9, 1999

Passagem do Mandii

This morning, Jack came across & woke us up at 06:20 to help Lola get fuelled up at the fuel barge. This we did, then nipped back upriver to the yacht club for a quick swim in the pool before Lola reappeared & we slipped our mooring and motored off. The plan was to get as far upriver as we could, but first we had to make a stop at Isla de Curtejuba to wait for the tide to change. We arrived there and went ashore to take a shower and have a coke in the bar while we waited. Then, as the boats began to swing around, we went back to Zamindar and set off again.

We didn�t have as much tide with us as we'�d expected, so our progress wasn'�t as good as we�'d hoped for. I spoke to Jack on the VHF and we agreed to head into a bay called Passagem do Mandii, or Mandi�'s Passage to anchor for the night. When we arrived, Lola was already anchored, but it really was a lovely place; one of the places that I�'d dreamed of anchoring my boat long before I had it. There were no houses or villages around, just a bay in the middle of deep green rainforest. We settled in and took the dinghy over to see everyone on Lola. Amy said that she was sure that she�d seen a crocodile, so although it was dark by this time, I set off in the dinghy with the spotlight to look for some, but didn�'t have any luck. I went back to Lola, and we were just about to start having dinner when the boats were hit by a huge squall. Rain poured down, and the wind steadily increased until their new deck cover was buckled and bent. We watched as the wind climbed to 40 or 50 knots and waited to see if either of the yachts would drag. The squall carried on for almost an hour, but finally it began to ease and we realised that the boats were going to be ok. I guess we just have to expect these squalls to come through at any time here and try to be ready for them.

February 10, 1999

Exploring in the Amazon

It'�s a very grey, wet evening here in the river, and we'�ve only an hour or so left of the daylight that does exist today as we close in on our anchorage for the night. We'�re motoring at about 6 knots, with Lola up in front of us but invisible in the rain. It�'s only a few hours since we left, and it�s easy going with the boat hardly moving at all, one of us on deck, and the other down below doing whatever they like.

I got up at 8am and took the dinghy over to see if anyone on Lola wanted to go exploring around the river system. They all bundled in and we set off to have a look around. The new Evinrude outboard seems to be going through quite a bit of fuel though, and we soon had to head back as we discovered that it was half empty. Jack & Amy decided to stay on board, and so Antonio and I set off with the other fuel tank as well. It of course had no problem planing and we thundered down the rivers, stopping only to take some shots of villages and huts on the way. I�'m not so happy with myself because yesterday I discovered that my Canon batteries are almost flat, and I have no spares. This coupled with the fact that I lost my Yashica last week when Lola�'s dinghy went missing means that I am beginning to run out of cameras. It was, however, wonderful exploring some of the narrow, tree lined rivers, and worth coming to Brazil for alone. Soon though, we realised that our fuel was getting low, and we were forced to turn around and head back towards the anchorage. On the way back we stopped at what seemed to be a hotel with a timber yard next to the river. Antonio chatted to the guy there, who showed us around. Out back, they had just killed a pig, and two women were busy cutting it up next to the pen where the remaining pigs still were. We went back to the boat, collected everyone else, and took Amy back to this place for her birthday lunch. We sat down and asked for food for five people, and they went off to get us some. Antonio began chatting to someone else there who warned us that there were a lot of pirates around the river system, and told us that we have to be careful of them striking at day or night. This, we were not too happy to hear, and we wished that we had managed to buy the guns we were after in Belem. The guy then told us that we were not in fact at a hotel but actually at his family'�s weekend home, and asked us to come into his dining room as the food was now ready. We were a bit embarrassed to discover that we had just stopped at someone'�s house, tied up, and asked them to cook us some food, but they took it so well that we guessed that it must be the normal thing for people to do here. I suppose that if someone is travelling on the river, and they have no food, then they must just go to a nearby house, and the people accept this. Anyway, they were all very friendly, and we paid them for the food, then carried on our way.

Back at the boat we hauled anchor and left. The tide was with us by this time, but we realised that we would only manage to do about twenty miles before dark. Soon the rain started, and Chris collected some and managed to almost fill the water tanks while I took a shower on deck. We'�re only 1.2 miles from the anchorage now, and I have an SSB schedule to try to contact Chris and Walter in Tenerife in 10 minutes.

February 13, 1999

Amazon village

We had some problems anchoring on Thursday night. We were in about 16 metres of water & when we dropped the 80m or so of chain, we discovered that it hadn'�t dug in, and so we had to bring it back in. Just as we were hauling in the last of it, the thermal cut-out on the windlass activated and shut it down for about twenty minutes. Then, of course, a rain storm came through as we were trying to put the Fortress out, and then, that seemed to be dragging. Finally, however, it dug in and we relaxed as the rain poured down. Jack came over once things began to dry up, and invited us over to eat on Lola as it was Amy�'s birthday. Chris had made her a chocolate cake so we took it with us and went across.

The following morning we literally had to haul the anchor up, but then we were off, and it was a beautiful day. The sky was blue and the water was calm as Zamindar cut through the reflections on her way upriver. We watched as locals approached some of the huge barges that ply the waterways, in their dug-out canoes, and threw lines onto them as they powered along, perhaps trading with them as they caught a lift upriver. At lunchtime we stopped in a town called Curralinho, which was really little more than two streets. Jack and Antonio picked up some fuel, then carried on, while Chris and I had a huge lunch outside at a waterside bar. The girl there cooked us fried fish, beans, rice, salad, manioc flour, and spaghetti and it only cost �2 each, but I gave her a good tip. We took the dinghy back to the boat, and decided to relax and wait there until the tide changed in our favour before continuing. As I sat on deck reading, a pod of five or six Boto dolphins came over and swam around the boat for half an hour or so. They were amazing to see, bright pink in colour, and looking totally unlike any dolphin you'�ve ever seen, they are only found in the rivers of South America, and are thought to have evolved independently of oceanic dolphins. I was delighted, as they were one of the things that I most wanted to see in the Amazon. As dusk descended, we left the anchorage, and continued upriver. The traffic was busy, and one of us had to stay in the cockpit all the time, altering course and checking for logs or floating grass islands with the searchlight. We spoke to Lola on the VHF, and motored into the anchorage purely on radar.

The following morning, we took the dinghy over, and Chris, Antonio, and I, went up one of the nearby rivers exploring. It was amazing to pass native people living in huts along the waterside, who had apparently never seen a rubber dinghy before. It was equally amazing to pass a satellite dish next to some of the houses. We continued up this river as it became narrower and narrower, until finally we were forced to row and pass under overhanging trees and bushes. We took some stunning photographs, and we were all amazed by what we saw. At one point, I looked down to see a small branch next to my leg, but then it moved. Shocked, I realised that it was a six inch long stick insect, and everyone thought that this was hilarious. As we made our way back, we passed a huge spider's web, and a humming bird, but unfortunately we didn�'t see any crocodiles.

In the afternoon Antonio, Jack and I travelled up another tributary, and soon we found a town. It consisted almost entirely of a six foot wide boardwalk that stretched along the riverfront with wooden houses on each side of it. We tied the dinghy up to a timber pontoon, and asked some guys if there was anywhere that we could get a coffee. They sat us down in a bar, and although it didn'�t sell any coffee, someone soon turned up with a thermos full for us and refused to take any money for it. All the children in the village surrounded us, and we took photographs of the scene, as the adults watched on. We took a walk through town and everyone seemed amazed to see us. A young boy of maybe five or six offered to carry my camera case for me as we walked along, and my sandal strap broke, and he and the other children took great delight in trying to stand on it. It was late afternoon by now, and a rain storm struck, drenching us as we tried to put our waterproof jackets on. I gave the young boy a Real for carrying my case, and he was deliriously happy. I watched as he ran and skipped away down the boardwalk in the rain, jumping with joy. I stood on the pontoon and looked with marvel across the river as whisps of smoke rose from huts along the edge of the rainforest. It was unbelievable to be here and to have discovered this. We were just about to climb back into the dinghy to go, when the main bar in town opened and we agreed to stay for a game of pool. The bar consisted of a timber walled building that stood on stilts above the water, and we sought shelter there whilst the torrential rain fell outside. We had some rum and cokes, and I prompted Antonio to ask one of the men, who was in fact the town'�s mayor, if they had many visitors in the town. Sure, he replied, telling us of some Americans who came in a ship. We assumed that he was talking about something that had happened in the last year or so, but as he explained that they had bought the whole island that the town stood on, he vividly recollected how he had seen them as a child. Suddenly we realised that we were the first foreigners that this town had seen for over twenty years. No wonder everyone was fascinated by us. Antonio had been talking to some other guys who had given him some very serious warnings about pirate attacks in the area. We'�d been away from the yachts for some time now, and we decided that it was probably a good idea to get back to check that things were all right.

Back at the boats we ate, but I was thinking that the prospects of going back to the town and seeing it again were definitely worth thinking about. Antonio said that he was happy to go back, but we were unable to talk Chris into it. So we motored off in the darkness at high speed back towards the town. Antonio was driving, and we strained our eyes searching the dark water for any sign of a log or debris in it. It was exciting, but frightening as I knew that hitting something at this speed would be very bad news indeed. Suddenly I saw something in the water, but Antonio couldn�'t avoid it in time, and we sped into a floating log at around 20 knots. Instantly the engine flew up, revving wildly in the air as the dinghy crashed over it. I jumped over to kill it, and we inspected the damage. The dinghy didn�'t seem to be punctured, and the engine didn�'t appear to be in too bad shape, but in the torchlight we could clearly see the smashed end of the log. We were maybe three or four miles from the boats, and the prospect of rowing back to them was somewhat daunting. Hesitantly we tried the engine, and much to our relief it started. We were close to the town by now, and we motored over, and tied up next to the bar. Hearing an engine, everyone ran out, and hugged us and shook our hands as they realised who we were. They were all very drunk by now, and they led us into the bar, and forced glasses of beer into our hands for us to drink. I was taken over to people who put their arms around me and danced, and more people crowded around, amazed at the visitors who were in town. Everyone wanted us to drink their beer, and realising that they seemed insulted when we refused it, we drank in turn from everyone'�s cups in the bar. Some were not even glasses, but bottoms of plastic coke bottles that had been cut to use as cups. The music played, it was the first day of carnival in Brazil, although the town itself did not have any celebrations. Everyone came over, repeatedly asking me questions in Portuguese as I told them that I did not speak any, but it didn�'t put them off at all. Suddenly, the lights went out in the whole town, and the music stopped as the power from the town�'s generator stopped, and the music was silenced. Antonio had gone off somewhere, and as I stood in this pitch dark hut in the jungle surrounded by natives, scenes from Zulu flashed into my mind. But a flame appeared from behind the bar as someone lit a tiny candle and placed it on the pool table. Now I realised why there was a stereo system sitting on the table�s felt next to a car battery. The guy who owned it turned it on, and once more we had music. Although I did feel some concern about drinking from the same glasses as everyone else in the village, I was struck by how everyone shared everything, for all the people in the bar were sharing their beer with each other. Although these people were frighteningly poor they still shared whatever they had with all of their neighbours and with these two rich strangers. Soon though, it was time to go, as we had to leave quite early the next morning. We said our goodbyes to everyone, and took another white knuckle ride in the dinghy back to the boats.