August 23, 2006 GMT
(14) Brasil: The Amazon River...a perspective

I was about to embark on a journey up the Amazon, the world's mightiest river. A journey that would take me from Belem to Santarém and onward to Manaus my final destination.

The Amazon River Basin drains 6 million sq. km. and is the world's largest both in terms of drainage area and volume. With depths of up to 120 meters it is navigable by ocean going vessels beyond Manaus all the way to Iquitos, Peru. Even its tributaries are mighty...the Rio Juruá, the Solimőes, the Rio Madeira-Mamoré, the Rio Purus/Pauini and the Rio Negro. Only the last two are less than 3,000 km in length.

The first know foreigner to navigate the Amazon River was Captain Francisco de Orellana, in 1541. Second in command on a expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro, the group ran desperately short of food while still in the upper reaches of the river. Unable to turn back, for they knew well the deprivation they had suffered to reach this point, with Gonzalo sick and ailing, Orellana volunteered to lead a splinter group a few days journey downriver in quest of food while the main body of the expedition remained in the encampment to conserve their energy and meager resources.


Immediately distrustful of Orellana, Gonzalo hesitated but desperation finally drove him to release the scouting party. Once in the clutches of the might river the small party was borne downriver. The food situation remained dire with the unforgiving jungle yielding little to their quest. It soon became evident to the group that they had no possibility of return to the main party. The strong currents, the lack of food, the hostile Indians and the impenetrable jungle made return by water or land impossible.

They continued to follow the currents for instinct told them that this mighty river would eventually exit to the sea. Months later, almost naked, for their clothes had worn and rotted off of their bodies, and suffering terribly, they arrived at the mouth of the river...the Atlantic Ocean.


In spite of the trials they had endured much lay ahead. Orellana knew he must continue. He must somehow get back to Spain. He and his crew fashioned a seaworthy craft of sorts and proceeded to follow the shoreline north. Their destination was Cartagena, the Spanish stronghold. Along the northern reaches of South America a Spanish Galleon picked them up and ferried them onwards to Cartagena. Barely alive, naked, starved, dehydrated and sunburned they were nurtured back to health.

Orellana knew he had survived the journey but the battle had not been won. He must now fight for his life, like never before. He had disobeyed a direct order from his Commanding Officer, Gonzalo Pizarro, by not returning to the encampment. He had no way of knowing if Gonzalo had survived, for over 6 months had passed and internet service had not yet reached this remote outpost of South America. His only hope of acquittal was to plead his case directly to the King himself, for he knew he had fallen out of favor with the Pizarro clan, whatever fate Gonzalo had suffered.


The King warmed to him slowly, but after considering the incredible story of adventure, discovery, suffering and deprivation he acknowledged Orellana had made the correct choices, granted him full pardon and promoted him to Captaincy. Orellana had gambled once again and had won, for to have lost this final battle he would have relinquished his life after enduring so much. It would all have been for naught.

It was into this land of the Amazon that I would proceed next...a land somewhat tamed and plundered since those early days but still unsubdued, unconquered, unforgiving and punishing.

The taxi would pick me up at 16:00 hours. The short 10 minute ride to the port would bring me one step closer to departure. I longed to see if the RANA had been loaded...if everything remained intact or if she had been stripped to her bones. I longed to see if I would share my suite or if I would enjoy my solitude. I wondered about the all-inclusive fare. How good or bad would the meals be? This was not the Love Boat. The swimming pool was the Amazon. The deck was the hammock area for those not willing or able to ante-up for the prime cabin space.


The journey would take five days. I would arrive in Manaus on Monday. Perhaps I would have some answers then. Until then my friends...

Posted by Robert Bielesch at August 23, 2006 02:47 PM GMT

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