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Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao

By Ricky Skelton
January 28, 2008

Santarem is probably the second biggest port on the Brazilian section of the Amazon. After seeing all the tiny towns along the way, a proper city came as a bit of a shock. The huge grain tankers aren't, as they regularly pass silently downriver as they head for the Atlantic. The structure that fills the containers shouldn't be a shock but it does stand out a little from the trees.

The construction of this structure is claimed to be an environmental disaster and not just because it was built without proper planning permission by one of the largest agri-businesses on the planet. It is closed at present and Cargill may have to remove the structure at some point but don't hold your breath. More on this at the following links: http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/cargill-amazon.pdf, http://www.cargill.com/news/issues/issues_greenpeacereport.pdf, and http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2007/2007-03-29-02.asp.

With Santarem being on a deep part of the Amazon, so close to the junction of the Madeira with the Amazon, the southern edge of the world's largest jungle is being cut down rapidly. Not for cattle, as in Mato Grosso in years past, but now for soya plantations. The soya beans were shipped down the Madeira by smaller boats and stored at the grain facility until one of the tankers arrives. This ease of transportation means that many people want to cut down a patch of forest to plant soya. With nobody around to stop them, the jungle shrinks by around 6 football pitches per minute, according to Greenpeace estimates.

Now don't go blaming our vegetarian friends and their burgers for this! The biggest buyer of Brazilian soya is China, where the soya is the fuel for the animals that fuel the people that fuel the booming economy. The joys of globalisation mean that China's development is one of the biggest threats to the Amazon Rainforest. Interesting huh? Obviously Europe takes in huge amounts of Santarem soya too, so don't think we have no effect.

Alter do Chao is a short drive and a whole world away from Santarem. On the edge of a lagoon formed by the Rio Tapajós, the entrance to which is partially blocked by a 2km sandbank. This is just one of the stunning river beaches in the area which were mostly under the highest waters for 25 years when I was there. It didn´t matter to the locals or tourists, though. Life carried on, with the waters so full of people that one ice-cream seller was pushing his cart through three feet of water. What a dedicated salesman. The bars on the sandbank were all full - of water. Some almost up to the roof and some halfway up the legs of the chairs, tables and drinkers outside.

We hired a rowing boat to cross to the sandbank and climb the hill on the far side of the lagoon. It looked like the views across to the other side of the river and over to the main artery of the Amazon would make it a fantastic spot for a good old English picnic. We never made it. Never found the path, not even close. Instead we had our picnic, our champagne and our beer in a rowing boat as another Amazon storm came over the hill we´d been trying to find. We sheltered under an overhanging tree, pulled in the oars and drifted gently. Our tree made me realise why snakes evolved such patterns to disguise themselves as branches. See?

We toasted the tree, the storm, the boat, the bars, the jungle, the river, everything. Everybody should go to the Amazon. You get such magical moments there.

You can visit Ricky's blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/

Previous articles by Ricky:

Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurupá
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lençois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lençois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praça Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil - The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo - always a bad thing?


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