Americas Culture

Reflections by a River: the Rio Negro tells its story

I’m a pretty important river, though I say it myself!

Some people say I am enormous; they are right, after all I am 2250km long, 1470km of them in Brazil, and in places I am more like a vast lake – well over 24km from shore to shore . My journey begins in the rain forest of eastern Columbia where I have various other names depending on the particular headstream but as I near Brazil I change my name to that by which I am known.

As I travel I am joined by other tributaries which swell my waters. My own identity ends not far from Manaus where I join forces with the mighty Solimões (the Brazilian name for the Upper Amazon river) to form the Amazon.

We are both strong willed and powerful rivers, neither of us liking to give up our own identities. As you as will observe if you visit us; our waters run side by side together for some nine kilometers. I am clearly visible, my colour is black. Hence my name – Rio Negro! The black river!

Actually I’ m not really black, but compared to other rivers I am darker than the average because of the minerals and tannic deposits I have gathered in my travels.

Some people are content to stay on my banks and explore me from some of the comfortable lodges set in my rain forests. Others like to explore further afield, and travel with me with the help of riverboats like the Amazon Clippers on their floating hotels.

Brazil 518 boat

I like the chatter of voices as the passengers climb into their cruise boat’s motorized canoes to take them on watery safaris looking for wildlife.

But perhaps I ought to hand over to one of the passengers for a couple of minutes, for they can tell you better than I what life is like on board.

We boarded our Amazon Clipper Cruises riverboat at the landing stage of the Tropical Manaus, an ecological resort just outside Manaus, for our four night cruise. We had opted for the more expensive, Premium Clipper class riverboat with its 16 good size, comfortable outside cabins with twin beds and en-suite facilities.

Our floating hotel had four decks – eight cabins on the main deck; eight more on the second along with an air-conditioned dining room; on the third deck a lecture room with library and tv/dvd, a little bar and an outside, covered sightseeing area; plus an upper deck sun deck.

Brazil 640 buffetWe were wonderfully looked after by our crew – a captain, five sailors, three cooks and our two English speaking field guides – Herman and Hugo.

The crew frequently doubled up on duties, carefully cleaning our shoes after shore trips so we didn’t bring dirt on board, acting as crew on the motorized canoes plus assisting everybody in and out of them.

Our lovely chamber maid could be found helping in the dining room along with Eddie who also manned the bar.

We adored Eddie; he only had to see us climbing the stairs to set to work producing the very good caipirinhas, which he quickly learnt was our preferred tipple.

Meals are served buffet style with a good and varied choice of interesting, tasty dishes. 

Thank you; but to get back to my story.

For all that I am a major transportation artery, settlements along my banks are sparse, sometimes just a cluster of houses – so sailing my waters is a fairly peaceful pursuit; if you exclude the hoop, hoop noises of frogs. But every now and then a family boat or a school river bus will zipp along disturbing my silky-smooth surface; and occasionally my serenity is disturbed by an incredibly short, sharp torrential tropical downpour. 

Brazil 483 traffic

I carry my riverboat passengers through what is known as the Anavilhanas National Park –one of the world’s largest fresh water archipelagos made up of some 400 islands; an ecological station studying ecosystems and local biodiversity. Every now and again we pass one of its floating bases, these are popular with my friends the pink dolphins who sometimes come and swim and play with the humans who frequent it.

Brazil 539 tarantulaSome of the islands have white sandy beaches. These are much loved by the riverboat passengers who dive off the boats and swim to them.

They don’t expect white sandy beaches by a river, or in an area renowned for its rain forests.

They also like going ashore and exploring the forest. Apart from the boat’s own guides they take a local one with them too; one who can identify the trees, knows where to find the lairs of tarantulas.

And one who can show them how to fend off any marauding jaguars that might be thinking of attacking!

Personally I wouldn’t stay around long enough to find a branch and fashion it into a spear, but it takes all sorts.

Another landing stop is at one of my riverside settlements to see how a local community lives.

When they get back into the canoes to return to the boat I hear them chatting about how hard the women work in the traditional way producing manioc – a staple part of their diet – in marked contrast to their homes with television sets and the little school with its computers.

Brazil 620 manioc

I have piranhas swimming in my waters, something of a novelty for boat passengers, and I am used to the canoes pushing their way into my submerged tree branches in search of likely places to catch the fish.

Brazil 569 piranha

It takes a bit of skill to bait the hooks with raw meat and throw the lines out far enough, but most of them manage it and catch at least one. The fish are rather puny so after having been inspected and photographed they are put back into the water.

Brazil 661 monkeys

Keen bird watchers particularly enjoy the water safaris, their binoculars poised for the likes of vultures, ibis and toucans. The birds often share the branches with monkeys and sloths. One group spotted a tree boa hanging from a branch that had just caught a rat for its breakfast. Cayman are frequently spotted in the water, especially on the night safaris – the torches pick out the red of their eyes. There are usually squeals from passengers at the sight of these cruel looking creatures (even the baby ones), but they don’t worry me, I’m used to them.

I also specialize in beautiful sunsets and sun rises. They are truly magnificent – romantic, passengers call them. But I like to think I save the best to last on these river cruises.

Brazil 738 confluence

Well it does make a pretty spectacular farewell photo for my riverboat passengers as the boats take them back to the Manaus landing stage for disembarkation – that dramatic moment when they witness at first hand the meeting of my black waters with those of the yellow brown Solimöes.

More Information

Bespoke Brazil: Bespoke Brazil are specialists in Brazilian holidays, covering flights, tailor-made tours which can include the Amazon Clipper Cruises, adventure holidays and events like the famous Rio Carnival. New for 2015, the company also offers a selection of exclusive wine tours. 

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