Wednesday, December 12 – Passing time in Parintins
Parintins, Brazil, is a town of about 100,000 inhabitants. During three days in June, however, it swells to more than 300,000 as people from all over the Amazon find their way here for the annual Boi Bumba festival. Many have traveled for days in cage boats or other water craft and many sleep in their hammocks while in Parintins; it is cheaper than renting a hotel room.
The Boi Bumba is also performed for cruise ship passengers who are tendered into town and schlepped to the performance arena. The real festival is so popular that a 30,000 seat arena was built for it. That would be like Baltimore building a 250,000 seat venue capable of seating one-third of its population.
The Boi Bumba is not really ancient Amazon folklore. It was completely manufactured as an entertainment but has evolved over the years. The basic story is so farcical that it could be a comic opera. It involves a man, his wife, a prize bull and a feud. As the festival has grown, though, the story has been elaborated upon so that now there are more local and folkloric references than in the original.
The feud in the Boi Bumba is between the family of the man and his wife and the owner of the bull. At the festival in June, two teams, the Red and the Blue, compete to see which can stage the best performance; which has the best music; which has the best costumes; and which has the most polite audience. If the supporters of the Blue are rude during the Red performance, the Blue team is penalized. Each year, a winner is declared and only that team’s members can perform until the next competition. This year, the Red team won. The city is rabid in its support for the teams; Coca-Cola is sold in red and blue cans during the festival but only in the color of the winner for the rest of the year. There may be some blue advertisements still visible, but there are no blue cans available.
D bought tickets online months ago. The Boi Bumba was touted as the activity in Parintins. However, when we heard repeated warnings by Carlos about the steep path from the tenders to the city – combined with reports that one went from the tender to a cage boat before getting on the pier, we decided to abandon our plans and stay on board. A long steep walk up and down a boat ramp did not appeal to us after MA’s recent misfortunes.
It was too late to get a refund on the tickets, of course, and the only people to talk to about a refund were on shore and not immediately available. To talk to them would have involved a 30-minute tender ride in each direction, a round trip in excess of an hour. D looked for other CC members who might be interested but was not successful. However, we did overhear another couple as we read in the Explorer’s Lounge; they had bought tickets to the wrong shore excursion and would love to see the Boi Bumba. They offered to pay us the difference between what they had already paid and what the show tickets cost. If they are able to get a refund, they say they will pay full price. We don’t really expect to see any money, but we’ll see what happens.
Otherwise, it was like a sea day. We read, ate lunch in the MDR and rested/wrote before Trivia. Today’s competition started at 4 p.m. and we didn’t know how many people would show up. We thought the Boi Bumba would end at 3:15, but the long tender ride and large crowd could have slowed some people down. In the end, we had our regular team of six but only enough answers for second place. We thanked the winning team for taking the target off of us.
Final note -- Returning from Trivia, we found an envelope of cash which had been shoved under the door. Inside was $50 from the folks who took our Boi Bumba tickets.
Tomorrow – Alter de Chao
Thursday, December 13 – Our last Brazilian port
When we were on the cage boat in Santarem, Paulo described Alter de Chao as the Caribbean of the Amazon. It is also his adopted home town.
After so many river stops with steep inclines because of the low water level, MA opted to stay on board today and catch up on her rest. D went ashore around 10 a.m. The tender ride was uneventful and the tender pulled up to a stable dock which led to a white sand beach. The hard part was getting up the shallow slope in the shifting sand. It was slow going for everyone.
The sand led to wooden stairs and ultimately to an uneven boardwalk. At the top of the stairs were local merchants selling tourist tchotchkes – t-shirts, stuffed piranha, blow pipes, jewelry, etc. As if the merchants did not pose enough of an obstacle, the boardwalk was very difficult to walk on. Several people stumbled, but none fell, while D was watching.
The boardwalk led to a street which went directly to the town square. There were Christmas decorations in the square along with benches, flowering bushes and pink and grey dolphins [one each] for kids to climb on. The Town church faced the square as did several cafes and some tourist-oriented clothing stores.
The original church was constructed between 1876 and 1896. Renovations were completed in 2010. The church as a yellow stucco exterior and yellow plaster walls inside. A portion of the original brickwork was left visible over the altar. The church overlooks not only the town square but also the inlet created during the dry season.
Sand bars are easily visible in the harbor. There are cabanas on the spit of land which has more of the white sand on either side. The whole are is probably submerged during the wet season. Alter de Chao is on the smaller Tapajos River, not the Amazon, so the seasonal flooding may not be as severe as in the mighty Amazon.
Several references have appeared here to “the meeting of the waters.” As with the dolphin swimming, our preconception was nothing like the reality. We pictured rushing waters meeting head-on the way the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans do at the tips of South America and Africa. In fact, the meeting of the waters is peaceful.
When the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers meet [or the Amazon and Rio Negro is Manaus], their waters travel side by side. The Amazon is a dirty, chocolate brown from all of the silt it carries and the others are relatively clean and blue. What one sees at the meeting of the waters is the two rivers clearly visible as two stripes in the combined river, one brown stripe and one blue. It may take several miles before the blue is merged into the brown as it flows eastward toward the ocean.
The separation of the waters is attributable to several factors, all working together. The rivers have different temperatures; the specific gravity of the rivers is different because of the silt content; and the rivers are traveling at different speeds. Once all of these factors are equalized, the “meeting” ends and the Amazon proceeds on its way.
Because the river is so shallow now, the Prinsendam had to anchor in midstream for fear of becoming grounded. In fact, the tender D rode back to the ship after he wandered through the town struck the bottom with its propeller as it back away from the dock.
D returned to the cabin just at noon. Before we went to lunch, he gave her a t-shirt he had bought on shore. It is almost too pretty to wear but we have no place to display it. While we ate on the Lido, the kitchen crew was setting up a display of tropical fruits including bananas, mangoes and rambutan [sp?], one of Caiden’s favorites.
Trivia was tragic today – we came in second again, the first time we have lost twice in a row. Again, we coulda/shoulda but didn’t. Carlos still owes us a prize from Tuesday and we will remind him tomorrow.
Tomorrow – a river day