Caribbean & South American shores with Viking – Part 2

Santarém, Parintins, and Manaus

Tributary rivers with differing compositions to the Amazon create a phenomenon known as ‘the meeting of the waters’ as they join the main flow. We had our first sighting of this at Santarém, where the clear waters of the Tapajos flow into the creamy brown waters of the Amazon but do not immediately mix. This ‘line’ is caused by the Tapojos being a differing temperature, make up and flow rate from the Amazon, and they don’t finally mix until a few miles downstream. Our Lady of ConceptionAt Santarém we also saw the powder blue cathedral of Our Lady of Conception, the religious centre of the city, and marvel at the stallholders outside selling brightly coloured and patterned hammocks. With most travel being accomplished by the double-decker river busses (very few roads in the Amazon Basin), then it’s important to have a comfortable hammock to string up onboard for those long (sweltering) journeys up or downstream. 

The resident creatures of the Amazon were starting to get interested in the Viking Sun and as we made our way upstream plenty of unusual bugs, wonderfully coloured butterflies and moths came to visit (fortunately all outside the ship). Overnight the ship was literally covered in these creatures but by the time most people woke up the crew had carefully cleaned the ship back to pristine condition. Indeed, the whole ship is constantly being ‘manicured’ to maintain its spotless and well-kept appearance.

TMeeting of the watershis region was treating us to some high temperatures (between 28°C and 34°C) plus humidity of 70% and above. So the Snow Grotto in the onboard LivNordic Spa is one of the ways that we cooled down (alongside the plunge pool and bucket ‘shower’). Heat ourselves up with  spells in the steam room, sauna or jacuzzi (or just being on shore) and then cool ourselves down again. A dubious way to have fun you might think, but this alternating between hot and cold is strangely invigorating. Which brings me to another thing. Use of the spa is included in the cruise price, as are drinks with lunch and dinner and many other things, plus you are not constantly bombarded with ways Viking can take a few extra dollars from you. To use the phrase of my American friends, Viking’s policy not to ‘Nickel and Dime’ its passengers is very refreshing.

Further upstream we stopped at Parintins, most famous for its annual folklore festival held each June. We were treated to a special performance of Boi Bumba and its rich combination of costumes, movement, singing and drumming – think Rio Carnival and Pantomime all rolled into one. A wander around town was rewarded with some quite impressive street art and the 3D murals that serve as the walls to the main Bumbodromo were well worth taking the time to locate and admire.

Our next dining experience was Manfredi’s, one of the speciality restaurants on board, with an Italian theme. The breads and soup set the standard for the centrepiece of our evening, the 12oz ribeye steak. Cooked to total perfection and 10/10 on the “I’ve begun to drool scale”.

Boi Bumba1,000 miles from entering the mouth of the Amazon brought us to Manaus. In its heyday, when the exporting of rubber brought a thriving trade and riches to the city, buildings such as the Amazon theatre (opera house) and the customs house (built in England and brought over brick by brick for reconstruction here) celebrated its new-found opulence. The square in front of the Amazon theatre, with its wavy pattern of floor tiles, immediately reminded us of the very similar square in Lisbon and acknowledged Brazil’s Portuguese heritage. Sadly those prosperous days are gone and whilst this most populous city of the Amazon Basin has some remnants of its past colonial style elegance, it’s rather a sad looking place now and in need of much TLC. The waters of the Rio Negro (black river) provide an even more impressive ‘meeting of the waters’, with the phenomenon of the black and creamy waters (failing to mix) clearly visible for some miles. The Rio Negro is particularly slow moving, thus vegetation has ample opportunity to rot in its waters and give it a black and acid make up. A fast boat for 90 mins up the Rio Negro gave us an outstanding experience of getting up close with the elusive pink river dolphins. Occupants of a local floating village on lake Acajatuba attracted the dolphins inadvertently (and over many years became comfortable neighbours) by throwing waste fish in the river. Now the villagers can call the dolphins who allowed us to get into the water and interact with them. Amazing and intelligent creatures (if not a little boisterous) they are almost blind and use the sonar housed in their bulbous head to navigate. Fun fact: pink dolphins can bend their necks unlike other dolphins. Its fantastic how they’ve trained the humans to feed them.

Pink dolphinsDue to low water levels in the Amazon it was necessary to slow the ship in many places to safely navigate over the shallow areas. This put us considerably behind schedule and our next stop at Recife had to be cancelled. On the bright side the extra sea day gave us time to learn about Viking’s new explorer ships and take advantage of the onboard incentives. As such we are very excited to have booked to explore Antarctica on one of the very first voyages of Viking Octantis.

Tonight’s treat on the Aquavit Terrace was a BBQ of the local Arapaima fish. This monster fish (a huge one was on display) can grow to 15 feet long and weigh as much as 180kg, with its outer scales being so hard and large that local people often use them as nail files. All I know is that it was an unusual and tasty treat on my plate.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking Ocean Cruises.

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Steve Aldridge

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