All about the fabulous cruises that I get to go on with my husband Peter.
We're just about to go on our next cruise, to the Amazon, West Indies and the Caribbean, on the good ship Magellan. We've been before, and I absolutely love all the creepy crawlies, birds and wildlife. Watch this space!
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Monday, 14 February 2011
Day fifteen, Sunday 13th February – Boca Do Valeria
Last night we put the clocks back another hour, so we are now 4 hours behind you lot. Today has been incredibly hot and our clothes have been stuck to us with the humidity. We have no signal on either phone and we are not even getting texts in or out, but..........
ANOTHER FANTASTIC DAY!
We were up early to see the little village of Boca Do Valeria. According to the info we have, it is one of thousands of tiny settlements in the Amazon basin, with a population of less than 100. The community makes it’s living from the river and every house has a boat. When a cruise ship full of western tourists anchors up in the river, everyone from the surrounding villages brings their crafts, children, and boats to the little village of Valeria to earn the jam for their bread.
The only way to get to the village is by tender. The lifeboats double up for this task, and because 800+ passengers and crew want to go visit, there is a system devised for queuing in the Neptune lounge. You get a ticket and wait your turn, which we did.
When we got to the tender, you could see how the local people were taking advantage of the tourists. There was a mass of their little motorised canoes at the back of the ship. In turn they pulled up alongside the tender, and the children try and sell beaded necklaces and local crafts. In our case, the child was lifting his pet sloth for photographs. The fee is a dollar, but they were happy to take anything...... I saw one lady hand over a couple of apples she had just taken from the restaurant.
The tender boat took us to the village pier. Before we came, I’d read other cruising blogs about this place, and one tourist described how the pier had been destroyed a couple of years ago, and the crew of his cruise ship came out and rebuilt it before the passengers could come visit. Anyway, as we were walking off the pier, I saw the signs written in English offering river tours in the local motorised canoes at $5 each. I had read about these previously too. Peter knew I was keen, so off we went.
Our guide/canoe driver was an older guy who looked a bit rough. When we were shown the canoe, we thought we’d been given a bum steer. It didn’t look in that good a state of repair, and as we started out on the little tributary river away from the Amazon itself, the canoe motor kept giving out. We were totally wrong and our guide was perfect. Without a word of English, he slowed to let us see better when I pointed out something to Peter, managed to tell us to hold on when the boat came in to the side of the river to stop, and then showed us round his village, and even his home.
I have to say, I was amazed. The houses are made of wood and built on stilts, with kids and chickens usually roaming around underneath. His home consisted of 4 rooms with virtually no furniture. One room had a small cupboard supporting a tv, a young man, and a hammock in. My guess is that was the “lounge”. Another was the kitchen, with a large table and benches, another cupboard, and a full size gas cooker that used calor gas for fuel. The two rooms between were very sparse, with odd items dotted around on the floor. What surprised us was that they had got hold of a catalogue, like Littlewoods or something, and stuck the pages to the wall like posters or decoration.
Our guide showed us the school, which I have to say was of much higher standard than his home. The walls were brick or solid or whatever, not wood. The classrooms were lined with little chairs and desks. He showed us the stock room with its books, there were proper toilets, a headmasters office, and a little craft room type place where he showed us the items the children had been digging out of the ground – pottery and crafts of people who lived in the area long before our guide I think. I think the village are very proud of that school. Rightly so.
Then there was the church and the rest of the village. It was amazing to see electricity lines, and satellite dishes for homes without furniture, curtains, or any signs of comfort. He showed us a view over the river where we could see the Boudica and then we made our way back down the steep slope to his canoe and back to Boca Do Valeria. That was the best £7.50 we have spent in a long time. Our guide was a real gentleman and we now have a lot of respect for him and his people.
We continued the rest of our visit in Boca de Valeria under the very close watch of four young girls who attached themselves to us during our wander. They took a hand each and remained with us until we got back on the pier, even sitting with us whilst we had of a couple of very welcome cold drinks in the local “bar”, absolutely adamant they were not letting go. But they were sweet, laughing at Peter’s antics, and eventually showing their curiosity about our sunglasses, hats, and my earrings. What they really wanted was for us to give them to them.
The whole village was basically on a begging spree. A couple of girls were dressed in beautiful costumes of bird feathers - $1 to take a picture. There was a pet crocodile, a pet sloth, a couple of Kappibara’s and loads of parrots - $1 to take a picture. There was a boy with an insect like a giant cockroach in his hand, and I mean giant, I think it was easily 6 – 8 inches long. Ugh! No we didn’t want to hold it! And we still had the girls very firmly attached to our sweaty hands.
We visited the school, which was not as good as the one in our guides village, and their church. There were loads of little stands selling the local crafts, and things like python skins which to be honest seemed a much more reasonable way of getting money out of us. Peter bought a hand carved parrot image as a gift for his mother. Finally, it was time to go back on board, so we took a group picture of me, Peter, and our adopted daughters ($1 each), before we abandoned them.
As we got back to the ship, we could see the hoard of canoes at the back of the ship were still there. The villagers in the canoes were looking up and we saw things being thrown down. So, as soon as we’d checked in dumped our stuff off, we went to see what was going on.
Basically, these people were ready to take anything we could give them. Having seen the inside of our guides home, we now understood why an empty 5 gallon drum, or a tin of paint, were so coveted. Some of the stuff was thrown down to be caught or retrieved from the river before it sank. Clothing, inflatable dinghy’s, baseball caps. Other items were lowered on a rope in carrier bags. The villagers filled the bags with mangoes to be hauled back into the ship in exchange. (Looks like mango on the menu tomorrow then).
In some ways it seems a shame that these people appeared to be begging, but it was easy to understand why us tourists were happy to oblige. They have so little, and were so pleased with things like empty containers and cardboard boxes, you can’t help but want to give. Normally, there are collections on board ship for the local schools and children, and many people take paper and pens for them. We ourselves left donations for the schools in the boxes provided.
The ship left Boca Do Valeria at 1pm. After all that excitement, we were shattered. So lunch then a nap.
Later this afternoon, we were back out on deck, binoculars and cameras at the ready, watching the Amazon Rain forest sail by. I managed to see a large, red brown monkey in the trees, and a pair of parrots, (scarlet macaws our resident bird expert thinks). Peter got to see a toucan and a great egret. And of course, there are all the local residents, their homes, boats and livestock to see. There was even a sort of farm with loads of horses.
Our last act today was to go out on deck after dinner, just to see what it was like out there in the dark. We were treated to an awesome display of lightning flashes that went on and on and on. There must have been at least 3 different storms going on across the horizon, and they filled the sky with constant and massive flashes of light, with barely space in between for it to go dark again. We stood for ages just watching. Absolutely wonderful.