Monday, 27 March 2017

Cruise aboard Ponant le Soleal: Amazon. Up a raging river

#expeditioncruising

The romantic visions of the Amazon with their near-naked indigenous tribes living a subsistence lifestyle beneath the jungle canopy, hunting monkeys and deer with poison-tipped blow darts is just that. Unless you are prepared to trek and live for weeks like some Bear Grylls, it's best to dispel this myth now.

Since leaving Belem a few days back, Captain Debien and his team have expertly navigated the 142m Le Soleal more than 500nM through the jungle-lined waterways as far inland as Santarem, stopping at least twice a day to launch our Zodiacs on excursions into the dense undergrowth lining this powerful river, the largest by volume on Earth.

Birders, in particular, are rejoicing in the diversity of species sighted on every outing. Waders, raptors and waterbirds of every sort are ticked off. We even sight the bizarre hoatzin, a bird so ancient it has more in common with dinosaurs than any of the rest of its feathered genera. Sublime pink dolphins and fearsome caiman pop up regularly to check on our progress while howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas and bats survey us from above.

This entire region is populated by people with ethnicities that include predominately Portuguese and indigenous indian, but there are plenty of French, Dutch and Spanish genes in this deep pool as well. The port towns of Santarem, Mojuizim and Guarja support thriving populations with their multitude of satellite stilt villages connected, not by road, but by busy little ferry 'buses' zig-zagging across the torrent to transport workers, students and entire families back and forth.



It's widely known that the Amazon basin, from here to Peru, Ecuador and beyond, has been brutally exploited for mankind's short term needs such as timber, minerals, soy beans and cattle ranching. While wholesale ravaging of Brazils' jungles has eased, it wasn't long ago that it was vanishing at the rate of a soccer field every eight seconds, leaving an area the size of Turkey (750,000 sq km) stripped of important biodiversity.

All the regions we visit are long since denuded of their primary rainforest and valuable timbers. While these vast tracts are now listed as 'protected', that protection only extends to those few hardy forest species that have regenerated after initial clearing. Imagine a Renoir or Monet painting in black and white.

While it is encouraging to see such luxuriant growth and a great many native plants and animals living untroubled in the new foliage, many critical species will never return, exiled to those declining areas of technicolor primary rainforest hidden deep in the bosom of Brazil's Amazon basin.

While this may sound a depressing tale, it nevertheless underlines the urgency for those with the inquisitive passion to see for themselves the state of our Earth, for better or worse, and gather those observations and memories for future generations.

Yes, I know I sound like a broken record, but if it weren't for adventure cruise and travel companies like Ponant prepared to invest and seek out these special locations, the enrichment contained in such exceptional ecosystems, environments and civilisations may well never be seen by the likes of you and me.

For further information about Ponant's vast range of expeditions and destinations, see www.ponant.com