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South America's Marine Highway

February 27, 2020

 

When I thanked Harold Rudd for the interesting boat pictures he sent me to be used with an earlier article, he sent another album of 80 pictures, most all of boats commonly seen on the Amazon River, workboats that handle every kind of native made goods leaving the country to cattle being moved to high ground and supplies going to the natives. Would I be interested in writing about Harold and his wife’s trip to the Amazon – maybe.
The New York Times last fall ran at least four or five articles on the fires set in the South American rainforest to make more farming and grazing property available to the ranchers and farmers. A long phone call to Harold in the Florida Keys indicated potential interest for any reader who has made the trip, is planning a trip or has just thought about the rainforest as an environmental issue. It was a go.
The new pictures are from the 49-day cruise Harold and his wife took in February and March 2015 from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to 850 miles into the Amazon River and back. When I looked at the album of pictures Harold sent, there were mostly pictures of towboats, wood tourist vessels, workboats, freight and passenger ferries, shipyards, waterfront areas, tour boats, barges, tugboats, floating drydocks and tank barges.
I asked Harold how he could go on rainforest hikes, go piranha fishing and take safaris and tours of the jungle and not have any pictures of exotic birds or animals unique to the rainforest. He said he did take other pictures but he only developed the ones he thought captured the essence of the trip.
We tend to filter what we see and hear through our earlier connections and experiences. Others who may have chosen the same cruise so they could see the vast rainforest and its unique collection of insects, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles that live there, probably never noticed the assortment of boats Harold saw, and probably brought home pictures of the toucans, monkeys, sloths and alligators they came to see.
Knowing that transporting by barge or ship is the most fuel efficient means of transporting goods came from a time in his life when Harold owned and operated a tugboat business. The diversity of workboat styles was more than just a colorful picture in his mind and through his camera lens – he saw the Amazon River as a great marine highway, a place where towboats and barges carry life’s necessities to the natives, where produce is taken through the river to the outside world and cattle are moved by boats to higher ground in the rainy season.
Harold and Dee Rudd’s Amazon adventure started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and returned to the same port at the end of the trip. Once they got on the ship they slept on it every night, just getting off for sightseeing, day trips or safaris. They had a list of things you could do on your own and a list of guided trips and safaris. They didn’t swim in the Amazon or kayak, but they did go on a party boat up some narrow creeks to go piranha fishing. They never caught any but the ones they saw were small, eight or nine inches long and very bony. They went on a jungle safari and to lunch on a floating restaurant.
The natives seemed happy to see them, Harold thought. They were bringing tourist dollars that would enhance the country’s economy. Harold never felt their personal safety was an issue on or off the boat. Whenever they saw police officers they were traveling in groups of three or four and always carried AK47s. There were police in front of every bank and if you wanted to go into the bank, you had to empty your pockets first.
Their first stop was Key West, where they live. They were making a room change and never got off the boat, but there were tours available for passengers who did.  Some went snorkeling, some fished and others took the Conch Train Tour, a 1-1/2 hour trip that shows tourists where Hemingway liked to hang out and tells them how much President Truman loved the Keys.
They stopped at the Cayman Islands but couldn’t go ashore because it was so rough.  The boat has stabilizers and is comfortable on a rough day, but the swells were breaking over the dock and it would have been dangerous to get off the ship. They snorkeled at Aruba and Bonaire to see the reefs and tropical fish. The water was 78 degrees, warm enough to just wear your bathing suit. There were stops at Trinidad and Tobago, a day at each, and the Port of Spain. It had rained and the snorkeling wasn’t so good but they had a beautiful sailboat ride.
The next stop was Devil’s Island, French Guiana, which used to be a prison colony. They saw the very small unairconditioned prison cells and didn’t wonder why so many prisoners died trying to escape. The temperatures from May to November average between 99 and 104 degrees and the humidity runs over 70%.
On February 5th they crossed the equator and then saw several coastal towns in Brazil on the way to Rio. They saw a lot of commercial fishing, longline activity on the way to Rio. When they got there, they spent three days going to Carnaval that cost an extra $1,000 a person. Quite a few busloads of people took the cable car trip to see the statue of Christ.
They stopped at Santarem, a city in Brazil where the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers meet. One of the tours is a cruise to the meeting of the waters that brings the muddy Amazon waters right up to the clear, dark waters of the Tapajos. Here the tour offers piranha fishing. The cruise went 850 miles into the River to Manaus, where evening jungle tours are available. This is also a good location to see primates up close at the Monkey Jungle, a rehab center where they can be photographed during their feeding time.
Some say the rainy season, also called the high water season, is not the time to make the Amazon trip. Others say the flooding is one of the interesting things to see. Floating docks allow for an eight foot tide and thirty feet of flood tide. September to November is the hottest and driest time and allows for long hikes in the jungle.
Why do people want to see the jungles and rainforests of South America? Some are destination collectors. Some want to see the rainforest before the cattle ranchers and farmers burn off more acreage to add to their ranches and farms or start new ones. Still, others might want to take an easy boat trip that incorporates tours that will educate them about rainforests and plant and animal life without doing any reading while others may be looking for the kind of birds, mammals, amphibians or reptiles they’ve only seen pictures of in National Geographic.
The Rudds like Holland American cruises for several reasons – the boats are smaller so the passenger list is shorter, only about 1200 passengers, the food is basic and good, their itineraries offer a comfortable, doable number of diversified tours and safaris and they start and end close to home. The Maasdam is registered in the Netherlands, built by Fincantieri in Italy in 1993, is 713 feet long and has 10 passenger decks, 2 restaurants and 2 pools.
Do the Rudds work from a bucket list when deciding on a cruise? Their list includes another Western Europe trip, a 38-day visit to Norway and Denmark.

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