High-Energy Festival Interrupts Serenity of Amazon River

Day 58, 2023 Grand South America and Antarctica

Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023; Parintins, Brazil

It’s all about the Boi-Bombá in Parintins. Each summer thousands travel here for this folklore song and dance festival, older than Carnival and one of the largest festivals in Brazil. As we are not here in June, we attended an hour-long performance by dozens of locals depicting the colorful costumes and pulsing music of the festival.

About 300 of us filed into the convention center for the noon performance. I thought an hour was just about the right length of time. Fortunately, the facility is air conditioned, but the dancers seemingly never had time to rest and cool off. Not only were they constantly performing intricate steps, but they also wore complete costumes, and some were huge.

In fact, it reminded me briefly of the Beach Blanket Babylon musical review in San Francisco with its huge and intricate hats. (However, if there was any satire in Boi-Bombá, it went right over my head.)

As advertised, you could drink all of the local Caipirinha drink you wanted during the show, although you would have to work your way to the bar for refills. It is Brazil’s national cocktail, a mix of hard liquor made from sugarcane, sugar and lime. A few sips were enough for me, as I found it quite strong and sour.

The main part of the town of Parintins, accessible by water but not roads, stretches for a few blocks along the river. Many riverboats are docked along the river, which obviously is very low.

Today local vendors sold trinkets, jerseys, jewelry and feathery headbands featuring the blue and red colors of the festival. Even many of the pedicabs were decorated in one or the other (or both) of the colors. During the June festival, Coca-Cola has been known to offer cans in blue in addition to the traditional red. Local young “scouts” became ambassadors to meet us as we came ashore.

I reported several days ago that our journey up the Amazon River would depend on the water levels, which are severely low. Fortunately, enough rain has fallen to raise the river just enough for the Zaandam.

After sailing up at a leisurely pace for a day or so, our first stop was yesterday in Santarém, about halfway to our goal of Manaus.

Santarém lies at the junction of the Amazon and the Tapajós rivers, offering a view of the “meeting of the waters,” where the clearer water of the Tapajós runs alongside the muddier Amazon. We’ll see this again in Manaus.

I didn’t go ashore in Santarém, as I’ll be back next month and have a tour booked then. It is hot and humid, and I’ve been working on a seemingly endless project to review and sort thousands of photos on my smartphone – deleting most of them and moving the keepers to my laptop.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. I’ve enjoyed the hours and days of cruising the river, at times seeing houses on stilts hidden in the jungle and at others small herds of cattle grazing on the green grass growing from what usually is under water. It’s very obvious that the river is low.

Occasionally locals – frequently teenagers – come out in small boats to race alongside us. Barges carrying goods along this major waterway pass by. At times we smell and see smoke from small fires hidden by the trees.