I have never fished before in my life. So, if you've got to start somewhere, you might as well start trying to catch one of these razor-toothed flesh-eating monsters. So, after heading down the backwaters that lead off the Amazon, I eagerly dangled my hook off the side of our boat, and waited for a bite.
Actually, I did get quite a few bites, but it appears that the piranhas that I was encountering were a bit on the clever side. Every time I felt the line pull, I'd yank up the line to find that the bait (a bloody piece of juicy beef) had gone from the hook, and there was no piranha in its place. All around me, people were fishing out piranhas (small, but thrashing around wildly, bearing their fearsome teeth at us), but mine much preferred to stay underwater and feast on the beefy offerings that I was giving them. It was great fun, and I think I was secretly glad that I didn't have to have a close encounter of a piranha kind.
The whole boat trip was a really good introduction to the Amazon – we sailed over to see the bizarre phenomenon of the Meeting of the Waters, where the coffee-coloured waters of the Amazon, refuse to mix with the cooler, faster waters of the independent-minded green Tapajos River. They flow side-by-side for miles, with a clear demarcation between them, before the Amazon finally asserts its authority and subsumes the Tapajos.
In the tranquil backwaters we saw tons of birdlife – soaring hawks, swooping kingfishers, squawking parakeets, amongst so many other exotic birds that I didn't recognise - plus pre-historic looking iguanas, camera-shy grey dolphins (no pink ones seen so far), and bobbing turtles. Even if the forest we were passing was so obviously impacted by man, it still sustained a wonderful bio-diversity.
In the afternoon, we headed into the city of Santarem itself. It's a friendly place of about 300,000 people, with busy shopping streets, a few pieces of colonial architecture, an attractive waterfront (of course!), and an urban sprawl that most people don't expect to find out here in the forest. The main action was out on the river, as tens (possibly hundreds) of riverboats constantly loaded and unloaded with people and cargo – the River is the superhighway of this area, and everything that goes from A to B, has to travel along the mighty Amazon.
As expected, it was incredibly hot and humid, which kept sightseeing relatively short, although seeing as pretty much every other shop was selling flip-flops (the essential Amazon accessory it seems), Tracy did a bit of browsing along the way to help out the local economy.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable first Amazonian stop of this cruise – can't wait to see some more Amazing Amazonian sights!