I’m currently in recovery mode at a little hotel in a town called Soure, but a few days ago I was standing at the most easterly point of Marajó island on the Brazilian coastline, where the world’s biggest river by far, the mighty Amazon, meets and merges with the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s just three degrees south of the equator, 7,250 kilometres from London and 6,800 Kilometres (as the river flows) from its source in the snow-capped Peruvian Andes mountains. It seems like only yesterday when I last set foot on this Brazilian shoreline, but it was in fact five years ago…
My vision is still a bit blurred. I am exhausted and dehydrated, but elated. The early morning equatorial sun shimmers on the Atlantic, a strong wind is blowing warm air in from the ocean, and miles upon miles of white sand and deep blue sky as far as the eye can see is the stunning backdrop for filming the dramatic final moments of the Walking The Amazon expedition.
I have just walked the last 85 kilometres through day and night with Ed Stafford and Gadiel Sanchez Revira. They have survived walking over six and a half thousand kilometres through one of the harshest landscapes on Earth. I cannot begin to imagine what it must have felt like for them to finally arrive here.
“Pete. Take the video camera and film everything!” shouts Ed.
I take hold of the Sony video camera and realise how important it is not to mess this up, filming the greatest moment of the entire expedition for the documentary.
Ed and Cho promptly throw off their heavy backpacks for the very last time. They are completely exhausted, but with a surge of adrenalin-fuelled energy they sprint across the warm sand and dive into the crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean and into the history books.
You know how there are some events in your life where the memories seem to remain as clear as the day they happened? Well that was one of mine.
Five years later, so close to that point, I stood facing west, my back to the Atlantic Ocean, my mind trying to vizualise an oh-so-distant destination. The tidal forests of Marajó Island, the sprawling savannahs, mangroves and wetlands, the impenetrable steamy jungles of Brazil and Peru, the countless rivers, tributaries, and flooded forests, a multitude of people and communities, jungle towns and cities, the vast array of mountains, canyons and valleys of the Andes, and all the life they support await little me. I felt I was about to play an epic game of Russian roulette with Mother Nature, and had an emotional mix of anticipation, excitement, and determination coursing through my veins. I held my breath and took the first step… and so began my own monumental physical and psychological rollercoaster challenge to attempt to ascend the mightiest river on this Earth on foot, from sea to source to sea.
With my limited experience of all aspects of the immense challenge I have set myself, all I know is that I really have thrown myself in at the deep end.
Onwards and upwards!
A more detailed blog, photos and video about the start, will follow soon.
With a land area of 40,100 km² (15,500 sq mi), comparable in size to Switzerland, Marajó is a large coastal island almost completely surrounded by fresh water. Its northeast coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean; the outflow from the Amazon between January and July is so great that the sea at the mouth is fresh water for some distance from shore. The city of Belém lies to the south across the southern fork (also called the Pará River) of the river’s mouth. The island sits almost directly on the equator.
Large parts of the islands are flooded during the rain season because of higher water levels of the Amazon River along the coast and heavy rainfall in the interior.
The east side of the island is dominated by savanna vegetation. There are large Fazendas with animal husbandry. This is also the location of Lake Arari, which has an area of 400 km² but shrinks by 80% during the dry season.
There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. The west side of the island is characterized by Várzea forests and small farms. Lumber and Açaí are produced there.
To the north of the large savanna area are palm swamps, mainly with Buriti Palm (Mauritia flexuosa) and Euterpe oleracea. During the rainy season, the swamps are flooded one meter high. Little is known about the ecology of these swamps.
There are 20 large rivers on the island.
Because of oscillating water levels and regular floods, many settlements are built on stilts (Palafitas)
The most important towns are in the southeast of the island: Soure, Salvaterra, and the largest city, Breves. They feature a basic touristic infrastructure and are popular because of the generous lonely beaches.
Read a more detailed comprehensive report about Marajo.. here.
Pan and zoom map to see more detail.