Alter do Chão and the road ahead

The warm, crystal-clear, salt-free waters of the Tapajos river here in Amazonas combined with a natural sand bar and almost white sand makes for the perfect beach.

Even though I’m on an expedition, the temptation to visit this place I’d never previously heard about was too much after I was seduced by stories about the amazing natural tropical beach told to me by the people of Santarem. I had been due to pass through the town and swim across the Tapajos river with my original route plan, but that plan had been changed as the 300km of jungle from Porto de Moz to Santarem is very low-lying with lots of deep flooded forest and current high river levels. So I changed the route to walk on the north side of Rio Amazonas.

My nick-namesake, and the only other person to have previously traversed the Amazon river from east to west (reaching Quito in Equador, via the Napo river, with a team of 1200 in 1637) was Pedro Teixeira. He founded Alter do Chão on March 6, 1626. Later, in the early 20th century, Alter do Chão became part of one of the transportation routes for latex extracted from rubber trees in Belterra and Fordlandia. It was a short-lived period of growth for the small town.

Now its become more of a holiday destination. It is one of the most popular beaches in Brazil and is apparently the most beautiful fresh water beach in the world. It also helps the local economy and provides people with employment.

At the risk of turning the blog into a holiday report, I have to say that for any star gazers out there I can’t think of a better way to see the clear night sky than by getting an overnight passenger ferry up the Tapajos river and sleeping on the open top deck, since the light pollution is practically zero.

There are plans to build a massive hydroelectric dam further up the Tapajos river, creating a reservoir as large as New york city which will flood a huge area of natural rainforest and threaten indigenous people including the Munduruku people. Read more here.

Edson Lima, one of my previous guides, has transported all my spare kit that was stored at his home in Soure Marajo. It took him four days to get here by boat, and he wants to walk to Oriximiná with me, and possibly on to Manaus. At the moment he is further up-river in Manaus, but should return by Saturday. I decided to forward all spare kit there, together with my precious videos of the trek so far, recorded on SD cards for safe keeping. We plan to cross back over to Alenquer and start walking ASAP.

Apart from the usual obstacles of difficult terrain and navigation, dangerous river crossings, steep hills, swamps, dehydration, electric eels, snakes, scorpions,mosquitos, stingray, jaguars, caiman, shotgun traps, deadfall, river and road pirates and a multitude of biting stinging insects, we now have the added pleasure of forest fires to look out for. The dry season has begun and more people work the forests and land, which includes clearing and burning sections of forest to cultivate crops and raise cattle, so forest fires could be a hazard alongside all the other potential dangers that crossing jungle, roads and rivers will bring. But I don’t wish to fight either the environment or the culture, so I accept it all and work with or  around it as best I can.

I’ve spent well over a week planning the route from Alenquer to Manaus, adding all the waypoints and route into the Garmin Basecamp software and then my GPS. At one point the electricity went off (an almost daily occurrence here) and I lost my data – three long day’s work down the toilet – before I got it into the GPS, but all has been re-done while I’ve been in Santarem.

Edson and I managed to (unwittingly) gate-crash a full-on private fazenda party last week at a top hotel here in Santarem – a no-expense-spared event including a live popular Brazilian band and a beauty contest, which cheered us up a bit and took my mind off the looming road/jungle ahead. I also managed to film some of it.

The longer I stay in a city, the harder it is to get going again. I can assure you that probably 70% of the actual walking itself is not enjoyable, partly due to the very heavy backpack, and partly to the heat and difficult terrain, although you accept as the price of following your dream. On the other hand, encountering a stunningly beautiful river, or walking through a tranquil stretch of primary forest, or arriving at a remote  community and finding generous, friendly people, or even revelling occasionally in almost-forgotten big-city comforts – all of this lifts you up. A bit like life really – if you can get through the tough bits, there’s  always light at the end of the tunnel. Or the jungle, in my case!



Panorama: The crystal clear warm waters and white sand of the Tapajos river : Alter do Chao, Pará, Brazil




Header photo: A giant Lizard  basking in the tropical sun on the beach: Alter do Chao, Pará, Brazil




Sun set at Alter do Chao



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The no-expense-spared Fazenda fiesta we gate-crashed. A hoard of large 4 wheel drives were parked at the front of the hotel: Santarem, Pará, Brazil



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 On an unusually cloud-free day at the height of the dry season in Pará several fires were burning in Amazonia, giving rise to a broad smoke pall easily seen from the International Space Station (ISS). Image credit Nasa


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Me swimming the 3K down the Rio Paru to encounter the Bom Futuro community last month. My guide follows nearby with all our gear: Rio Paru, Pará, Brazil



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Elevation profile- some of the sections of jungle between here and Manaus are very steep hills.


4 comments on ‘Alter do Chão and the road ahead’:

  1. Luke

    Another good one Pete. Don’t stop!!!!!

  2. Clive

    Excellent – keep it up, Pete. You’ll soon be in Manaus 🙂

  3. sharon bird

    your doing great pete, glad you go all your stuff ok, stunning pictures.


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