Last evening half an hour before sunset, Seabourn Quest slowly pivoted in the river in order to reach the Amazon’s main channel while departing Santarem. The lowering sun was huge, red and beautiful over the tangled waterways and jungle to the west. But for someone from Los Angeles who knows what the setting sun looks like through smog, it meant one thing: polluted air. As if to symbolize the great forest fires that have plagued the Amazon Basin for decades, a small grass and brush fire smoldered on an unreachable island immediately off our port side, sending a column of dark smoke into the light breeze.
Sailing up the extraordinary Amazon has been aw-inspiring. It is like no other tributary in the world and a must do for all bucket lists. We have encountered pockets of smoky air that smells exactly like a wood fire. Inland, we’ve seen smoke rising in the distance. But these are nothing compared to those that have raged for decades deep in the vast rainforest that covers an area the size of Europe and is estimated to have already been reduced by one-fifth. This is no isolated statistic when the Amazonian rainforest contributes perhaps one-third of the planet’s oxygen and absorbs an equal amount of its carbon dioxide.
Logging of tropical hardwoods like mahogany, most of it illegal, is always the first step in the process of this toxic deforestation. Ancient slash and burn, the source of much of the Basin’s air pollution, is then used clear land for temporary agriculture—temporary because the thin rainforest soil cannot support growing crops or grass for grazing for more than a year or two. That land may never return to original rainforest, even after hundreds of years. Tourism, including our cruise on the Amazon and others like it, help focus world attention on this catastrophic cycle.
Last night as we sailed up the river passengers were awakened by smoke infiltrating their suites, and this morning when we anchored in the middle of the river off the small city of Parintins, the atmosphere was thick, oppressive and flavored with smoke for the first time. Insects, which we were warned about, were still not much of a problem, but there was no doubt that we had reached the steamy hell of the tropics.
We dreamed about taking this type of Amazon cruise for years and made it a reality on Oct, 25 when we boarded the deluxe 450-passenger Seabourn Quest in Fort Lauderdale that stopped at tropical island playgrounds of the Caribbean that afforded time for sybaritic pursuits before heading off to Brazil to explore the mighty Amazon. It’s been a wonder-filled voyage with the perfect combination of fine food, free-flowing champagne, caviar on request, pampering service and above expectations enjoyment. And the fares are inclusive of tips and all drinks and wines.