It’s shortly after 6am, and the first rays of sun are trying to burn through the patchy gray cloud cover over the Amazon river. It’s already warm and sticky, but the breeze off the river is fresh and cooling.
But there is a slight problem. “The engine is a little hot, we need to stop so we can fix it,” says our boat captain, Ofeu de Oliveira.
The only thing around us right now is river and flooded rainforest. There is no dock, no port to tie up to, no Coast Guard to call in to help at this moment.
We left Manaus Sunday, 14 hours ago, and have been going all night on the river. But Ofeu, a rail thin gentleman with a quick laugh and weathered skin, isn’t the slightest bit worried. He’s been driving boats in the Amazon since 1975.
This time of year the rainforest is mostly flooded here.
Flooded Amazon rainforest
[Gabriel Elizondo/Al Jazeera]
He slowly glides the boat up and nearly into the flooded forest, and ties it off to tree sticking up from the brownish waters.
While he’s below deck fixing the engine problem, we’re all left with an up close and personal view of the rainforest, literally able to reach out and touch it. I do. Shrubs and tree branches are brushing up against the side of the boat.
The engine is killed. The only sounds are some animals in the forest, and the river water lapping up against the boat.
I have yet to find a word in the English language that perfectly describes being in the flooded forest of the Amazon. Pictures don’t do it justice. Words don’t come close.
Within 45 minutes, Ofeu has fixed the engine troubles, and the vessel growls to a start as we pull out of the forest. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever been in a situation with an engine problem, on anything, where I wish it would have taken longer to solve so we could have had more time to take it all in.
We now head down a side tributary – the Parana de Itapiranga. Forest on both sides of us. A flock of birds glides overhead. The hump of a pink dolphin appears, but it’s gone as I fumble for the camera.
I’m with Maria Romero, producer/editor on this trip, and Douglas Engle, videographer. We all live in Brazil. Between the three of us, we’ve been to various parts of the Amazon biosphere over three dozen times. But none of us ever get tired of it. Ever.
While world leaders gather in Rio de Janeiro to discuss sustainable development at Rio+20, Al Jazeera has rented a river boat to go down the Amazon for a few days. We plan to stop in various communities, and talk to people. Maybe we’ll chat about sustainable development, maybe about the fishing, the weather, river water levels. Whatever.
We all learned long ago to never over-plan or over-think Amazon trips. The best laid plans always get altered the Amazon does that to the best of them. We have a mobile broadband satellite with is – known in the business as a BGAN – to send material and do live reports along the way – which we started on Sunday from Manaus, where the journey began.
We’ll probably end this journey Friday in Santarem, a city about 800 kilometers from Manaus. Our journey is long, but only a sliver of the total Amazon river, which is 6,679 kilometers.
In our boat, from Manaus to Santarem, it’s about a two day journey. Non-stop. It’s about three or four days back, against the current. We’ll be stopping, taking our time, reporting.
“You guys measure flight time by hours,” Ofeu reminds us. “On the river, we measure distances by days.” Our brief journey down the river will not be a travelogue. You won’t see us stopping in some indigenous village having our faces painted for the cameras.
The hope is that while the powerful and well-connected are gathered in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the environment, our little journey down the river will in a small way give voice to some people living here. When it comes to sustainability, the voices of the people who live in the Amazon count too – even if they don’t have credentials to Rio+20.
We also hope to leverage technology to at times to show the Amazon to those of you around the world who have yet to experience it.
For now, I need to go. It’s down the river, and out of contact for a while … again.
But what if Ofeu, our boat captain, says there are engine problems again and we need to aimlessly float down the river? It’s unlikely, but if that does happen, nobody here will be complaining.
In fact, that’s the way we planned it all along.
Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter at @elizondogabriel
Producer Maria Elena Romero @MarBrazil
Cameraman Douglas Engle @Douglas_Engle