Uninterrupted days and nights of rough seas, as a consequence of heavy swells from the Northeast (says the captain time and again), intermittently enhanced by a stiff breeze, have been our share for many tens of hours now. On my balcony there was a carpet of filthy salt. It is caused by the spray from the waves that gets scooped up by the wave-razing winds as misty pellets, carried along and smashed into the ship, where they just drop dead – pun intended! The ubiquitous sun burns off the water and what stays behind are “the ashes of the spray”: a salty smudge – on the guardrails, on the ground and on the deckchairs…. Until a (fresh water) cloudburst rinses it out, such that we can start all over from a clean sheet, so to speak.

Welcome to the tropics! That is where we have landed meanwhile, and the “land” part was welcome after all the bouncing around. However, before we could enjoy the steadiness, we had to embark in the tenders who brought us to shore. Even in calm waters this ride feels like a bucking horse – with loopinglike ups and splashing downs. Luckily we were only a couple of miles out.

Les Iles fu Salut – the Salvation Islands, colonized in 1640 and turned into a penal colony after 1789. That was one of the accomplishments of the great “Révolution” with its “Liberté, Fraternité and Egalité”. Without a doubt many brothers, freed of the burden of Freedom, have indeed been treated here without Equal! When you approach them in the morning sun, you would rather think of them as Tahiti-next-door, full of lush life, Eden – with a grain of salt!

Apart from a platoon of Young French Légionnaires, a sober hotel and an office of ESA (European Space Agency), we find only a few morbid ruins and much terrestrial life. About the former, there is not much to tell. And the French tourist authorities seemed to agree because there was precious little Information. In the last building (the quarters of the Commandant), there was a picture of 19th century commander. He looked quite civilized and intelligent. I could not resist wondering what kind of man he was upon arrival, and what kind of man he had become at the end of his tour of duty. For sure, the apparent violence of this place does not leave anyone untouched, and unchanged.

The vivid life in this earthy paradise was much more interesting. The all-encompassing wealth of greens – low, high and very high, often carrying delicious looking fruits, was fascinating. The palm trees appear to touch the heavens, with ripening coconuts around their noble necks en wasted coco shells around their decaying feet. Part of the show was my first sighting of apes in the wild. The little morsels were alert and not shy nor scared, meandering around bushy branches and frolicking with their funny friends. My American companions called them “green apes”; I tend to believe that is simplification: lovely animals like that deserve a nicer name! Of course, there are colorful birds and surprisingly wild chickens. What some thought would be a mongoose, was later explained as an agouti, a scurrying vegetarian rodent. They obviously didn’t have as much fun as the apes!

As we concluded our first day in the “wild”, with tasty venison, we had set sail for the Amazon, heading for the “Barrier”. Surprisingly perhaps, the Amazon doesn’t start where the land ends. No, it starts 200 miles out in the ocean: that far out the river still noticeably deposits some of its millions of tons of sediments. At its sole entry point, an opening often only 30ft deep, the Barrier seems to be the invisible demarcation of the “Silty brown lagoon”.

On our way to the first A in the A³ Grand Voyage, the captain had distributed a letter about conservation of water during the next 10 days, as the ship’s evaporators could not handle the Amazon water. When the toilet flush – same system as in airplanes – didn’t work this morning, I wondered whether he had meant it that strictly! Upon my inquiring with housekeeping, the friendly lady said that it was not the captain’s wish but a generalized, unforeseen problem, and the engineers were working on it! Great, because it meant that the cooks didn’t have to change their much appreciated menus!

Meanwhile we have navigated the entry point successfully, waiting for the high water at 1500hrs. I heard that we had 8ft to spare under the keel. As we steamed onwards, at much reduced speed, the propellers produced a brownish kaki trail behind us. Welcome to the Amazon!

Prinsendam, Wednesday January 12, 2011, 1600hrs

Looking the Amazon in the Mouth