Santarem, Brazil

Santarem (named for Saint Irene) is at the confluence of the Tapajos and Amazon Rivers. This meeting point, known as the “meeting of the rivers” can actually be seen as the two rivers run side by side, the Amazon with its caramel colour, and the Tapajos, a clear blue river. Santarem has been settled since 1661 when a Jesuit Mission was established at the confluence of the rivers.  Today it has a population of about 300,000 people.  There is a lot of newer construction in the town but only a few high rise buildings.  The port is very busy with many river boats and ferries lined up along the downtown waterfront (photo). The ferries go upriver to Manaus and downriver to Belem.  There is also a large Cargill terminal for the export of soybeans to Europe (photo).  Fishing is one of the industries in the area and there are in fact two fish markets, one inside and one in an open building on the waterfront.  The economy is however, largely based on agriculture, cattle and mining.  Soy production has increased recently, probably with the construction of the Cargill terminal.   Today I took a tour which was split between a visit to an agri-tourism business in the rainforest and the city.  The family farm that we visited was one based upon harvesting in a sustainable way the products of the rainforest.  The family collects Brazil nuts and many kinds of fruit (photo) which they sell in the local markets.  They also tap rubber trees and can make quite a good living from that.  Lastly, they grow cassava to make manioc flour.  We were given the opportunity to see all of these activities and to taste the Brazil nuts, some of the fruit and the manioc which I quite liked in its crunchy state (photo).  The family pays no taxes on the land so long as they maintain the rainforest. They are also eligible for interest free loans.  Their neighbour who had cut down the rainforest to establish a cattle farm must pay taxes.  The government is using these incentives to try to maintain the rainforest that is left, and to encourage other people to re-establish it.  After our visit to the farm, we visited the fish market where I saw many ugly catfish and one lonely piranha (photos).  We then went to see Our Lady of Conceicao Cathedral (photos), the meeting of the waters, which was not quite so easily seen today as the Tapajos River was somewhat muddy due to an overnight rainfall, and then the local Museu dos Tapajos.  This museum has a small but excellent collection of pre Columbian artefacts (photo).  On our way to and from town,  we saw a large local government community project to rehouse poor families in homes with full water, sewer and electricity (photo).  They are given 20 years to pay for them.  The aim is to prevent slums from developing.  Walking around the town in the afternoon, I saw a new theatre (photo) and many small shops selling a wide variety of goods including more beautiful hammocks (photo). The town seemed prosperous, well-run and very clean.  This is perhaps due to the fact that they have had a woman mayor for the past eight years!  Tomorrow we visit Boca de Valeria, a community of 75 people.

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