10 Amazing Things About the Amazon

1. It has tribes that were never contacted by civilization

The Amazon rain forest is huge: with 5.5 million Km² (2.1 million square miles), it covers an area roughly half the size of the United States. It was one of the last reaches to be explored and settled by European colonizers. Thankfully, governments recognized the rights from the original inhabitants of the Amazon, and created laws to protect their land. Huge reserves were created: the largest one, called “Raposa Terra do Sol”, is about the size of the state of Connecticut.

The Amazon is Huge!

There are vast territories in the Amazon that were never reached by Western civilization. In fact, there are some tribes living isolated in protected reserves, never contacted by mankind. The location of these tribes is kept in secret by the Brazilian authorities. The reserve borders are closely monitored and nobody is ever allowed to get in. The Brazilian government published interesting photos of helicopter approaches that were made just to ensure the indians were doing OK. The last helicopter that flew by was greeted by the natives with arrows and spears, which was considered a good sign: these people are alive, healthy and well, and they know how to protect themselves.

How never contacted people from the Amazon reacted to an approaching helicopter.

2. The “Boto” Legend

The Boto is a typical amazonian grey dolphin that lives in the rivers of the Amazon forest. Ancient folklore speaks of a mystical Pink Boto that has special powers. According to the legend, during the popular Amazonian celebrations that take place in July, the Pink Boto can escape from the river by morphing into a handsome, tall and strong man, dressing a white suit with a white hat. After transforming, the Pink Boto goes to parties and dance houses, looking for beautiful and single woman. The Pink Boto is tremendously charming, talkative and seductive, and has the magical power to make any woman fall for him in minutes. After approaching a victim, dancing, talking and flirting, he then invites the lady for a walk by the river, where he would get her pregnant, morph back into the dolphin form and finally return to the river waters.

The Amazon river dolphin.

In the metropolitan parts of the Amazon (such as the capital city of Manaus), the expression “fathered by the Boto” is still used to refer to single mother pregnancies whose father is unknown. In the farthest reaching countryside, many still actually believe in the Pink Boto’s existance: parents fearing the Boto forbid their young daughters from leaving home at night. And woman that get unexpectedly pregnant during the celebrations of July still affirm they were seduced by the Pink Boto.

Beware of the Boto!

3. People eat very differently

A huge variety of Amazonian ingredients, including fruits, nuts and seasons, are almost exclusively enjoyed there. For instance, the Cupuaçu fruit is used to make delicious juices, cocktails, deserts, and even butter. It tastes like a mix of chocolate and pineapple. Cupuaçu butter replaces regular butter in any recipe, bringing along its exquisite taste.

Cupuaçu fruit.

The Tucumã nut is another flagship of the Amazonian cuisine. Its oil works like olive oil, with an exotic flavour bonus. Amazonian people don’t eat palmetto, since they have Pupunha at their disposal: a similar, but softer and tastier alternative. And they almost don’t consume bread—tapioca is preferred. It’s a gluten-free, delicious mass made from Cassava, which is another very popular ingredient in the Amazon.

Tapioca with Tucumã.

As the Amazonian culture spreads, some of these local jewels are going mainstream. The most notorious case is the Açaí, an energetic fruit with a strong, delicious taste. Today it’s heavily consumed in all parts Brazil, and global demand from the fruit is rising. Industries are reaping the benefits of these yet unexplored flavours. For instance, açaí-flavored vodka, bottled by Absolut, is now easily found in many bars worldwide.

Açaí flavored Vodka.

Globalization also hit the Amazonian food preferences. Sandwiches are the newest addition to the amazonian menu, the most popular one being the “Cheese-Caboquinho”: bread, tucumã, rennet cheese. And fried amazonian banana sides.

Cheese-Caboquinho.

4. Children can walk on rivers by standing on giant leaves.

One of the most widespread symbols of Amazon is the giant water lily (Victoria amazonica). It’s an aquatic plant that grows in rivers. You can find their giant leaves, that look like big circular standing pads, all over the region.

The coolest thing is that these leaves can grow to become so big and strong (over 8 foot, or 2.5 m), that they actually support the weight of a child. Fully grown leaves can support up to 100 pounds (45 Kg).

The leaves are strong!

5. Many kids take school motorboats to go to class

Many amazonian villages were formed along its rivers’ banks. In the middle of the forest rivers act as streets and highways: houses and small businesses are built along the rivers. In fact, during the rainy season, many families can only access their homes by boat. Serving these villages with essential services, such as primary education, is a challenge. In many cases, building floating schools in the middle of the river was the only way. In these villages, kids don’t take school buses, but school motorboats to go to class and return back home.

Rivers are such an important thing for people in the Amazon that kids first learn how to swim and ride canoes instead of learning how to ride a bike.

A child studying at a floating school. In the background, the roof of the old school, now flooded, is visible.

6. Huge waves are formed when the Amazon river meets the ocean

When the Amazon river meets the Atlantic ocean, a very strong tidal bore happens. Locally known as “Pororoca”, this phenomenon is seen as huge waves that form against the tide. They can reach up to 10 feet (3 meters). In recent years, surfers have taken a liking for the effect, and there is a surfing championship to see who can ride the river waves up the river the longest.

Surfing in the Pororoca.

7. The formation of the Amazon river

One of the most beautiful sights and touristic attraction of the Amazon is the meeting of the “Solimões” and “Negro” rivers, to form the largest river (in terms of water discharge) in this planet, the Amazon river. The Negro river has a black colored, warmer water, whereas the Solimões river flows 2 to 3 times as fast, is cooler and has a sandy-colored water. The rivers meet at Amazon’s capital city of Manaus. In the first 3.7 miles (6 Km) of the Amazon river, the different water flows (from Negro and Solimões rivers) run side by side, without mixing.

Meeting of waters near the Amazon capital city of Manaus.

8. The biggest party in the Amazon is a battle between two “bulls”

Brazilians are known to cheer and party the most during important soccer matches and the carnival. In the Amazon, however, things are different: the biggest and greatest party is the “Parintins Festival”. It’s a three-day party that takes place in July, in a little town that is only accessible by plane, helicopter or boat. From the Amazon’s capital city of Manaus, a boat trip down the river towards Paratins takes 18 hours. The return trip must fight against the tide, bumping the return trip duration up to a full day.

Despite the total lack of ground access, people from all over the Amazon go to the celebrations every year. The most anticipated event of the festival is the battle between two mythical bulls, the “Caprichoso” and the “Garantido”. Two people get inside a bull costume and give life to it. The two bulls appear every day of the party, showing off their dance moves and tricks with instruments. At the end of the festival, judges determine which bull was the winner. Amazonians cheer and support their bull much more than soccer teams or political parties.

Isn't the "Garantido" bull lovely?

9. The “vazante” from the river is impressive.

During the rainy season, the water level from the biggest rivers rise up to 60 feet (20 meters), flooding huge areas. For this reason, it’s very hard to build anything close to the big rivers. And rivers in the Amazon can be humongous. Many are so big that you can’t see the other side, even from the top of buildings.

The flood of the Acre river.

10. There are many interesting types of fish

The Amazonian rivers host many different and weird species of fish. The most popular is the flesh-eating Piranha. This hunting fish tracks down traces of blood in the water from mammals, birds, and other fish, and then use their scary, pointy teeth to devour them. It’s pretty dangerous to get in contact with unknown river waters in Amazon: if a Piranha shoal gets to you, you’re probably doomed.

The most curious fish that can attack humans is a parasite fish that has the unbelievable ability to swim up inside a man’s penis. The Candiru fish senses traces of urea in the water from other, bigger fish, and will swim towards it. Then it will try to hook into a host fish and parasite it. But the Candiru can also pick up on human traces of urea and swim towards it, believing it to be a suitable host. Native male Amazonians would always swim in unknown waters with a rope tying their penis, to prevent any fish from getting in. People though the natives were silly, until a well-documented Candiru attack happened: one of these tiny fish jumped inside a man’s penis, and he subsequently had to undergo surgery to have the fish removed from his uretra. The case is real and BBC even did a documentary about it.

Written on July 7, 2016