Random Walk

Diary of an emigrant

Thursday, June 11, 2009

*** Move to Wordpress ***

Due in part to my increasing frustration with working with photos here on Blogger, the Random Walk Blog has been transferred to Wordpress. You can view it here:
Let me know how you get on with it, and for the moment I'll keep the Blogger content available, and will check both blogs for comments for the next month or so - then if the new blog works out okay, I'll remove this one.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Manaus 2014

Joseph Blatter, president of FIFA, announced on Sunday 31st May that Manaus will be one of the 12 Brazilian cities to host matches in the 2014 World Cup.

This is great news for Manaus, and is likely to be the biggest thing to happen here since the rubber boom. The Federal government alone is pledged to invest $6bn Euro in the infrastructural improvements required (including a metro system – maybe even broadband internet – maybe even direct flights from Europe!!), and there will be further investment from State, Municipal and of course private funds. Even allowing for the inevitable losses through corruption and cronyism, this is a level of investment which cannot fail to change the face of Manaus forever.

I think it’s fantastic news, and I’m very happy for the people of Manaus. And whilst it is against my nature to speak well of politicans generally, it would be remiss of me not to note that Amazonas State Governor Eduardo Braga and his team did a magnificent job of representing Manaus throughout the bidding process. Global financial crisis? What global financial crisis? Hooray for Manaus! It would of course be rather neat to see Northern Ireland (or Ireland or England or Wales or Scotland – not necessarily in order of preference) play here, but maybe that’s asking too much…

The other cities selected (see map) are Belo Horizonte (Mineirao stadium), Brasilia (Mane Garrincha), Curitiba (Arena da Baixada), Cuiaba (Verdao), Fortaleza (Castelao), Natal (Estrela dos Reis Magos), Porto Alegre (Beira-Rio), Recife-Olinda, (Arena Recife-Olinda), Rio de Janeiro (Maracana), Salvador (Arena da Bahia) and Sao Paulo (Morumbi).


Saturday, May 09, 2009


...I'm really fed up trying to arrange text and pictures on Blogger. Anyone know how to do this better, or know a better product....? Let me know pleeeeaaase!!!

Picture yourself, on a boat, on a river...

I’m by no means certain I can do justice to this trip with a few words, but I’ll try to give you a flavour of the thing anyway. Let me do it in manageable chunks...

Amazon Excursion Part I

We set off on day one at 05:30, fully laden with kit, spares and 125 litres of fuel. The 10-day plan was to cover 1000 kilometres of the Amazon and its tributaries as far as Codajas, which lies approximately 275km south west of Manaus on the Solimoes (Satellite image shows planned route for day 1). We were prepared to camp or sleep in the boat if necessary, but had planned a route which would hopefully enable us to overnight at some of the small towns en route – notably Anama, Anori and Codajas itself.

The dawn over Manaus was a spectacular one, and the river like glass as we glided eastward down the Rio Negro towards the meeting of the waters. We had factored in an average speed of 20kph, incorporating reduced speeds for rough weather and lay-ups for thunderstorms, but on day 1 at 05:30 we were happily skimming along at 40kph.
The river levels were already up to 28m a.m.s.l., (see separate entry) and this also makes travelling easier, so we were able to speed straight through the Paracuuba shortcut between the Negro and the Solimoes (at low water little more than a dangerous and often impassable gulley), and onto an equally calm Solimoes. This is the major tributary of the Amazon, and in fact is considered to be the Amazon when calculating its full length. It runs from the high Andes down through the Peruvian rainforest and a further 1000 km to Manaus, where it is joined by the Negro to form the Rio Amazonas. Keeping close to the north bank, to minimise the effect of the current (6-8 kph in mainstream), we made superb time to our first refuelling stop, arriving at Manacapuru by 08:10.

A quick stop to refuel and buy bread and ice, and we were off into Lago Manacapuru. This had been a last-minute change of plan, to pursue the reported link between this lake and the Paraná Arara (McCaw Way, literally).
It is always good – especially when travelling upstream – to avoid the main watercourses, which can be very rough in bad weather. We sped through the huge lake and homed in with relative ease on the entrance to the link, nestling behind some trees in the northwestern corner. If you look at it on the map, it appears tiny, but of course in the Amazon these things tend to be BIG, and so our little stream was a good 200 – 300m wide as we entered it. Excellent, we thought! Anama here we come! We sped along the stream (anything that links anything with anything else is generally known as a “paraná”), enjoying sightings of dolphin, eagles…and quite a lot of trees…until, rounding a bend, we were confronted by a wall of floating grass and weed, stretched between the banks. We crept closer and tried to find a way through, but to no avail. The Brazilians call this stuff capim, and it is treacherous stuff – the floating grass grows in long fronds up to several metres in length, and if you get it wrapped round your prop, well, you’re going nowhere. This is irritating at best, but add the remoteness of some of our routes into the mix, and there was a possibility that if we got stuck in the middle of this stuff, we could potentially sit there for months. So we turned round, and did the only thing one can do at these times – made some coffee.

It was now 11:00am, and as we sat drinking our coffee and contemplating a 3 hour back-track to Manacapuru, a small motorised canoe with a little 10hp direct-drive prop appeared around the corner, heading straight for the capim. “Could they get through?” we asked. “Oh yes.” “Could we get through?” “Oh no.” However they did suggest that if we went back a few kilometres and headed north, we could then get around behind the capim and emerge back on the paraná further along. Hmm. I’m not generally too keen on accepting this sort of advice, particularly as the river courses change from day to day. But we looked on our maps and the advice didn’t seem too bad, so off we went.

To cut a looong story short, we ended up back-tracking 5km and ‘hanging a left’, from where we prodded and poked our way West, then South, then (worringly) North again, then (equally worringly) Northwest. Assisted by advice from what locals we encountered en route, we finally ended up at the town of Caapiranga at around 12:30. We weren’t lost exactly, but we were certainly ‘directionally challenged’. Every route we tried out of what is quite a major lake system, was blocked by the dreaded capim. We asked the locals and they pointed us this way and that. We faithfully tried this way and that and had to come back and report failure every time. Finally a very nice chap told us that in fact there was only one way through and that he was going in that direction and we could follow him. We decided it was worth a try – in fact we had reached a point where the only other viable options were returning to Manacapuru, now four or more hours away, or sleeping in the boat.

So off we went, through squeezes so tight we could not possibly have found them or navigated them alone, until we reached another lake, at which point our hero pointed vaguely to the distant southwest and told us there was another paraná up there and that we “couldn’t possibly miss it”. (Always a danger sign, in my experience, along with instructions that begin “Simply….”). And of course we missed it. Several times. But finally we got a bit more local input and groped our way into it (it was blindingly obvious once we were on it, of course).

Freedom! We were on our way! We sped along this most beautiful of flooded-forest paths, zig-zagging merrily between the branches of trees which a few months ago would have been 5 or more metres above our heads. The path was pretty windy, but large enough for us to keep up a good average speed, and we were just getting confident when we rounded a bend and….wall to wall capim again.
A few mild oaths later, and we did the only thing we could, backtracking the 19km we had just covered, and stopping for lunch. It was now 13:30 and we were just resigning ourselves cheerfully to sleeping in the boat…when the rain started.

To be continued….

Friday, May 08, 2009

Amazon Flooding?

I really cannot avoid talking about the river levels again. You see, it looks like 2009 is going to be a record year (in spite of my initial scepticism), and I’ve no doubt you’ll be hearing about it in due course. So let me give you the low down on the thing. (Incidentally, the potential flooding which is the subject of this piece is nothing to do with the internationally-reported flooding in the Northeast of Brazil, which is simply flash-flooding caused heavy rains).

As you can see from the graph, 2009 (green line) looks like matching the highest river levels ever recorded (in 1953, which is the brown line). There are some pretty wild forecasts out there (including one of well over 30 metres), but the general consensus is that levels will peak at or near the 29.69m level of 1953. This being the case, there will be a significant impact on local communities, and in fact various municipal agencies have already declared states of emergency up and down the Solimoes and the Amazon. When we were on our boat trip, we saw where the Solimoes was already overflowing its banks, sending torrents of water into and amongst the trees and – importantly – plantations along the way. In addition, several communities (presumably those built since 1953) consist of dwellings and other buildings well below the 30m mark (and in some idiotic cases, below the 29m mark). The town of Anama, where we stayed on our recent trip, is already reported to be substantially under water, and even the larger town of Anori will be fairly devastated.

The peak level is mid-June, and then the water recedes unfortunately slowly at first (less than a metre in July) and then mercifully quickly (3 to 5 metres in each of the next 2 months), but for those suffering from flooding – basically every community within a wide belt along the 2000km of the Amazon (as much as a million square kilometres, at a rough calculation), there are likely to be significant economic and social consequences to these record levels, placing a heavy burden on local, state, federal, and possibly international aid systems.

Of course river level peaks and troughs are notoriously difficult to predict (2008 was forecast to hit 29m), so there is still a chance that the models are all wrong. For the sake of all those communities, I hope so.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back again

Hello All. After another prolonged absence, I’m back online again. Apart from being very busy over the last couple of months, most recently I was away on a two week expedition up the Amazon (up the Solimoes, to be more precise). This was successfully concluded on Thursday and partner in crime Mark has now flown back to the UK. I will write more about this in due course. We now also have several projects on the go, about which I also plan to write when they’re a bit more concrete. Just give me a few days to re-orientate myself and respond to the considerable volume of e-mail in my inbox and I’ll be right with you…

Monday, March 30, 2009

Policy on Abusive Comments

Somewhat bizarrely, the blog has been targeted by an abusive contributor (I know – it’s amazing, isn’t it?). Anyway, I don’t want to waste too much time on this sort of filth, but feel obliged at least to issue a short clarifying statement for the benefit of anyone considering posting abusive, threatening or otherwise inappropriate comments in the future: your IP address and message content will be saved on file for investigation; your comment(s) will be deleted immediately from the blog; and of course you will not influence the content of the blog – past, present or future - by as much as a single full stop. (With apologies to the other 2278 valued readers from Brazil, the USA, the UK and 24 other countries around the world).
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Our building photos

We've taken some time off from caiman wrestling and exploring to put our basement area in order, so as to be ready for any eventuality(!) As usual, having builders in is a bit stressful, but we’re happy enough with how it’s working out. The first 3 pics are of the area outside the bedroom we built down there last year (which is also being re-vamped at the same time), just after we started (yes- it looked alot worse). It will probably take another week for the work to be completed, but in the meantime, the final photo shows how it’s beginning to take some shape.

There. I knew you’d be interested!


Kelly has given birth to 5 huge pups after one five-minute fling with Toto (her only fling with anything), rather putting us to shame. Never mind. Mother and filhotes are doing fine.