Schlagwort-Archive: Rio Negro

Amazon species extinction due to overexploitation and cruise from Peru to Cuba

Schiffsreise Amazonas Forest RIver
Brazil: Amazonas Forest RIver Expedition with MS Bremen and scientists on Board.


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Its name is a legend and sounds as exotic as the myth that surrounds it: the Rio Amazonas. It is the second longest and most water-rich river on earth, the one with the most tributaries, the strongest water discharge, the largest catchment area and the most enormous delta. In thousands and thousands of meanders, it flows majestically through the most diverse and opulent rainforest on earth, nourishing, watering and sustaining an immense diversity of fauna and flora, while being the lifeline of millions of people. The Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana was its first ambassador when he told the Western world about the largest river system after his advance into „the green hell“ around 1542; the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt was its most exciting reporter and cineastes surely remember the fantastic impressions of the movie „Fitzcarraldo“ with Klaus Kinsky in the leading role of the crazy and pissed-off opera fan.

The Amazon is called „Maranhão“ by the Indians, „which only God can unravel“ and it consists of a bizarre network of over 1100 rivers, 20 of which are longer than the Rhine. But it is only after the encuentro dos aguas, the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Branco at Manaus, that the river is called Rio Amazonas. With its catchment area of more than seven million km2 and its daily deposit of three million tons of sediment in the delta, the Amazon outranks all other rivers. One fifth of the fresh water in the world’s oceans is fed by the king of rivers. More than 30,000 species of plants, which thrive on three levels above each other, and more than 2,000 species of fish and birds live in its catchment area.

An expedition to the Amazon jungle is both a journey into an exotic world full of overwhelming flora and an encounter with a species-rich fauna – full of giant snakes, such as anacondas and phytons, anteaters, sloths, howler monkeys, piranhas, shy river dolphins, colorful parrots (macaws) or magnificent tucans as well as nimble hummingbirds. The list could, it seems, be continued almost indefinitely. But the opposite is the case. The number of species threatened with extinction is increasing dramatically. According to experts, the rainforest is irretrievably destroyed when 40 percent of its area has been destroyed. In the last 50 years, a quarter of the rainforest has already been cut down or burned – with catastrophic consequences for the climate, the environment, people and animals. The indigenous people in the rainforests had destroyed barely one percent of the rainforest over the period of the last 15,000 years. A single human generation is therefore sufficient to throw the entire ecosystem of planet Earth out of balance and humanity as such into danger.

In Brazil today there are still about one million square kilometers of Amazon rainforest, which is not protected and not zoned but also does not belong to the indigenous tribes living there (because they first have to prove their centuries-old legitimacy in lengthy processes), so that their land is not sacrificed to overexploitation and investor rapacity. Because the common principle goes as follows: Areas are illegally confiscated, burned or cleared and thus destroyed. In the years that follow, attempts are then made to legalize land grabbing in this area through lucrative cattle ranching, which, at the latest since President Bolsonaro, is a piece of cake. Land speculation is fueled by international investors. In the region, some 30 billion U.S. dollars will be spent in the next few years on road construction, electricity and infrastructure to develop and exploit the primary forest. 92 dams are planned in the Amazon region. These are devastating prospects. What a capitalist madness.

To make matters worse, Jair Bolsonaro’s government is planning to build a railroad almost 1,000 kilometers across the jungle and many indigenous protected areas. The agricultural lobby is delighted, as the Ferrogrão infrastructure project promises lower transport costs to the Atlantic in the future and thus higher profits. This fuels further clearing of virgin forest with disastrous consequences: A study by economists Juliano Assunçao, Rafael Araújo and Arthur Bragança has shown that this is likely to result in additional clearing of an area of 2050 square kilometers, equivalent to around 300,000 soccer fields. Not only would the clearing of this virgin forest produce about 75 million tons of carbon, but the increasing loss of the green lung will soon lead to the collapse of the climate and irrigation system in the entire Amazon basin.

Where there is forest now, there is a threat of cattle breeding, soy plantations and then desert. „The less contiguous rainforest there is, the less the cycle of moisture absorbed in the Amazon basin and rainfall on the slopes of the Andes works,“ confirms the renowned Amazon ecologist Lovejoy of „George Mason University“. He is also of the opinion that the „Tipping Point“, the time at which the collapse threatens, is threateningly close. The renowned „Nature Magazine“ concludes that the rainforest is already so damaged that it emits more CO2 than it absorbs. This will have a catastrophic effect on fauna and flora in all Amazon regions. The next ten years will determine whether we destroy the Amazon refuge and lose it forever. However, the prospect of turning away from deforestation and exploitation and rethinking seems minimal. A sad story resp.a true nightmare for the global climate, fauna and flora. Because:

The Amazon rainforest consumes more carbon dioxide for photosynthesis than any other area in the world. By binding moisture, tropical rainforests form the largest freshwater reserve in the world. When they no longer exist, evaporation effects increase and precipitation goes directly into the open ocean, causing drought and dryness. The reduction of forest cover increases the carbon dioxide content in the earth’s atmosphere, which in turn also fuels the greenhouse effect. Rainforests should also not be underestimated as oxygen producers. After the phytoplankton in the sea, they produce the most oxygen. On the other hand, they bind large amounts of CO2 through photosynthesis. The burning of fossil fuels and slash-and-burn agriculture exacerbate the problem.

One of the most comfortable and at the same time most exciting ways to explore this opulent natural wonder and sophisticated ecosystem is a cruise, as you can do for example with the „MS Bremen“ – the expedition ship of „Hapag-Lloyd“ Cruises or the Hanseatic, another cruise ship of the Hamburg shipping company. There the otherwise rather laborious, sweat-driving and dangerous Amazon expedition becomes the light-hearted high pleasure. Although it is a bit grotesque to go on an expedition in the Amazon basin with environmental scientists on a CO2 pollutant, I decided for once to go on this, my first and only cruise. But due to a scheduling error, the „MS Bremen“ had left the Peruvian Amazon metropolis of Iquitos – a 400,000-strong provincial town that is very poor, but has countless casinos with slot machines and gaming tables – hours ago without me. Now I stood there and tried for three days to charter a boat to follow the luxury liner.

It finally took a whole week until I finally arrived with small speed boats in Manaus, Brazil and finally caught up with the „MS-Bremen“ after 1000 km of wild boat trip through the jungle. On the adventurous boat trip a backpack was stolen from me and the border crossing from Peru to Brazil was not without its problems either. We arrived at the border in the darkest of nights. On the spot there was no hut to sleep. On the other side in Brazil there was. Two fellow travelers and I found an old man who drove us across the border river in the pitch dark and picked us up again in Brazil the next morning to take us back to Peru, since we had to make an orderly border crossing and needed an exit stamp to avoid arriving illegally in Brazil. After the operation orderly border crossing had succeeded so far and I thus six days later than planned, burned as well as at the end of my forces on board the „MS Bremen“ had arrived, I relaxed first of all on the luxury steamer and was fed truly deliciously and exotically. Not only culinary but also with exciting jungle excursions, valuable information and super lectures about the respective region, its fauna and flora – garnished with finest appetizers, fantastic buffets and high-level entertainment.

The „MS-Bremen“ offers everything an explorer’s heart desires: a 100-strong crew, perfectly attuned to each other, who always strive to fulfill the passengers‘ every wish and make them happy with small attentions. Also the cruise ship offers a large selection of possibilities for the varied organization of the days on board with most diverse individual activities. Excursions with the high-horsepower inflatable boats allow access to otherwise inaccessible regions and therefore also offer a very intense perception of all the mysterious, exotic places and encounters with fauna that can be experienced from an impressive proximity. And thanks to the scientific speakers on board, you will learn more about the ecological and economic relationships between exploitation and exploitation.

Thus the ship journey runs over a good 1700 kilometers via Pevas down to Leticia in the border triangle of Brazil, Peru and Colombia and into the realm of the drug barons and smugglers. In the upper Amazon region on the Rio Negro and Rio Tabajos, the expedition guests are guided comfortably and safely by the Zodiac’s of the mother ship into the surrounding water veins of the largest river basin in the world. Scientists accompany the excursions and explain the lush wilderness and the species-rich fauna and flora to the cruisers. Thus, the complex puzzle of biological, geological and meteorological influences slowly comes together to create a multi-faceted picture of this fantastic ecosystem.

Just after Manaus, the two great jungle rivers Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes come together. From the air it looks like two giant anacondas entwining. Only after the union of the two rivers, the encouentro das aguas, the atlas allows the official name Rio Amazonas. They leave behind numerous side arms, pools and biotopes to the left and right of the main artery. In these refuges, clouds of colorful parrots soar, kingfishers dart nimbly across the water, and howler monkeys compete in the branches of the tennis-court-sized treetops. For the jungle giants, such as the para rubber, wool, Brazil nut or kapok trees grow 40 to 60 meters high and claim most of the sunlight for themselves and for the photosynthesis that breathes their breath into the world. In the shaded floors below, palms, myrtles, laurel, cedar and the coveted mahogany trees thrive. These, in turn, provide habitats for other plants, especially all kinds of epiphytes that vegetate without roots in the soil as parasites in the barks of their fellow species.

The next stop of the „MS Bremen“ is in Paritins. Every year at the end of June, the city on the river island is transformed into a seething witches‘ cauldron for three days. That’s when the biggest Amazon party begins – a spectacle that resembles carnival. Fantastic costume creations almost as tall as a house parade through the streets: Dolphins the size of ships, giant wild boars, snakes, feathered creatures and mythical creatures can be admired during the dance and musical spectacle. In addition, feather-clad prima ballerinas and scantily clad river nymphs twist and turn in the glow of the colorful lights. Also the singers, musicians and the audience let their strong, half-naked bodies twitch ecstatically to the drum rolls and sounds of the Sertaneja music. Of course, the caipirinha (sugar cane liquor) also flows in streams and clouds of marijuana are in the air. Up to 250,000 visitors from all parts of the Amazon region flock to Paritins on dugout canoes, yachts and Amazon ships through the numerous river courses. The climax takes place in the Bumbodromo, the amphitheater set up on the riverbank especially for the show. Up to 35,000 people then rub up against each other, sweating to the point of orgiastic delirium.

After this in-depth insight into the Brazilian cultural scene, the cruise continued via Santarem to the Brazilian seaside resort of Alter do Chao on the Rio Tapajos, which offers guests a wonderful bathing excursion on the headland between the two arms of the river. As the MS Bremen departs from here at sunset, the last part of the Amazon River cruise also begins overnight, as the delta is reached and the sea is in sight. Now the ship sets sail for the high seas with the destination of French Guiana, where Europe spills into the green hell of the Amazon and the most exotic Europeans live. The crossing was calm, the sea smooth as glass and the horizon endless. For the first time I arrived in Havana on a cruise ship and passed the skyline of the Malecon and that is quite a different, sublime sight and a new form of greeting on the sugar and tobacco island. Much better than the view of the bay from the fortress opposite. Now we leave Latin America and head for Asia. Let’s see what exciting things there are to experience.

Brazil/Salvador de Bahia: In the Cauldron of Magical Slave Energy

Brasilien: Candomblé Ritual, Salvador de Bahia | Candomblé spiritual ritual
Brasilien: Candomblé Ritual in Salvador de Bahia | Candomblé spiritual ritual in Salvador de Bahia


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

During one of the first of a total of five trips to Brazil, after the Iguacu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, I also discovered Salvador de Bahia, the landing place of the Europeans and the first capital of Brazil. If you want to get to know the exotic facets of Bahian life, get ready for hot come-ons, cool rejections and delicious consolations, at least during Carnival. If you dive into the mystical world of the candoble and let yourself be overwhelmed by the overwhelming spirituality, you will leave the local world and fall into a trance to the point of ecstasy. A trip to Salvador de Bahia is like a departure to new shores. First of all, it is admirable how exhilarated the Baihanos go through life. Remarkable how they express their joy and sorrow.

The mystical world of gods and spiritual source of the Bahanos is reflected in the Candomble, which gave reason for the Christian mission, especially since Bahia was the starting point of the western explorers and conquerors. Not only the bastions along the coast testify to this. The roots of the slave tower are deeply anchored in the local culture. Especially the candomble spirituality, lived out in secret, bears witness to this. When hundreds of gospel singers resound with fervor, not only does the earth tremble, but the air in the far periphery also vibrates, as with an approaching hurricane. The psalm-singing Catholic boys‘ choir next door in the Sao Fransico monastery in the baroque old town district of Pelourinho really sounds rather pitiful.

Rarely does one discover such a playful people that has produced an incredible number of dance and musically gifted people. In Salvador de Bahia, the cradle of carnival and samba, there is no standing still or being stiff as a board. Everything is in flux, everyone is constantly on the move, more or less gracefully. Another Bahian specialty is capoeira, the martial art disguised as dance. Here, too, the graceful flowing movements are recognizable, flowing through the whole life and triggering impulses. But not only in expressing feelings also the body cult is on top of the agenda. In this the Bahianos hardly differ from the Cariocas. There is hardly an Adonis who does not present his athletically steeled body in his skimpy briefs. There is no woman who does not proudly walk around the beach in her Fio dental (tooth thread) bikini, flirting with her grace and freedom of movement. No wonder the church has sent more friars here than anywhere else in the world. In Salvador de Bahia alone, 165 houses of worship have been built.

In 2003, I was stationed in Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil for three months as a resident manager for a Swiss travel company and had a hell of a good time. Few guests, so no stress, a hotel room right on the Beira Mar (that’s like the Copacabana in Rio), and a good vehicle with which I could drive all the way to Jericoacoara to the fantastic sand dunes or south to Moro Branco. I was very attracted to the Brazilian lifestyle, music, language and cultures on previous trips, so I also learned a little Portuguese. Since I spoke Spanish well, it was easy for me to get started and I like the Brazilian dialects better than the harsh Spanish accents. I am also enchanted by the music of many Latin American sounds: from the tango in Argentina to the bossa nova of a Gilberto Gil in Brazil or the folk dance forro, as in Fortaleza, from the salsa and son in Cuba to the merengue in the Dominican Republic, all these musical styles and dance forms appeal to me very much.

In Fortaleza I lived during these three months as a Station Manager at Beira Mar, ideally located also for daily trips to the beautiful city beach Praia do futuro and at night to Praia do Iracema at the end of Beira Mar, where the tourist entertainment district with all the nightclubs was located, which was very convenient for the local tourist service. At the end of the three months, I was shipped off to Sinai, but after the six-month assignment in Sharm el Sheikh, I returned to Fortaleza unemployed because the tsunami had hit Asia and as a result all the travel companies needed fewer station managers and tour guides.

When I returned to Fortaleza, I lived for two months in the Serviluz favela with a friend who had a small brick house near Praia do Futuro and I felt quite comfortable there. Soon I knew a lot of people via Heldon and his friend Joaquin, and the neighbors in the favela also knew me, so I could move around freely there day and night. It was a comfortable time, because I had made good foreign exchange deals with the tourists in Sinai and before in Brazil. This was always a tolerable source of side income in this job. In Poland, I almost became a zloty millionaire. Then a friend from Switzerland visited me and we rented a „Highlux“, i.e. an off-roader, to drive up along the Brazilian coast from Fortaleza in the state of Céara via the states of Maranhão and Piaui to Manaus and to complete the return journey inland.

That’s a good 6000 kilometers we planned to cover in 11 days. The off-road driving was more comfortable than driving on the asphalt road, which was completely littered with holes, up to half a meter deep. The asphalt looked like it had been bombed over a wide area! Therefore, I often drove on the scree strip to the right of the roadway. There one comes basically faster ahead and whirled up strongly dust, which is to be seen already from a distance and prevents the accident danger. The journey went via Jericoacoara, with its fantastic dune landscape, which was surpassed in beauty by the crystal clear lakes in the sand dune landscapes in the next state of Maranhao. An extremely fascinating region! The deep blue Atlantic with lonely dream beaches to the left, a gigantic sand dune strip along the coast and inland the esmerad green jungle. The national parks of Jericoacoara and Lençóis Maranhenses on the Atlantic coast are unique biotopes.

I like deserts better than virgin forests. One gets on better. At least in 4×4. But even here, I would have been stranded without the help of the local fishermen, because on this trip numerous rivers had to be crossed. Except for one time it went quite well, but then we came to a river, which was shallow on our side first about 30 meters, then there was a small sand island in front of the place where the river flowed through a narrow, tearing mouth, like in a funnel. You could just make that out from 40 meters away, and it was probably the most dangerous part. „If I couldn’t cross the last ten meters after the tiny river island at full throttle,“ it would look bad, I thought.

And that’s exactly what happened. So I drove with a lot of speed through the 30 meters wide, shallow river towards the island, but got stuck there due to the slope and had too little momentum to cross the current channel with the ripping flow. and came to an abrupt stop with the engine hood stuck in the water at a 45 degree angle to three quarters. After a few hours, a couple of fishermen approached. Only thanks to a boat in the current channel that lifted the car a little and a car that pulled us back from behind with the wire rope over the shallow part of the river, we managed to get out of the river.

Another time, just as I was walking alone in the sweltering midday heat, I got stuck in deep quicksand. It took four hours, many drops of sweat and endless jerks for a few meters further. The sand was scorching hot, I shoveled like a madman for hours and didn’t think I would make it. But finally it worked out. And so the journey continued to Ilha do Maranhão, one of the largest alluvial areas in the world at the foothills of the Amazon. 800,000 buffalo populate the island, which belongs to only a few Hundert landowners who hardly employ any workers.

Where the animals pass in the dry season, a river course emerges in the rainy season. Thus, the fragile ecosystem and the thin layer of humus is destroyed in just a few years. Year after year, huge areas of virgin forest are being appropriated first for cattle breeding and then for intensive agriculture such as soy plantations. In the past 30 years, almost a quarter of the Amazon Delta has been destroyed. Yet the biodiversity here is unparalleled. In the Amazon alone there are over 2000 different fish. For comparison: In the whole of Europe there are just 150 species of fish. The same is true for all animal species, most of them are endemic.

The adventurous journey continued through the state of Piaui and from there we drove on to Manaus. Then again a good 3000 kilometers inland back to Fortaleza, where we visited the Gruta de Ubajara, Brazil’s largest caves with nine chambers and a depth of a good kilometer, at the Ubajara National Park, about 300 km west of Fortaleza. Now we come to the last and most special Brazil tripf Fortaleza.