What I did on my winter vacation: The DeWines’ trip to the Amazon

My husband, Mike, and I had an extraordinary opportunity to tour the Amazon during December. We were reading Candice Millard’s “River of Doubt” during the trip, which is the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s life-threatening journey by land from the top of the Amazon. Meanwhile, we were enjoying the comforts of home on a cruise ship starting at the mouth of the Amazon and traveling halfway up the river. Quite a contrast.

Even in the Amazon, we ran into people who had a connection to Hanover. Because Mike and I wore Hanover gear almost every day we became known on the ship as “those folks from Hanover College.” We actually met five couples with some connection to Hanover: a best friend in high school attended Hanover, a son’s girlfriend attended Hanover, Hoosiers who know Hanover well, etc.

From small huts along the tributaries of the Amazon where we fished for piranhas (see Mike’s catch photo) to elegant homes on the hillsides of Barbados, we experienced extremes in landscapes, cultures and people.

Mike and I enjoyed the small villages along the Amazon more than the two large cities. In those small villages, we met local inhabitants, some of whom lived in huts along the river with no running water and no electricity. However, they did have satellite black and white TVs to watch Brazil’s two obsessions: soccer and soap operas. Shops and schools close on big soccer days.

While parts of this vast country may seem underdeveloped, Mike and I were very interested to understand the importance they place on education by providing a free education for students beyond high school including professional schools (medicine, law, etc.).

The muddy water of the Amazon is filled with so much silt that during our eight days on the Amazon, the ship could not filter water for use on the ship so water was limited to only what the ship carried. That muddy water meets the black water of the Rio Tapajos and the Rio Negro, and the two water sources travel many miles without mixing. This is called the “Meeting of the Waters” and you can see the black and brown rivers running along side of each other for some distance.

Our favorite Amazon villages were Santarem, Boca De Valeria and Parintins because of their local culture, the friendliness of the people and the beautiful settings. At Parintins, we watched portions of a famous festival, staged just for our ship. During the summer, when the entire festival takes place, 30,000 people travel from all up and down the river to attend. There are few hotels in this small town so visitors stay in their boats sleeping in hammocks (which is the most common way people in this region sleep).  It is a cross between Mardi Gras, Ziegfeld Follies and Cirque du Soleil.

We visited a number of Caribbean islands on the way to and from the Amazon but our favorite was BeQuia, a small island well known for its shipbuilders, both big and small. We watched one craftsman working and purchased one of his small boats. We also found Devil’s Island in French Guiana to be one of the most beautiful spots in the Caribbean (however, I am sure Papillon was not as impressed given he could never leave it) and, of course, Barbados, which is home to the rich and famous.

We traveled 6,778 miles by ship, had 13 ports of call, crossed the Equator twice and helped consume 16,000 gallons of water a day, to say nothing of the four-course meals we ate.

We learned two Portuguese phrases:

“Obrigado”- Thank you.
“Quanto e?”- How much is it?

While we learned much more about the rich culture of Brazil, at the same time we were eager to get back to the comforts of home.

Hanover students also have extraordinary experiences like this during the May term when they can travel the world with faculty members as they study a wide variety of topics. Every prospective college student should think about how to work into their college experience study in another country. What is unique to Hanover is that we actually have some outstanding funding opportunities to help you pay for the trip. Check out our Global Scholars program.

Hope to see you at Hanover!

Sue DeWine

2 comments Add yours
  1. I read “River of Doubt” a few years ago and thought it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I have recommended this book to many friends and colleagues. Your trip sounds amazing. It seemed as though your experiences linked personal connections which speaks to our shrinking world through the voice and touch of others. I would like to hear more about your trip in future blogs. Thank you for sharing this amazing adventure.

    1. Thanks for reading my blogg! You never know if anyone out there is reading them. We read “River of Doubt” while we were on the trip and it certainly made the trip more historic for us!

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