Amazon Flooding – High Times (06.03.14)
We at Nomadic Thoughts are very aware that if you arrange holidays to destinations across the world, an accurate understanding of the planet’s weather patterns is essential. The difficulty these days is that so many traditional weather patterns are altering, so planning holidays can be fraught with second guessing and danger. So much so that we detail an introduction ‘when to go where’ weather guide page on our website.
While it is well known that deserts, mountains, tropical seas and remote islands can vary in weather predictability, it is less obvious that many of the world’s river systems also require detailed attention when planning a trip. For example, cruising down the Nile in winter (Nov-Feb) can result in prohibitively cold on-deck experiences during twilight hours. A flooding River Ganges (June-Oct) severely hampers any movement around Bangladesh, and the Okavango River, flowing from the Angolan Highlands, transforms the Kalahari Desert into a Garden of Eden as circa 11 cubic kms of water flood the 250km by 150km Okavango Delta (March-June).
So it is that at this time of the year we begin to get excited as the water levels rise in the mother of all rivers – The Amazon. It is a rise that has to be seen to be believed, with the peak of the flood season (June/July) witnessing parts of the river stretch to 32km wide. Run-off from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and the Amazon Massive (fed by over 200 tributaries) causes the 6,400 kms of the Amazon River to carry more water than any other river in the world. Singlehandedly, it deposits 25% of all the fresh water flowing into the world’s oceans.
The build-up of seasonal Eastern Andes rainfall culminates in swollen river banks flooding across huge areas of Amazon Massive, with low-lying flood plain regions transformed from dry sun-baked mud flats into fast-rising swamps, ponds and oxbow lakes. These soon give way to a Noah’s Ark style of flood as the water level rises anything up to 20 metres. This is my favourite time. I love not only the Amazon’s peak water period for its explosion in colour, noise and feeling of tranquillity, but also for the easy way in which one can navigate areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
I highly recommend you visit at this time of the year.
Silently travelling by canoe or small boat, you can spend days exploring flooded forest areas with the same mobility as the abundance of invading aquatic wildlife below the water surface. The rise in water level also brings the canopy of the rain forest closer, which in turn allows many tree species to disperse their seeds further afield. Herbivorous fish move through the flooded jungle like stealth bombers gorging on fallen fruit and seeds.
Navigating these waters you soon appreciate that plants as well as animals have to be adaptable. In some cases understory plants and shrubs can thrive underwater from between 6-10 months. Many ground dwellers, however, migrate to higher elevation levels of the jungle.
Whether staying in one of the many excitingly located lodges, or travelling and sleeping out in the jungle itself, one’s sense of awareness heightens with every hour. Indeed even after one or two days I always feel as if I have achieved a new level of sensory appreciation. It’s a delight to be able to spot and hear wildlife that would otherwise have been part of the general green jungle blur.
Even underwater, where, with the aid of local guides, you can appreciate the activity of some of the 3,000 species of fish as much as the underwater flora and fauna – from plankton feeders to sharp toothed piranha (which are predominantly vegetarian and twice as scared of you as you are of them), the Amazon maximum flood season is a delight.
In addition, humidity levels are down, the jungle waters are beautifully cool for swimming and the opportunity to see a thousand red caiman eyes shining out of the dark warm night is greater than at any other time of the year.