Paul’s Amazon Legacy
Last year I went to a memorial for my dear friend Paul Sullivan who had sadly passed away just before his 76th birthday. He was a regular visitor to Glossop, always staying at the Wind in the Willows hotel which he used to joke was his second home. I met Paul over twenty years ago in Cornwall through my old school friend Julie who worked with him at Falmouth Marina and we all bonded over a passion to see as much of the world as we possibly could. In this Paul had a big start on us as he’d already seen a great deal, both through sailing his boat, which we later regularly joined him on, and through many winter trips to exotic climes that we also sometimes managed. He had many friends all over the world and they became our friends too. He knew people from Polynesia to Malaysia and Singapore; the Ukraine to Italy and France where he kept his boat; South Africa, America, Australia; Oman and The Emirates where he worked. When he knew he was ill he said that he’d had a good life and seen all the places he’d ever wanted to. If he went back anywhere he said it would be the Brazilian Amazon because he’d love to show it to us. Sadly time didn’t allow him to, but Julie and I decided that we would do the trip ourselves for his birthday the following year as our own personal celebration of his life.
We landed in Rio de Janeiro on the actual day and a driver whisked us straight to the Copacabana Palace, Rio’s iconic hotel, where we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted his adventurous spirit in a style he would approve of at a hotel he knew. After a mad few days of exploring the city – Sugar Loaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer Statue, Copacabana Beach - we walked to Ipanema singing the old song, which was a favourite of his. Then we boarded a local airline, to visit the Pantanal Wetlands.
Paul loved animals. He kept parrots and as we watched the bright wild ones burrowing beneath the huge nests of proud storks we thought of him. When we had caimans, which he often went in search of, ambling beside our truck and saw the capybaras – the world’s largest rodents and the ibis and toucans we imagined his delight.
Seeing the Amazon city of Manaus from the air, it was hard to believe that this huge sprawling conurbation was once thick jungle. Built in the 19th century by Rubber Barons, no expense was spared. We toured the Teatro Amazonas, the beautiful, exquisite opera house with a local English teacher who explained that everything, including the chandeliers and velvet seats had been brought up the river by boats. He told us stories that echoed Paul’s: of past and present performances by famous artists like Sarah Bernhardt and Enrico Caruso and lately, Madonna and Sting. Then it was time to board a riverboat and explore beyond the city to the land we had heard so much about from our friend and mentor.
Our first wildlife encounter was a swim with the playful pink dolphins. The river here was so wide that it was hard to believe it wasn’t the sea. The boat took us on past sandy beaches and through the humid rainforest to the remarkable meeting of the waters. The yellowish Solimoes rushes into the calm, dark Rio Negro and the two rivers travel alongside each other for several miles before they mingle to form The Amazon. The metre-wide water-lilies weren’t in flower but I could imagine the river turning into an astonishing meadow because they were so closely packed. Later, watching an Amazon Indian tribe put on a traditional dance for us we reflected that tourism had bought many changes to the area since Paul’s original trips. The animals had retreated deeper into the forest and it needed a longer time than we had available to really get amongst them and have the experiences Paul had relished in the past. It made us almost glad he hadn’t made it back with us – he would have been sad to see how much it had changed.
After flying back to Rio we took a local bus to the pretty pastel-coloured UNESCO town of Paraty. There we could wander the historic cobbled streets and take boats out to the small islands with friendly beach shacks where we toasted Paul once more in the sort of chilled-out place he loved best, and thanked him for one last adventure in his name.