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An Amazon cruise with surprises.

In the summer of 1991, I started working as a hotel director for the Seabourn cruise line.

The Norwegian private shipowner Atle Bryndestad had the Seabourn Pride and the Seabourn Spirit built in 1987 and 1988 at the Seebeck shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany. Actually, they were two oversized yachts. 210 passengers and 180 crew, that's a ratio that remains unmatched to this day. The service on board was accordingly.


The concept was completely novel at the time. Because of the size of the ships, it was purely a niche product. It was possible to get to destinations where the larger cruise ships could not go.

Also completely new was the so-called Fold-Out Marina. At the stern of the ship, a flap could be lowered. Attached to it was a kind of swimming pool platform with a steel mesh basket under water.

This allowed us to head for secluded bays, extend the marina and offer guests pedal boats, kayaks, surfboards and water skiing.


Our Amazon voyage began in the southern Caribbean, in Bridgetown, Barbados. There the stores were replenished and our well-heeled elderly and almost exclusively U.S. guests boarded the ship at 4:00 pm.

In the port of Bridgetown, Barbados at the end of November 1991.

In my office on the Seabourn Spirit.


For your orientation.

After two days at sea, we reached Ile Royale in French Guiana.

From there we were offered a half-day excursion to Ile du Diable, the Devil's Island.

I had read the book 'Papillon' many years before and had also seen the movie of the same name with Dustin Hoffman and Steve MacQueen. For me, it was an uplifting feeling to set foot on this ground steeped in history.

French Guiana and the surrounding islands were a penal colony for professional and serious criminals from 1852. The French deputy Alfred Dreyfuss was also exiled there.

On the way to Ile Royale with staff.

The former prison complex.

The decayed cell tract.

In the single cell wing.

Single cell.

The former home of Alfred Dreyfuss.


After another day at sea, the real Amazon adventure began. First you recognize by the yellow water that you are approaching the 200 km wide estuary of the Amazon. Then you sail another 24 hours until you discover the first land.

Our next destination was actually Sanarem, Brazil.

The ship's schedule in the Amazon must be very flexible, because it always depends on the water level. During our trip, the water level was very low because the rainy season brought little water. In addition, one must always consider the tidal difference.

After the estuary, some Brazilian people came on board. Among them was the Minister of Tourism for Amazonia, who gave explanations over the outside loudspeakers from the bridge during the trip. Two Amazon pilots, who were present on the bridge 24 hours a day in shifts, helped the captain navigate in these unfamiliar waters. Also on board was a rather shaggy gentleman named Reto Calderari, who was to give lectures to our guests and accompany them on shore excursions.

Reto Calderari taking a nap on one of the excursion boats.

I invited Reto to dinner at my table that same evening. His life story was remarkable. Reto came from Disentis, Graubünden, Switzerland. In the 1960s, he left his parents' poor mountain farm because his older brother was to inherit the farm. He traveled to Marseille, France. There he signed on with a cargo ship bound for Venezuela. Through the years, Reto became an Amazon expert. He made headlines when he proved to the very arrogant National Geographic Society that the previously believed source of the Amazon was simply not true.

Later, as a trained diver, he was the guide for Jaques Cousteau when he explored the Amazon.

For our guests and for me this man was most interesting and his lectures were sensational. Not bad for a farmer boy from the back hole in the Swiss Alps.


To reach Manaus on the straight way on the Amazon, already reached larger cruise ships have done so before us. But we always wanted to offer something better. The pilot recommended the captain to dare the Breves Narrows at the lower reaches of the Amazon. No cruise ship had ever done this before. This is a half-day detour via a small side river.

Small settlements along the Breves Narrows.

Welcome in Breves Village.

This detour had been well worth it. From time to time it was so narrow that you thought you could almost touch the rainforest.


Continue to Santarem, Brazil.

From here, the Amazon Riverboats depart for tourists and as a means of transportation for locals.

We had an overnight in Sanatrem.


The next afternoon we left for Alter do Chao, Brazil. On the way, our little ship got stuck on a sandbank for the first time. We had to wait 4 hours for the tide to come in. That is just part of the Amazon.

The next morning we reached Alter do Chao.

A beach in the middle of the rainforest and a beach day for our passengers. Almost no one dared to go into the water because of the piranhas.


In the evening we sailed. The next destination was Boca de Valeria, Brazil.

The following afternoon, the captain informed me that we would have to anchor for a few hours in the afternoon as we had to wait for the tide to come in. I asked him to open the marina so the guests could pass the time.

The young chief engineer was driving the 120 hp Zodiak inflatable boat that we used for water skiing. He called me at the office to ask if I would like to go for a spin with him. I was known as a pretty good monoski rider. I thought to myself, cool, surely no Bregenezrwälder has done that yet. I was already thinking about the piranhas, so I started from the swimming pool ramp. As my arms started to get tired, I slowly had to figure out how to get back to the ramp without going into the water.

In this picture you can see me letting go of the line at the last moment. The speed drove me even so to the ramp and in the last moment I caught the saving ladder at the swimming pool.

The Pink Dolphins in the Amazon.


The following morning we reached Boca de Valeria.

A difficult tender operation with very little water. (The lifeboats used when at anchor are called tenders).

Again, we had run aground on a sandbank and had to wait out the tide.


At noon we continued our journey in the direction of Manaus.

In the evening at the bar with guests.


The following afternoon we reached the Rio Negro estuary.

The wedding of the waters.

The pitch black Rio Negro appears black because of its high content of humic and fulvic acids. At its mouth it fights with the Amazon for kilometers until finally the mighty Amazon swallows the black water.


Still in Florida I got the video of Werner Herzog's movie 'Fitzcarraldo', which explains very well why the rubber barons built an opera house in the middle of the jungle in 1896. The movie was on TV on our ship in the afternoon before we reached Manaus. To my great astonishment, hardly any of the guests knew either the subject matter or the film.

The port of Manaus.

In the port area.

We stayed overnight in Manaus.

The Teatro Amazonas - the opera house.

The next morning, the Minister of Tourism wanted a meeting with the captain and with me. He suggested to sail up the Rio Negro to Anavilhanas in the early afternoon.

There one would have to anchor and there would be a nice beach. After dark, passengers could take small boats into the jungle and you could look at caimans (crocodiles).

I then called or Sous Chef and Restaurant Manager to the meeting as well and we agreed on the following: We were going to have a fine BBQ on the beach that evening, but Seabourn style. The Tourism Minister assured us that he would provide the buffet tables and an open grill. He also recommended lighting a large fire as the mosquito infestation was a problem in the Amazon area. We decided to move our Pool furniture to the beach with our table linens, china, silverware and glasses.

Unfortunately our Executive Chef left us that day. He was probably one of the best cooks, I have met in my life. We had an incredibly high food standard at that time. But nobody In the galley could live up to the expectations of the Executive Chef. At the end he worked literally 24 hours a day, because also the baker was not good enough for him. The situation turned very bad and at the end, we had to let him go. It shows, that the best cook is not automatically the best Executive Chef.


On the way to Anavilhanas.

When we arrived in Anavilhanas in the afternoon, the preparations had already been made. The locals had still procured local fish and it became a BBQ as only we could do.

After that we went with the small boats into the jungle. I was also allowed to go with them. The night was pitch black. You could only hear the sounds of the jungle. There were two locals on the boat. One steered the boat behind and one made out the caimans with the flashlight beam. All of a sudden two red eyes could be seen. A small animal of about one meter was even brought into the boat to pet it. That was an unforgettable night.


The next destination is Parintins, Brazil.

On the way to Parintins.

Arrival in Parintins.

Nice welcome at the pier.

We spent the night in Parintins. The city is known for the best carnival in Amazonia, the so-called Boi Bumba Festival. For our guests, this festival was already moved forward to December.


The next destination was Monte Dourado on the Rio Jari, Brazil.

The Jari Project, which gained sad notoriety.

This project was run by North American billionaire Daniel K. Ludwig in the 1970s. He bought 16,000 square kilometers of virgin forest land in Brazil on the Jari River in 1967. Parallel to these activities, the operating company began to plant eucalyptus, as these were fast-growing trees and a quick profit was expected. The first trees took only seven years to grow and could practically be processed in the eighth year. Enthused by these results, a primeval forest area the size of Belgium was cleared and planted with eucalyptus. Even today, visitors can see the ecological consequences of this overexploitation in the large forest area. The soil became unusable in a short time (after 2-3 harvests), and the land karstified.

With staff on the way to a waterfall where our guests needed a refreshment stop.

To the left our Chief Purser Christina and our Cruise Director Trevor.


The last destination and end of the trip is Belem, Brazil.

We had an overnight in Belem.


The boss looks a bit tired and has to prepare for the next trip.


The next cruise then went to the end of the world, to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. But that's another story. If you want to travel the Amazon in luxury, the only option is a cruise ship. Otherwise, you're backpacking and hammocking on the riverboats - also nice but different.

At the time, Seabourn set new standards in the ultra-luxury segment of the cruise industry

and was a product of the finest quality.

A promotional video of the cruise line Seabourn from 2011.


I highly recommend the films Papillon and Fitzcarraldo.


A rather sad story at the end. After I returned home in the spring, I rummaged through the accumulated piles of mail. Among them was a letter from Disentis, Switzerland. The brother Reto had died in the meantime and my business card had been found in his wallet, wrote his brother, the farmer.


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All my blog posts are free of charge. But I would be very happy about a visit in my little bar in Egg, Großdorf.

Klaus Riezler.

My little Bar in Austria in a basement from 1685.



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2 commentaires

Excellent writing, so evocative, and full of fascinating facts. Than you!


Enjoyed this Seabourn Cruise Line blog. I worked as Chief Purser on board Seabourn Pride in 1989

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