With a horticultural career spanning four decades, Dr. Ken Beattie has become one of Canada’s most notable and approachable resources in the plant world. He has developed award-winning television programs including the documentary series, “The Earth’s Garden,” and also served as host of the live, Canadian television series, “Get Growing.” Even in his retirement, Ken continues to apply his vast and diverse experiences within initiatives of food security, education, urban habitat development and practical environmental projects as Canada’s Manager of Horticulture Education with the exceptionally distinguished Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Ken has been lecturing aboard cruise ships for more than twenty years and recently was on board Regatta as she explored the Amazon and South America. Ken shares his fascinating insights and experiences below.
The Amazon Basin, or Amazonas, is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.” I prefer “the birthplace of the clouds.” Huge pillars of candy floss-like vapor rise continuously over the murky waters of the Amazon. Early morning light paints the outer edges of long, island- like shaped clouds as if they were just dipped in gold. As the constant, almost oppressive, sun heightens in the sky, shapes, densities and colors change yet again. Clearly this must be the birthplace of all clouds. This evening, as I enjoy the endless ballet of color and the relentless sun decides to set, another show takes main stage. Soft, evening light drools over the edges of huge banks of clouds, highlighting in sharp contrast the horizon, the sea, and of course, the main body of clouds.
This orchestration of color and texture takes place daily as we sail the mighty Amazon River aboard Regatta. It is the end of the rainy or wettest season; therefore, the river can be navigated by this smaller ship. The Amazon Basin is as large as the continental U.S., boasting more than 4,000 miles of navigable waters and thousands of tributaries. The Tapajos River is the fourth largest in the world and is only one of such tributaries. Spending several days “at sea,” as it were, on these massive rivers, is delightful. The water color changes from clear to café au lait and abounds with interesting creatures.
The shoreline, often just a faint line in the distance, is predominantly submerged trees with only the very tops of these massive specimens peeking out until the dry season. Flooded homes and a battalion of boats of many shapes and descriptions dot this curious landscape. Tramping through the thick rainforest delighting at the huge selection of plants and insects may seem a tad too adventuresome for some with all the scary things that lurk in these parts. However, remember that once aboard Regatta, you are pampered like royalty and will get to sleep in your stateroom, not a tent in the jungle — not exactly the intrepid explorer!
The entire voyage was 21 days, starting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and ending in Miami, Florida. Evidence of the upcoming World Cup was evident in construction and a general fervor of anticipation in Rio, Salvador, Fortaleza and the inland city of Manaus. Contrasts were everywhere, from architecture representing both old and new world, to subsistence agriculture, to full scale devastation of the rainforest to grow soya beans.
The plants of the many regions on this expedition were the absolute highlight for me. Enormous trees festooned with entire ecosystems on their branches, insect homes and buttressed roots the size of a compact car. Curious sounds in the forest kept everyone alert and watchful, but as it turns out, the wildlife are very cunning and excellent at camouflage — with the exception of the ants. The largest biomass in this rainforest is ants, and it is not that hard to believe when you see them. One species is used by local indigenous peoples as insect repellant. The smallest ants ever basically “rain” out of a disturbed nest to be squashed and applied to the skin. Thankfully, these ants don’t bite like so many of their cousins.
Brazil nut trees reign as the tallest trees, holding their lofty canopy well above 30 meters. These trees are protected by law, so are often seen standing in the middle of a newly created field which is sown to the pervasive soya bean. As regal and statuesque as they are, they appear to be sad to be the only species left after modern day agricultural devastation.
The rubber trees, which played a huge role in Brazil’s economic development, are still evident, easily recognizable from the wounds inflicted from endless tapping for their precious latex. Noble and sturdy, these “workhorses of the forest” play a crucial role in the ecosystem, particularly as a food source for certain fish. As the seed pods mature and fall into the river they make a sound that attracts a huge fish. This fish has teeth that resemble the molars of a sheep and massive jaw muscles. Once the buoyant seed pod is in the water, the fish snaps its jaws around the pod, cracking it open and creating an almost gunshot sound.
As we sail out of this enormous river towards the Caribbean, even more sunsets and luscious forests await — many rich in myth, folklore and swashbuckling.
Ken will be on board with us again this fall, and invites you to join him aboard Nautica’s Footsteps of Discovery voyage, departing October 4, 2015 and Marvels of Time voyage, departing October 25, 2015.