In sweltering Amazon, Santa swaps his sled for boat | Inquirer News
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In sweltering Amazon, Santa swaps his sled for boat

/ 05:20 AM December 21, 2021

A member of the “Amigos do Papai Noel” group, wearing a Santa Claus costume, arrives to Sao Francisco community at Careiro da Varzea, Brazil, a city on the shores of the Amazon River, to give presents to the children, on December 18, 2021.  AFP

MANAUS—In the heart of Brazil’s steaming-hot Amazon region, a sled would be of little use to Father Christmas.

Instead, perched on the prow of a rumbling boat, Santa waves cheerily to the excited children who wait for him at the edge of the Solimoes River.

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His red-and-white costume stands in sharp contrast to the emerald green tones of the world’s largest tropical forest and the muddy brown waters of the river, which feeds into the mighty Amazon.

“Merry Christmas!” Santa cries, vigorously ringing a bell as the boat approaches the town of Parana da Terra Nova, some 24 kilometers away from Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon.

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As part of a seasonal initiative by the nonprofit group Friends of Father Christmas, he travels to impoverished communities of “Ribeirinhos,” families living along the river.

When he finally sets foot ashore after a three-hour journey, this not-your-average-Santa does what Santas do everywhere, opening his arms to greet the giddy children who run up to meet him.

“You can’t change the world, but you can make children smile at Christmastime,” he said.

(Don’t tell the children, but this Santa’s real name is Jorge Alberto. He is 57 years old and his beard, sad to say, is fake.)

He admits there’s nothing really jolly about having to wear the heavy plush outfit in the sweltering Amazon heat, and bringing presents to kids in the most remote regions is no cakewalk.

He also has to borrow a small boat to get into one narrow branch of the river, and he walks with trepidation across a rough-hewn wooden footbridge that inspires little confidence.

But when the Amazonian Santa arrives at his destination, the payoff is huge: the ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of children who are able, for a moment, to forget the harsh realities of life in a poverty-stricken, COVID-19-scarred region.

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