Tuesday, February 27, 2007

4 (llooooooooooong) days

I just reached Belem, after taking a boat down the Amazon for 4 (llooooooooooong)days and nights...I enjoyed quite pleasant days of swinging in a hammock in the balmy Amazonian breeze.

I left Manaus too quickly (the same morning I arrived!) because I met other travelers heading down the Amazon by boat like my own plans who told me that after Friday the next boat was the following Wednesday. So, while I would have liked to have spent more time in Manaus, 6 days would have been too much and would have interfered with my onward plans in the scarce days I have left in Brazil. At least I saw Manaus' opera house which I wanted to see with my own eyes after seeing Werner Herzog's film, Fitzcarraldo!

For the trip, I bought a hammock near the harbor and hung mine amongst several dozen others. We boarded early enough to secure (what we thought was) a good spot -- away from the engine noise and bathrooms. Little did we know that the meal tables were on a panel along our side of the boat and close enough so that when breakfast began at 6:30am, we were in prime traffic and assured to get inadvertently bashed by stumbling or rushing diners. Sometimes the boat was so crowded, at times with 3 hammocks top to bottom in one space -- though most people, including in "our crew", were too good-natured and sleepy to mind!

We saw the confluence of the waters, when the Rio Negro on which Manaus is situated meets the upper Amazon river (called Solimoes in Brazil), a dawdling co-mingling of the brown black Rio Negro with the yellow brown Solimoes, a metaphor for the people of Brazil. Though it is summer here in the southern hemisphere and it is the rainy season in Amazonia, most nights were quite chilly.

Running water (toilets, sinks and showers) were river water... Though unappealing in appearance, the coldish showers felt divine after sunny, humid days though I have to admit at times I washed my face with bottled water. Because the bathrooms were also showers, they were clean enough.

Meal times were like prison feedings, we lined up for the bland but filling grub, the same everyday (meat and rice and beans and pasta), and we were required to eat as quickly as possible in site of the waiting diners because the food platters would be quickly whisked away. We didn't bother with breakfast after the first morning, because it was a flimsy white bun with butter/margarine and sugary milk in which the taste of coffee I could not detect.

One of our merchant marinesmen we joked loved his job (we never saw him smile once), I noticed discarded food remains from peoples' plates directly into the river. When I noticed another merchant marineswoman placing the leftover food onto a plate and taking it into the kitchen and a stew was served the next day, I ceased eating ship meals, which was no problem because of the many vendors at every port. At least half of "our crew" (fellow foreign travelers who spent the 4 days together), including myself, is now inflicted by GI problems.

Because much of the Amazon is quite wide, the chance of seeing wildlife along the way is almost nil, but some people spotted pink dolphins while in one of the smaller ports.

On board, we laughed and chatted with a bunch of people, including commuting Amazonians and fellow tourist travelers. When we couldn't communicate well with other Brazilians (because Spanish is not always a sufficient replacement for Portuguese) we used charades, and when that didn't work we just laughed more. My enjoyment of the people of Brazil continues with the warmth and friendliness I saw and experienced, including one grandfatherly man who was just happy to buy the kids ice cream whenever we were in port.

Other than travelers, the main cargo (and unofficial free snack) was Brazil nuts. Because the ones handed by a friendly Brazilian sharing the booty were the ones retrieved from the ground of the dock and because shelling the nuts without a nutcracker requires using ones teeth, I didn't sample the free snacks myself, but other travelers helped themselves to entire bowlfuls!

The last day felt particularly long, because we had heard conflicting accounts of the length of time of the journey, so some of us were expecting to arrive yesterday. And yet by that time to pass the 4 days on a hammock going down the Amazon I had perfected the art of doing nothing.

ALL THESE PHOTOS ARE POSTED HERE WITH MY GRATITUDE TO THE AUTHOR OF THESE PHOTOS, SEREF P.! GREAT PHOTOS AND THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR GIVING ME SOMETHING BY WHICH TO REMEMBER THIS TIME!!

Hammock "class":


Prison feeding:


River life:


Vendor on the water:


Sunset on the Amazon River:


THANKS AGAIN, SEREF, YOUR PHOTOS ARE WONDERFUL!

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