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Slow travelling along the Amazon

I say goodbye to Colombia from a 2 decker boat that will bring us to Manaus along the Amazon river. It will take me 3 days to reach this 2 millions people city situated at the heart of the jungle in Brazil.
The immigration check has to be done before hoping in the boat. This is an easy way for drug dealers to introduce cocaine in Brazil from Perou or Colombia, so the police and militars are present in numbers to open each and every bag. When the soldier, a really handsome young boy, open my bag, it expand to 2 times its size. “I've many things” I say a bit embarrassed. He smiles and takes everything out, open every pocket, it takes 15minutes to complete the check. And now we have to fit everything again, it's all in a mess on the table... He has big muscular arms but it takes 5 min pressing and pushing on the bag to zip it again. I really need to throw more stuff...
Once passed the thorough check, we run to the boat to hang our hammock. It's first come first serve and there are few good slots. I will travel with a small group of people I met in the hostel in Leticia. There are Gael, my french jungle mate, Lex, a flegmatic english guy, Benoit, another french guy travelling for more than a year already, and Mary a young kiwi girl. We are the first to arrive on board and we manage to get a good place in the middle of the upper deck. Two french guys join us, they are engineer students from Grenoble and will add 2 more french people to the group... Hundreds of Colombians get on board after us and fill up the 2 decks with colorful hammocks.

Life on board is punctuated by the 3 meals, a unique menu every day: overcooked spaghetti, chicken, white rice, black beans stew, and farofa (a typical crusty flour bacon flavoured used to sparkle on your plate). We pass time chatting with people, playing cards, watching beautiful sunsets and landscapes along the river that is getting wider and wider. From 1,5km in Leticia, the amazon will reach 18km wide in Manaus and up to 300km at its delta in Belem.

I now master the art of sleeping in a hammock after 4 sleepless nights in the jungle, I was so exhausted that I couldn't do anything but sleep. The trick is to place yourself in diagonal in order to lay as flat as possible. Great! Now I can sleep anywhere, it's a good skill to have as a traveller...
We arrive in Manaus early on saturday morning. This city is of a decaying beauty, we can now only guess of its past colonial prestige. Rubber trade had made its glory but it's now only a tax-free heaven for electronics. We have to wait until next wednesday to get the next boat to Belem, the final destination of our Amazon journey.

I don't know how, but the boys manage to get us very cheap tickets (110 Reals=40Eur) instead of the official 190R$. But we cannot get on the boat by the “official” door on the port. Then we all squeeze in a small truck driven by an “official” ticket seller and cross the dock to get on board. Once there, we have to convert our tickets in real ones, but the captain refuses when he sees such a low price. We spend 2 hours discussing and finally call our reseller. He is very surprisingly professional and comes to fix the problem with a few words. I wonder how he managed it, but anyway... It's 2pm when we finally get our “real” ticket, we now have to get food, there is no lunch on board for today. Confident with our new "real" ticket, we get out of the port to buy some things at the market. But once we try to get back in, we face a stupid security agent who tells us this ticket is not valid. What the hell with brazilian boat tickets!! We cannot cross the port with that. We can't understand why. It's 2:40pm, our boat leaves at 3pm. Panic. The agent point to us the extremity of the dock, 1km away, and says “Lancha, Lancha”. That's all we understand of his portuguese actually. It means “small canoe”. We try to negociate our way through but he's inflexible. Damn it! Pissed off, we run with our 2kg bananas and 6 liters of water to the east end of the port. We have to pay 8R$ to get a lancha and reach our boat from the sea. We never understood why we couldn't cross the port door with our "real" boat ticket...

This boat is even more packed with people than the previous one, I've only 50cm to place my hammock, we are literally like sardines. It's bad luck today there is only one boat instead of the 2 daily. I'll sleep 4 nights with the toe of my bresilian neighboor in my ear, the knee of Lex in my stomach and the feets squeezed between the heads of 2 drunken women (they drink to be able to sleep they told me...)... The relaxing space is very limited, the facilities are in poor shape (beside the nice view thru the porthole in the toilets...). A screaming TV, playing brazilian concerts repeatedly, is the only entertainment on board. It's playing "Forro", the local bad quality dance music. At first, we cannot stand it (especially this loud until 11pm...) but after 4 days of constant repetition, we all sing in chorus "Ice ice ice ice ice..." with Calypso, the more than sexy singer. A middle age woman, trying to be sexy with her 20kg extra, dance alone all day by the shouting TV. It's very amusing...

The cruise is punctuated by several stops in small fishing villages to load and unload passengers and marchandises. We are happy to get down for a few minutes and walk a bit along the wooden houses built on piles. It's also a good opportunity to buy some food, we are more than tired of the inchanging regime of spaghetti, rice and chicken.
The landscape is changing day by day. We appreciate the beautiful shades of grey and blue of the sky, underlined by the green vegetation and the brown color of the water. A mid-way, Rio Negro (Black River) meets the Amazon and, because of some temperature difference, the two rivers don't mix for a while. It creates beautiful layers of black and brown that make me think of a chocolate cake... Maybe it's the side effect of the spaghetti overdose...

We stop in another fishermen village, I take my camera and go to take some nice shots of the wooden houses. We won't stop long, 15 min, but the boat will horn to warn us before it leaves. I'm confident I'll hear it. But...I don't...and when I reach the jetty, it's already 2m off. I scream: "Hey! Hey! Wait!" and wave like a poor castaway. People see me and warn the captain but he doesn't stop, continuing his way rapidly off the port. Oups!!
People on the waterfront shout but it's of no help. A man tells me to follow him, I obey, no choice now, thinking to myself  "How stupid! How stupid!". We go and get a small motorized canoe to catch the big boat. The man is very calm, even a bit too calm for me as he slowly call a guy to hands him the keys of the canoe, then go and buy gasoline, then takes 2 long minutes to start off the engine. By the time we start, the boat is already 2km away (see photo.. :)). Thanksfully it seems to slow down now. We go at maximum speed to catch it up. Getting closer.
All the passengers are at the back waving and shouting at me. I'm now the star of the boat for sure...
I climb on board, the captain is here, and shout at me as a "welcome back". I can't understand what he says.. Whatever. I murmur a "Disculpa.." (Sorry) and he leaves, angry, back to his cabin. All the passengers then come and tease me for the next 2 hours.. I feel really stupid but I laugh with them, after all it was not a big deal.
At the next stop, I don't know why, but everybody fordib me to leave the boat. Ok, ok, fair enough... :)

On the 5th day, suddenly a long line of skyscrappers appears at the horizon, it's Belem.
That's the end of our 9 days journey along the Amazon river. And we feel already nostalgic to return to burstling, fast and modern life...


Oxymoron. said...

It certainly sounds like an adventure!

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About me

About me

Travelling to learn, learning to travel.