Brazil: Hammock Hell
We got back from our jungle trip on Tuesday afternoon and there was a boat leaving for Manaus on Wednesday, so we had the task of going to buy a hammock and some junk food to tide us over for our 4 day journey. Once you buy your boat ticket, you can start staying on the boat for free, so instead of going to a hostal we just decided to go sleep on the boat. There were a couple of Aussies and Brits already there, so that made it easier to keep an eye on all of our luggage. We strung up our hammocks and enjoyed our first night of hammock sleeping. We´d heard that the boats got pretty crowded, so we put some thought into the location of our hammocks…away from the bathrooms, and away from the stairwells and near a tv. Little did we know, our efforts we completely pointless because the following morning we left to go do some interneting and get some lunch and when we came back to the boat, it was full on craziness!! Regarding Amazon boat travel, our travel bible says ¨Distances are great, always slow & crowded, often wet & smelly, sometimes dull & never comfortable – but it´s the way to travel the rivers.¨ I must say, they nailed it! Crowded is a word I now have a new and appreciated definition for. There were hammocks being strung every where, and in every which way with multiple layers. It was like a spider web. When we went back to our little nest, we found we had a LOT of new neighbors.. As it approached departure time, hammocks started being hung two-high, like bunk beds. It was a tad bit frightening and very entertaining to watch as we laid in our hammocks and tried our best to look big so that we could claim a few more inches to ourselves. See pictures to understand what I´m talking about. We finally left the port around 2pm and I waved goodbye to my Colombia. The first 24 hours were rough. We stopped about every 10 miles, or so it seemed, and the first few times we stopped, more and more people kept getting on. After dinner the first night, we came back to our nook to discover that on Lani´s side, a family of about 12 had moved in, right on top of her. It seemed she was going to be getting cozy with a couple of kids that night. What was even better, was that Lani and I scored the crappiest hammock on the boat award! When we set off to buy our hammocks we had a discussion about it and we agreed that we wouldn´t go with the cheapest and that we´d shop around. I´m not sure what happened, but we walked out of the very first stall where we saw hammocks having spent a whopping $7 each on our hammocks. So, when it came time to bunker down for the night, our options were to either sleep in a V or in the fetal position. The first night of ¨sleep¨ was interrupted with the lights being turned on all the time and at some point there was some sort of inspection where a police officer woke me up with a flashlight asking for my documentation…so about 6am, I gave up and just decided to get up.
You know in the movies like Titanic and Far & Away the poor people always had to travel down in the trenches of the boat in the areas reserved for the lowlifes…well that was us. But most everyone on the boat was a lowlife because there were only about 10 cabins and the rest of us were piled into the 2 hammock decks. There were at least 3 times as many people as life vests, so we were happy that in the movies anyway, it´s ¨women and children first!!¨ My initial thought was that I was going to be miserable by day 4 and dying to get off, but it turned out that by Saturday we were sad to have to leave.
The schedule on the boat was kind of like being at camp, or a nursing home (or eating with Jenn Allen) because breakfast was at 6am, lunch at 10:45am, and dinner was at 4:45 pm. And it was first come, first come…you snooze, you lose!! So the first day, we managed to miss both breakfast and lunch and were dying by the time dinner came along. The food was pretty monotonous, but not terrible. Each meal was a slightly varied version of the last…but hey it was food, and it was included in the price of the ticket.
There ended up being about 20 other backpackers on the boat with us, so we all got to know each other pretty well and spent the days up on the rooftop deck playing cards and yatzee and trying to stay cool. And of course, we had ourselves quite a few cold Brazilian cerveja´s and ron drinks to pass the time, and help with the heat. The best part of the boat trip was that there were NO BUGS!!! The breeze and movement of the boat kept the mosquitoes away. We had a really long stop on Thursday night/Friday morning and then after that, they announced that it was no stopping until Manaus. Occasionally a little motor boat would pull up along side the boat and some people would hop off and zip off to their homes, but other than that, it was smooth sailing.
We were able to watch some great sunsets over the river and every night there was an amazing moon!! The river for the most part was really wide, so it wasn´t like we were able to see any wildlife or anything but was still quite pleasant to be cruising down the Rio Salimões. Saturday afternoon we rolled into Manaus, an insanely hot city of 1.6 million out in the middle of nowhere Brazil. We were reluctant to have to get our bags and get off the boat and hunt for a hotel and all of that. Our poor man´s Amazon cruise was over.
Even though we´ve technically been in Brazil for a few days now, most people on the boat spoke both Spanish and Portuguese since they were coming from the Peru/Colombia border…so it wasn´t until we docked in Manaus that I felt like I was truely in Brazil. This is my 5th visit to Brazil, and I am no less excited to be here than I was the first time. I love Brazil and everything Brazilian and am happy to be able to explore some of the regions that I´ve missed out on in previous trips. Manaus really doesn´t have a whole lot to offer, other than the jungle excursions, but since we´d already done that we decided to only spend a few days here to plot our next move and then take off. From our boat trip, we know quite a few people now and keep bumping into them, so it makes a big city feel small and neighborhoodly. It´s especially helpful to know people since the part of town we are all staying in is quite sketchy and full of ¨pay by the hour¨ type places.
If you only have one day to spend in Manaus, make sure it is NOT a Sunday. Talk about Sunday blues….this place was dead all day long. Most cities and towns in Latin America are pretty quiet on Sunday, but this place was ridiculous. You could have heard a pin drop and there was nothing to do but wander around and try to find someplace serving food. And thank goodness for the internet cafe that was open, as it has allowed me to get all caught up on this blog, so that you all stop yelling at me. There are 1.6 million people here – and I think only three of them came out of their houses on Sunday. It´s kind of strange to think about such a large city out in the middle of nowhere, with no roads connecting it to the outside world. I suppose this probably exists elsewhere in the world, but we really didn´t see too many reasons to want to live here. Today (Monday) we took care of some very crucial things: shopping, pedicures, ice cream eating and more internet time. We did actually do something productive with our day though. We went to see the meeting of the waters…#3 on my “amazon must-see´s”. The river water we´ve seen up to this point was very muddy and yellowish and for the most part, we´ve been on the Rio Salimões. A few miles outside of Manaus, this river meets up with the Rio Negro and for a few miles they flow side by side, without mixing. It´s really cool to see!!! Kind of like oil and water. We´d seen it as we cruised into town, but we decided to go out and see it again as we had little else on the agenda for the day and we wanted to snap a picture.
Tomorrow we head to Belem, a city on the very Northern coast where we will start making our way down the coast. I´m getting a wee bit nervous because we have yet to secure our accommodations for the week of Carnival and everyone else we´ve been traveling with did that a long time ago and they say most everywhere is full. But, we´ll figure something out. That´s my project for the next few days.
Random note: # of times I´ve now heard Shakira´s ¨Hips Don´t Lie¨ since November: 781, at least. If it gets to 800, I might have to shoot myself.