The boat was supposed to leave at 4PM, so we made our way back to the hostel and picked up our stuff. It was only noon, but apparently people make a point of reserving the best hammock spots near electricity points and poles and so we did too. The area around the private harbour where our boat, San Marino III, was docked looked pretty dodgy so we decided to wait the remaining few hours on the boat and settle in. As we watched people arrive, the space around us grew smaller and smaller and soon we were surrounded by a giant curtain of hundreds of colourful hammocks, up to the point that we were rubbing feet with our neighbours.
As we didn’t speak Portuguese, it was hard to connect to other people since we were the only gringos on board (they got used to us after a day of stares and we were soon part of the crowd, we’re all in the same boat, so to speak!). The few words we could exchange were with an older man and his sister who were hammocked behind us and who always greeted us happily with a huge one toothed smile (we endearingly dubbed him ‘Toothless’ but we soon learned his real name was Yusef). Every day we had a little chat with him as far as his English could reach. We found out he owns a company that exports açaí to Canada and that he also spoke Arabic. The rest of our attempts to communicate consisted of Ben’s flirting with the bar lady to get us out of paying for hot water for noodles (with success – my attempt cost us 2 reals) or people wanting to borrow our extension cord to charge their speakers and play Brazilian music loudly for hours and hours on end.
Not so instagrammable açaí
We spent our days reading our books, napping and watching the antics of our hammock-neighbours like a soap series. Sometimes the river would get quite narrow to our delight, because the boat would get close to shore and you could get a glimpse of life in the deep green Amazon. Massive woodcutting plants, tiny wooden huts on stilts and many colourful churches would pass by. Height of excitement was each time we would arrive in a small port, where sellers would jump (the boat sometimes hadn’t even docked yet) on board and try to get rid of as many produce as possible before the boat left again (about 15 minutes each time). As soon as we heard the words ‘queijo queijo queijo’ (cheese) or (maçã-uva maçã-uva maçã-uva’ (apples and grapes) we knew we had arrived somewhere and watched our stuff a bit more closely (which was all securely locked to a pole under our hammocks, but you never know). Overall the trip was pretty safe and after a few days I even took my camera out to get some evidence of the trip. One time we bought a big bag of açaí, thinking it would be the fruity, smoothy-like stuff that you see on the Instagram, but fooled we were. Pure açaí is actually really bitter and after drinking it, we are forever cured from our cravings.
The food offered on board was pretty good actually and super cheap. Breakfast consisted of an egg and cheese bun, cake and the sweetest coffee you have ever tasted in your life, but hey it was coffee! For lunch and dinner it was usually the same, rice, spaghetti and meat or chicken. We had grown to liking it but we must admit that we ordered a massive pizza (not recommended in Brazil) when we were finally back on shore. There’s only so much rice you can eat every single day…
Engineers, artists and fat kids
Often when people on shore would see us coming, the women and children (we think the men were out working) took their craggy wooden canoes, while at the same time scooping water, and float alongside the boat to pick up whatever passengers would tie up in a plastic bag and throw in the river. We heard about this from other travellers and decided in Belém to gather a few items for kids. As we didn’t really have clothes to spare we bought some toys and cookies. We imagined they could become engineers (lego blocks) or artists (colouring books and pencils) as well as fat (cookies) because of us. We actually wished we bought more because the further we travelled into the Amazon, the more people we saw, and probably the poorer they were.
The jungle city
After three days of finding the perfect sleeping position in our hammocks we stopped in Santarém, a big port about halfway to Manaus where many people, including our neighbours, got off. We were kind off sad because we had grown to like them. The little girl from the family on my side kept watching us curiously when we played a game of Twentyone. We would have loved to show her how it worked if only we could speak Portuguese! When everyone got off the boat, our friend Toothless came over and told us that the boat would not leave this port until the evening and we could transfer to the boat next door which would leave in an hour. Ok! We packed up quickly and set up camp on the San Marino II, a much quieter and smaller vessel. The next few nights flew by, in which we made some more Brazilian Friends that we couldn’t understand, Ben got a job offer (although we are not sure what he was offered exactly), the insects grew bigger and bigger and I scored some free earrings. And suddenly we arrived, much earlier than expected, in the ‘jungle city’ – Manaus!
It was an experience to remember forever but we would never do again. The tan that Fem thought she had, seemed to be built up dirt from the river water showers and washed off quickly. The next few nights we would still be swaying around in a hammock – in our minds – and our ‘sea legs’ were barely cured when we embarked on the next adventure…
The AMAZON RAINFOREST! Cue ‘Welcome to the jungle’ by Guns ‘n Roses!