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South America » Brazil » Amazonas » Manaus
October 20th 2009
Published: January 25th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Friday morning Regi came back to Manaus to meet me at Carlos’s place. It was good to see him again. We were about to embark on our adventure 1000 Km deep into the Amazon. We stopped for one last incredibly tasty ACAI before getting our provisions at the special store Marlos had directed me to, like soap and food, and then off we went to the port to catch our boat for Sao Gabiel. It was leaving at 6 pm, but we wanted to arrive around 3 pm in order to get a good space for our hammocks.

The day was incredibly hot as usual, but we decided to walk from the city center to the port, cause the 20 minute walk was shorter than the convoluted bus ride. I tried fresh coconut tapioca that the street vendors were selling, and a peanut Guarana shake on the way, both of which were seriously delicious.

The neighborhood surrounding the port was incredibly “favalesk”. It was very, very, dirty, littered with garbage below the mounds of shanty like houses suspended on posts over the dried river bed, and the stench of everything dead and dried smelled like streets of New York.

We boarded the Genesis 3, a super clean, well-run, not overcrowded, small, two-story passenger boat, with a beautiful spacious roof perfect for doing yoga, karate, or whatever in the early mornings or late nights.

I was able to negotiate the fair price of 100 dollars per person (one-way), all meals included for 3 nights, 4 days (there was not much room for negotiation, but the trip was well worth it). We set our hammocks up on the top floor (second floor, not the roof) of the boat, next to about 10 or so other hammocks. We killed the time wandering about the boat and resting in the hammock before finally deciding to grab a bite to eat on the dirty port dock. There was a lady barbequing skewers of meat (really popular here for street meet), and for the bargain price of 2 dollars, it came with a ton of rice beans, farina, and salad. We sat and ate in the make shift “restaurant “while the captain of another boat talked to me about his experiences as a captain, and mine as a scientist working for IMPA (my new cover story).

It was 6 pm and time to board the boat. I’m not sure how the boat made it out of the harbor cause we were literally blocked in but they pushed, and shoved and slowly propelled and before I knew it, we were on our way, and at a swifter pace than I had imagined. As I mentioned the boat was surprisingly clean and well-organized, and the first thing I did was have a shower. As in all boats, and most simple bathroom in Amazonian homes or hotels (IF there was a bathroom), the shower was located almost directly above the toilet, making for a permanently wet toilet. -and you may be unfamiliar that in ALL of South America, you never flush toilet paper down the toilet. There is always a basket filled of yucky used toilet paper next to the toilet (yes, smelly poo-covered paper too). Well you can imagine this basket collecting water as you shower… But just one of those things you get use to I suppose- and its really nice to be able to have running water if a deep river is not available. -Well than again bucket showers are just fine too, but whatever.

Anyways, after my lovely refreshing shower (after SUCH a hot and sweaty day carrying my back pack all through the city), I was pleased to relax in the cool breeze of the moving ship. Hilariously, and apparently quite commonly, the boat had a TV with a satellite antenna. The TV was located (next to the “bar”) at the end of the upper deck that my hammock occupied, so I never missed an episode of my novellas (Brazilian soap operas), while on board. After my novella I was pooped and ready for sleep. They had served a delicious dinner, complete with chicken, stewed beef, rice, beans, macaroni, salad, and banana’s for desert (as was the menu for every lunch and dinner on the boat - DELICIOUS), but I skipped it having already eaten at port.

Sleeping in my hammock on board was immensely terrific and relaxing!! I didn’t even have to push the hammock to rock myself to sleep cause the boat created a natural gentle sway that gently rocked my hammock and lulled me to sleep, keeping me in a deep sense of relaxation all the night through.

The next morning Regi woke me cause they were serving breakfast, coffee (that was already sweetened and composed of like 30 to 40 % sugar, which was normal for Brazil, yucky), tapiocas with margarine (yummy), ham and cheese sandwiches, and plantains. We ate up top, on the roof of the boat, enjoying the incredible view of the river bordered by endless jungle. There was a little table with stools, which oddly enough nobody used, and so it became our usual private dinning area.

The day was cloudy and perfect for doing exercises up top. I began with a little yoga, and 2 hours later finished with karate. It began to rain early in my practice, but it the rain was light enough, and the weather warm enough, that it just made the experience all the more enjoyable. As a bonus, it also ensured that nobody else would come up top, as I found most people were oddly allergic to rain.

I took a refreshing shower afterwards and had the delicious lunch that was always served between 11-12. I spent the early afternoon reading in my hammock. I was polishing up on my Portuguese grammar, and was almost finished the entire book.

After another shower, I went up top to watch the black waters of the Rio Negro reflect the clouds and sky perfectly. It was a spectacular site, as the glass-like water mirrored the heavenly scenery with such precision, something I had never seen before. The imagery took my breath away and gave me a sense of peace and calm.

That night I was rudely awaken by our midnight stop in the bustling port town of Barcelos. About 20 or more new hammocks came on board and now there were ones beneath, above, and beside me, every which way. (Thankfully, most of them would get off at our next stop in Santa Isabel the following day.) After the rude awakening of the foggy scene at port, that reminded me of one those episodes of Star Trek where they go back in time in the hollowdeck (or whatever its called), I fell back asleep, and that would prove to be the coldest windy night of them all. Luckily I was fully wrapped in all my clothes and sheets within my hammock and so not to uncomfortable, except for a chilled bum. To my surprise I was fully rested when I woke early to the light chitter chatter of people having breakfast around 6 am. The sun had just risen, and the orange glow of its light had not yet fully transformed to the bright yellow-white that occupied the sky most of the day. I grabbed my coffee and sandwich and went up deck as usual, to watch what was left of the peaceful sunrise. Ahhh… so good to be alive, and soooo terrific to be here.

Today the scenery of the water was even more spectacular, with the bright sun illuminating the colorful grey lumps of clouds that were floating around, above and below. I drank in the beauty of the scene as I did more morning exercises, this time a mix of dance and calisthenics. Afterwards, I had my bath, my fantastic lunch, and then did some reading in my hammock. I fell asleep in the intense heat of the day like it was nothing, drifting off the way I use to carelessly when I was a child. There was little wind, and to make matters hotter, my hammock was near the exhaust that was letting off heat, to one of the air-conditioners located in the shitty cabins some people paid double to ride in instead of using the way better hammock option. The heat froze me in a sleep so hot that I hardly even swat, but instead laid still slightly covered in a moisture that just kept me alive. When I woke, my body was probably 40 degrees, so I took a shower to cool off. Nonetheless, it was relaxing.

Afterwards, I sat by the side of the boat marveling at how close the mangroves were. I watched the green wooden palaces drift on by, island by island, and imagined myself building a house in the midst of the deep jungle, that would consist of nothing more than a large mosquito net (really large), several hammocks suspended about 10 to 20 meters up, and various ropes and wooden ladders to get up and around. Ahhh… that would be the life… (for a short while anyway, lol).

After a little more reading, and a delicious roof top, sunset dinner, we stopped at Santa Isabel were most of the people from Barcelos got off (thank god). The boat was nice and free again. The stop took nearly an hour as the ship hands were off loading cargo from Manaus, such as pop, beer, and other food. Afterall any ship was a cargo ship for these small communities. And it was cool watching the experienced guys literally toss large cases of vodka and what not, from one to the other, to the other, to the other, and on to the beach.

After we set sail again, I took advantage of the cool starlit night, and did a full two hour session of yoga up top (a little challenging to do balance postures on a boat that keeps turing to avoid rocks, and in the darkness of the night). But it was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, and there were a million stars in the sky. The captain turned off all the lights, I can honestly say I had never seen more stars in my life, and to make all the much more special, the stars actually reflected perfectly off the expansive black water. It was incredible!! Like double the stars, for the price of one sky. After yoga, I felt fantastic! I danced a little while in the darkness of the precious night, and relished the view and the midnight wind before heading off to shower and bed. It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life…

I woke late this time, around 8 am I think, after another night full of dreams, strange and exotic dreams (exotic, not erotic guys!), and breakfast was almost gone. I took what was left and ate up top as usual. We had docked at an empty island and weren’t moving. We were having motor problem. We were suppose to arrive early that day in Sao Gabriel, but who knew now with the latest development. However, I couldn’t have been more thrilled!! Yay!! More time on the boat, with all the delicious food, spectacular scenery, comfy hammock lounging, relaxing yoga session, and novella breaks- what could be better! I hoped we would never arrive.

Unfortunately, we hitched a ride with a tiny boat pushing a large barge who pulled us at a fraction of a snails pace for a few hours before they finally fixed the motor and puttered off again.

Today was my day for sleeping (like I hadn’t done enough of that already, lol). I slept the entire afternoon- the longest nap I had taken in YEARS! It was a magnificent portal into the past. I felt all the natural relaxation I had had as a child, before the years of worries had piled the weight of a million bricks upon my life, all come back to me. The innocent tranquility washed over me like a rejuvenating veil of soft carelessness.

What a trip!!

Well, I suppose like all good things, it had to come to an end. We arrived at the port of Camanaus (weird name, I know), around 6 pm, from which we had to take a 20 minute taxi ride to Sao Gabriel. We couldn’t reach the city directly because the river was low, making the rapids too difficult for the boat to navigate.

So finally we arrived in Sao Gabriel. As I mentioned, the northernmost city in the Brazilian amazon, and really remote. What next?? Well we had planned to go to Regi’s aunts house, which he hadn’t seen in 15 years…

Except she didn’t know we were coming…

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