Up the Amazon

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February 12th 2008
Published: February 19th 2008
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The Santarem, as the boat is called, leaves Port at Belem and proceeds up waterways that are not always called the Amazon. A myriad of channels and tributaries are encountered as the Captain and his crew steer the ship ‘up the Amazon’.

The two story metal ferry boat can carry up to 400 passengers. The majority of these people would be sleeping in hammocks in the two decks below the two stories that house the bunk bed cabins and on top of those the ‘suites’ which have one big matrimonial bed.

On this trip there are an estimated 250 passengers. It has been raining everyday. The non existence of oppressive heat has eliminated the possibility of overpowering stench from communal toilets and collected garbage.

There is enough odour to be experienced while waiting for one’s meals, standing in line along the six aluminium-doored toilets. In the same area are suspended a colourful collection of hammocks.

The hammock space costs R$100 for the duration of the trip. Included in the price are breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the lowest deck a dispenser of sweet coffee is available for after dinner consumption.

Each meal has consisted of the same thing: rice, spaghetti, beans and meat. The presentation of salad was sporadic. Vegetables were represented by five carrots and some cassava root in the beans and sliced onion, tomato and peppers on the beef.

Chicken was only served the three times. Breakfast was always the same … no variation from the hot dog bun, thin cheese slices, some kind of processed meat and sliced fruit. Coffee always sweet with milk available for those who so desired. Much as I like rice and beans … there are many kinds of rice and even many more types of beans. The cook is either on a very tight budget, has extremely limited space or has no imagination while cooking.

The boat has been delayed by almost twelve hours. The fifteen meals we have eaten on board have all been repetitions of themselves. Once there was a type of potato salad with mayonnaise. For the last dinner a sort of soup made of the left over spaghetti and pieces of beef was served. I am trying hard to remember if there were any other variations … oh yes … scrambled eggs were served twice for breakfast on the first days.
 Cargo Cargo Cargo

The departure was delayed for five hours. All that time cargo was being put on the boat.

Having made friends with some of the hammock people, an itemization of what was served to the cabin people, was avoided, especially the breakfast.

The bunk bed cabins cost R$300/person. I am EXTREMELY lucky to have a cabin to myself. This means I do not have to share the toilet seat, toilet paper or rudimentary tepid-watered shower. The ’suites’ cost R$400/person. The one I had a chance to look at was spacious. The bathroom was definitely in better condition and big enough to turn around in.

The food for the cabin people is identical to the hammock crowd except for breakfast. At breakfast the R$300-400 passengers eat fruit, cheese and sliced meat with their hot dog bun. At lunch and dinner, juice from the fruit of the cashew nut is available. Also there has been a repetitive appearance of a sweet brown delicious desert that looks like very stiff opaque jello, served with sweeter white cream.

Even though the food does not vary it is filling and satisfying. Trying to get juice from the bottom of the meat pan to put on the spaghetti or rice is a daily challenge.

On each table stands a bowl filled with granulated manioc. It serves as an addition to the food pilled on each plate. Here on the Santarem the manioc is brittle and dangerous to one’s fillings. At the market in Belem the manioc was granulated and soft … much more pleasant to spread on one’s food.

I have witnessed people covering their whole plate until the food was totally snowed under by a thick layer of yellow manioc granules.

There is no dishwasher on board … let me rephrase that … there is a human dishwasher on board who washes all the utensils and plates in cold water and (thankgod) soap. The spoons, forks and knives do not receive individual attention. I try to knab the same fork and knife each time … the one set that does not have plastic handles … as if that will avert any possible stomach affliction.

Five of the people I have been speaking to have been so afflicted. I am hoping that after nine meals on board I will survive the last six. Since all of us are eating the same food we have surmised that perhaps it is the malaria pills that are making the
Close to ShoreClose to ShoreClose to Shore

The ship did not sail in the same channels as the cruise ship, oil tankers and container carriers.
people sick.

The upper bunk is easily accessed by a two wrunged, attached ladder. I have covered the clean looking sheet and pillow case with my cotton sleeping sack. I am using the newly bought hammock as a blanket. The cabin has Air and becomes quite cool during the night. It is good to remember to keep the little curtain drawn over the small window because of the constant passing of passengers. They are heading to the stern of the boat, to the small bar for beer, to the tables set up for cards or dominoes, and to the lawn chairs and showers were there sun in with which to get hot and sweaty.

The journey up the water ways which make up the Amazon complex of tributaries flowing to the sea began on Tuesday evening … not at 18:00 but five hours later at 23:00. The instructions were to be on the boat by 14:00. This was sage advice for people occupying hammocks for the next five days. Getting a good position in the melee of hanging beds would prove important considering that there were so many occupants of the space. All the hammocks are swinging against
Breves on the Rio ParaBreves on the Rio ParaBreves on the Rio Para

This was the first of a few scheduled stops.
one another.

The hammocks of the parents with children hang bellow the more taut hammocks of the little ones. Three kids can float above a matrimonial sized hanging bed. Two bunked cabins can also be filled with four to five people.

The hammocks on the lowest deck share the space with some of the cargo. This deck seems somewhat breezier. On the first hammock deck women with children, single women and some families occupy the space. In the lower hammock deck single men and couples can be seen. It is the single men who are the most stringently placed in an area removed from the single women.

And even with these precautions there occurs a meeting of the sexes especially when one young man puts the space of his cabin at the disposal of randy Germans for half to three quarters of an hour at a time. Other randy nationalities wait till the stern is clear and leave condom wrappers under the anchor chain.

Oh! To be 24 again … those were the days!

On page two of this blog, you might well ask … what about the scenery?

The banks of the river are green, thickly wooded in some places and cleared for cattle grazing in others.

Behind a fringe of tropical trees can be seen maize fields for long stretches of river.

The houses of river people with docks stretching out beyond the waxing and waning of the river bank break the repetitiveness of the shoreline.

The boat, at times comes very close to one shore looking for depths that will accommodate the heavy cargo of food supplies and other freight it is carrying.

Children in small canoes paddle furiously towards floating plastic bags thrown by passengers. These bags contain sweets, biscuits, gum and a variety of other goodies chosen by the benefactors.

The water of the river is silt laden and coffee brown in colour.

Pink dolphins are more visible in the harbour lights of small towns. Black dolphins jump and play in the waters around the docked boat.

In the humid air of the rainforest clime coloured clothes hang limply on thin wires attempting to dry.

River homes stand on meter high stilts avoiding high water. Walkways made of rough boards run from one building to the other connecting the houses of river side hamlets.

Cows, water buffalo, horses, chickens and the occasional pig roam the cleared grass expanses, swamps and river’s edge.

Saw mills, their smoke stacks polluting the rainforest are surrounded by deep terra cotta coloured sawdust and ooze tainted runoff water into the river.

Towns appear around the bend, mould scarring the plaster walls with dappled flecks of black and green.

Newly painted church spires in mango orange, virgin mary blue or parrot green proclaim their faith, towering tall over town and river.

Unblemished crystal white cranes perch in high contrast against the verdant foliage of the rainforest

A flock of squawking green plumed parrots dips and dives heading into the depths of the forest.

Passengers in all body sizes and hues of skin colour mingle with one another, telling stories, playing with children, eating snacks, drinking weak Skol beer, suckling babies, playing cards or dominoes, sitting on deck in brasilian bikinis and then under specially placed showers, cooling down the heat of the sun.

The younger crowd parades daily with all manner of changes in dress.

The little passengers keep cool by wearing only underpants or on occasion nothing
Things for SaleThings for SaleThings for Sale

With long hooks the canoes attached themselves to the ship and the sale of fruit, drinks and hot sauce begins.
at all.

Field cranes with crook-ed necks fly over the bow of the ship at eventide.

The two sunsets witnessed were spectacular displays of orange, gold and red.

The overcast skies poured down rain all but one day.

Two kids from Manaus, Brenda and Dennis, have made the trip fun even though my Portuguese is pitiful

The children mentioned how high the river is. The captain stated it can be even higher.

One crew member who steers the ship when the captain is sleeping gives great hugs. We have been greeting each other with ‘parley vous francais?’ every time we meet in the hallway, on deck or on shore. A big hug and good laugh follows.

Wildlife seen included MANY vultures … even tearing apart garbage bags in Santarem …, a turtle, kingfishers, eagles, birds, wasps …one of which bit me in at the base of my left middle finger … moths, grasshoppers and various other insects.

The European passengers are all pleasant. All have stories worth listening to. In the beginning there was a French group, an Israeli group, a German group, a group who came from various English speaking countries.

If the hepatitis ad-people could see me now!

I use the unoriginal bottled water to brush my teeth … am not so foolhardy as to drink the stuff although on the first day I did. When it tasted as bad as Toronto water, I desisted.
I eat as much salad as will fit on my plate after the rice and meat.
At breakfast I have one of each of the sliced fruits … papaya, melon, pineapple and tiny banana.
In restaurants I drink freshly squeezed fruit juices with ice cubes out of a glass.
In Rio I ate corn on the cob from the street vendors not to mention the fried potato cones.
Hopefully Fate will not knock me down in Manaus and send me to Canada with a classic case of the RUNS!!

According to Douglas, the Captain, who is originally from Georgia, we will be arriving in Manaus by nine or ten in the morning. Hope my reservation is still good.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


River KidsRiver Kids
River Kids

Children paddle out to the ship in anticipation of plastic bags filled with goodies being thrown out to them.

Higher up the river the corrogated metal becomes thatch on the country homes.
Cattle RanchCattle Ranch
Cattle Ranch

Along the shore many areas have been cleared of virgin forest, replaccedby grass for cattle grassing.

Tot: 2.186s; Tpl: 0.059s; cc: 11; qc: 61; dbt: 0.049s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb