Just reached Belem after a 5 day boat ride. Yes, 5 days. Till now, I´d never been on a boat for than a few hours. Exactly a year ago, I ran the Boston marathon. After this boat ride, I feel like I just finished another marathon.
The 2 Australians I´d met last month had told me that they really enjoyed the boat ride. Since there were 2 of them, they shared a cabin, which wasn´t too much more than going hammock class. When I reached Manaus, I expected to bump into some other backpackers, who´d be willing to share a cabin. It´s the low season right now in the rainforests, so I couldn´t see any other tourists. After the jungle trip, I went straight with E to the docks, bought a hammock, a ticket for hammock class and some water.
The first day was the hardest. It was hot and humid, and the boat was packed. The big boat (which I was taking) goes from Manaus to Belem only twice a week, so it´s both a cargo and passenger boat. I managed to push my way through the crowds, picked out a nice spot for my hammock and tied it up. There was a deck upstairs with a small bar and music played non-stop, so I decided to head up there. Took out the most essential items into the top of my big packpack (which doubles up as a big pouch) and headed upstairs. If someone wanted to steal something from my bags, then they would have to wade through some smelly clothes.
The Manaus port is a big hub of activity. The crowds, noise and chaos resembled a major train station in India and till the last minute, there were a lot of people jumping onto the boat to sell stuff. The boat left about 2 hours late, so I just sat upstairs, bought a bottle of beer and listened to some Samba. Went down later at night, and had a very uncomfortable first night. An elderly lady´s hammock had torn its rope, so she´d tied it to mine and was directly underneath me as a result. I couldn´t understand what she was saying so I didn´t object. I could make out she was grateful for me not complaining. It was weird sleeping on a hammock on a boat as it kept swaying gently. While it helped to put everyone to sleep, there were times when the boat got unsteady and everyone´s hammocks swung like pendulums and bumped into each other. Somehow pulled through the first night.
The next 4 days went by slowly, but I got used to the pace. Wake up at 6 for a basic breakfast of bread and coffee. Read a book till 11 and then have lunch. Take a short nap, walk up to the deck, have a coke, listen to music, watch the rainforests and wait till dinner. Dinner would be at 5 and after 530, it got a bit hard to kill time, especially if it rained. Nobody on board spoke any English, and after 2 days I noticed a Japanese backpacker who spoke some. It was hard to communicate, so the 5 days went by in a state of silence.
I guess the main benefits of taking such a long boat ride are the small things one notices. The thick jungle, the rundown huts and villages, the kids riding out on their canoes to catch a glimpse of the big boat and the small docks which were waiting eagerly for the cargo in the boat. Rivers are like highways in the rainforests as there are no roads. So the arrival of the boat is a big event in the small towns.
The most endearing moment was seeing a few kids paddle up very close to the boat, throw a hook onto the side and then climb on to the boat to sell some fruits. Thankfully, the crew helped them latch onto the boat and everyone the boat bought the fruits, bringing a big smile to the kids´ faces.
Anyway, I reached Belem this morning and from what I can make out it´s not a very pleasant place to stay in. The Japanese traveller is heading to Sao Luis, a small town on the coast and I´m heading there with him. Will probably spend a few days there before making my way down to Rio. It´ll take a while to get there. I didn´t realise how big Brazil is.
PS comments are open again, but please, don´t get too serious or personal :-)