Week 26 - Amazon River to Rio

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Rio de Janeiro,
Monday, February 4, 2008

Jan 25th - Amazon River

Because of boredom and restlessness the Captain and crew have now been thrown overboard and we have taken control of the good ship Santerem. Cannibalism is fast approaching (well, it would have been quite interesting if it was true).

Slept ok last night as the Elbow Kid has stopped poking me in the face. At 5.30am it was all go as the ship docked in Santerem (roughly the halfway point) and unloaded loads of cargo and people. Hurrah! We all shouted as loads of people unhooked their hammocks and left but sadly we also loaded extra people and the spaces soon filled. I decided to move my hammock at this point and settled in a spacious spot.

One of the best things about this floating prison of ours is the camaraderie. Everyone spends a lot of time out on deck having a joke around with the crew out on deck. Apart from some tourists (young Argentinean couple, young French couple (cycling around South America), 5 Spaniards and a big group of noisy English) there are quite a few Brazilian characters: a small Brazilian fella who's always lashed by midday and keeps lighting up inside the hammock area (all the mothers and young girls scream at him and throw him out every time). There's also an old lady who has a devil of a granddaughter who wreaks havoc around the ship by throwing all the plastic cups in the river, closing all doors and windows in the excessive heat, kicking hammocks during siestas. Also a young couple who have a double hammock in the midst of all the families in here and get up to all sorts of hanky panky (the older folk usually tut away). A cool young dude who could quite easily be in the film City of God who always buys jewellery and watches from vendors and shows them off to the young girls on the ship (pulling out huge wads of cash) and his sidekick (the Elbow Kid).

Stopped off at two small docks today while I was sunning on the roof. When I came back to my hammock I was well pissed off to find the place fuller than even before. The hammocks were now on 2 levels around mine (no margin for even climbing into it).

Noticing a few habits of the Brazilians round here; they all throw their rubbish into the river (it's only the tourists who use the bins), they all spit..men, women, children (it seems to be a Latin American thing...have noticed it as far as Mexico), they are all patient and generous giving up hammock space even if they know full well that they won't get any sleep because of it and sharing food. They also have no inhibitions about talking to people . Everyone pretty much knows everyone else around here even after just 3 days together (mind you I do too).

Jan 26th - Amazon River

The boat docked somewhere small at 4.30am so I was woken up by sellers moving around the ship shouting 'banana....queso!!'. Last night was a very restless night's sleep for me, what with the sellers waking me up and a new family next to me whose 6 year old has the loudest and highest pitched voice on the ship and regularly screams, shouts and sings in my ears (her hammock is level with mine).

Saw some beautiful Dolphins gliding along the side of the ship today and two Toucans flying side by side. Last night the captain was kept busy as we went through a patch of the river that was narrow so he used his Batman like spotlight to scan the waters and shoreline for a safe path. It would have been great to catch this spot during the day to spot some wildlife.

Straight after breakfast I jumped back into my hammock and slept like a log waking up in time for lunch. Everyone is in good spirits now as it's our last day on board.

After a spot of sunning on deck we started to enter a part of the Amazon called the Narrows which for me was the most scenic part of this trip. I could actually see the trees and plants up close and every now and then there would be a scattering of small wooden huts with small piers. Out from these would come an armada of around 7 wooden canoes carrying kids, Amazonian women and blokes. At first I thought the good ship Santarem was under attack but they came armed only with shrimp and fruit so all was good. They would speed up alongside, throw a hooked rope and tow themselves along while they sell their wares. A bag of shrimp (maybe 2 kg) would sell for 50p.

Some of these canoes weren't selling but were plain poor so people on our ship would toss bags of food into the water for them. I joined in by tossing my last packet of biccies and a Pot Noodle (nearly hitting one of them on the head in the process).

The afternoon was spent Toucan and Dolphin spotting and chatting to my travel mates. I think I'm getting worse with remembering names..bit of a worry with my 38th coming up. After dinner it was sunset watching and contemplation time. I am so (so with a capital So) looking forward to the end of this experience but will also miss it somehow.

One thing I have learnt from this trip is that personal space isn't that important but patience is. When you sleep with a strangers toe or armpit near your nose or an elbow resting on your chin, or a child waking you up at 4.30am singing loud Brazilian lullabies right next to your ear or somebody's knee in your back from the hammock below or you have to climb out of your hammock nearly breaking your neck just to let somebody into theirs.

I wouldn't be that keen to do this trip again but can't detract from the fact that it was a wonderful experience. From my point of view it's not about the river or the wildlife but all about the people on the ship and who live in the Amazon. I have watched Brazilians sleep, eat, talk, chat up, joke around and look after their kids. Not once in this confined space did I see anyone lose it, raise their voice or act aggressively in any way (well, apart from a stupid English fella who was elbowed in the face).

Another great thing about this trip is watching the stars from the perfect spot at the front of the ship (bow..or stern, can't remember its proper name). The size of the sky and brightness of the stars is amazing. Loads of shooting stars and satellites whizzing through the sky.

Tonight was party night...celebrating the last night on board and also Saturday night. All the backpackers made a valiant effort to join in the revelries on top deck but the music was awful and the crowd manic so we all ended up in a quiet spot chatting.

Jan 27th - Amazon River and Belem

Had a bloody good kip last night in row 1, 3rd hammock and as usual the place was abuzz with activity at 5.30am (why everyone gets up so early here I honestly don't know...there's nowhere to go?). After the usual breakfast of super sweet tea and a roll everyone was overly excited about walking on dry land and sleeping in a proper bed again (I dread to think what it's like on a sub out on a month's patrol). I must have been too caught up in the excitement but I vowed that I'd kiss the ground when we landed (bad idea, as I was to find out later the port is in the middle of a Favella).

All morning people were munching away on their last bits of food and giving out anything left over to strangers. By 11am we hit a very bad patch of weather in the wider part of the Amazon. The storm lasted for an hour and there was a lot of yakking in that time. My natural reaction as usual was to jump in my hammock and fall asleep (worked a treat).

At 1pm the HMS Royal Santarem docked and after such a joyous feeling of finishing this voyage I realised that I'm going to miss this bloody hunk of metal and its inhabitants. After a very good pretence of kissing the filthy, cockroach ridden ground (as promised) everyone got a cab to town (driving through the Favella).

My plan for today was to drop my bags somewhere in Belem town and then head to the airport to see if I can get a cheap ticket to Salvador (where I'll stay until the 30th, then head to Rio).First me and the boat gang needed food and after hearing tales of wonderful fresh fish served in the market we headed there. Sadly the torrential rains had put a stop to the normal market but there were a few vendors cooking fish. For $2.50 I got a huge fish, rice, salad and beans and a coke (result).

Later on (not relating to the fish though) one of our number had to be taken to the hospital. She had a fever of 103 and felt like she was dying. Later on another member had the same. As explained by the doctor this was bad food poisoning from dodgy water on the boat and sharing utensils etc.

In the early evening I headed to the airport praying I could get a flight out of the dump that is Belem. Sadly the prices were Carnival prices ($400 to Salvador) but I managed to get a ticket from Salvador to Rio for $170 so I shuffled off back to the hostel ready to get a bus tomorrow. A 33 hour journey that costs $130 awaited me tomorrow (again..Carnival prices).

When I got back I heard the bad news that the young French cyclists from the boat trip had been mugged at knife point right outside the hostel door (they lost all their valuables..passports, tickets, money, camera, pictures etc.). This was just as it was getting light. Mind you, the hostel is in a dodgy side of town.

Tonight was budget sleeping night and for the princely sum of $5 I get a dorm bed for the night. Had a dream that I was hosting a hammock burning party but it got out of hand when people started burning pillows and blankets (what the hell does that mean?).

Jan 28th - Belem

It's official...Belem is a dump. On arriving here yesterday everyone remarked on what a shithole it was. Ok, it was Sunday and the streets were empty but the buildings and streets left a bad impression. At 8am and after bidding farewell to my fellow ship prisoners me, Pablo and his missus (really nice Argentinean couple) got a bus to the bus terminal. There was a small worry that there'd be no seats left on the bus during Carnival but by chance there were 3 seats left which were nabbed and we spent the rest of the day chilling in the waiting area.

When the bus did arrive I noted how unworthy of the $130 price tag it was. During this long and tricky bus journey I decided that I wasn't going to spend much more time in Brazil. Love the place but it's very expensive for everything. So during the bus ride from hell I planned the rest of my South America leg, which goes as follows: 9 more days in Brazil, then head south through Argentina, then making my way up through Bolivia, Peru and finally flying from Chile. I have 5 weeks to do this.

The landscape throughout the bus journey had some nice bits but most of it was semi desert and flat. Everyone kept themselves busy by chatting, playing chess or cards or listening to music.

Jan 29th - Belem to Salvador (bus)

Bus from hell day 2. Nothing to report except I've lost all feeling in my bum cheeks, left leg and lower back. The music helps these journeys so much (even though I only have a 3 hour battery life on my MP3). Listening to Lemon Jelly's Staunton Lick, DB Boulevard's Point of View and 50 Cent's P.I.M.P.

Jan 30th - Salvador

Arrived in Salvador at the awful time of 1.30am. Streets were deserted and the bus terminal looked well shady. Some of us caught a cab straight to the centre and I went straight to bed in the cheap hostel there.

On waking up and checking my ticket I realised that my flight leaves at 12.50pm so I went for a short sharp tour of Salvador. Walked around in the stifling heat and caught a few small bands playing in squares, saw some of the beautiful architecture and ploughed through the tourist market there. The people are very noticeably African in looks and style around these parts. There were still quite a few drunken peeps staggering around after last night's revelry.

Sadly, after only a morning of traipsing around town I head to head to the airport. To be honest, if I hadn't booked my 7 nights bed in Rio I probably would have stayed here for a few days more. The Carnival is renowned for being excellent here and some say better even than Rio.

Arrived in Rio (well excited) and got a free pickup courtesy of the hostel. After 2 hours of traffic laden driving I arrived at what was going to be my home for a week. Shattered I struggled into my middle tier dorm bed right next to the bar and slept.

Woken 3 hours later by a crazy burly red faced Australian fella switching on the lights, shaking all the beds and shouting at full volume. This was when I first met Shaun and my first impression was that I'm going to hate this fella for the rest of the week. He did the same thing 3 more times that night and nearly brought me to breaking point. When he climbed into his dorm bed he nearly brought down the whole room and my 3 story bed nearly collapsed on me (what a way to go I thought..crushed to death by a dorm bed and a mad Aussie...).

Needless to say I had no sleep that night in a hot, noisy room but the thought of Carnival kept me happy all night and morning.

Jan 31st - Rio

Ok, so I got no sleep last night but today the carnival starts proper. I hung around the hostel for a while and chatted to people about their plans and such. Armed with a beer I approached crazy Shaun and soon after a brief chat we were pals. So off we went for a scout around town and a trip to Ipanema beach with Carolina (nice Argentinean girl working at the hostel).

Rio's definitely got a buzz about it and even the beaches are alive with excitement. The waves were tsunami like so not much swimming was done. The girls..well, the girls on Ipanema beach and especially Post 9 (all the beaches in Rio have section numbers) are just eye-poppingly gorgeous. Had a long chat with Carolina while Shaun was acting the goat in the water (nearly getting himself killed).

Carnival doesn't really kick off properly until tomorrow according to everyone so tonight was just a warm up. Had some drinks and got to know most people ready for Carnival kickoff. There is a huge English contingent staying here; Jack, Nick, Goose, Will, Steve, Chris, Surekha and Krina (to name a few), then there's Shaun from Australia, a totally mad fella from Norway called Stefan (small, skinny guy who has self dubbed himself 'My Precious' (Golem, from LOT Rings) and numerous other nationalities and characters.

Drinking continued throughout the night and the hostel was in full swing. Shaun as usual was the life of the party and had everyone in hysterics with his antics (funny guy..no really).

At 7pm we headed for a Block party (an organised street party where Carnival Samba bands perform and then lead a procession down the streets). The streets were packed out, the music was good and the beer was flowing. Near the end of the night me and Shaun got separated from the rest of the group but continued the celebrations.

Near the end of the night when we had quite obviously had enough beer Shaun decided to climb onto some railings of a building and dance and shake his thing in front of hundreds of Brazilians. It was all going well and making the crowd laugh until he started wiggling his arse about which is when people started pelting him (and me below) with beer cans. The crowd was getting angry so dragging him off the wall we dashed away as quickly as possible and jumped on a bus out of there.

We later discovered that the building he'd climbed was a national monument which would explain their anger and the chanting of 'Monumento!!!!'.
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