Carolyn Broadwell - Travel Tidbits - Dec 2003 - Jun 2004

Monday, January 19, 2004

Boat from Manaus to Belam (Brazil)

I think the last notes I sent out to everyone told about my entry into Brazil, and having to be photographed and fingerprinted! I've since learned that that is a retaliatory measure by the Brazilians because it has to be done to almost every alien entering the USA. And several Brazilians have said to me "We aren't terrorists; we are friends of USA, so why do we have do this?" Hmmm. Not sure what to answer!

That was all on the boat, where there were quite a few Brazilians who wanted to use whatever English they had. Most didn't have much, so it was often a struggle.

Now to the boat trip, which was from Manaus to Belem. I had wanted to do this for over 30 years, and I finally made it. In about 1972-3 I took a small boat from Leticia, in Colombia, to Iquitos, in Peru, on the Amazon. After that I read a lot, about the Amazon, and wanted to feel more of this was a reasonably convenient way to do that. I say reasonably, because it was definitely not a luxury cruise.

I booked a full cabin, which consisted of two bunks...period! They gave me a key for the cabin, and also for the toilet, which was around the corner. It had a basin, a toilet, and a shower head from the ceiling. Very interesting to use the toilet, as the shower dripped onto your head while you were doing just about anything except leaning back to avoid it. And the paper was on a rope very high up, so as not to get wet from the shower, but too high to reach from the toilet, so you had to stand up to get it. And of course the floor was always wet from the shower use - and the continual drip. I dreaded the call from nature.

Forgot - the water for the shower and toilet, and basin, also, was obviously water from the river, as it was brown when we were in brown water, and clear when we were occasionally in clear water where other rivers were entering the Amazon).

The cabin passengers were fed separately, in a space between the kitchen and the motor. It was definitely not conducive to conversation, as the motor was deafening, and besides, only about 12 passengers at a time could be fed, and the others were always standing around waiting for someone to finish so they could slide into their seat. The food was just about always a starch (rice and\or pasta) with something like a stew to put over it, or meat which had been overcooked. Almost no vegetables in the stews, and I tried to grab what there was. (selfish, huh?!) We had bottled water to drink. At least we could see the huge bottles in the kitchen, and assumed that was what we were served, although ours was always cold. Breakfast was coffee with milk, and I am pretty sure the milk was sweetened condensed milk diluted and heated. Also, there were rolls wrapped in cling wrap, and a big jug of butter.

The method of calling us to meals was for one of the kitchen help to go up and down the corridor, running something metal over the corrugated metal doors of every cabin. Luckily I was one of the first doors to be rattled, so always got down for food on the first round. It got messier as the meal progressed; one time I was late, and learned not to be again.

The majority of passengers were given hammocks to sleep in, and fed in rotation at two tables; one for men and one for women - and children. The hammocks were so close together you would inevitably swing into your neighbor if you got up to go anywhere. And they were staggered in a sort of zig-zag fashion in two rows on two decks. All of their baggage was under their hammock. I meant to take a picture of them, as they were really rather pretty, but I didn't think of it until we were disembarking, and by then all the hammocks were tied up to the ceiling - very neatly, but the floor under them was a mess.

On my first Amazon trip, we slept in hammocks, which we had to provide ourselves, and it wasn't bad, but I can guess by now I would probably be a little too old for that, and would have a severe backache by the end of the four day trip. There were women who looked older than I am, though...

Scenery wasn't terribly interesting until the last day, but just being on the Amazon river, the longest (controversial point) and one with the greatest volume of water in it was awe inspiring! However, the last day, we were in narrow channels in the delta, and the banks were lined with small shacks, and pirogues were freguent...rowed by women and children, who rowed out to meet the boat. Obviously some of the passengers had done this before, as they had items (appeared to be clothes, usually) tied in plastic bags, which they tossed onto the water, or if they were lucky, got them into a pirogue. I think we passed nearly a hundred that I saw, over a period of many hours.

We had one long stop in Santarem, and a short one somewhere else. We also picked up - or dropped off - a few passengers via motorized boats, but late at night.

And the crew was caught twice trying to overload the boat; once in Manaus, when we had to return 30 passengers to the dock, and then again in Santarem, where we had to off load some of the cargo that had just been loaded. I was glad that such controls existed, having heard just enough stories of overloaded ferries in third world countries that sunk!

I suspect this is long enough, and not everyone will read it, but again I look forward to getting email from friends.

Until the next time,


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