Amazon Boat Trip
The vastness and geography of the Amazon region means that the most common way of getting around is via the river. So, Andrew and I bought a boat ticket travelling from Manaus, downriver to the next largest town, Santarem. It would take 2 days and be a typical Amazonian experience.
For the trip we needed our own hammocks to hang on the boat, which we happened to be given free from a couple we met in the hostel. The day before we left we each bought a mosquito net and some snacks to keep us going on the journey.
Departure morning arrived and we got picked up and taken to the dock. There was a Brazilian couple from our hostel going on the same boat as us and the guy, Zeca, spoke good English (which would be our saving grace over the next couple of days). Our guide showed us which boat we had to board and then strangely, instead of driving around to the jetty (where everyone else seemed to be boarding) we climbed into a small boat and got taken to our larger boat via the water. We pulled up alongside the 3 storey large boat and we were signaled to climb aboard. We couldnt help feeling like pirates as we used the portholes to hoist ourselves up - an interesting, if somewhat unconventional way to board and we're still not entirely sure why we couldn't use the jetty like everyone else! The lower deck was used to store vehicles and cargo so we made our way up to the middle deck. This was where we'd planned to hang our hammocks but when we got there it already seemed pretty full! Our new Brazilian friends managed to convince the staff to let us up to the third level. This level was half covered by a roof/half open air. It had a small snack bar, tv, toilet and a couple of cabins. We hung our hammocks and settled into what would be home for the next two days. One other person joined us - an 18yr old famous Brazilian rodeo champion (!) - making a total of 5 of us sleeping upstairs. We felt very lucky but over time realized that our sleeping situation wasn't always perfect. Firstly there was the constant music. The man who ran the small snack bar was also in charge of the music system which blasted out Brazilian songs (not even the good ones Zeca told us) from 7am to 11pm each day. It's amazing what you can learn to block out after a few hours. Secondly, when we passed through stormy weather the rain would sometimes blow in sideways and get under our little roof, dampening our hammocks and bags. Luckily these downpours were short lived and if we tied our hammocks to the ceiling they stayed dry.
So, our two days on the boat basically consisted of smooth sailing down the Amazon river. Lots of people from the middle deck would come up to get fresh air, order some drinks and food and hangout. Andrew and I had a lot of time for people watching, reading, and napping. We were advised not to eat the buffet food provided on board, so instead we ate pot noodles for dinner and snacks for lunch and breakfast. Various things entertained us along the way. At one point a lady had put a cardboard box containing 2 puppies under our hammock. I think she was trying to give them some fresh air. They were so small, hadn't even opened their eyes yet, but very cute. We found out from Zeca that she had found them dumped on the side of the road so she rescued them. We did stop at a couple of small towns on the way through. Here we would watch the hustle and bustle below from the top deck, as people unloaded their cargo. At one stop the jetty was covered in hundreds of packets of nappies and laundry powder. Must be a lot of kids in that town... or very dirty adults?
At another stop the action came even closer, as 10 police officers boarded the boat. They came to the top deck and asked Andrew and I for our passports and did a quick search of our bags. They didn't check the locals, apart from the rodeo champs, and were extremely friendly. We found out from Zeca that they check this route because people often smuggle drugs from Colombia down the river.
Before long we were pulling into the dock at Santarem. This was a drama filled in itself as before the boat had even properly docked people were climbing out of the portholes onto the deck - guess they were in a rush to get off. This is where we left our new Brazilian friends. Another 2 gringo girls on the boat and us were not staying in Santarem but sharing a taxi to a smaller town called Alter do Chao. We headed in the taxi but when we arrived at the accommodation we'd arranged, down a little dirt track on the edge of town, no one was there to open the door. We pushed the gate open, found the place where hammocks are hung and just decided to hang ours, sleep and sort things out in the morning when the owner appeared.
We had survived our two days on an Amazonian river boat! An interesting, unique and fun experience... but two days was probably enough!