This is a post about the first leg of the Amazon, from the triple border with Colombia/Peru/Brazil. Check this page for the route between Manaus and Belém.
Early Saturday morning I watched the line of luggage for the upcoming Amazon boat ride grow, while intermittently dozing off in my chair. Finally, one of the workers called me to start the boarding process, some three hours after I arrived. At least I had first choice of hammock locations after a woman from the federal police finished her semi-thorough search of my backpack. Other than flying, the only way out of the triple border between Colombia/Brazil/Peru is by boat down the Amazon River.
The border is relatively lax and you have to go hunting for all the stamps if you plan to go any further into any of the countries. I managed to get at least a couple of hours on the internet (which is horrible in Leticia) so I knew I had to go to the airport for the Colombian exit stamp and then the federal police on the Brazilian side. Taking care of the stamps should be done a day in advance of riding the boat. Later in the voyage the federal police came around the boat to for check passport stamps.
I had taken a slow boat down the Mekong River in Laos, but there’s nothing even remotely similar about the one heading towards Manaus. The boat is actually quite large, with three floors, the top level being used exclusively as a hang out area with a snack bar. On the floors below there are hundreds of hammocks all strung up closely together; I’m not sure if there’s a limit on passengers, but it’s not uncomfortable. I was in a section I dubbed ‘little Europe’ because though the boat is filled with predominantly Brazilians traveling between small communities along the river, all the backpackers ended up next to each other (French, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, German — a Chilean, and an Argentinian couple).
I was the only one speaking Portuguese which was fun, but also problematic because I end up even more popular with the Brazilians and stayed up most of the first night drinking with them. When the bar closed even got off to buy more beer and vodka at one of the small towns. You’re not technically allowed to bring alcohol on the boat, though they sell beer, and I “hid” it in my sweatshirt pocket.
This was only the first table full of beer…
While the first day was entirely clear, the following morning I woke up to pouring rain spilling into the boat, though not enough to get anything wet. Sadly, I missed breakfast because of the festivities — or maybe because they served breakfast at 5am! — and was starving by the time lunch came around at noon. We take turns eating as only about 30 people fit in the dining area, but you can avoid this by bringing a tupperware.
The boat wasn’t nearly as technologically primitive as I thought it might be. There’s something like 5 TVs aboard, always playing football games or news… welcome to Brazil. I’m not particularly crazy about the bathrooms, but they’re not horrible and they come equipped with showers.
For a minute I thought I’d be able to get quite a bit of work done, even edit a couple videos, but after rummaging in my bag for the better part of half an hour I realized I’d forgotten my converter for the outlet (European). Esse realmente foi foda. Another surprise, totally unrelated, is that there haven’t really been any mosquitoes, which I’m going to credit to it being the dry season.
Thankfully, the rain stopped sometime around noon and the rest of the day was sunny and hot. I hung out with the French and Chilean out on the top deck and even got my old twisted ankle, still slightly larger than the other, a physical therapy session because Frenchy works with that kind of stuff and wanted to practice.
Sunset was once again completely brilliant, this time a burning yellow-orange floating over the trees and turning the water into a glassy surface. Being alone, blonde-haired, blue-eyed really is impossible here and I had to extract myself from yet another Brazilian fan club who kept serving up one beer after the other — though I didn’t drink even a complete can because every time it get slightly warm they bought a new one.
Breakfast was served slightly later today, 6:30 am, sandwiches with egg/cheese, boiled manioca, some kind of corn cake, and a tiny piece of melon. The food isn’t the best on the boat and certainly not super vegetarian friendly. I ate rice and beans topped with farinha (manioca flour) accompanied by cucumber/tomato/onion salad and skipped out on the spaghetti and variety of strange looking meat.
I spent most of the day lounging around in my hammock watching the scenery, sometimes close and sometimes far. For some reason doing nothing on a boat makes you really tired. I didn’t really want to walk around too much any more because I’m tired of drinking beer and it’s unavoidable with the Brazilian fan club.
On the last day I discovered that you can stand at the front of the boat if you go to the lower level. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long, but it doesn’t seem like anyone else knew either (or at least I didn’t see anyone there).
As the boat drew closer to Manaus, the banks along the river became populated by little houses, popping out between the jungle trees, and boats zipping through the water.
Then we were passing larger ships, the port, and a hillside where it was written, “Bem-vindo a Manaus.”
Here’s the VIDEO for this awesome leg of the Amazon boat ride!