The Voyage from Manaus to Belém
As usual the Brazilian time-tables were spot on (haha just kidding). Our boat pulled out of the port of Manaus close the 3 pm despite the departure being set for around noon. Phyllis and I had already spent over five hours one the boat, taking off early in case of bus delays in traffic and to grab the best hammock spots. The Amazon boat ride is probably the most economical option, at 200 reais/person, for reaching Belém on short notice though the trip would drain five days of our time. Most tourists choose to get off at Santarem, a smaller ‘beach’ town with supposedly stunning water, only two days away, but we were high-tailing it for Belém partially to meet our friend Pedro who would be there for a week.
We had arrived to the port, hoping to find the usual bustle of of vendors in the street so we could buy fruit at absurdly low prices. On my way from Tabatinga to Manaus three meals were included in the 150 reais ticket, but this time there would only be food for sale on the ship for exorbitant prices (according to the backpacker’s budget and the value of rice/beans/meat). Turns out the afternoon is fruit time and the limited number of carts there in the morning sell predominantly vegetables. Thankfully we did manage to make some successful purchases including papaya, apples, oranges, and mangos. Supplementing this was an earlier purchase of cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, crackers, bread, and tuna fish (at least we were trying to be healthy).
The boat was much warmer this time around and much of the day was spent lounging around in the hammocks. I’m always surprised how few people actually have books or anything to do with them. While the tourists read, use their computers, listen to music, it seems like most the locals spend their days fast asleep. Sunsets had been absolutely incredible during the first boat ride, but the skies were considerably smoggier here and we didn’t have the same luck. Still, the river’s evening light display was nothing to scoff at.
If there was a part of the actual voyage that with certainty made the views more interesting, however, it was the proximity we sailed past forest communities. The first section of the river I passed through was basically uninhabited and there was nothing but trees for miles and miles as we motored through. Between Manaus and Belém, however, there’s a considerable number of people living on the river in these amazingly cute looking stilt houses.
As we passed the enclaves of houses, people paddled out on their canoes or sped past on motor boats to collect bags of food that were thrown to them from the boat. There’s something very romantic to me about how they live there and part of me wishes we were all so desperately isolated minding our own business instead of packed into cities and consuming the planet. Parts of Brazil are like that; people living in ridiculously remote and difficult places to reach. There’s this state called Acre I’ve become obsessed with going to, mainly on the basis that basically no one in Brazil ever goes there… likely only jungle and native tribes, it may as well be another planet.
This boat was considerably less drunk than the last because the beer at the snack bar was double the price (6 instead of 3 reais), but it didn’t stop people from offering me and Phyllis free drinks. I was on antibiotics and Phyllis gets drunk after one of anything so it didn’t work out so well for them. The most hilarious part was actually watching Phyllis try to explain to guys attempting to flirt that she had no idea what they were saying. We finally found our niche with some guys playing dominoes and passed a couple of nights doing that. Our dumbest activity was, by far, making a video of stupid things to do on the boat, but it was fun all the same.
Finally, several hours off schedule, we arrived in Belém and the parts of Brazil that are actually reachable by highway. Even with the time suck and the less than desirable amounts of food, I still think the journey was worth it just to gain some understanding of how life is along this river. The river here is the highway.