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BRAZIL | Wednesday, 14 January 2009 | Views [2804]

Niko in Tefe, Brazil

Niko in Tefe, Brazil

Crossing the border into Brazil from Venezuela was simple enough, until I went to exchange some money on the Brazillian side, and realised I had completely forgotten that everyone here speaks Portuguese! Luckily, Manfred (from Peace Villages Foundation) was there to help me a bit, as he needed to go to Boa Vista to get a translation done for his daughter who will soon be attending school in Brazil.

The buses weren´t too long, but really expensive! We arrived in Boa Vista in the morning and my bus to Manaus wasn´t until the evening, and so I spent the day trying to get money out of about six different banks, and fifty different teller machines around the city! I at least got to walk through a park on my boring way, where a man gave me a mango he had pulled from a tree that I couldn´t reach.

By 10pm I was solo again, and heading to Manaus for $100 Real (about $50USD). I happen to be the lucky winner on the seat next to the toilet for 12 hours on the bus!! It smelt so strong of pine o clean and poo within the first 5 minutes, that I´m glad I decided to complained. The driver ended up letting me sit next to him up front! But because of his cigarette smoke blowing in my face, the fact that I had to watch him throw butts out the window every two minutes, and because the seat didn´t go back past a 90 degree angle, I decided to go upstairs again, take a not yet filled seat, and pretend I was asleep when new passengers came on board... it worked!

Francisco (my new couchsurfing host), picked me up from the bus station and took me to his house where his parents live, before dashing off to work. His mum and dad cooked as good as in a five star restaurant (not that I really know what that´s like). The shower though, was my highlight for the first day. I then met Francisco´s sister Sanaia, her husband Neto, and their three year old son (also named Neto).  

Because Francisco worked alot, I met up with another couchsurfer named Igor, who is a Mormon and sings in a band called Evil Eye!!??! He was a very funny bloke who took me along to the school where he teaches English, and had me as one of his subjects! He mentioned when we first met that he likes to take couchsurfers to the markets when they need to shop for clothes. But after about two hours with me bargain hunting, and finally one jacket, which I desperately needed for the freezing buses, he told me it would be a challenge to get him to ever go shopping with me again!

It was the end of December, and luckily for me, Francisco and his family invited me to spend Christmas and New Years with their whole family in Tefe (a town west of Manaus, deeper into the Amazon, which took two days by boat to get to and cost $100 Real).

We stayed for the next week or two in his sister´s (Neila´s) house, but the first two days I was stuck to the bed... ill, with stabbing pains in my stomach from the boat´s food poisoning techniques.

Christmas eve consisted of 30 or 40 of Francisco´s family members gathered in a room, giving out secret Santa gifts, and also a delightful speech (about the person the present was for).  I managed to paint a few Chrissy cards for the family, which looked like a four year old´s masterpiece! Food and drinks followed, and then Francisco took me for a ride around the town on a motor bike to see all of the families partying out the front of each of their houses. Later on we ended up at a Fo-Ho (type of Brazilian music) concert, where there were thousands of people dancing and chilling out. I made some friends that night, including Adriano (nicknamed Mau Mau... not for any reasons one may guess), who is best friends with a monkey named Niko, and sings in a rock band. He showed me alot of the town on his bike.

Christmas day was a dream! Most of the people I had met the previous night were all friends, and had gathered beside a river pool, which was surrounded by lush green, Amazonian forest. The craziest thing though, was meeting an American guy (Lucas), who was just as shocked as I to see another foreigner. His host (Lilian) and he, will meet up with me later in Sao Paulo or Rio.

There was a house party somewhere new, nearly every day. New Years came, and thousands of people (practically the whole town) gathered along the river-side to watch fireworks and bands play. Adriano´s band was playing, and they invited me to come up onto the stage with them and take photos. Francisco, who I found was also very musically talented, ended up filling in for one of the band´s guitarists who couldn´t play that night.

There was an accident that night. One of Francisco´s cousins was hit my a motor bike, and was flown to Manaus with a broken leg. I was hardly surprised by this though. There had been at least two other of the same type of accidents over the past week, one which happened out the front of the families house. I first heard tires screeching, a loud thud, and then a woman scream! People gathered around a man who was lying on the asphalt, covered in blood. No one had the faintest idea what to do, and when I tried to get my friend to translate for me so I could administer first aid, he just looked blankly at me! I explained the need for a cloth with applied pressure, but nothing registered and too many people in the crowd were in shock. Thankfully an ambulance came within a few minutes, and it was good that the man maintained consciousness. Not one person had a clue about first aid!

A two day boat trip back to Manaus, (which unlike the last time, didn´t see me sleeping with another person in a hammock two inches above my head), followed by another four day boat trip to Belem, saw me missing Tefe and the family. But holidays were just about over!

By the time I was on the boat, going to Belem, my language was Portospanglish. I met a German medical student named Neils, and when we were chatting on the boat (that was packed so full of people that the captain was stopped by marines)another English speaking, bearded fellow joined in the conversation. His name (which I only found out, without realising, six hours later) was Steffany. He had just ridden a motorbike from LA, down through Central America, and was now on this boat with his bike. We both didn´t realise that you had to pay for food on this boat (as it´s normally included), and we didn´t have much money, so we went up onto the roof and ate biscuits with tuna (that had been at the bottom of my over-heated bag for at least a month and smelt like cat food), and video´d our progress with his video camera. He also video´d my running on hands race and break dancing efforts with some of the local kids, until my un-exercised body finally gave up on me.

We then went to search for a hammock for Steffany as he didn´t buy one before getting on the boat (due to procrastination). A nice woman from the infirmary gave him one, and then also me one, which was fantastic because mine is pitiful! Another man (Julieremy), who was talking with the woman, turned to us and started chatting. Within about ten minutes we learnt that Julieremy had driven exactly the same way as Steffan´s motorbike journey! In the same ten minutes we were offered a locked room for our belongings, the key to this room, and also a key to a private bathroom!!

After this multitude of very happily received gifts, we hung our hammocks downstairs in an actual space!! (probably where your not supposed to, but the boat was so overcrowded that all hammocks were grossly touching and entangling. A hammock covered buttocks in the face was not an uncommon occurrence! Steffany and I ended up moving later up one floor, where we put my other hammock in between us and put our small bags in it. We did this to pretend that we had a baby, so that we would have more room to sleep and so that no one would squash in and take up all the space. We called our fake baby ´Baggles´!!

Day one was a day of looking at dolphins, day two Steffany and I spent time filming the most ridiculous comedy act around the boat, and somehow on day three I ended up babysitting about six kids who saw me painting, and decided they wanted to as well!

I wrote a poem about the boat experience, just to give people a better image of what it is like:

I´m nervous, shy
not quite sure why,
while swinging light
in a hammocks plight,
as locals lute
by tucuma fruit
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

First town stops
the crowd tops,
like chick-peas canned
there´s urgent demand,
for a sleeping place
they rob my space
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

There´s an engine squeal
of grinding steal,
food bags stacked
near luggage packed,
hanging towels
and poisoned bowels
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

Bugs fly round
the shoe-filled ground,
cobwebs lace
a floaties place,
a stench below
is hard to know
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

Like a refugee
a thousand and me,
at five out of bed
in the hope of being fed,
waiting in line
for a bread-butter dine
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

I´m hungry, I´m tired
like those who are hired

in kitchen and deck
and in bathrooms a wreck,
there´s little to do
and a rising of poo
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

Trapped on the boat
like a prison afloat,
waiting an hour
for a brown-water shower,
It´s land I seek
for I´ve sailed a week
on this two deck,
open, shabby boat

Tags: amazon, band, belem, boat, brazil, manaus, monkey, music, tefe



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