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Boat Trip to the Amazon

BRAZIL | Thursday, 6 July 2006 | Views [9282] | Comments [1]

Amazon River Boat

Amazon River Boat

There is something special about reaching a place after a long boat trip, especially when it is along a river. One of the places I’ve always wanted to visit was Manaus on the Amazon, having read as a child the epic story to build an Opera House there in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest. This scheme was a victory of determination over common sense, a prestige project for the rich rubber magnates that ran Manaus at that time, after all, how many opera fans were there in the Amazon in the 1890’s? It took fifteen years to build and apart from some local wood, every piece of it was imported from Europe, from the Italian marble to the cast iron pillars made in Glasgow. Having read the inspirational story of its building, I had always wanted to see this particular Opera House.  

After some investigation I learnt that there was a boat twice a week from a town close to the Bolivian border that took three days to reach Manaus, along the Rio Madeira, which at 3200 km was the third longest river in Latin America, and one of the Amazons major tributaries. So I arrived in the Brazilian town of Porto Velho so find the boat.

I arranged through a portside agent to have a cabin on the river boat “Alfredo Zanys”, a three decked vessel which carried cargo and passengers. The lower deck carried the cargo, on this trip, tomatoes, potatoes and Argentinean onions all neatly boxed up and loaded by hand. The crew also lived down here amongst the veg. The middle deck housed the passengers, most of them in hammock class. In the center of the deck was an empty space, 10m by 4m in which people hung their hammocks and piled their processions. This really was communal living as there were so many hammocks they were touching each other and some had two tiers, one below another. As more tickets had been sold, the hammocks had spread along the passages and to move about people had to duck and weave their way though the ropes and sleeping people. The space had filled from the front of the boat to be as far away from the noisy engine as possible. At the front of the middle deck were the cabins, where I was, the quietest and least populated part of the boat. Each cabin had two bunks and a tiny bathroom (all the water came from the river so it came out of the taps brown) and an air con unit which had power only at certain times of day. On the top deck there was very little, a few cabins, a snack bar with TV, and a large open space without shade and so good for very little. On the top of the snack bar was a satellite dish which was connected to a handle. As the boat moved the dish had to be realigned by hand, someone moving the handle until the picture was restored. As this took quite a lot of effort it was only done for important events like World Cup matches, when all the space under the meager shade was filled up to watch the game. When the TV was off, music blared out from a massive speaker.

Apart from a few foreigners like me everyone on board was Brazilian. After a few hours everyone settled down, the luggage was sorted out, children ran around and explored the ship and people started to get to know each other. There were even some Brazilian tourists on board, people from San Paulo discovering their own country. Meal times were a communal affair; at the back of the boat were the galley and a dinning room. You queued up for a sitting and the cooks put plates of rice, pasta and stew with great knuckles of meat and bone in it. This was served up for almost every meal, except breakfast which was coffee and crackers. As there were no lights in the hammock area, night came early for most passengers.

The ship ploughed on day and night up the brown river, only stopping briefly over the three days.  At first the Rio Madeira was less than a kilometer in width, with few tributaries or habitation. The boat often traveled close to the tree lined banks; this was the famous Amazon rain forest; flat land was far as you could see, covered in trees. In rained in the late afternoons and clouds stretched away across the landscape, a wonderful view in such a natural landscape Most of the settlements only consisted of a few houses, most of which had banana trees growing around them. Where the larger trees had been cut down you could see the smaller plants and shrubs which were very diverse, as if you were looking at a botanical garden. Further up river, the settlements became sizeable towns and there was more river traffic. More rivers flowed in and we often passed sizeable tree covered islands, the far shore now being almost two kilometers away.

Early on the morning of the third day we woke up on the Amazon itself and now the river was six kilometers wide and we were passing ocean going ships. Instead of wooden huts the shore now housed an oil refinery and a naval base. In Manaus, the port is at the center of the city so you get off the boat and immediately enter the world of traffic, people and noise. After the quiet and isolation of most of the trip, this was startling reentry to the real world. It interesting how after a few days on a boat it becomes almost like home, familiar and insular, and that suddenly having to find a hotel reminds you that life goes on elsewhere and you had better shape up to it. Cruising the world’s great rivers is certainly a wonderful way to get away from it all, highly recommended.

Tags: Observations

Comments

1

Hello, we made the journey from Manaus to Belem sleeping in hammocks with arrest of five days in Alter do Chão. It is an unforgettable trip! We will again someday! We provide the photos and some tips on www.verdejava.com.br. Bye!

  Fabricio Rocha Aug 14, 2010 5:52 AM

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