This blog is dedicated to everyone who’s said they were jealous of our travels. I promise you that you won’t envy the last few days we’ve had. 🙂 But that’s the thing about long travel – it’s not just vacation, it’s getting into the nitty, gritty of a place. The bad experiences are as much of the story as the good ones so I’m not going to leave them out. Perhaps I should just be more specific when I tell Bryan I’d really like to go on a cruise…
After 17 hours on the bus, with a 7-hour lay-over in between in Boa Vista (due to all of the holiday travelers), we finally arrived in the disgusting city of Manaus. We were exhausted and sweaty – the bus’s AC was broken for the last several hours. The highlight of the Manaus trip for Bryan occurred when we were on the city bus in Manaus going to our hostel. I paid the fare-collector on the bus and when he gave me back our change Bryan said he was ripping us off. I was just so tired of people ripping us off. Anytime we bought something that didn’t have a price tag there was one price for us and one price for locals. Someone would come up and buy the same drink, snack or whatever right after us and the would pay half the price. So all that was starting to add up and I was pissed at this fare collector. I argued with him in Spanglish while he responded to me in Portuguese. I was turned around sideways in my seat getting feisty when the bus driver suddenly jerked the bus to the left to switch lanes. I went flying into the aisle and landed on my back (on my backpack). I must admit, I know I looked quite ridiculous – like an angry, sweaty American turtle stuck on my back. Bryan and the lady next to me picked me up while the big bus roared with laughter. “Never mind, that guy actually did charge us the right amount,” Bryan told me after all that.
I’m being generous by calling Manaus a city, I think it’s really more of a landfill where people have decided to reside. It’s baffling how the streets were covered with trash, but the bountiful amount of trashcans were completely empty. I really hope that all of the trash was from the massive crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers, and that Manaus isn’t always like that. There was also a man, amid all the last-minute Christmas shoppers, taking a pee on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, we were stuck in the city for 3 days waiting for the next Amazon boat to Santarem. We made the most of our time in Manaus and visited the beautiful section of the city near the Theater of the Amazons and Bryan spent time photographing the nice parts of city.
Unfortunately, we fell for the smooth-talking promises of an English-speaking Brazilian named Thomas who worked with our pousada. We had a feeling he was a salesman but after traveling it’s nice to hear English and have someone take you under their wing and show you the ropes. For a bit more money than the normal boat tickets, Thomas promised us that he would buy our hammocks (that’s what you sleep in during the couple days on the boat) and hang them early before the boat’s departure in the best spot (away from the stinky bathrooms). Thomas assured us several times that the hammocks would be far from the bathroom. He also talked us into doing an Amazon tour during one of our days in Manaus. He showed me pictures of the baby sloth I would hold so you know that immediately convinced me. Bryan was skeptical but ready to get out of the city for a bit. The tour was so cheesy. There were no fellow English-speaking travelers as Thomas had promised, and no sloths anywhere! The highlight of the tour was when I held an anaconda and it peed and pooped all over me.
Christmas morning finally arrived and it was time to board the boat to Santarem. Thomas’ assistant walked us to the boat and showed us our hammocks… RIGHT in front of the bathroom! The bathrooms already reeked. Can you imagine what they would smell like after 30 plus hours with 300 people using them?!? The hammocks were hung on top of each other and touching one an other on the side. I was horrified. We told Thomas’ assistant that we were not paying for a service that we didn’t receive. Luckily we already had our boat tickets but hadn’t yet paid him the full amount. He told us that we needed to leave the boat if we weren’t going to pay him. Bryan said there was no way we were getting off this boat (and getting stuck in Manaus again). The assistant ran off to get someone in charge of the boats’ ticketing. They returned to say that if we didn’t pay him we would be physically taken off the boat. Luckily, Bryan and the assistant settled on us paying some of the money but not the full amount. At that point we just wanted to get out of there.
When the boat departed we saw that some people were hanging their hammocks on the nearly empty, breezy (and non-stinky) top level. We tried to find someone who spoke Spanish or English to see if we could sleep there, too. No such luck. After an hour of deliberation we followed suit. That’s definitely what made the trip bearable. No bathrooms near us, and much more room between each of the hammocks. It was almost pleasant. A few minutes after our boat departed we passed through the Meeting of the Waters – where the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões combine to form the Rio Amazon. The two different rivers run side by side and don’t mix for miles due to differences in their temperatures, water densities, and speeds. It’s an awesome sight! We soon realized there was a downside of the top deck – it was the party deck. There was a bar and huge speakers BLASTING music constantly. We wore our ear plugs nearly all day and all night and we could still hear the music loud and clear. Every time someone turned the volume down, the bartender would turn it back up.
As the only English-speaking gringos on the boat, we were pretty much celebrities. I’ve never been stared at so much in my life. Little boys stared at me for a good 15 minutes straight without looking away. One boy stared for awhile, went and pointed us out to his parents, and then they all stared. The people were nice though. There was a friendly Brazilian guy in the hammock beside Bryan’s that shared his candy and cookies with us and proudly showed us an American dollar he had on him. There was also an Australian woman (the only other person who spoke English or Spanish!) that we visited with. Nonetheless, the hours went by slowly. It was definitely the longest 30-hours of my life. After we finally fell asleep in our hammocks and tuned out the music, we were awoken by humongous beetles landing in our hammocks and all over the deck. Some kind of leggy, slimy thing landed on me and bit me. I was convinced it was a flying octopus (I don’t think they exist though). After we finally got settled after the bug invasion, the cross-eyed, toothless coughing lady (who didn’t cover her mouth) beside me started talking loudly on the phone (at 3:30 a.m.). Even with our earplugs, we could still hear her loud as day. I tried shushing her loudly several times but I guess “shhh” doesn’t mean much in Portuguese. The phone call continued for a few hours. When the phone call ended, the music resumed.
Even though our “cruise” down the Amazon wasn’t the best experience for us, we’ve heard from other travelers that boating the Amazon was awesome for them. So definitely don’t rule it out, especially if you want to experience all of Brazil. A fellow American traveler that we just met said her boat ride was one big, fun party. So I think it really depends on who else is on the boat. We had 99.5% local families who were traveling for the holidays so it wasn’t a party crowd. We have also heard that the boat ride from Belem to Santarem is much more interesting because the river is narrower so you are able to see the Amazon villages. The children paddle up on their little boats, throw a big hook onto the boat and climb onboard to sell shrimp or other things. Passengers also prepared “care packages” of clothes, treats, and things bundled in a plastic grocery bag to throw to the children in their boats.
We survived the boat ride and it was worth the trip. We are now in the gorgeous little town of Alter do Chão. It really is a slice of Caribbean smack dab in the middle of the Amazon – warm waters, empty white sand beaches, and a clean, quaint little town. Yesterday we spent the day with a fellow American lying in hammocks on the beach, taking a sunset boat tour to see the Amazon dolphins, and drinking Skol in the little town center while watching a dancing and music festival. Even though I’ve been fighting a cold (that I’m positive the cross-eyed, toothless, coughing lady gave me), things are definitely looking up! And great news – Bryan went back to Santarem this morning (while I slept) and found a great deal on plane tickets. We won’t have to spend another holiday on a boat!