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Journal Entry:

Monday, May 02, 2011 14:40:23

Rolls Alaska to Argentina & back: 27 Belem up the Amazon to Manaus, Brazil

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We both took advantage of our last chance for internet for a week before lunching at the local restaurant, where everyone wished us good luck on our trip. At 4PM we were picked up by a 15 seat van we had to ourselves. The driver took us to a big supermarket to get survival rations for the ferry at the recommendation of Mr. Berros from Amazon Star - he warned that food on board that is included in the price is very basic, and the water in the ferry dining room should be avoided.

When we arrived at the small ship they tried to put us in a lower cabin than we paid for, but our driver straightened that out. When we saw our tiny, windowless cabin we discovered that sheets, bedding, soap and towels were not provided, so the driver took us to a shop where we could purchase missing items. Air conditioning was from two large ducts at the foot of the upper bunk where I'm to sleep. There are no controls in the cabin so during the night I got up to put a plastic raincoast and travel vest on the bed to keep from freezing.

The promised toilet, sink and shower are in place. The shower is in the centre of the bathroom ceiling. We turned on the sink tap and found that the water that coughs out in spurts is the colour of milk chocolate. We are convinced that a shower would leave one much dirtier than before, and as cabins are cleaned only at the end of each voyage we didn't want mud from the shower on the floor. Water is available only now and then, including for flushing the toilet.

Bunks are the full length of the cabin; about 5 ½ ft (1.68 meters), or about six inches (15 cm) shorter than me. There is an area about 18 inches (46 cm) wide for access to the bunks. The lower bunk is built almost to the floor, and the upper bunk close to the ceiling, as the cabin is only about six feet (183 cm) high, so storage is a challenge.

We are located on the third deck. The lower deck is freight, the second passenger hammocks, public toilets, some cabins and a small enclosed dining area. Our deck has a bar plus hammocks, which are strung from hooks in the ceiling - there is a roof but no walls. The bar sells beer, soft drinks, tiny bottles of water and snacks.

At dinner time we were informed our meals are not prepaid. It was too late to call Amazon Star. We bought instant noodles from the bar along with several beer - even Marilynn is drinking beer! The people on board are very friendly, and we were soon in discussion with them using some Spanish, the odd word of Portuguese and sign language. Before we left a much larger ferry, the "Navio Rondoner", pulled out. It has larger cabins with outside windows and a covered car deck, something Patrick from Amazon Star told me was not available. Apparently there are a couple of regular ferries of this type, which would have been perfect for us - we would have had access to the car and its contents, the car would have been under cover and we would have been on our way two days earlier. It would have also saved a lot of money in taxi fares, hotels and thow away items bought for the passenger ferry trip.

We finally reached an area of cell phone service, so I contacted Mr. Berros at Amazon Star about having to pay for meals. He confirmed they were included - to call him back in 15 minutes. When I called back we were back out of cell phone signal. Meals are not super expensive - breakfast consists of a fried egg, a piece of ham, a bun and a piece of fruite for about $US 2. Lunch and dinner include rice, beans, salad and a piece of chicken or meat for about $US 6. The restaurant fellow is a jolly chap who seems always to have a smile. The crew as a whole are very friendly, and everyone on board seem to get along well.

We first proceeded through the canal from Belem to the Amazon River proper, then up river. We were always very close to shore where the downstream current is less strong, so had a continual close up view of jungle and the scattered homes of the river people. These people are extremely poor, and even Brazilians sleeping in hammocks who have little money themselves had brought along used clothing and snacks which they put into plastic bags and throw into the river near dug out canoes.

Others in dug out canoes came to the ferry with food to sell. The ferry does not slow down, so they do a death defying manoever to hook onto one of the tires hanging from the ferry, swing the canoe alongside and tie it. This was mostly done by 8 or 10 year old boys. They would then climb on board to sell their goods. We feasted the whole afternoon on freshly cooked shrimp, fruit, hearts of palm and other delicassies brought on board this way, washing it down with lots of ice cold beer. We were seated with people we met on board, including Ana,a beautifu 22 year old blond Norwegian girl who has been back packing by herself through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil for four months. Brave young lass!

The next day we stopped at the town of Almeirim where we went ashore to buy juice, and Marilynn got some limes and a bottle of pinga, the local name for Cachaca liquor which costs about $US 3 per litre. Our group sitting around eating and drinking has doubled in size from yesterday, and everyone contributed something as today there were no vendors coming aboard. There were jars of olives, palm hearts, jam, cheese, nuts and we had bags of shrimp in the snack bar freezer from yesterday.. We drank beer most of the day, then Marilynn broke out the Cachaca for caipurinas and the party began in earnest. The lady in the snack bar has a selection of up beat latin DVDs so soon there was dancing and singing. One fellow broke out a guitar and he and his wife entertained for awhile - it was a great night.

On Friday morning word reached us by a round about route that the captain wasn't particularly keen on people bringing booze on board, unless they were going to drink it in their own cabin. A pity, as Marilynn says it was the first night she was warm in bed!

In Santarem, a city of 350,000 supported by the soya bean and lumber industries, we stopped for some time. This is the home port of the company that owns the boat and many of the crew live here, so are given time to see their families. About 40 passengers left the boat and another 100 joined. We were on shore saying goodbye to Silvio, with whom we shared the trip to date, when our guide arrived for a tour included in our package. A drive through the City of Santarem revealed a clean attractive place with a lot of civic pride. The guide agreed to take Ana along with us, as we drove 34 km from Santarem to Altr de Chao, a resort town located on the banks of a large river with green water where she had booked a backpacker's hostel.

We had a great lunch overlooking the beach area of the river. The river was up to the palm frond roofs of buildings in the swimming area on a sand bar. It is most used from September to March during low water. We are told it is necessary to wade out to the area very cautiously, as dinner plate sized sting rays are common here. They lay on the sand bottom, and if stepped on deliver a nasty sting.

We hoped for a swim, and had brought shampoo along to do a general clean up in the river, but we had been told by the captain that the ship would leave at 6 PM, and we should be on board by 5:30 PM so there wasn't time. I did get an update off at an internet cafe, then a final beer at a dockside bar with Silvio, who had brought me a cap and T-shirt similar to that worn by the crew of the ship. In the end it took until 10:30 PM to deal with the cargo - we could easily have had our swim!

In the morning we missed breakfast, so I had a pear from our stash and we bought grilled cheese sandwiches at the bar. We were in the town of Obidos while eating, an interesting looking place. About an hour after we left I was sitting on the toilet lid, an area I have claimed as my "office" as it is the only place in the cabin I can sit upright to work on the computer, when Marilynn came in to tell me a fellow passenger had given her an ice cold caiperina! This posed a bit of a problem for Marilynn, who doesn't drink before 5 PM usually and this happened at 10 AM! The people are really friendly, and there seems never to be a problem between them in spite of the close quarters in which they live on board.

In the afternoon a group of us sat around a table full of snacks that each contributed and drank the afternoon away while watching the interesting Amazon scenery go by. The local cachaca was flowing, but by Roberto who keeps the bottle concealed in his cabin and brings out the drinks already made. He has mixed some with Cashew juice - delicious and deadly! In the afternoon there was a brilliant rainbow, and a gorgeous Amazon sunset.

Sunday morning started with a brilliant flaming sunrise. We were originally scheduled to arrive today at 10 AM, but that was set back until 8 PM and now the latest revision is 8 AM Monday morning. Although we have seen wonderful sights and had some great times on board, I really was looking forward to taps that produce water, a nice shower and a bed that I fit in! We have to be in Manaus before the car, and have no idea how it is progressing - it is scheduled to arrive tomorrow also. We are also running out of Brazilian currency, and everything on board is cash - including the meals that are supposed to be included. Marilynn is now wearing ankle braclets, made on board by the girl who was doing the singing last night.

It was a lazy afternoon, other than during one of the final games of Brazilian national football. That was loud! We stopped at the town of Itacoatiara where everything was closed, so no hope of replenishing supplies for the extra day on board. At about 6 PM we were told we could get a taxi to Manaus from here. It is 15 more hours by ship, but estimated land time varied between 2 and 4 hours. One of the crew got a taxi to the wharf, but he wanted 380 reals, about $250, but we declined as we don't have that much money left in Brazilian currency and the captain assured me we would be there by 10 AM at the latest, as we have no more stops.