Described as an experience and a half, it was something I was dreading but in some crazy way getting excited about. It would also be (I kept telling myself) a great local experience to be living, eating and sleeping with the Brazilian people – no chance to go back to the safety of a hotel, hostel or tent. Prepared with hammock, snacks, water and other drinks I was ready for my three nights and four days on the river with about 150 local people…or was I?
Having put up my hammock up the day before leaving, it seemed somewhat spacious even though the 13 of us had to place our hammocks rather close and I mean touching arm to arm. However, upon arriving the next day the second deck was covered in an array of colours – there must have been 80 to 90 hammocks of all different sizes strung from beam to beam and our somewhat spacious living area was greatly diminished. We had to put our fighting hats on to protect our space, as the local people constantly tried to fit one more hammock between, on top or under ours – it was pure craziness and I am sure if we let them they would have slept in our hammocks with us. Limited Portuguese was a definite disadvantage but soon the international sound of huffing, puffing and tutting started to work its magic.
I was a bit apprehensive about what the food would be like on the ferry especially as the guidebooks all say that you receive brown rice and beans and the only reason for the rice being brown is that it is cooked in the muddy river water. This is a horrible thought especially as all rubbish tends to go overboard whilst travelling. With all this in mind I still patiently queued for my meal and nervously went into the dinky dinning hall to wait for my meal. It was a great relief to be pleasantly surprised that the food was rather good. Yes, I had beans and rice but it wasn’t brown and included some delicious beef, salad and potatoes which to add diversity, were served a different way each day.
The river was quite wide in most parts along the journey so I did not see any of the wildlife in the area but enjoyed some lovely sunsets with a couple glasses of the Brazilian national drink, Caipirinha, in my hand. The remainder of the time I took in the atmosphere on the boat by watching and listening to the local people, including the children, sing and dance to the constant samba music that played on board. The first night in my hammock however was very restless and many bruises appeared as I was elbowed in the cheek, hit on the head, sat on and kicked in the back. I did eventually go to sleep only to be woken at five in the morning with more people coming on board and of course a lot more hammocks!! Let me just say the trip to the bathroom was not just a colourful affair but also meant a lot of ducking and crawling just to get there.
After three nights we docked in Manuas at 2am where we were told we could carry on sleeping until about eight o’clock before we needed to leave the boat. Having been in Brazil for about 3 weeks already I was not surprised to be woken up with a foghorn in the ear at 6am and told that I had about 20 minutes to leave the boat before it departed back to Porto Velho. Half a sleep the 13 of us rushed up stairs to collect our belongings and just managed to leap off the boat before it sailed out of the port.
If I had to sum up my time on board it was something that I am glad I did not miss, of course I thoroughly enjoyed my first shower in three days but I would give that all up again in order to share and experience once more this time with the Brazilian people and their way of travelling. I do also think I got extremely lucky with the ferry and maybe if the boat was a lot more packed I might not be singing in the same tune!
South African born Nicole Boys is an avid traveller and marketer who has lived in London for the past 9 years. Nicole’s love of travelling and desire to speak Spanish fluently sent her on an 8 month adventure around South America – the above voyage is just one of the many stories she has chosen to share with us.