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caty’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 01 Oct 2005

Location: Tabatinga, Brazil

MapI collected by luggage and made my way with my hammock to the Migual Monteiro III. (Dropped my bag of water bottles and smashed my mobile phone screen on the way, so no more texts or alarm clock!) Got up to the middle deck and made a feeble attempt to put up my hammock- couldn´t reach and didn´t know how to tie it. Was rescued by a man a few hammocks down. There were about 75 hammock in 3 rows on the deck. Cargo was carried in the deck below and on the top deck there was a little shop/bar with chairs to sit in. A couple of tiny cabins were available but to hot to bother with. We left about 4.30pm and about 5pm a woman went round ringing a bell. This was the call to dinner - beef or chicken (fish once) with rice, spaghetti and bean stew and boy was there a rush for it. Eating was done in dead silence with people, mainly the men, grabbing for the food in case it ran out. We got this at 11am & 5pm. Breakfast was at 6.30am - yes I was up at 6am every day for the last 9 days and in bed by about 8pm as it was dark at 6pm!!! Met an English girl /& 2 Danish girls on the boat so had some company. There wasn´t much to do other than lie in your hammock and watch the world go by for a week. The Amazon is so wide that you don´t really see any wildlife - just birds and hear monkeys sometimes. Lots of floating logs but no Alligators. Sometimes you´d see clapboad houses on stilts in amongst the trees. By the Thursday I´d read David Copperfield, The Da Vinci Code, a david eddings book and Nicholas Nickleby ie all my books but was savedd by someone lending me Islands in the Stream (Hemmingway). It also helped that on the Wednesday we started making stops so we could watch what was going on. You hae no idea how much fizzy drinks they seem to need here. At one stop they were unloading soft drinks from the boat for 4 hours! At another they were loading sacks of big fish the length of the sack for at least 2 hours. It´s all done manually- either carried by men into the boat or thrown to someone waiting to catch on the dock. And all the towns were up a steep mud slope so the loads were carried on the men & boys heads up to the top. It was fascinating to watch. We got out at a few towns to walk around. Fairly basic. Motorbikes were the mode of transport along the dusty roads. No glass in the windows, just shutters but often brightly painted. The houses are mainly timber cladding with tin roofs but a few were building with the terracotta blocks they use in France & Germany. These are all best shown by photo but haven´t downloaded mine yet. We finally arrived in Tabatinga on Saturday morning - 7 nights in a hammock on a deck surrounded by Brazilians travelling aout 1000 miles up the Amazon. It was a great experience. Very enjoyable and relaxing but probably too boring for most. I have to say I´m sick of rice, spaghetti & beans now! There were a few characters on board - particularly the captain. He was about late fifties, grey hair and alays looked like he needed a shave. He´s wander around in flip-flops, ragged shorts and an open shirt. He wore an alligator tooth round his neck. He was really nice - always concerned that I hadn´t been fed.

In Tabatinga there were supposed to be 3 companies running fast boats to Iquitos (12 hours), according to our guidebooks, but unfortunately for us there was only one. Their Sunday service was cancelled because they had to maintain the motor, the Monday one was booked out and there was none on Tuesday! Earliest Wednesday and my flight to Lima was on Wednesday from Iquitos. Slight panic as none of the other 3 girls wanted to stay in Tabatinga either. After a bit of climbing up & doen to the port (steps were gigantic - about 450mm high and it was boiling), we found out there was a slow boat to Iquitos (3 days) leaving from Santa Rosa that night at 8. So we hopped in a Taxi, got our exit stamps from the Brazilian Police Federal, raced to Leticia in Columbia and haggled with some money-changers in the street to change out Reals to Sols for Peru. Then back to the hostel we´d checked into to get our bags and down to the port to get a little boat accross to Santa Rosa, the Peruvian part of the triple frontier to wait for the boat. We spent the afternoon in a restaurant/bar overlooking the amazon with Brazilian eurovision music blaring in our ears. As we´d been told the boat would arrive at 6, we went down to the river at 5.30 to get down the slope before dark. An old man in the corner wanted me to sit and drink a beer with him but managed to get away with just taking a sip of his. i think we provided great entertainment everywhere we went especially the 2 blone Danes. We priovided fodder for the mosquitos for 3 hours but boat did arrive finally.