Up the Amazon ’85

This Was Not Part of the Plan

Journal Entry
Belem, Brazil
June 26, 1985

Amazon sunsetThis is the first day of our trip up the Amazon.  I don’t know exactly how far we’ll get but hopefully we’ll make it as far as Iquitos, Peru. Our plan is to make our way west to the Galapagos Islands off the shore of Ecuador.

We’re leaving tonight at 10:00 P.M. on the Terra Santa, a small cargo boat that is going as far as Santarem. It will take two days to arrive, which is a tolerable initiation to Amazon travel. We didn’t come to South America thinking, “let’s do the Amazon” but we have to be frugal after 6 months of trekking through South America. Our friends in Goiana said this is the cheapest way.

The captain, who seems to have a permanent smile on his face, invited us for coffee and crackers while he explained that boats leave from Santarem to Manaus every day. He charged us 500 cruzeiros for David and me, while my 5 year-old daughter Dawn travels for free. The exchange rate is 10.67 cruzeiros to the dollar, so it’s costing us about $47 for two days of transportation, accommodations and food.

The Terra Santa looks old and creaks a lot. Oh boy. Our “accommodations” are actually two hooks from which to hang our rêdes (hammocks). Women and children hang theirs at one end of the boat while the men hang theirs at the other end, supposedly for security. There are at least 100 rêdes on deck. A sign on the wall claims a capacity of 190 people though I can’t imagine where another 90 could fit.

I must have seemed confused as I looked out over the maze of rêdes as David made his way to the men’s end of the boat. The kind captain with the permanent smile came over and led Dawn and me to the front of the boat where he said, “it’s less noisy, stinky and hot.” Kind man.

We skipped dinner because it didn’t look too appetizing. We’re a bit concerned because they’re cooking the food in café au lait colored Amazon water. Luckily we picked up some fruit and peanuts in town and ate our improvised first meal on board sitting on the floor under a rainbow of rêdes.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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