Thursday, 13 January 2011

Traveling The Amazon

The following takes place between Iquitos-Peru and Belem-Brazil.

It's a 2 day trip in what seems like a Peruvian pirate boat if one wants to reach the three-sided-border connecting Colombia, Brazil & Peru.
Before joining a long ride on the Amazon, it is highly recommended to check what you need to survive it. On Peruvian boats, apart from having a hammock to sleep on, food is obligatory. Meals are served 3 times a day but the hygiene on the boat is as low as it gets.
My first hours on the boat passed by waiting for the Peruvian clock to show 19:00. We set sail at 21:00...
It was only the next morning when I saw the wonders of the beautiful river. October is the dry season but October of 2010 was declared the driest in 40 years. Even so, for one Israeli, there were a lot of water flowing down stream.
The boat stopped in major villages to drop off locals, mail & goods. The sight of the remote areas being reoccupied or filled with sudden prosperity is fascinating. Imagine what's it like to lack bread - no bread until the next boat arrives. Reminds me of the remote Galàpagos Islands...
Having enough of the same river views (not like Patagonia - views don't often change...), I found myself reading a lot of my books. World Cup Wishes (Eshkol Nevo) was done within 3 hours...
Suddenly, everyone left on the boat started packing all of their stuff. It was sudden for me, because I was told I have to expect 3 nights...Only 2 have passed and so it was weird and comforting to discover the next stop is Santa Rosa - the desired border town.
The three-way frontier is just another point on the wide river. Two cities Leticia-Colombia and Tabatinga-Brazil, are on one side while Peru has only the small island-town of Santa Rosa. Little peke-peke boats offer a transfer to the other countries. No need for passport checks if you're only interested in crossing from one populated area to the other. If you want to ''really'' enter another country, just be sure to visit the Federal Police station on each side.
I decided to stay the night on the cheaper Peruvian Santa Rosa. That same day (arriving so early!) I started making the arrangements of crossing the border and finding the next boat on the Brazilian side. The Brazilian-Federal-Police are located far away from the river and I had to take my first Moto-Taxi to get to it. A Moto-Taxi is simply a motorcycle which you mount having room only for one person at a time and with a constant cost of 2$R. Done with the international affairs, I took a boat back to sleep one last night on the cheap Spanish speaking side.
Portuguese is awful. Imagine yourself knowing a language, learning it for 8 months, then, you meet stubborn people who insist on speaking a very similar language, but this time - with a Russian accent! Lucky for me, Brazilians are very nice and some are willing to try and understand Spanish. Well, that's how I survived 2 months in Brazil.

Back to our storyline...
2 hours before the boat is due to leave the port, locals, tourists and I found ourselves in the hands of the annoying Federal-Police. The people on queue were told to open their bags and leave the line as the smell-dogs went through them as if we were all potential drug-dealers. When the dogs were done with the bags, the officers in the next room opened up ALL of the bags, poring all its contents on a table and asking random questions. Annoying.
Safe (from the scary looking Federal Policemen) and on the boat. Compering the Peruvian boats & the Brazilian ones is just the same as compering Peru to Brazil. Peru - poor, dirty, old... Brazil - Rich, clean and new! I truly felt like on a Cruz-boat.
Not too much time went by, and I also met a lovely Brazilian girl named Luciana. She was at the end of her long trip and headed home. Luciana knew good Spanish and so we could communicate. She showed me around, told me about her amazing country and what I shouldn't miss and was a great companion in a Portuguese speaking place.
Before I knew it - we were alongside with the long city of Manaus. Almost 2 million pop. Manaus is the Brazilian capital of the Amazon river. Dismounting the boat in the middle of the night, we were a group of six. Jaime & Pedro Salazar, father and son from Colombia. Flor & (can't recall his name) a nice french couple headed my direction. Luciana & me. We shared a taxi to a hostel (one of few) in town. Even though there is not much to do in Manaus, I found myself having a good time with all the gang. We went to the famous theater of Manaus and saw a play called "Dona America".
During my stay in the big river city, I had to make a decision about my next move. It was either down stream with a boat (again), 5 more days to Belem, or an expensive flight (one hour) to Belem. I ended up taking the flight - knowing I don't really have the time to ride the Amazon.
Belem is a harbor city in the delta of the Amazon. Not much to see there, but I somehow met a familiar face from the hostel of Manaus, in the hostel of Belem. Not such a coincidence if you know there's only one active hostel in Belem.
Preetesh is an Indian-South African, living in Canada nowadays. With him, I also met Roger, a Canadian in orgin. Roger loves his liqueur, or should I say beer. So we found ourselves in the arms of a nice Brazilian (Roger met him in the hostel!), searching for a place to drink. The night was young but the older of the bunch were the ones drinking the most. The night after that, same happy bunch, we wondered around Belem and a local festival that was in town. After having fun (shooting some guns and wining prizes, I showed them my Israeli-soldier skills) we ate local dishes in a local food-kart. It was right then and there when I fell in love with the Bahian Vatapa, Caruru & Acaraje.
During the days in Belem I found myself touring the city and it's sites. Belem is famous for its big market, in which, you can buy almost everything - from fruits & vegetables, football shirts & antiques.

To meet my next destination, Salvador Do Bahia, I had to cross 1/4 of Brazil on a 36 hour bus. Not too much to tell, just broke my personal record of hours on a bus.

Tips for Traveling the Amazon:
- Buy a Hammock. It's cheaper then cabins on boats and it's not that difficult to sleep on. Make sure you buy a matrimonial-long one & sleep diagonally.
- The theater in Manaus is worth a visit, not too sure about the amusement of tourist not understanding Portuguese spoken in the plays.
- A city tour in Belem is recommended. It's a nice town. Just ask someone in the hostel where the harbor is and let your legs do the work.

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