24.07.2010 - 21.08.2010 85 °F
We are in Brazil!!! At last we have a chance to update the blog. I was thinking that it would be easier to update South America more often, but the friggin´macbook stopped working. Plus, its a bit more difficult to find a good connection for a good price as Brazil is a LOT more expensive then Asia. Why don´t they use a gun!! But here we are. By the way, don´t forget to check out our pictures in the Photography section on the right. You can access it by clicking one of the photos, on the "more photos" link or by clicking HERE. Remember, the ones displayed below are just the "tip of the iceberg."
After a 4 week visit to our respective families in Houston and Lima, we flew to Iquitos, a charming city in the middle of the rainforest, on July 24th. There we met up with one of my University friends, Tania. She accompanied us on our voyage to the Peruvian border and was loads of fun. After a couple of days we hopped our first boat for our grand cruise of the Amazon River.
This first boat ride from Iquitos to the triple border (Peru, Colombia, Brazil) was a bit more raw than the boats on the Brazilian side. In Peru the boats are stocked with both passengers AND cargo, such as livestock, produce, and other products. As it stops at villages along the river, one can observe the micro commerce of the communities.
As all the passengers are crammed along the hull of the ships on strung-up hammocks (byoh), it is quite easy to make friends and engage in conversation. We had the good fortunate of meeting Don Alex, who taught us about living a simple life in what he called Paradise -cheap prductive land, no draughts, delicious fruits and nature all around- and the art of currency exchange in merchandising, where he buys products in Peru with Soles and then sells them at an identical price on the Brazilian side of the border, but in the super-strong Brazilian Real. Drag, that we didn´t bring anything to sell. We also met two vets: Peruvian Daniel and a crazy Spaniard, Pedro (aka Peter Pan), a part-time expat of the Amazon; and two Colombian college students, Luisa & Felipe. The amenities aboard were basic, but they were good enough to allow us -and our new friends- to cheer for the Peruvian Independce day.
So, it turns our that the triple border as more like a double border (Colombia-Brazil). We couldn´t even found any resemblance of a civilization on the Peruvian side on Google Maps. Imagine that. The Colombian side is the best place to stay for value, food (you can eat rainforest worms here), nightlife, etc. Lucky for us Luisa and Felipe were our youthful guides to the nightlife in Leticia. Both nights, we spent out drinking with some limited salsa dancing. You simply have to dane in latin america; even if you´re not a dancer.
July 31st, we were once again on our own journeying on boat number 2 into the Brazilian interior for 4 days and 3 nights to Manaus. Though a great deal more expensive, the Brazilian boats have a lot more amenities, such as cold drinking water, more bathrooms, and most of all more space to escape the crowded hammock areas. Topside, there is normally a bar with a dancefloor and a flatscreen; the perfect place for catching some football (not American football), having a beer or cachaça, or taking in the romantic sunsets and the occasional soothing micro-storm.
This boat trip is where we encountered the greatest number of foreign tourists. Subsequent to Manaus is practically all local. Occasional hanky panky can be seen or sensed, whichever one applies, amongst the hammocks or along the recesses of the vessel. A balled Brazilian dude, named Aldemir, works in import-export and has lived in many places of the world shared some of his life experiences with us as well as a number of tips for our voyage along coastal Brazil.
Manaus is the largest city in the Amazon state. It is a bit dirty and can instill a bit of uneasiness, but it was not without a few charms for us, such as the plaza with the Teatro Amazonas where they have some nice cafes with live music performances. There are also some tourist sites with free entry (we like free, cheap bastards that we-JAY are). 2 nights were more than enough here before boating to the next destination, Santarem. Now this town was more to our liking. On top of that, a 40 minute public bus ride takes you to a beautiful ´carribean´ bubble in amidst the Amazonian greenery, Alter do Chão. It looks like a great honeymoon spot. There are pretty freshwater beaches and good-natured vibes in the little town.
Boat #4 magically whisked us away to Macapa. What did we like best about Macapa? Whats not to like? The extensive river walk with an old colonial fortress (free-entry and guide..SCORE!!), a ´gluttony coral´ churrasco restaurant, and one of the best places in the country for açai. Açai is a nutritious amazon fruit from a palmtree that the locals turn into a creamy gravy that melts in your mouth spawning a new addiction...am I running on too much? We even bought the açai ice cream and some lime soda to make floats in our Hotel. Man, those really conquered our stomachs and hips.
A short public bus-ride from Macapa is Curiau, originally, Cria U (the original name somehow translates from raising water buffalo). This was a refuge for the rebelling and escaped Afro-Brazilian slaves seeking a life of freedom. It is a popular weekend spot for the Macapa locals with a number of natural swimming areas and bars and extensive country side for some beer-induced meditation. The town people are some of the kindest we´ve met in the country. Dona Angela was the owner of the oldest bar in town, she entertained us with her stories and her good sense of humor.
The fifth and final boat......drumroll please....Macapa to Belem. Storybook characters we met on this voyage included a family of blissful elderlies (2 parents married 60 years and their daughter), a lady named Gildete with her grandchild from her adopted daughter she literally rescued from amidst the garbage in the street of her city, and a young man who was actually involved in a creepy sort of cult... what a combination of people!
This segment of cruising the Amazon held something special; it travels along the Island of Marajó, an island larger than Switzerland, where the riverside villagers row up in canoes to collect gifts bagged in plastic and tossed by the passengers. This is a custom for the area; though we´re not sure exactly when or how the tradition was created.
Belem is one of the most important commercial centers of the northern region. Though we had heard many negative things about the city, it appeared okay to us. That was until a couple of guys tried to mug me for my camera. Though I was lucky. As I wasn´t harmed and the thugs didn´t get anything from me. They appeared pretty wasted and unprofessional(in the theiving sense of the word), so Jay was able to pull them off and scare them away pretty easily. Luckily he didn´t have to fight them, and it is hoped that he never will have to with any theives in the future. The key is to remember, we´re not in Asia anymore; thus, its necessary to be more descreet with our belongings going forward.
After the unpleasantness of the mugging, it was a hightailing to the Island of Algodoal. It was to our good fortune that the island was in the low season. This gave the village on the island a cool, deserted feel. Think of the images of post-apocolyptic America in ´The Road´ and `Book of Eli, but with an Ocean-front.` WICKED!!! This place merited 3 nights at least. Laidback people, nice day hikes, and tasty locally made icecreams of coco and...yep you guessed it...açai. One of the 3 nights we spent with some French people drinking beer around a campfire while playing a guitar and singing songs... one of them was Jean Cristoph, a documentary camera man who actually said that he loved the USA. Imagine that!!!
At the moment we are in Canoa Quebrada heading to Natal tomorrow. In the next entry we will tell you about the Northeast experience: Sand dunes and oasis, beautiful colonial towns lost in time, geougeous beaches, and mysterious rock formations.... until then!!!