You’ve seen the movie Anaconda and dreamt of a lush broad-leaved canopy, damp days and exotic wildlife of the Amazon. Forget it all. Manaus is a sprawling city of nearly 2 million people, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, that will ruin everything you’ve imagined about life in the jungle. It’s unromantic, crowded garbage-lined sidewalks, chaotic traffic and less than fresh sticky air, didn’t leave us anxious to explore the jungle from this base. In retrospect, we are glad we made that decision. Speaking with fellow travelers, Chris & Gemma (you’ll learn more about them later) from the UK, trekking in the Amazon Jungle is more idyllic from further up river. From our research it’s also more cost-effective and less travelled entering from either Bolivia or Peru. In Manaus the prices were about $100USD per day per person, even when travelling in large groups. This would have destroyed our monthly excursion budget and we may have been left craving a deeper experience. Instead, we can venture in from the western edges of the jungle, for around $30 per day in a smaller group, so we’ll wait for our jungle time.
The best part of Manaus was the people we met. First, Hugo and Sabine from Holland and an Argentinian couple who were very handy to have around to help with language difficulties. Other than that, we arrived on an overnight bus, bought boat tickets for eastward travel down the Amazon, and left. One night only.
Opting for the cheaper selection of boat tickets, we took the risk of having fake papers or hammock spaces beside the stinky toilets or noisy engine. We lucked out. A back door entrance, via motor boat transport from a separate pier delivered us to the boat that would be our home for the next 3 days. We were delighted to find that our tickets were valid and our four (the two of us along with Hugo and Sabine) hammocks had been hung in marked spaces near the front of the boat. Our relief was soon smothered by an event that not only put an infuriating black mark on Brazil, but left us feeling invaded, targeted and vulnerable. For the first time in 8 years of backpacking through over 30 countries, it happened to us. Yes; we could have been more careful, or maybe we let our guard-down, or maybe we’re just plain naïve.
If you have ever been robbed, then you know it happens so fast. There was a bit of disorientation when we boarded with finding our hammocks, and moving neighbouring hammock owner’s collection of boxes out from under our space. We placed our packs down, day pack beside and turned away for a minute. We were within a foot of both of them the whole time. Amused by the hammock set-up on the boat, I wanted to take a picture. I reached for my bag and I noticed the zipper was open. Someone other than our crew had been in there. Luckily, they only took one thing. Unfortunately, our most prized possession – our camera. Along with it, the memory card of the photos we had taken thus far on our trip and the opportunities we would miss during the time it takes to find a replacement.
What a piss off. Someone had to have seen something. The worst part was, we knew it was someone close, maybe even the person directly beside us. Knowing you have to sleep beside and share space with someone who has just stolen from you is quite unnerving. Whoever took it, had it there with them, the whole time.
This would never happen at home. At home, even if it did and someone saw something, wouldn’t they stop it? Wouldn’t they say something? Probably not. We lean more towards avoidance of situations which don’t concern us rather than risk personal involvement and what may come with it. On that boat, that day, no one said a word. To the extreme contrary, they even avoided eye contact.
I was attached to that camera, but more than the material object – I love taking pictures. It’s not about having something to show or share, it’s about the creative aspect of photography. Capturing the character of a city, the colour of a day, the smiles of friends – freezing those moments in time is something that brings me joy. Over the last couple of weeks, without a camera, we’ve had to re-align our thinking. Instead of “I wish we had a camera, I would love to photograph this…”, we shifted, forced to pause, absorb and use the lens of our eyes to burn the image into mental storage.
Obviously, we were on edge for the remainder of the boat ride, watching our stuff like hawks. Laptop, cell phone, Ipod, money and all else valuable remained locked in our bags for the remainder of the journey.
Two nights on the boat, getting used to sleeping like a caterpillar in a cocoon, we arrived in Santarém. Joined by boat friends, Chris and Gemma and followed by a day of rest, charming Alter Do Chão began to rebuild the seductiveness of Brazil.