Delays, Couchsurfing, and Boats... Oh My (Brazil)

A lot has happened since I last posted. I've uploaded a couple of different photo albums. You can check out Oi… its Brazil Facebook Album, Kite Running and Long Boat Rides Facebook Album, and Out of Brazil… Into Peru Facebook Album. You can also check out Ami's photo album she just posted, South America!!(only if you are friends with her on Facebook).

It has been a long time since my last post, and therefore seem difficult to know exactly where to start. It seems that I am always weighting the balance between action and contemplation. While I am traveling it seems easier to focus on the action, and lose the contemplation all together. That is not to say that while I have been gone, I have done no thinking about things (this is very far from the truth). It is more that I have done limited amounts of compiling stories, photos, and maps of my journey to be published online.

Wondering Around Manaus

The Teatro Amazon

We spent a little over a week in Manaus. Manaus seems to be the Jungle capital of Brazil (and maybe South America). There were hundreds of tour operators, all with different plans and levels of services. We could not walk out of Hostel Manaus (where we stayed) without a nearby tour agency asking us if we needed a jungle tour. Our Hostel also provided jungle tours that could be utilized too.

The plan was to head to Bolivia to do a jungle tour there (Bolivia is supposed to have more wildlife and be much cheaper). Other than Jungle tours there are many things to do in Manaus. We spent an afternoon touring the Teatro Amazonas (Opera House). A grand theater that was built during the rubber boom of the late 1800's. It is comprised of materials brought from Europe and entirely decorated by European artists. After checking out the Opera House, we walked across the street and Ami got to see her first Orchids on an actual tree. She went a bit photo crazy and was so happy.

We found other orchids at this Parque Senador Jéfferson Péres. It is a beautiful new park (still partially under construction. It has little outlets of the Rio Negra flowing out to the city in it. They had a building that was supposed to contain different species of orchids. The building was locked the three different ventures that Ami tried to go. The first day we went, was a neat experience.

Young girls sitting in trash in an inlet of the Rio Negra

After wondering around the parque for a while, we ended up coming out to a larger inlet of the Rio Negra. While we were there, it was the very beginning of the rainy season (mostly it had not even started). So this inlet was mostly dry ground with scattered trash and dry docked boats. You can see the houses on stilts further off, on the other side of the inlet. There were some girls sitting and playing in the trash covered ground. There was a boat, which looked as if it had not seen the likes of water for a number of years. There appeared to be at least one family that lived there (possibly more, including the little girls we saw).

I pray that I never become accustomed to seeing people living and playing in and around trash and non-sanitary conditions. There have been a couple of times during this trip that I wondered what would happen if I just got a bunch of trash bags. Started on my own to clean up various areas. Would the people follow suit? If we did get it all cleaned up, a fresh start... how long would it last? What other services do these people need?

We wondered further up, past several other families that were apparently living in the barren wasteland of trash and mud. We came upon a larger section of inlet. Here there were hundreds of kids with kites. Talking in broken Portuguese and Spanish, we realized that the kids were having kite wars. I'm not sure if you have read The Kite Runner (an excellent book, I'd highly recommend), but it was very similar to this. The strings were course enough to cut down another parties kite. We sat and watched them for some time, and it started to rain. First a couple of drops, then it seems the heaves open up and empties all of the stored water. The kids went running to their homes, only to drop off their kites or perhaps spoiled kite, and to grab their soccer balls. In the pouring rain, mud and trash you could see the children happy as could be playing futból. We waited out the pounding thunder, flashing lightning, and drenching rain with a beer and conversations.

Kids Playing Soccer in the Rain

There were many good conversations, and even some half hatched future business ideas (a type of world restaurant) at the Port of Manaus. We took fellow travelers to see the prize we had found at the port. A Torre of beer. For about R$20 you can buy 350 ml of beer. It comes in a giant plastic cylinder complete with its own tap. The cylinder has a hole in top, and a frozen metal object gets stuck down keeping the beer cold. The servers exchange these often, and brought us orders of batata fritas (French fries) with toothpicks.

While we didn't eat at the discotech, we did have some drinks and attempted dancing. One of the nights we went out with a couple other travelers to one of the local discotechs (dance clubs). It was a lot of fun, and made me really want to learn to dance Forró (our hotel guy told us it came from somebody saying it was music “for all” and then made to be written in Portuguese). The entire time I was in Brazil, I did not see any Samba clubs (ether that, or Samba in the US is very different). I attempted to ask a number of girls to either dance with me or to teach me (my Portuguese is pretty horrible) but got shot down every time.

I did get a lot of action when we went to Bosque da Ciância. We went with some friends we had met at the hostel (Rachel and Naun). It was a thirty minute bus ride from the center of town, through the winding roads of the real Manaus. All of the houses have large fences with metal gates and broken glass on top of the walls. Some were nice, some weren't. We went past one area that had a little stream that ran behind the houses. You could see naked children, trash, and dirty water. We saw a lot of different animals there, probably more than we would if we had taken a jungle trek. We saw three types of monkeys (one being squirrel monkey). We saw freshwater manatees, a toucan, scarlet macaw, caiman, turtles, electric eels, and little jungle rodents. It was a great excursion, and well worth the R$2.

Riverboat Ride Down the Amazon

Sunset on the Boat on the Amazon

The cheapest way to get down to Porto Velho is to take a boat down The Amazon. This was also one of our major goals for going into Brazil. It cost about R$170 for the four night trip. We arrived several hours before our boat was scheduled to leave for Porto Velho, and it was already jam packed with goods, hammocks (what we slept on during the trip), and people. Some of them had gotten there as early as the day before. We were hoping to see the meeting of the waters (of the yellow and black rivers that are the primary feeds to The Amazon) where you can see the different colored water running side by side, but we did not leave until very late (an several hours after our scheduled time). There was no room to sleep on the main sleeping deck, so we mistakenly brought our hammocks up to the bar on the top of the boat. There were a number of people who where were set up there, but we didn't realize just how hectic it would get.

After spending some time writing and watching the dark water we both laid down to sleep for the night. We were disturbed by the lady working at the bar screaming and locking up the store. Looking to the other end of the boat, we saw a group of three or four men yelling and chasing another Brazilian guy. Disoriented, we got out of our hammocks and saw that they were chasing the man with weapons. One guy had a large board that appeared to have rusty nails. Another guy had picked up a crutch and was chasing him. They came to our side of the boat, and Ami actually got trapped behind the guy they were attacking. I had to pull her out of the struggle before she could get hurt. We went down to the bottom of the boat and waited with the majority of the people. One of the guys appeared to be very injured (with a couple of large gashes, and possible broken arm and leg). In the morning, a police officer came on board and arrested two people, and they carried the injured one into port.

In the rush, Ami left her wallet and I left my cell phone in our hammocks. Ami had about R$100 stolen from her, and they took my cell phone. Apart from the loss, we ended up moving downstairs with everybody else and having a great rest of the trip. Boat riding down The Amazon (I say it's The Amazon, but technically it's one of its large tributaries) means dirty bathrooms, beautiful scenery, cards, writing/thinking, movies, and dolphins.

We saw a couple of freshwater pink dolphins, which are common to The Amazon. Ami saw her own personal dolphin. He jumped out of the water, almost completely exposing himself. I believe I saw a caiman, but I am not sure, and a ton of different species of birds. There were lots of different insects that lived on our boat also. The most annoying being this flying beetle that seemed to like to fall onto you. Once on the ground, it would run on its back, trying to get to safety. There were also a lot of bugs that appeared to enjoy the bathrooms.

Packed Hammock Space on the Boat

The bathrooms are small little rooms, with locks both inside and outside. Many of them don't have lights, so if you have to do any business at night it can be difficult. They have a shower that is almost over the toilet, and nowhere to place your hygiene supplies or clothes. A number of different types of moths, spiders, and sometimes cockroaches often inhabited them. Other then insects, the walls seemed to be tinged black by some sort of mold. They stunk of ammonia, and often had standing water inside. It was really quite the experience.

Every day we were provided with copious amounts of rice, beans, and noodles along with either beef or chicken. They often had a couple of slices of tomato to add to the concoction. Getting meals meant waiting in line for long periods of time until there was room at the table, then quickly eating your food so the next could come and eat.

I spent a considerable amount of time doing what I call meta thinking (thinking about thinking). I wrote down my personal mission statement (it's still not complete), read my bible and book, and wrote some letters (which I still haven't sent off a week later). It was also magnificent to stare off into the expanse of the jungle. It made me wonder at the grandness, and imagine a future trip that would be comprised of exploring the jungle and seeing if I could survive. It also made me wonder at how much life and biodiversity we couldn't see in the distance. The sunsets and the storms were amazing.

One night, we had a particularly large storm we traveled through. I donned my rain poncho, sunglasses (to keep the pelting rain out of my eyes), and went to the top of the boat to get drenched. There is something vastly different with the storms in South America and the ones in North America. The rain comes down in blankets here and thunder claps loud enough to feel it in your bones. It is a glorious thing. Me and Ami in our rain gear got a lot of laughs from all of the locals, who hid from the elements under the boat. When we finally landed in Porto Velho, we were happy to have real bathrooms and showers.

Couchsurfing in Porto Velho

Renata's Family who we Couch Surfed With

In Porto Velho we stayed two nights with an amazing family through couchsurfing.org. They were phenomenal people. Renata is a medical student, and loads of fun to hang out with. She lives with her mother, father and younger brother. Only Renata speaks English, but her family was so welcoming. We arrived on October 18th, which is my birthday. I was very happy to just spend time with their family and eat dinner together.

We also got to hang out with Renata's brother, who wanted to show us all the different foods we had to try while in Brazil. With her younger brother, I played some futból… which the language barrier doesn't seem to affect. We also taught Renata to play Texas Hold'em, and she taught us to play a local card game (Truca). To show our appreciation for their hospitality, we made some homemade lasagna.

All We Want is to Leave Brazil

We took a six hour bus ride to Guajará-Mirim, the border town to cross into Bolivia. We took a night bus, with hopes to get the paperwork started early enter Bolivia. We were prepared to pay the USD$100 to enter Bolivia, but they did not want to accept us. Nobody at the consulate spoke English, so communication was difficult. The paperwork they gave us, apparently showed new requirements (not mentioned in our Rough Guide to South America). They require that US citizens have an official criminal background check. They told us that we would have to take a two day trip back to Brasilia to obtain the proper paperwork. That was our first attempt to leave.

We bought bus tickets to Rio Branco (heading to Assis Brasillia and the border to Perú) for the next morning. When we showed up to catch our bus, we were denied due to having an expired visa. We spent the rest of the day attempting to get our visa in Brazil extended. We transferred our bus tickets to the next morning (our second attempt to leave). The next morning we had complications in getting to the bus before they left. Again we had to transfer our tickets to the next day. Our third attempt to leave kind of turned into a fourth. We stayed at two different hotels while in Guajará-Mirim, Hotel Lima and Maylla Park Hotel. Maylla Park Hotel had the nicest people there.

Ferry Across the River

One morning, I had gone downstairs to get some coffee. I had missed the breakfast, so I asked them to boil some water and I would use my own instant coffee. It must be said that Brazilians put a lot of sugar in their coffee. I put some in and went back to the room. About 10 minutes later, two of the maids came knocking on my door. They had brought a note written in Portuguese (they knew I understood Portuguese written more than spoken) and some sugar. They insisted that I put some more sugar in my coffee because they did not know I already had. Unable to describe myself properly I added lots more sugar to my coffee. But really, what caring and hospitable people!

We also met a guy who was driving his truck to Rio Branco. We decided to drive us (which makes it our fourth attempt to leave). We had the tickets transferred for one more day, and exchanged for money when we got to Rio Branco.

Rio Branco is a beautiful city that we spent one night in. It has a neat market, and beautiful streets. The next morning we successfully caught a bus to Assis Brazil. Assis is border town to enter Perú through. We spent one night there, playing pool at a local bar before going to sleep. The next morning we took two taxis, and a ferry to get to Puerto Maldonado. In Puerto Maldonado we have been lucky enough to get to hang out with some local traveling friends we met in Manaus. We have plans to spend some time in the jungle and do a number of other things I will hopefully write soon about.