Amazon Adventure

The historic and tropical port of Belem is the gateway to the Amazon river.  Situated within the vast rain-forest delta where the Amazon meets the Atlantic, it is a cosmopolitan mix of Indian tribes from further up the Amazon, the colourful African influenced Brazilian cultures plus buildings from the Portuguese colonial history.  It was from here we would set out to achieve a boyhood dream – to take a boat up the Amazon.  We had arrived by bus from San Louis and found ourselves lodgings in a hostel run by a nice lady called Gilda.

We didn’t take many pictures up the Amazon so this is mostly just words. 

4th September 1999: Belem (day 45 overall)

We awoke late with Gilda knocking on the door calling us for breakfast.  It was a good one with a fried egg, plenty of fresh fruit and coffee and we then headed out to the market.  Our journey along the Amazon to Manaus would take about six days with a break half way at Santarem and the boat we were travelling in required us to bring our own hammocks which is what we went to find in the market.  An hour later, we all had a large hammock along with some rope which cost us R41 (~£20) all together and headed down to the quay where we bought our tickets for the boat.

The zoo in Belem is supposed to be one of the best in South America.  We were a little disappointed with the lack of wildlife on the recent Amazon delta trip but we hoped the zoo my give us a chance to learn a little more about the local wildlife.  It was a fair walk but it was interesting to wander through the backstreets and see more of Belem’s colonial charm.  Along the roads were many mango trees and parrots squawked as they chewed their way through the fruit.  Occasionally, a half eaten mango would come splatting down to the pavement when perhaps the parrot had had enough – or just didn’t like our presence!  In one tree, there were many falling mangoes and they were being caught by a man underneath.  We couldn’t see anyone through the high canopy of leaves and branches, but the catcher was shouting up at an accomplice who must have climbed up to pick them and was now throwing them down.

The zoo was R2 (£1) to get in and situated in a lovely tree covered park and we walked around for 2-3 hours seeing all sorts of animals.  They had a black jaguar and a normal jaguar, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, tapis, agoutis and many more the names of which I don’t remember.  There were also an Amazon exhibit which was interesting to look at some dioramas of Indian life except we didn’t understand the explanations since they were written only in Portuguese.

After we finished at the zoo, we walked slowly back – the heat and humidity by this time causing us to sweat profusely.  From a passing street vendor, we bought a strange drink which included a potent mix of: a raw quail egg, cashew nuts, some weird coffee syrup mix, nesquick, milk power, ice, peanuts and a few other odd bits; which helped a little although I’m not sure I would repeat the experience.

Back in the hotel, it was my turn to cook so I headed off to the shops and got some ingredients for a Thai stir-fry.  It didn’t taste too bad but without a wok to use in the hotel, I couldn’t get it hot enough so it was more of a Thai-pan-bake.  Afterwards, Gilda made us a cocktail mixing some of her personal collection along with our entire bottle of cachasa – but it had a weird flavour and thought I’d rather prefer another of the street vendor’s versions.  We politely drank the Gilda-Special and relaxed into the early evening.   Dante, Cassandra (two traveller friends we’d met en-route) and I headed out for a walk around town since it was always fun in the evenings.  A number of transvestite prostitutes were hanging around and grabbed at my arms as we passed.  I pulled away and was greeted by lewd cries as we carried on down the road.  We enjoyed a few drinks at a bar in a nearby park and listened to the bands of street music that were playing whilst chit-chatting into the night.  This was a lovely time to be outside since the air was cooler and the city comes to life!

5th September 1999: Belem (day 46 overall)

Tonight we’d be sleeping in hammocks with lots of other people on board the boat and we needed to prepare.  A few travellers who had coming down the river had given us various tips to get there very early and secure a hanging spot that was: not too near the noisy engines; not too near the sides due to people moving up and down; not near the bar which carries on all night; not near the eating area; and a host of other warnings.  The boat actually allowed guests to start boarding the day before it was due to leave so we decided it would be best to get down there and find out for ourselves.  We packed our rucksacks, said our goodbyes to Gilda and headed off.  Gilda seemed sad to see us go – seeming almost angry that we wanted to leave.  We were fond of her but of course, we had to keep going.

The agent who’d sold us the boat tickets was outside his shop and we convinced him to give us a ride in the back of his pickup truck down to the port area.  This journey was interesting since he decided to take short cut the wrong way down a one-way street.  A police cycle pulled out in front with a white gloved hand indicating that he halt.  Too late – our driver braked too hard and we all fell off our seats as we crashed into the motorbike – somehow ripping off the bumper of our truck in the process.  A furious argument between the policeman and our driver immediately ensued and we decided it might be safer to disappear and continue by foot.

At the port, we found a large, clean looking boat with only three hammocks already in place.  It was about 60-70 feet long with three decks: the lower one was mainly storage; the middle one for sleeping; and the upper one a bar area.  We spent an hour or so arranging our hammocks more or less in the centre of the middle deck which we deemed about as far away from everything we could think to be away from!  We had also hung our hammocks either side of a vertical support poles to try and ensure nobody would try and slip between us, reducing our space and splitting us up.  We strapped our bags to the pole as well and then spent a lazy afternoon reading, sleeping and playing chess watching as a few locals arrived and tied up their own colourful hammocks.  At some point, the others went shopping for boat-ride supplies while I guarded our stuff.  We’d also forgotten about some food bits we had left in the hotel fridge, so they had to retrieve those too.

The boat wasn’t going to be leaving until late the next day, so we had plenty of time to kill.  The weather was hot and humid, but a cool wind blew steadily which made it more comfortable.  The sun set around 6pm and darkness came quickly and bright florescent lights all over the boat switched on and ultimately stayed on all through the night.  Several more people had arrived, and the deck was getting a little busier but not too much so.  Dinner was the rolls, cheese and ham we had rescued from the hotel’s fridge and we washed this down with a bottled beer.  By now it was getting late, so after a final game of chess, I balanced a cap over my face to block out the light and fell asleep to the gentle rocking of my hammock.

6th September 1999: Belem (day 47 overall)

I awoke first to the sound of voices and movement all around.  Beyond the glow of the florescent lights, I could see it was still dark and my watch confirmed it was only about 6am.  Several more passengers had arrived overnight and hammocks had been erected in strange places all over the deck. Instead of spreading into spaces, many were cramped together and in one case – one was strung about two feet above another.  I only hoped they were good friends!  The hammocks were all different colours, shapes, styles, sizes and most had piles of baggage spread around them mostly in boxes or big stripy plastic bags.  An array of brown, gnarled feet could be seen sticking out of one end of most of the hammocks usually accompanied at the other end by a limp arm or hand drooping over the fraying edges.

Even though it was early, many people were arriving and squabbling over spaces with anyone who cared to listen.  I leaned over to check our own baggage was still strapped securely which it was, recovered my face with my hat and went back to sleep.  I didn’t get much more sleep as more and more people came on board and hammocks eventually filled every conceivable space on the deck, over lapping, under lapping and in many places pushed up close against one another which surely won’t be comfortable to sleep in.

I watched kids playing and climbing from one hammock to the next, ignored by their parents but not by the inhabitants of the hammocks they clambered over who let out the occasional shout or cuff.  I noticed a few unguarded hammocks being gently pushed down the hanging rails by unscrupulous neighbours and we agreed at least one of us needed to be guarding out hammocks at all times.

It was my turn to get some more fresh food and I wanted to stretch my legs.  I didn’t manage more than rolls, cheese and some frankfurters but this made for a good lunch spent in our hammocks guarding our spaces.  With still four hours to departure, I counted 44 hammocks on our deck alone and at least 44 people using them since most of the kids seemed to sleep with their parents or share a single hammock.

By now, the floor was beginning to be covered in rubbish along with other strange items.  Under one hammock, I saw a false leg had been tied by a bit of string to the remaining foot of the old man sleeping above.  Every now and then a course, throaty “hcruuk” could be heard and the man would lean over and dribble a thick brown mucous down to the growing saliva puddle beneath him.

Nearby, three siblings passed the time by chasing each other and play fighting in the low floor space beneath the hammocks.  They would do this whilst their mother slept above and she occasionally woke to scream at them and give any of them she could reach from her swinging perch a hard smack.  This would silence them for a while but then small finger games would being, which led to arm games and then the whole cycle would repeat.

Mark in our hammock haven

On shore, various trucks laden with crates of vegetables and fruit arrived and the contents would slowly be unloaded and packed into the boat’s hold.  A small army of men worked all day and during their breaks, they amused themselves by chucking the fallen fruit at each other.  At one point, when the tide was just right, an entire pickup truck drove off the quay and onto the lower deck.  Its tyres had had to be flattened and a dozen men piled on to compress the suspension sufficiently to get it under the boat’s side frames.

I had finished the couple of books I’d swapped for in Belem and the only I had left was the Bible.  I’d been plodding through it starting from the beginning and by now was up to ‘Numbers’.  It was hard going but I wanted to stick with it since I had noticed that there were many people in Brazil who seemed to also be reading it, and all of them looked to have got further through than I had.

The time ticked by and by 9pm the boat was still moored up in port.  We wanted to wait until we were underway before cracking into dinner but we were getting hungry.  However, finally at around 10pm, the engines began to throb and without much ado, the boat left the shore and headed into the delta whilst we immediately ate our dinner.  We started with a can of tuna mixed with a can of sweetcorn and finished with some porridge oats mixed with water and a banana (this was one of Mark’s ideas from home which actually tasted pretty good).  I cleaned my teeth watching the lights of Belem fade, now a few miles behind us.  I had only just climbed back into my hammocks when the centre row of lights went out which was a welcome bonus compared to the people sleeping on the outside edges.  We’d done virtually nothing all day except literally hang around – yet we all zonked out immediately.

7th September 1999: The Amazon…and on…and on (day 48 overall)

The loud chatter of people around me brought me out of my slumber.  It was early and I thought at first something was happening but then realised it was just two people who were choosing to conduct a casual conversation as if they were in a noisy night club despite our peaceful surroundings.  The thought that they might be disturbing anyone sleeping nearby – i.e.: the entire boat – didn’t seem to occur to them.  I wanted to get up and start getting ready for the boat’s breakfast which I had heard was being served at 6:30am and we had been warned about the ‘first come gets‘ approach to the onboard meals.

Not long later, a shrill whistle was blown by someone and a voice shouted ‘café da manhã“: breakfast!  A small exodus of people rushed from the hammock deck to the food area at the front of the boat.  I was still getting dressed and the others still asleep so it was a few minutes later that we followed.  I picked up the last of the plastic cups and emptied only a few dregs from a large coffee canteen.  Some water biscuits and a large tub of margarine had been laid out with two knives stuck like daggers into the top.  A group of people stood around grabbing crackers, smearing them with marg and piling them two or three high before stuffing them into their mouths as they stood.  As soon as one cracker-sandwich was crammed in, their hands would grab another set and repeat the process.  I managed to grab two crackers but they were all gone just as Mark and Jono arrived so we shared the two between three.  With no more cups, Mark washed a couple of discarded ones in the hope there might be more coffee or crackers.  After a short while, it was clear we’d missed what there was to be had and we returned to our hammocks.

There wasn’t much else to do except read.  The Amazon river was huge and wide and our boat kept a fair distance from the line of trees which marked the shore.  Technically we weren’t actually in the Amazon river – it was another river which made up the complex delta area from which we would cut across to join the Amazon river proper.  The view didn’t really change for the whole day – the brown water and long line of trees.  The delta seemed totally flat – no hills or features to break the monotony.  Apart from trees, the only thing we saw was the occasional wooden house built on the river’s edge – usually on wooden stilts reaching over the water with a canoe tied up beneath.

The lunch whistle sounded at 10:30am which seemed early but we weren’t going to complain feeling still hungry from breakfast.  We were quicker to the food area this time, noticing a sign on the wall which said the ‘evening’ meal would be served at 4:30pm which was also early but we assumed they just wanted to do it in daylight hours (the sun sets at about 6pm here each day).  Despite our hastier arrival – we were last to sit down sharing the fixed metal table with several locals.   The atmosphere was not like a friendly communal dinner – but rather the nervous prelude to a fierce battle with pairs of solemn eyes peering around as if to spy out the weaklings and challenging for supremacy.  A boat-hand laid plastic trays laden with food at each end of each table and the closest persons immediately grabbed two spoons and piled the thick meat and bean stew onto their plates followed by a tangled ball of pale spaghetti.  Some people who weren’t at the table ends immediately jumped up and rushed down with their own plates to grab what they could.  I realised that sitting in the middle and attempting to be polite was not the best move – by the time I received the tray, there was not a single piece of meat, only a few beans and just some gravy left in the bottom of the pan.  There was plenty of rice and spaghetti though and I took my fill of this and dripped some of the bean and gravy remnants on top.  Another tray of thin steak pieces arrived and this time, I had learned my lesson and joined the scrum managing to get a couple of pieces (the advantages of being generally taller than everyone else!).

All in all, we felt well stuffed albeit mostly from the rather tasteless spaghetti but didn’t enjoy the mad scramble which we thought we would have to repeat each meal time.  I returned to my hammock and contemplated how to approach having a shower in the cubicles I had noticed next to the loos.  As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad.  I wore my flip-flops and took my bag straps to both tie the door closed (the locks were all broken) and to hang my clothes and towel to the ceiling to keep them off the slimy wet floor.  I passed the loos on my way and dreaded the thought that ‘that’ time would come for they looked revolting and smelt even worse.

In the afternoon, the occasional canoe approached the boat with one or two people aboard.  They would grab the side of the boat as it passed and tie off before clambering up the sides to our deck.  Here they just sat down amongst the hammocks before jumping off a while later having had a free ride to wherever they were going to.

Jono up the Amazon

At 4:30pm, dinner was served as per the notice and the whole event was a repeat of lunch albeit with chicken as opposed to beef.  I wasn’t that hungry but forced myself to eat anyway thinking I might be hungry later.  After that, it was more reading, more chess and just lying in our hammocks trying not to think of the heat which now seemed more oppressive away from the coastal winds.

Darkness fell and with it came a thunderstorm.  The sheet rain hammered down on the metal roof above us.  I stood by the back rail of the boat and watched the world lit up by the lightning as if it was under a strobe light, enjoying the change of scene and temperature.  The rain passed and the heat returned but lessening as the evening went on and by about 9pm, we were all fast asleep.

8th September 1999: The Amazon…still (day 49 overall)

I awoke on time but decided I couldn’t face breakfast and preferred to get some more sleep.  I woke again at about 10am but felt I couldn’t face lunch either.  Perhaps it was the food we ate yesterday but all of us were suffering from upset stomachs with Jono feeling the worst.  By indication from the state of the toilets, we weren’t the only ones and this process only made us feel even worse.

Sometime in the night, we had joined the Amazon river but it didn’t look any different.  The forest of delta was getting sparser and eventually made way for open plains.  In the far distance, gentle hills offered some respite from the previous flatness.  There was no wildlife to see – just a few prey birds circling at a few points high up and distant.  The boat pulled into a couple of small ports but they weren’t marked on our Lonely Planet map so we had no real idea of where we were.  At each stop, cargo would be loaded or unloaded whilst a few ‘street sellers’ came up to the deck to try and sell their collections of mostly fruit and cheese.  This was the time to watch our belongings closely as several people were coming and going and we knew thievery was not uncommon.

By dinner, I felt well enough to manage a few mouthfuls of rice but Mark and Jono were feeling too unwell to eat anything.  We lay in our hammocks side by side – trying not to move since the sweat would trickle down making it more uncomfortable if we did so.  The feeling of nausea came in waves leaving us all dizzy and feeble.  It is in these times when the ‘Travel Devil’ begins to whisper in torment: “Why are you here?  Surely back in England you would be enjoying yourself more than this?  What are you achieving by sitting in this heat and putting up with the sanitary conditions?  You haven’t learnt anything about other cultures or the people – you just pass on by hardly talking to anyone!  Why are you doing this to yourself?  You should go home!”.  I felt I had no answers to give and found myself losing the argument.  The time passed and the torments continue – I found myself beginning to agree.  Moments turn into minutes, minutes into hours and all I could think of whilst I lay there in my semi-conscious state was home.

9th September 1999: The Amazon and Santarem (day 50 overall)

Breakfast was skipped again but I needed to get out of my hammock for a while.  After another shower and a change of clothes, I was feeling more refreshed and ended up in a long conversation with Brazilian lady and her two girls.  We didn’t actually say much since they didn’t speak any English and my Portuguese was limited but we did discover that we shared a basic understanding of French.  We made small talk about Brazil, the Amazon and they asked about my home and they kept asking how we had come to Brazil.  I try to avoid getting into conversations about flights since invariably the next questions are always about how much it cost and I can’t begin to explain the prices when they are more than what many of the people we meet might earn in a year.

At 10am, the town of Santarem came into sight.  This was marked on our map as a tiny port and the half way point.  However, it was not the small collection of wooden huts I had envisioned but rather a proper town with a couple of taller buildings along with many cars, people and boats.

Originally, we only planned one night Santarem but we decided to stay a bit longer since we all felt terrible and needed to eat something that wasn’t biscuits or dodgy meat stew.  We unstrapped our rucksacks and packed our hammocks (the space immediately being filled even as we were taking ours down) and watched the town get closer as we approached the dock.  Here we said goodbye to the few people on the boat we had spoken with but many more came up to us shaking our hands and saying “tchau!” ‘goodbye‘ even though we didn’t remember passing a single word with them all trip!

We jumped on a very bumpy bus ride through dirt backstreets to the centre of Santarem which wasn’t far and quickly found a hotel.  The pricing was a bit funny, but we managed to get a room with three beds.  It had a working ceiling fan to provide a cool breeze and we took full advantage feeling very sticky from the thick humid heat of midday.  I took a brief walk with the aim of finding a bookshop since I was tiring of the Bible; an internet cafe to touch base with home; and a launderette for our clothes.  I was unsuccessful with the first two and the launderette was too expensive.  By the time I returned to the hotel, I was soaked through with sweat and we decided to rest until evening when hopefully it would be cooler.

Mark and I took a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a supermarket but did return with our traditional diet of tuna, sweetcorn, rice and tomato sauce.  While Mark took his turn at cooking, I turned my hand to hand washing some clothes.  Perhaps it wasn’t as effective as the launderette but at least they would hopefully smell less bad!  Mark’s efforts produced a very tasty paella style rice and tuna mix.  It was a shame that Jono was still feeling very nauseous and couldn’t eat anything.  By the time we’d finished – it was about 9pm but the humidity outside seemed worse than during the day with any   little movement resulting in sweat.  I looked at the world outside through the bars of our little window and the few people I could see were was sitting in the shade.  An occasional person did seem to be working but they wore only a pair of shorts and sandals – but were still covered in sweat.

Jono is too ill to move and we decided to stay in Santarem until he was feeling better.  Mark and I were feeling pretty awful ourselves, so we all needed some time.  It is not the ideal place for recovery – but it is better than being stuck in a hammock on the river boat.

10th September 1999: Santarem (day 51 overall)

It was a long night and I woke several times in pain and lay staring at the ceiling fan – the narrow column of cool air providing at least a partial comfort from the heat.  It didn’t protect from red ants however – and we had plenty of them crawling over the bed.  I’d killed plenty but it made little difference and by now it was too much effort to even brush them off my own body.  I felt the occasional nip but for the most part they just crawled and I thought that a few more bites didn’t really make much difference to the myriad I had already!

As the sun rose and the light came into the room, I passed the time whilst the others slept by continuing to read the Bible having not managed to find a bookshop yesterday.  I was up to Deuteronomy now.  Moses had led an exodus for forty years towards the promised land and on the way, God had killed thousands of them.  He plagued them, starved them and diseased them.  They cried out “Why are you doing this?  Why didn’t we stay in the land of Egypt?”.  But where or what is our own promised land?  Is it the wilds of the Amazon and beyond, or is is England?

Breakfast was an egg roll but all of us could barely eat anything.  The morning passed in a rather delirious state for us all – taking our turns to empty our bowels or vomit in the one bathroom before collapsing back into bed.   We had read about an Indian festival taking place in a nearby town only 35 km away and we wanted to feel better to be able to make that.  We did our best to rest and recuperate.  I managed to survive one trip out to the supermarket and picked up some pieces to make dinner with.  I grabbed a couple of onions and some pasta along with a few other bits and made something harmless that I thought everyone could stomach.  We all managed to eat something and we slowly began to feel better as the afternoon passed.

My time in bed in the afternoon was spent pondering the question of Colombia – should we take the risk and travel through, or do we bypass it as so many people were recommending due to the ongoing dangers with the paramilitary.  The only real alternative is to spend longer in Venezuela since we had a relatively fixed date to meet my best friend Irinia in Quito who was currently travelling through central America and would join us on our journey from Ecuador.  The problem was that we knew Venezuela was expensive so we would chew through money there!  I let the debate continue in my head before finally drifting into a more solid sleep throughout the night.

11th September 1999: Santarem to Alter do Chao (day 52 overall)

Today I awoke and felt the best I’d been since leaving Belem.  My stomach was still feeling tender but I’d lost the dazed giddiness of the last 2 or 3 days.  Mark and Jono were also feeling much revived too and we were feeling ready to get out of the hostel and go and do something.

Over breakfast, our hosts – who seemed less and less friendly every time we spoke with them perhaps because of what we’d done to their bathroom – were huffing and puffing at any little request for coffee or bread that we made.  After some debate, we all agreed to head to the village of Alter do Chao and go to the festival.

We packed our rucksacks and made the very sweaty 20 minute walk to the bus stop and were on a bus having had to wait only 2 minutes!  R1.8 and half an hour later, the bus dropped us off in the village.  There were none of the usual ‘pousada pushers’ to greet the bus which is usually a bad sign since indicates there might be limited accommodation.  We walked around and found a few pousadas but they were all full – we guessed because of the festival that was happening.

In the end, we felt we had covered about 2 miles just walking around the place and couldn’t find anywhere to stay.  We did have our bivvy bags so thought we might have to find a spot to camp for the night.  I noticed a family having lunch on the veranda of a nice-looking house and so I went to ask them if there was anywhere they could recommend.  Seeing that they also had a large, grass covered garden – I told them we were camping but couldn’t find anywhere to camp and all the pousadas were full.  Their daughter Pamela spoke good English (and was also very attractive!) and she helped us translate for her father who suggested it would be “Zero problem!” for us to camp in their garden!  I went back to tell the others who seemed a little unsure. I took them to see the house and we agreed it all seemed fine so took the father up on his kind offer.

The father introduced us to all of his large family who were staying there.  When we were unpacking our bivvy bags, they all seemed perplexed and we had a group of girls and several men all asking us questions but all very friendly.  Some of them spoke English but Pamela translated for the rest.

Now that we knew where we were sleeping and that our bags were pretty safe, we took a walk down to the beach to see what was going on.  There were hundreds of beautiful girls everywhere.  There were busy cafes, lots of people dancing, all under the hot sun and beside the sea.  Well, beside the river actually but it was so big and along with the white sandy beaches – it may as well have been the sea!  A small canoe took us across a short way into the river where there was a large sand bar and this was where everyone seemed to be partying.  We enjoyed a swim in the water which was very warm but still refreshing to cool off from the heat.

Some other locals about our age who spoke a little English started talking with us and then invited us to join them for a drink.  We chatted with them for a couple of hours with them slowly introducing us to each of their many friends.  It seemed to us that everyone seemed to know everyone and now most people knew us too!  I thought it was amazing how the guys would flirt with any girl who might be passing by on the beach.  The most popular chat up line seemed to start with “Eh eh eh” until the guys got the girls attention and then they’d just start waving a condom packet, gyrating their hips and saying the Portuguese equivalent and rather ruder version of “shall we make love right now?“.  Funny as it was, it didn’t seem very successful and the girls tended to just laugh at them or tease them back.  One girl who ignored their attempts instead walked up to me and said in English “You and your friends are very beautiful“.  I could only reply that she was very beautiful too – rather lame but I lacked the confidence of our new Brazilian friends!  But we then got into conversation with her along with some of friends and they seemed friendly so we agreed to meet with them later that evening.  We headed back to the house and had to tell Paulo – a slightly younger boy who had attached himself very firmly to us and followed us everywhere – that he couldn’t come back to the house with us for we were guests with a family we’d only just met!  We said goodbye a hundred times before we managed to get away.

Back at the house, a lot more family members had arrived and we accepted their invitation to join them for dinner.  There was a big pot of fish soup and they had a large BBQ going with sausages, huge chops and even a cows heart, all of which was very tasty although I found the heart a bit chewy!  We were soon centre of attention and everyone was chatting to us but mostly in Portuguese which was difficult but good fun as we slowly worked out way through the language barrier.  Lots of photos were taken and they asked for our address in England.  Pamela was coming to stay in England sometime soon and we offered to look after her when she did.  Out of the people our age, there seemed to be several girls and only two boys apart from us.  Two of them were very attractive (like everyone it seems around here!) and they invited us to go with them to the main festival which was a little way out of the village.  We had to forget about our friends from the sand bar we’d planned to meet and headed off in the back of a jeep with about ten of the younger generation of the family.

The lovely family who let us stay in their garden

The place where we went was full of people.  Street bars under straw roofs were surrounded by small metal tables and full of people drinking and having fun.  Music was everywhere and in the centre, there was a small stadium where the main show seemed to be underway.  The girls chose one of the street bars at a slightly quieter end of the festival and we chatted and drank several beers together.  Within a short while, they had met a number of other friends who joined our group and we seemed to be the focal point without really wanting to be – but it was great fun to have so much attention!

Alana was one of the girls who spoke good English but was rather forward.  She kept asking me if I’d like to have sex to which I could only reply “Erm, no thank you!“.   It wasn’t that she wasn’t attractive – I just didn’t really feel it appropriate!  Everyone was great fun and the girls were forward with us and with everyone.  There was a lot of kissing between the girls and boys in the group as if it was quite natural to be so open!  The other English speaking girl was Camilla and she was also quite beautiful.  We got on very well and chatted throughout the evening and she was fun to be with and I learned a lot about their life here.  Her friends made it slightly difficult to relax since they took every opportunity to ask us when we were going to go off and have sex.  Of course, this wasn’t going to happen but it was great fun just spending time with local Brazilians – really the first we’d got to know – and see how they interacted socially and how they treated us.  The main thing I could determine was that the relationship between a man and a woman was very much based on sex to an almost obsessive degree.  The interactions between the sexes seem to revolve around sex, who was having it, when they were having it, and who they were going to have sex with next.   It was fascinating and so different to the typically more reserved English culture!

In the stadium, a lively carnival like dance was being performed with lots of colourful paper mache set pieces.  The bigger ones included a giant snake with a moving head and mouth which towered over the crowd from the stage.  Later a band came on and we all danced and continued drinking until about 4am.  Jono had gone home a little earlier since he was feeling unwell and Mark and I decided to call it a night.  It wasn’t a long walk home and everyone was asleep when we got there.  We tiptoed into the garden and fell into our bivvies and straight to sleep.

What a fabulously fun day and such a contrast to our last few days on the boat!  I think back to what I wrote about the Travel Devil suggesting we weren’t meeting anyone and not having a good time.  I now had all the answers I needed to banish him and instead look forward to the rest of our adventures.


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