E-mail originally written & sent home in May 2003 – after a week on a boat sleeping in a hammock in rather close quarters – heading up the Amazon river from Manaus, Brazil to the tri-border of Brazil/ Columbia/ Peru.
SLOW is an understatement. I have finally made it out of Brazil after 4 months here – and another 7 days on this boat. I know it wasn’t a dream because I cant remember the last time I slept. Never thought I’d say this, but I never want to see another bloody hammock again. My back has actually curved into a banana shape and I feel like I’m constantly rocking ever-so-slightly (although that could be down to fact Brazil has given me a caipirinha blood-transfusion). If there’s such a thing as hammock-sores I probably have them.
This 7 day journey induced:
INSOMNIA – Over 100 Brasileros all sleeping on one deck. That means over 100 hammocks crammed into a space that was appox 12m x 6m – literally not big enough to swing a sloth.
Anyone who´s ever slept with me (not in the biblical sense) knows my love of warm, cosy, dark places. This was not one. Brazilian pop played on top deck at all hours and soaps constantly rotate on crackly TV 24/7 (actually I do have a soft spot for ‘Mujeres Apaxionadas’ – each character has a theme song when they appear on screen – the lead’s is Norah flipping Jones – they love it). To top of all off, they ring bells in your face over your hammock at 5am each morning for breakfast (loose term). Not sure who ‘they’ is as can never focus at that time, but if I ever see the soft focus bell-ringer again, they’ll be effing sorry.
NO PRIVACY – ´slept in´ one day til 7am ignoring the bells, the bells. Brazilian ´neighbour´ (he’s practically on top of me) shouts “Good afternoon Gringa” sarcastically which all the passengers find hysterical… AT 7AM – is he having a laugh?
ALCOHOLISM – Induced by no.3. Upped quotient each night – Day 1 = beer, 2 = wine, 3 = vodka & orange, 4 = whisky and guarana, 5 = caipirinhas and cheap jesus wine, 6 = beers and valium. Highlight for most passengers was a toss up between me falling out of hammock lots (well, I´d broken it on the first night in my eagerness to hop in, an enthusiastic hammock virgin – oh how that changed – I am now more like a hammock slag) or the demo of my Brazilian dance moves (a slow 2 step with a partner) on the top deck whilst moored at a Catholic village… to DJ Hype. Well, we were in the Junglist Massive after all – when in Rome & all that.
CLAUSTROPHOBIA – If you have a row/ embarrass yourself/ insult someone/ flash someone/ basically open your mouth without thinking (my specialities) then there´s nowhere to escape to.
BOREDOM – breeds arguments about who ashed under whose hammock and attempts to storm off in a huff (not possible – we’re on a boat for Christ’s sake).
FOOD NEUROSIS – brought on by bad food – my own personal hell. Rice twice a day for a week. I ran out of personal supplies of chocolate, Skittles and crisps on day 1 because of boredom.
CABIN FEVER – when we stopped on Day 5 at a small village we all got so excited to walk more than 6 metres at a time that we rushed off the boat onto dry land and civilisation… and a bar. And decided we didn’t like civilisation and having to cope with other people – or the fact we were no longer rocking. Longed to be back in hammock with nothing to do and no reason to feel guilty about doing just that.
PARANOIA – have to sleep with passport, money, camera, music etc in bag in between legs in hammock. Not a time for a Princess-and-the-Pea type mentality. But on the upside I did have Bjork clasped between my thighs.
CHILDREN – they smell my fear and come too near. And cry. Problem is that they are so beautiful out here that you can be fooled into thinking they aren´t evil.
COLD TURKEY – No Weed. The boat was heading to the border of Columbia and Peru. Hmm, weighed up risks, and my sensible side won… actually, that´s crap, we just didn´t know where to get any in the middle of the Amazon.
PMT/ period pains/ general hormonal shit – someone was definitely having a laugh. Come on 2 weeks early for entire duration of trip. Let me tell you the toilets weren’t pretty and neither was I.
DEPRESSION – No Coca Cola.
However, besides all of the above afflictions, I absolutely loved it. It was the most surreal week of my life – especially when a crazy 300 year old biddy got on and tried to sell me 2 huge red endangered parrots for $10. Word had somehow got around the Amazonian villages that a couple of rich Americans had got on. Wouldn’t mind, but am bored of saying “No somos Americanas”. Did toy with romantic notion of buying the giant birds and setting them free, but realised would probably fuck it up and expose them to dangerous flora or deadly fauna or summat.
When Emma and I literally jumped ship at 5am on day 6 to a faster boat it was the funniest send off that I´ll never forget. Very dramatic. Kids were crying, men were waving, and the chef (loose term) actually smiled. I thought my hand might fall off from waving, and actually felt sad to leave my neighbouring Bible-basher. I was getting used to being looked at with disgust. When 2 missionaries had earlier joined the boat I was chatting to a Portuguese journalist who writes for the equivalent of the Independent over there and is doing this trip for an article. I reflected on what they could say to convert me and he retorted that “No offence, but by looking at you, I don´t think they´d even try”. Does that make me temptation or sin? Anyway, I´m rambling, but its so good to be free.
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