August 29, 2006 GMT
(15) Brasil: The Long Float

I arrived at the port at 4 PM. Udivan was there to greet me. He wanted to be paid for the moto shipment.

They had an X-Ray scanner for the luggage. Guns and knives were OK but my helmet failed. I had stuffed it with peanuts and they could not interpret the image. I emptied the contents on the table. I was free to go.

The baggage handler insisted on helping me with my things. I had jugs of water, luggage and my riding gear. I relented. He fleeced me 10 Reais for the lot. I asked the lady next to me. She said she had paid 20 R...somehow I doubt it.

I thought we would get supper but there are no meals on the day of departure. They would start tomorrow with breakfast. The little things they don't tell you. I could have eaten at the hotel.

The RANA was up front on the main deck. I checked for missing parts. They had pilfered the small stuff...the chrome clasp for my tank bag, but not the contents. They had tried to steal my "Green Rana" but could not free him from his perch. He dangled precariously, tethered by the wire I had used to secure him.

I checked my suite, No. 06...right next to the wheelhouse. No neighbours. It should be nice and quiet. I waited out the time. No one arrived to claim the extra bed. I had gambled and won. I paid half fare based on double occupancy and took the risk. I would be alone until Santarem at least, our next big port of call. That was nearly half the journey, so life was good.

We left at 7PM in the dark of the night...too bad. I thought we were supposed to leave at 6PM. Perhaps we were running late. It didn't matter. We were running and we would probably arrive at the other end when we did and not before. I erased all scheduling concerns from my mind. I had no worries, no concerns.

It took some persistence to get a "Receipt" for the bike. I was't going to pay and not get a receipt and then have a problem later on, if and when they do a paper check.
"Who did you pay?"
"Udivan, the same guy I paid for the passage."
The attendant returned a blank stare.
I produced his "Card."
More vacancy.
Udivan had shown up at the hotel. He was legit. He talked with the travel agent. I didn't get it. Why the games?

Finally I went to the pursor and got a receipt. Nobody wants to accept responsibilty for anything. That's the trouble with these Latin people. They talk a line but nobody will sign on the line.

Night fell upon Belem. Lightning streaked the overcast sky but no rain fell. The brown waters parted as we pulled away from the dock. Ahead the sky was clear and blue, the water still brown...not pollution but the silt carried by the Amazon. Even in the low season the river still did its work.

At Manaus, the height of this great river varies 46 feet from the high season to the low season...a normal seasonal variation, not an anonomoly.

The city lights shrank in the distance to be replaced by an incredible night sky, undiminished by artificial light.

I went back to my cabin to watch the news. Incredibly I had 127 channels and the reception was crystal clear...CNN, TNT, Showtime...I had them all. I wanted to see who shot who in Lebanon, was Saddam guilty? Was that a murderer who killed Jon Bennett or just an idiot pretending to be a murderer? Were the stupid Iranians still playing their childish games or had the Americans nuked them? Surely there must be something important going on. Yes...a jetliner had crashed in Russia...???....

The only problem was there was no TV to receive the signal...the questions remained unanswered...for now.

The captain steamed on. He had a mission. I had a life preserver for a pillow support. I checked the boat for life boats...no boats but about 40 rafts...about half of what we would need to save everyone. If we went down the RANA would die...perhaps me too. I looked forward to crossing over to the dark side. I could be in the News.

"Biker dies while trying to navigate the Amazon." Who would care. Nobody even knew where I was. My Passport No. wasn't on the manifest...just my name, correctly spelled this time, and CANADA. I would be easy to identify. The only white guy...a Beluga Whale. They would stop and stare. My tombstone would read.


White Guy from Canada
Big Cajones

Etched in white marble it would outlast my past.

I warmed slowly to my Amazon environment...or perhaps too quickly. The relentless heat, the high humidity and perhaps the ravages of time travel took their toll.

I became unwell on that first day of sailing. I welcomed the relief of my air-conditioned room and traded the environs of the Amazon Delta for the spartan comfort of my climate controlled confines. Sleep was easy to find as I alternated between naps and short forays onto the deck. I could not afford to miss much but I could ill afford to be sick. I hoped my compromise was correctly balanced.

I worked my way steadily through the 15 liters of water I had carried on board....15 liters for 5 days. It would be enough. A day later I was upright again, revelling in the bright outlook the new day had brought.


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I quit trying to find out when meal time was. It was always different than the posted time. The "Jantar" Lady always sought me out wherever I was. She would never let me miss a meal. That seemed to be her mission...keep the white guy fed. On a ship that could carry 676 passengers I was a conspicuous anonomoly, and ever more conspicuous by my absence.

The "Jantar" Lady would come to fetch me. She treated each event like it was "the first time." If I looked at her quizically she would cock her head to one side, like man's best friend, and beckon me to follow. She would take a few steps and then turn to see if I was behind her, and motion me onwards. "Ya gotta love these Brasilians."

We sailed and we sailed and we sailed. The landscape was a million shades of green...a million variations of vegetation...a million combinations of water, estuaries, islands, trees, plants, beaches, ships, boats, canoes, houses, stilts, gardens, cattle, horses, water buffalo and people...yes, people.

People were constantly present, making their lives here beside and on the Amazon...living together or in solitude...living with nothing or seemingly plenty, but living a life unmolested by the vagaries and evils of civilization.


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There was a stark simplicity to their lives even when contrasted with the utilitarian conveniences of my ship. It shared similarities with a similiar trip I had taken down the River Nile, a decade or more ago. Similar in that we glided passed their lives for a brief instant, obtaining but a snapshot of these people...the landscape ever changing...their lives untouched by ours...we merely a temporary intrusion into their world.


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It is not possible to effectively describe what passes before my eyes. It is both sensory and visual. The soaring thunderheads, the whimsical clouds, the white egrets fluttering against the breeze, the ponds, the lakes and backwaters, the river beaches and the trees too numerous to name, the river traffic from dugout canoes to barges and ocean freighters, the lush, fresh smell as the afternoon heat dissipates into the cool freshness of evening, the sun rising over the Amazon, the sun setting over the Amazon, the quiet sobreity that evening brings as it closes the door on the day. How can you put that into words? You cannot capture it or film it...you must experience it and take the memory with you.


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Belem was 2-1/2 degrees south of the equator. Santarem was 3 degrees. Manaus was a little more. I had to check my map to confirm it. I didn't believe I was at the same latitude as Quito, Ecuador. I was! But what a difference 8,000 feet ASL made.

Posted by Robert Bielesch at August 29, 2006 09:32 PM GMT
 
 

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