September 06, 2006 GMT
(16) Brasil: The Long Float contīd

The Amazon grew darker, trading its khaki drags for something of a more chocolate tone.

It was still placid...just darker; forever splitting into channels, divisions, rivulets, courses and streams, forming lakes, ponds, islands and peninsulas as it went. Then co-mingling to become a vast, broad expanse of water that most images conjure up.

Finally it became black. As we approached within two hours of the mouth of the Rio Negro the waters became darker, almost black. What river is this, the Negro, that can change the complexion of the Mighty Amazon. I would like to meet this river.

What is the color black? Is it negro as in negra or is it some other color? I thought black was brown before I came here. That was my mental image of black as befits this river. It is not as I imagined.

You see, the Amazon is brown as in 'silt laden' or as in a 'river in flood'. That is the only color we know in North America. I thought originally that the Amazon was blue, but no it is brown. If the Amazon were blue than I thought the Negra might be brown and hence the name. But the Amazon is brown, and the Negra...well the Negra is black...Black, BLack, BLACK. Like midnight; like the Ace of Spades; like coal; like a I hope thatīs clear now, because it is to me. Black is not brown and brown is not blue. Black is black, especially here in Brasil.


Black people, black rivers...what will they think of trees? Yes, they have those here too.


The first day went fast. So did the second and the third. In fact the whole trip became a laid back blur. Some people thought it was too long. For me it was just right.

Life on board the N/M Amazon Star was slow paced and relaxing as we followed the shoreline west. There was no scheduling and planning to be done. Simply wake up and wait for three somewhat irregular meal calls.


The "Suite People" ate separately and from a different menu than the 'hammock' crowd. We always ate after them. I thought the food was acceptable, but always the same. The menu never varied. Fish never appeared. Steak, steak and more steak. Peter S. would have loved it. Steak three times a day for a week. He would have been in heaven.

Remote homes, twos and threes and the odd small community littered the banks of the Amazon. Solitary dugout canoes with one or more occupants paddled out to greet us. Mostly they were looking for us, the 'boat people', to throw them a care package wrapped in a plastic bag.


The odd canoe paddled directly and furiously towards us, on what appeared to be a collision course...a suicide mission. At the last instant he turned sideways and gaffed one of the tire bumpers dangling from the side of the ship. Paying out his line he gradually increased his grip, to avoid being yanked out of his boat by the differential velocity. Then he gathered up his line and pulled his boat up to the gaff where he anchored it to the tire.


If he missed he was done for the day. If he was successful he boarded the ship and proceeded to sell his this case, fresh cooked shrimp. Perhaps he had heard about the monotonous menu that was served.

Most of these places look to be little more than shacks with no interior partitions. Sometimes however the shed comes with a satellite dish and presumably a Honda generator to power the accessories.

Often we pulled into a remote town or village to discharge cargo and passengers. I have noticed on more than one occasion that these people suffer from glaucoma...that clouding of the eye that leaves the face with a haunting, surreal look that frightens and yet draws the eye to focus on it. A disease that disfigures the face without distorting or changing it.

As we moved west cockroaches began to board the ship. Initially there were none present. Then there were one or two in the aisles. The children made good sport of them. Finally their numbers increased and they moved from the aisles into the rooms. Bigger flying insects that intimidated became common. Bees, the size of butterflies whose giant wings appeared to rotate like helicopter blades hovered about intimidating even the most seasoned travellers. This morning the deck was littered with Mayflies or their equivalent.

The ship rested at the port city of Santarem and exchanged its contents. I and a few others remained constant, determined to follow the river to Manaus, that fabled city built by the wealth of rubber, where people squandered their riches for there was seemingly no end to it all, in that frenzied lifestyle of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Rio Tapajis joined the Amazon at Santarem, its clear blue waters in stark contrast to the murky brown of the Amazon. We disgorged our passengers and our contents. I remained the sole proprietor of my suite, confident that any more than one person in my 7ft x 7ft suite would be one too many.


I met Juvian today. He was from Florianopolis. He was travelling by bicycle and had been nine months on the road. He was considering exiting Brasil at Iquitos, Peru and returning home down the west coast before crossing the Andes again to return home. He was riding, not a fancy 24 speed mountain bike, but an aging one speed that looked to be at least seventy years old.

I met Jackie on the boat. She came over to talk to me. She had been married more times than I had fingers on my left hand, and I still had all of them. She was 27 going on 40, or was it 40 going on 27? She lived in Caracas, Venezuela and was returning from an assignment in Brasilia. She had eyed me up for a few days now and we had traded occasional light conversation. She had been scheming and now it was time to put the plan into action.

Several weeks ago she had left Caracas for a four day assignment in Brasilia. She was accompanied by her work partner, Rodolfo. He was 25 going on 26. Her method of execution, for the project, was somewhat flawed from the beginning and continued to be riddled with holes as the whole dastardly plot unravelled over the days and weeks that followed. Now she had spotted me and was considering casting her web in my direction to ensnare the gringo. I eyed her cautiously.

Initially, she had conceived the notion that a direct flight from Caracas to Brasilia was too expensive. A plan began to hatch and the seeds of disaster were sown before she even left town. A 2-1/2 day bus ride from Caracas to Manaus would position her for a cheap flight to Brasilia. The problem was there were no cheap flights from Manaus. In fact there were no flights from Manaus. VARIG had gone bankrupt and stopped flying. A flight to Brasilia was difficult to obtain and expensive...more than the original flight from Caracas to Brasilia would have been.

With almost a week in transit the 4 work days in Brasilia seemed hardly worth the effort, but a necessary evil just the same. Now, with the work completed it was now time to return home to the head office.

Her partner, Rodolfo, the junior employee was in over his head but there was naught he could do to stop the carnage. All he could do was hang on and hope for the best. With the entire travel budget consumed in getting to Brasilia it was now time to return to Caracas as cost effectively and expediently as possible.

Jackie put her mind to the task. In short order she hatched an even more heavily flawed plan which she put into action. They would catch a bus from Brasilia to Belem and take the boat to Manaus and then return by bus, much the same way they had started on their adventure, 2 weeks ago.

It shouldn't take more than a few days in total she reassured herself. Little did she know that the trip from Belem to Manaus was five days. Plus three days to get from Brasilia to Belem and another three days to get from Manaus to Caracas. They would surely give her up for dead before she returned to the office.

They would be gone almost a month before they would return from a 4 day assignment. And poor Rodolfo. He was guilty by association. The strain showed on his face. His boyish features were aging quickly. Even Jackie was beginning to show the stress of the ordeal...the Trans-Brasilian passage.

Now, she had spotted me, the Gringo, and formulated yet another plan. She was suddenly motivated to return to Caracas as quickly as possible. What possible difference would one or two days make now?

Her plan...seconde the gringo and his moto. After all, the public perception of the moto is "mas rapido". Manaus to Caracas...3 days by bus; surely no more than 1-1/2 days by moto. It was 1100 km from Manaus to the border and at least another 1000 km from there to Caracas. She would film the entire event with her movie camera. Her ever present body language provided full accompaniment to her speech and ensured all external parts of my body were fully caressed during the intercourse.

This plan was as ill conceived as the program that had carried her this far. I smiled openly as she unravelled the plan. She did not see the humour in her words and questioned my reaction. I had to let her down gently. I had to erase the whimsical and fanciful adventure she had dreamed up without hurting her feelings. I broke it to her gently.

Rather than try to explain the realities of motorcycle travel I simply put my plans on the table. 3 or 4 days in Manaus, 2 days to Boa Vista, 4 or 5 days to Caracas. "Boa Vista" she exclaimed. "Why the hell do you want to stay there?"

I smiled again at her reaction. An uneasy silence filled the deck. The Jantar Lady arrived to announce dinner. With a haughty shrug Jackie was off to reformulate her bus plans. The Jantar Lady beckoned me to follow. I would partake in yet another beef offering.

Posted by Robert Bielesch at September 06, 2006 06:38 PM GMT

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