Amazing Amazon – Diary Day 21 Last night in Brazil

Three weeks today since we left Belem aboard the Amazon Star and began our journey westward along the Amazon.

Martin and Lara wake me soon after 6am and I join them for breakfast and sunrise! Going up on the top deck I realise we’ve run aground on a mud bank for no obvious reason! Wondering if it could really be pilot error we watch with interest but are told by our Portuguese friend that its a deliberate stop! Soon, we pull back, continue 10 minutes upstream then repeat – headlong into the bank – It’s a stop for local boats to come and stock up and soon there are half a dozen boats attached and filling up with provisions. Always a few bags and boxes of real looking basic foodstuff – pulses, rice, manioc flour, always a few stacks of fizzy drink and crisps! The first stop was presumably a misjudgment as these mud banks all look identical to me and maybe the crew?

We are stopped for a few hours then on our way again.

Ben and Zoe sleep in and when Zoe eventually wakes she is sick.

Ben and Lara’s tummies aren’t quite right either so the cabin becomes a bit of a sick room and though it’s rather cramped, I’m relieved we have a cabin at all. For the first time I have to go use the public banhieros because I can’t get a look in to use ours (!) They are not the most pleasant to spend any amount of time in!

Zoe sleeps on and off all day, I read some more Adolphus Tips to them. Ben and Lara rally and go off to play, Ben spends a couple of hours taking photos and making silly movies which he plays back to Zoe to cheer her up, I read to the girls a bit, sort photos on the laptop, read a bit myself mostly in the cabin, keeping Zoe company. Martin is ‘luckily’ engrossed in a book and spends most of the day reading in the hammock. Whenever I come out of the cabin, I check on my map and ‘sat nav’ where we are as we edge ever closer to Tabatinga but it’s slow going.

After supper, around 18:30, as the kids settle in the cabin with Harry Potter, Martin and I settle in the hammocks to enjoy the evening breeze as the sun sets, I check again and we’re only 48km as the crow flies, so I think we’ve definitely got another night before we arrive. At least, I truly hope we don’t arrive and get thrown off at some absurd hour of the morning!!!!

Spoken too soon….. Suddenly we’re in dock around 11pm. Almost everyone starts leaving and we find our plan to stay on board the night scuppered by news that the boat leaves at 4am to head back into Brazil.

So after a hurried packing frenzy, we say goodbye to the crew and step off onto a dark muddy steep bank into a deserted port. It’s nearly midnight but still stiflingly hot, the kids are exhausted and we’re all pretty uncomfortable. We have to walk 10 minutes up a deserted dark street into the deserted town, waking and upsetting a few dogs who howl at us as we go. In the town’s main street there’s a single bar still open and the small and cheap Hotel Real which is our only option so we have a drink in the bar with our friends who we met on the boat and check in for out last night in Brazil. It’s been just over 10 weeks since we arrived in Rio de Janiero. The time has flown!!

Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 19-20

Day 19

About 8am we pull up at Sao Jose port – loads of kids run down to the boat and get on to buy ice creams, some men come on and have a beer. Boats pull up on the other side and fill up with provisions. Martin and Zoe go off to explore the village.

It’s a cool day – maybe only 27 or 28 degrees centigrade – at 9.30 I’m still wearing my fleece! It’s a lovely feeling to be a little bit cooler!
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Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 17-18

Day 17

I’m rudely woken in my hammock on the Voyager IV by the bell calling us to 6am breakfast! After it goes a third time at about 6.20am, I peel myself out of the hammock and head off to wake Martin in the cabin!

The girls are snuggled up together on the bottom bunk but quickly wake up. Ben is much more reluctant to be woken from his hammock! ”I was in a really deep sleep and I don’t even like this breakfast!” he moans and I promise to let him sleep through tomorrow!

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Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 15-16 Back on the River

Today is actually Day 25 of our Amazon adventure. We’ve been out of contact for 10 days with no wifi or signal so no email, never mind any opportunities for blogging but I’ve kept my diary and now have a chance to catch up so I’m adding photos and will post these over next few days. Here goes. Back to Manaus, ten days ago…..

Day 15 Leaving Manaus.
We were up late last night, whilst the children slept, to organise our packing really well for the next leg of our Amazon journey. After being on the Amazon Star we knew that a week in a tiny cabin with all our stuff is quite a logistical challenge! We decide to fill my big rucksack with all the stuff we can live without on the journey so it can be kept unopened under the bunk beds! All our warm stuff, flippers, goggles, several months supply of various drugs (legal and medicinal I hasten to add!), 5 pairs of trainers and a pair of hiking boots!

In the morning the two of us get up early, finish off, have a quiet breakfast then I leave to go downtown with the Pousada owner Mauro who is kindly taking me on a bank and post office mission.

I misplaced two bank cards a couple of weeks into our trip. Our careful secreting of valuables backfired and after much searching through our bags, I had to cancel them and my bank agreed to send my new debit card to Manaus where we knew we’d be in three weeks time…

Too late, I had an email from the lady we’d rented a beach house from saying my cards had been found by the cleaner in a strange place! Doh!!

Today I’m out of luck. The card has not arrived – I’ll have to try again at another of our future destinations. So we headed to the Post Office to send a parcel and some postcards and the supermarket to buy some provisions for our trip.

It’s a Carrefour, French owned like the Hypermarket in Calais, there’s a ‘fast’ queue for people with a basket (and 20 items max) but it moves soooo slowly and it seems the norm for people to cut in the queue when they feel it!!

I receive a text from Martin saying he and the kids have arrived at the docks and boarded the Voyager IV – where am I? – all well with them but I should hurry as the boat may be departing at 11:30, or 12:00 it’s not clear. It’s currently 10:48!

Mauro makes a quick call to check about the boat and is told 12:30 so we take a chance, sit out the queue then rush through the streets down to the docks. Arriving on foot with no ticket is tricky. Thank Goodness Mauro is with me and can help bribe our way onto the docks and along to the boat.

I made it!! For a moment, I’d had vision of having to take a speed boat along the Amazon to catch up with my family and having to perform a daredevil leap from the boat to the ship!!

The hammocks are up and our stuff is on the cabin. The hammock area seems slightly quieter, but is not air con and open at the sides. The cabin is about the same as before – tiny but secure and just about functional, but without a fridge and with rat poison pellets on the floor under the bed that fills me with joy about the trip!!!

My clever shopping for loo roll was in vain, they’ve given us a pack of rolls on the boat but the kids are thrilled to see some packs of biscuits, crisps and chocolate to see us through the journey The little trail of ants near the door makes me nervous about having food in the cabin. Hey ho! We will have to eat each pack in a single sitting and be careful with crumbs!

Eventually the boat leaves dock about 15:15 – typical!! We head downstream for 10 minutes (Manaus is actually on the Rio Negro, the Black River) then turn and head across the ‘meeting of the waters’ from black to brown and turn upstream on the Amazon again!

1120km as the crow flies to Tabatinga, seven days and nights ahead of us feels quite far and we’re a bit disappointed that there are no showers on deck for cooling off whilst enjoying the view!

Martin spends the afternoon reading and snoozing in a hammock. Once banished from gymnastics on the hammocks, the children are hot and bored and start to bicker so I seize the chance to start home school in the cabin and together we design a rewards system and then everyone starts their first English lesson!

Cooped up in a small cabin it’s not exactly an ideal classroom but we can manage! We begin with Lara’s phonics, practicing the first 5 sounds which we’ve already looked at. We make some pictures and them and stick them on the wall to help us learn them in the coming week!

Ben and Zoe get a grammar workbook and their handwriting books and we do some work on spelling days of the week and months of the year. It’s a start! Miss Studious Zoe wants to continue and goes onto the next exercise. Ben is trying hard with his writing – we have a deal with his teacher back home that when she sees what we send back, if it’s good enough she’ll send him his ‘pen license’!

It’s suppertime. Food is included in the ticket price on this boat, we wonder what it can be like! We file into the ‘refectory’ and eat watery but surprisingly tasty soup with pasta and meat in it. Lara is so hungry that even she eats it!!

After supper, we have some chocolate and the kids settle with Martin who starts reading to them ‘Don’t run whatever you do’ an
autobiography of an African safari guide and then everyone gets an exceptionally early night.

Lara and I head to the hammocks and she’s asleep in an instant. But I’m hot and fed up with lights being on and noisy TVs showing a football match at either end of the deck and feeling too close the the guy in the next hammock who’s hairy knee is almost in my face. But after some tactical repositioning, I’m much better and finally doze off!

Day 16
Another day on the river. Very hot! Me and the kids spend quite a lot of time in the cabin – everyone is willing to do some world school!

We start with setting some spellings for the week and practice them a little then
through the day Zoe and I begin a world map, Ben and I talk about Brazil’s history, noticing annoyingly that the two Lonely Planet guide books we have are out by 40,000 years in terms of how long indigenous people’s or ‘Indios’ have been in Brazil. One says there’s evidence they’ve been here for 50,000 years the other says they arrived from Siberia 8000 -12000 years ago crossing by land where the Bering Straits now divide Russia and Alaska, travelling and settling further and further south through the millenia, finally arriving in Brazil! Will need to do some checking online when we have an Internet connection!!

[Note – I found this facinating. Wikipedia
(http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_peoples_in_Brazil#section_1) shows the most common theory to be that of migration for Siberia towards the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago but recent finds shows some remains much older and showing closer links to Aboriginal populations than Asian. Hmm, there’s great potential to think about this as we travel round the world and plan to be in Australia and Siberia but I’ll have to work at making it interesting and relevant to the children!]

I begin to read The Butterfly Lion to the children too, by Michael Morpurgo, which everyone enjoys and Zoe continues her map work whilst Ben and Dad do some knots and Lara does a little writing with me. Later, Zoe does some knot practice too and thinks its great fun to tie Daddy’s legs together!

In the evening, Martin and Ben play cards with the other travellers we’ve met and the girls and I play Rummicub, though it’s a bit much for Lara!

Ben and I sleep in the hammocks tonight – its cooler and I get a good nights sleep and feel quite chuffed that we have really made a start with world school!

Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 12-14 In and Out the Jungle

Its our third day in the jungle. Sami has inspected Lara’s foot which is looking a lot better and he says he’ll treat it with jungle medicine. He collects a large seed bobbing in the water which he opens and scrapes the green, wet, highly pungent centre onto her foot. He says this ‘Fava’ (we later discover means ‘bean’) will kill any worm in her foot!!

Jungle Medicine

Sami puts the ‘Fava’ on Lara’s foot

We head off after breakfast and all of us feel just too hot!! The kids moan and no one is too bothered to concentrate on spotting monkey or sloths! More

Amazing Amazon – Days 10-11 Into the Jungle

We checked out of Chez le Rois at 7.30am and were picked up by Joaquim to head out to the port. There is a huge fish market with the biggest fish for sale and we jump straight on a little speed boat to head across the Negro and the Amazon.

Speedboat from Manaus across the Rivers Negro and Amazon

Soon we cross from the Negro River, where Manaus actually sits on the Amazon and see the famed black and brown meeting of waters – much like we saw at Santarem. We dock soon at a small, muddy, busy, riverside town where Joaquim looks for our transport – More

Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 7-9 Manaus

I’m woken very early to find people talking and getting up and taking down hammocks. It’s still dark but I get up and see we are already approaching the city of Manaus.

I go upstairs to our cabin, wake Martin and check the time, it’s nearly 5.30am (Manaus time, GMT-5) The satellite location on my map says we’re 6km from our destination!!

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We carry Lara back up to the cabin to carry on sleeping and take down our hammocks, email the Amazon backpacker Tour folk who are due to meet us – but not till our expected arrival much later in the afternoon – we’re not in a rush to get off the boat!!

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The Amazon Star sails into Manaus – its amazing to suddenly arrive in a city… More

Amazing Amazon – Diary Day 6

I get woken in my hammock by a canteen lady shaking me and saying ‘cafe!’ and beckoning! She’s letting me know we better come to breakfast if we don’t want to miss it but it seems really early!

Lara looks comfy in exactly the same position she fell asleep in last night! I go up to the cabin. My phone says its 06:36 – yesterday our phones automatically went back an hour as satellite decided we’d moved timezones. We know Manaus, our destination, now 200km away as the crow flies is in the ‘GMT-5 hour’ timezone but apparently on the boat they are still on ‘GMT-4 hours’! By the time we head to buy breakfast vouchers it’s too late but the lady gives me coffee and bread rolls anyway!

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A few times during our journey we have had a very sudden and luckily short-lived plague of moths. The first time, mid evening they appeared from nowhere on the top deck and swarmed around all the lights and up and down the corridor! Ben and some of the boys tried to swat them in vain as the girls screamed and ducked. We took refuge in the cabin and in the morning swarms of dead moths were on the decks but all the rest were gone! Then there were the beetles. Nasty looking black beetles, not as many as the moths! And at least they seemed to just land on deck rather than buzz around us!

There must have been quite a lot of them last night as there are several, some dead, some alive around the decks and corridors today.

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Ben sleeps all morning in the cabin while we spot a few more dolphins. They’re still too elusive for photos!

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Lara made friends with some little girls who got on yesterday and Martin, Zoe and I play rummy whilst we meander along the riverbank, seeing lots of clearings with small cattle ranches.

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Martin chats to a Systems Consultant for half an hour in Portuguese with the use of our phrase book and feels very chuffed! The man is traveling back to his home in the far north at Boa Vista near the Guyana border where Martin was on expedition with Raleigh. They have a good chat though he finds it difficult to explain Corporate Events and team building in Portuguese!!

We eat lunch at 11am which I guess is 12 to the people on the boat then Martin takes a siesta in a hammock while the kids take refuge in the cabin and I try to bear the heat reading and writing.

Lara spends the afternoon running around the boat with a growing troup of little friends – when I check on her she’s eating crisps and finishing someone’s Coke – she’s never had if before. It’s hard to explain she should have said no thanks!! She also seems to have struck up quite a rapport with the cafe man who has not only fed her a few lollies today but even a cheese toastie! She runs back to the cabin triumphant and shares it with Ben Zoe and me!

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The boat has turned off the engines a few times today and we heard there was some mechanical problem. The last time we stopped we drifted back downstream a little way, rather close to the bank and wondered what to expect next, but we soon started up again, though seem to be going a bit more slowly – checking the map and satellite, we are getting close to our destination, Manaus – this is a snapshot of where the are with Manaus starred as our destination. The data box shows speed (though this one must be inaccurate!) straight line distance to destination, latitude, longitude, height above sea level and satellite accuracy! Its made a big difference to the journey being able to track our progress and zoom in and out to see exactly where we are!

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Lara’s foot still looks odd though not troubling her at all – maybe a cluster of mosquito bites, we’ll get it looked at Manaus, meanwhile Ben discovered a strange lump on his toe that looked a bit like a large blister. Ben will tell more in his own blog and share photos… but suffice to say with the use of zoom photography, it wasn’t a blister but some insect had laid eggs inside his toe!!

It occurs to me that being on this boat gives the kids more freedom that they’ve ever known – it’s like living in a community where the kids go off with their friends all day and pop back when they need something. It’s easy enough to find them and check they’re ok or to drag them off for lunch!

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Martin has read 3 books in 6 days, more than in the whole previous year enjoying the occasional ice cold beer. It’s taken a while to get used to having nothing to do but we’re adapting pretty well!! Tonight we sit at the front of the boat with a sky full of stars around us, watching spectacular fork lightening in the far distance and the boat driver using his spot light to check for fishermen (presumably, as we spot a few who head quickly out of our path) as we hug the right hand bank. We wonder if we need to be this close to avoid the fast flowing part that would take us fast back downstream should the engines fail again!

I can’t believe this is already our last night on the Amazon Star. It will be nice to spend some time on dry land in Manaus but no one will object to catching another boat further up the river, I think 8 days to the border before we head onto Peru and Ecuador via Columbia!

When we go to find Lara for bed, we can’t see her with the other little kids, panic momentarily then find her fast asleep in the top bunk in the cabin with Ben and Zoe who are almost asleep on the bottom bunk.

Martin carries Lara down and pops her in a hammock. I crawl into the one beside her but it’s hard to sleep as there are a few restless noisy toddlers and babies. The baby boy next to Lara is wide awake and his Mum is swinging him wildly back and forth to try and calm him… I wonder if she might manage to catapult him across the deck but I fall asleep before she does!

Amazing Amazon – Diary Day 5

Martin and I spend the first half of the morning sitting at the front of the boat, in the west facing shade and a nice breeze spotting river dolphins – they’re elusive things, they pop up a couple of times then you don’t see them again. They’re a pale pinkish grey and some are quite big – 6 or 7 foot long. But they are too quick for us to get a photo of them!

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Ben is hanging out with friends near the hammock playing cards and Zoe and Lara are busy with pens and colouring and games in the cool cabin.

The air con is way too much for me and I had to get into warm clothes to be able to sleep last night in the chilly cabin! Eventually turned off the air con then woke boiling hot very early and got up to watch more unloading of cargo at a small town stop and check on the kids downstairs, both sleeping through all the racket!

As we sit there trying to spot dolphins, there’s a group of men drinking rum and coke just beside us, one playing guitar, the rest singing. It sounds great but nothing we know, then he starts up ‘Imagine’ and tries to get us to sing it! Where were Ben and Zoe when we needed them?! By 10.30am the breeze drops and it gets hot and the men go inside. There are lots more people with young children and babies on the boat now, I watch the little ones just tottering around and wanting to be on the move the whole time and explore, followed by nervous mums trying to keep them safe!! I’m glad our three are a bit bigger!!

I’d like to go for a run! I’m wondering if it will be just too hot to run in Manaus or if there is anywhere to run apart from round the city streets!?

It’s Sunday morning, I see a little crowd coming out of a small church on the riverbank.

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At lunchtime, Martin doesn’t feel like eating so the children and I go for the buffet lunch and eat almost a whole chicken between us along with salad, rice, spaghetti and mash potato which Is just delicious!!

Then we pull into dock at Parintins a busy port in a small town and stay most of the afternoon – we get off and feel dry land for a few minutes and see the satellite dish unloaded!

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Its pretty hot so apart from a quick stroll on the dock, we hang out in the cool room and catch up on email and loading another blog! Pulling out again we head down river past flooded areas and wonder what it can be like in the wet season!

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Ben and Zoe hang around in their hammocks. Pulling out again we head down river past flooded areas and wonder what it can be like in the wet season!

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In the evening we decide on a treat and sit in our cabin and watched some Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together!

Zoe and Ben want a turn sleeping in the cool cabin, mainly because earlier tonight there was a rush of moths in the hammock room so Lara and I go down for a night in the hammocks, most of the lights have been switched off, the moths are gone and the air con is blasting. Lara is asleep in an instant and I don’t have any trouble getting comfy next to her and dropping off too!

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Amazing Amazon – Diary Day 4

Sometime around 5.30am or 6am, lying in my hammock, I opened my eyes and noticed a brilliant pink sky as the sun rose.

I slept some more then woke and dozed a bit. No idea what time it is as my iPhone is locked safely in the cabin with Martin and the girls and I don’t have a watch. Ben was still sleeping soundly… He seems to have the hammock sleeping well sorted, lying diagonally and looking super comfortable! He has to be woken every day for breakfast and it’s hard to get him up!

I decide to head up to the cabin – it’s 7.30am, and find Lara has crawled up to join Martin in his top bunk during the night! The thing in her foot seems to have changed and moved but at least not bothering her and so around 11am as we approach Santarem and get a phone signal we start to Google skin parasites!!

Martin once had a chigoe(?) in his foot on a Raleigh expedition in Guyana which lays eggs under your skin. Googling of course gives a list of slightly scary possibilities including scabies. There is a hospital and medical centre in Santarem but it’s not clear how long we will dock there – probably only an hour or so.

We end up nearly 3 hours in Santarem, watching goods being loaded and unloaded – some of the onions are unloaded, a huge satellite dish is loaded!

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… And we try to post my first two days of Amazon diary via an email which doesn’t work properly, grrr … Most of my text is lost forever and only the beginning and the photos get posted and I can’t fix it before we lose the signal again – so I sit on deck in the shade and do my best to rewrite them – I’m sure less eloquently. If you read my Amazon Day 1 post and thought it ended a bit abruptly in the waiting hall at Belem docks you can go back now and read the full post for Day 1!!!

After having cheese & ham toasties for lunch for a change, we eat some delicious crunchy apples bought from vendors who came on board. Leaving Santarem we cross the ‘meeting of the waters’ of two rivers – one brown one black.
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We watch life on the riverbanks, play cards, and it’s soon time for dinner, watching sunset and a full moon rising!

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Martin and I decide to spend the evening catching up on our budget and expenses so load all our receipts into a spreadsheet ready to upload to the cloud! It looks like Brazil has been more expensive than we hoped but we are getting more budget conscious I think as we go and we’re headed to lower cost places too!!

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