However, the thing that I came across and was most excited for,
before I set off was, to do a cruise down the Amazon in one of the local Manaus
to Belem ferry boats.
My excitement was palpable right up until about 3 hours on
board. Here’s my story ...
Setting the scene
The Amazon in total is almost 7,000km in length and is the
largest river in the world. The Amazon river ferries that travel up and
down are mostly frequented by the locals who want to travel from one town or
another along the Amazon. Such as the Belem to Santarem boat.
The portion that we travelled is only a relatively small
section and normally takes around 5-7 days. Finding information online about
the cruise is actually pretty tricky but we managed to roughly piece it
together, and after 2 days in Belem we’d managed to buy our hammocks and rope
(R$110) and our tickets (R$200).
These prices are pretty standard, so far so good.
The Manaus to Belem boat price is no more than this so don’t
let yourself be ripped off! Only pay more if you’re going to get a cabin ...
more on that later ...
We boarded the boat at a small dock that’s a 15 minute drive
from Belem’s main terminal. We boarded whilst they were still loading their
cargo, and went to the highest passenger deck, and with the help of some locals
we managed to get our hammocks all set up and ready to go.
We also roped our bags to a pillar so that people couldn’t
steal them (this happens when local children board the boat and throw them
overboard into the river and then jump in after them!).
The first day
We soon got chatting with some English speaking people,
which was nice as we’d found very few throughout our previous 3 weeks in
My first warning signal came when I went to check out the
toilets. If you’ve seen the punishment box in Cool Hand Luke, then you’ll know
what to picture; each toilet was a tiny 1 by 2 metre steal box with no
windows and only intermittently working light and water supply.
Each room had a sink, a toilet and a shower. This wasn’t an
issue when they were freshly cleaned and before the heat had really started to
warm them up ...
I’ll come back to these cubicles of delight shortly.
But anyway, after half an hour of sailing I settled myself
on the back of the boat with a nice cold beer and watched the city of Belem
slowly shrink into the distance. Cazzy and I then spent time nestling into our
hammocks and reading our books.
The sun started to set and we got some great photos and
enjoyed talking to others on board.
Once the kitchens opened I made possibly the biggest mistake
of my young life: I purchased myself an on board meal.
Having read online, I’d heard relatively good things about
the food, and to be fair, when it was going in, it tasted perfectly good. A big
plate of beef, noodles, rice, beans and vegetables for R$15 is a good price.
Scene ends and we open to a new day ....
The next morning
I woke early whilst most were still asleep with my stomach
churning like crazy. It hadn’t been the best night’s sleep anyway, but I
knew something more was at work here.
Without being too crude, I’m sure you all know the feeling
of diarrhoea,but waking up to this onboard a small metal vessel going down the
Amazon, and with nowhere to run to for at least 5 days is a horrible feeling.
It was at this moment I remembered the toilet arrangements.
My heart sank, but I had no choice. I dared to visit and at that time of the
morning things weren’t too bad and I managed to hold my breath against the
smell for most of the experience.
But for the next 10 trips that day, things would not be so
... nor the day after that.
The temperature rose well into the 30s during the day time
and those boxes got HOT and stinky.
Enough about that, but it’s fair to say it put a massive
dampener on my trip. In fact this illness seemed to claim the fate of every
white person on board (including Cazzy), only 2 seemed to make it through
Our Australian saviours
Ben and Ansleigh Wilson are an Australian couple who are
riding across South America on motorbikes.
For this reason they had their own cooking equipment, so
were able to avoid buying food onboard, and they very kindly fed us at dinner
time once they realised our situation.
By the end of the cruise we had rearranged our hammocks so
we were next to them and were able to catch the breeze that their side
benefited from. In fact by the time we left the boat, we realised
that all of the westerners had somehow grouped alongside each other on the same
section of the boat.
What do you do all day?
I never really got over my sense of feeling sick, and seemed
to have some kind of upset stomach for the whole trip, but it did come and go
for some hours at a time so enjoyed much of the day.
It was nice to be able to take it easy and have long lie-in’s,
though I think Cazzy held the record for about 15 hours in one 24 hour
We had chance to read our books, and play cards and have
some drinks and play other games or write blog posts.
Most days the boat would stop in at least one port so I
would quickly hurry off, normally with Ben, and try and get some food and
drink. However there was never really much time, and on one such occasion
the boat left dock without Ben and Stefan (a German man on board).
Stefan was able to catch a small boat that rushed him to the
ship as we had only gone about 100 yards.
Ben would have no such luck.
In fact, we had entirely lost site of the port without a
clue if Ben even knew we had left or what he was up to. About half an hour
later, and with his wife only moderately worried, we saw a small taxi-boat
quickly gaining on us and eventually it pulled up alongside and Ben jumped
safely on-board with the 2 vessels moving alongside each other.
This certainly made for an interesting start to the day.
On one evening it went almost instantly from sunshine to
some of the most horrendous rain I’ve ever seen, and the river seemed to come
alive with turmoil. I’d say this was my favourite moment and went up on top
deck in just my shorts along with 2 of the locals. It was just us against
the elements in this awe-inspiring environment.
It also proved a great chance to have a shower without
having to actually venture into the toilets!
We never actually made it to Manaus before me and Cazzy got
off. The boat was so delayed that at the 2nd to last port we had the chance to
get off and catch a 4 hour bus to Manaus.
Cazzy eagerly jumped at this opportunity and off we went
leaving the remaining prisoners (oops, passengers) behind.
Looking back on this part of our journey I would think it
safe to say we will never be boarding a boat like that again, however based on
other people stories and experiences I would still recommend doing it if you
were to get the chance. I think we were a little unfortunate with the standards
on board; others we have spoken to have said there toilets were nice and the
crew very welcoming (we experienced neither of these).
Here’s a few top tips
If you’re thinking of taking this journey, look at the
possibility of the Manaus to Belem cruise. By travelling in the opposite
direction you are moving with the current so can complete the journey in as
little as 2-3 days rather than 6-7.
Amazon river travel can be a very slow and largely un-entertaining
process; but it does offer the chance to unwind from everything. So take some
books with you and try to forget about everything else for a few days.
Pay for the cabin! It doesn’t cost very much more and is
more than worth it when you are feeling sick because you normally get your own
bathroom! I’m sure they would still let you hang a hammock up on deck so you can
get the best of both experiences without quite so much of the hardship.
If you’re looking for a little more luxury then there are
plenty of higher quality Amazon cruises available. We saw quite a few Amazon
clipper cruise boats going up and down.
There are Amazon riverboat tours available that go all the
way through to Peru. They would obviously take a few weeks but plenty of people
would relish this opportunity. Maybe it’s something for you to look into?
But overall, if you take nothing more from this article than
this one point ... DO NOT board the HMS Amazonia! You may not make it
off in one piece.
If anyone reading this has any questions then ask them below.
And more importantly if you have been yourself then I would love to hear how you got on! Did this post help you or is there anything else you need help with?? Ask away!
Alternatively, for something a bit more upbeat, you can check out the things I enjoyed most from our 4 month adventure through south America.
Have you ever seen the film:The Grand Budapest Hotel? Well, this reminded me of that! It's this huge hotel that seems like it was built for a different era. And for us it's perfect as it was so cheap and the perfect place to recover in luxury after our cruise. Would highly recommend staying here. It's in a great, central location.
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I'm an Economics graduate with a passion for travel. In 2016 I decided to ditch the office environment, work from my laptop and travel to every country in the world. You'll find me working out of a cafe in Bali, perhaps on a riverboat in Brazil or maybe even an airport lounge in New Delhi.
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