On Saturday, June 7th, after a couple steamy days in the Colombian-Amazonian town of Leticia, I–along with Graham, my pal David the Irish guy from Ecuador, and a fun crew of fellow backpackers we met at our hostel–traipsed across the Brazil border to the Tabatinga ferry terminal. Armed with our backpacks, hammocks, and snacks, we arrived early, determined to be the first ones in line to board the Voyager IV and score optimum hammock-hanging locations on our naval home for the next four days/three nights.
This was the “Trip of a Lifetime!” that I had been looking forward to with unbridled glee for months. Four days, floating down the Amazon, sleeping in hammocks, attempting to converse with the locals using my three words of Portuguese. My Kindle was stocked and my body and brain were fully-prepared for a few days of chilled-out down time watching the world slowly float by before landing in Manuas, Brazil and being swept into World Cup chaos.
World Cup. Oh, yes. I should have known that I wasn’t the only clever traveler with an affinity for jungles and boats and grand entrances. My dreams of four days of braiding indigenous children’s hair while giggling with their aunties in Portugueslish, to the jerky beats of Samba from someone’s transistor radio, one leg lazily dangling over the side of my swinging hammock, green parrots swooping and piranha splashing and crocodiles circling…well, those dreams were swiftly smashed at that ferry terminal when I realized that the entire boat would be full of football (soccer) fans, like me, all on their collective way to the World Cup.
After calmly waiting at the terminal for a few hours to board, some slimy Brits sneaked past our group and through the gates, lining up right at the gangplank. Not letting them get the best of us, an American guy named Dr. Greg and I grabbed all our group’s hammocks (and my Cripple Card, natch) and proceeded to pass all the queue-jumpers to take back what was rightfully ours: the front of the line. (I might have even gotten into a verbal kerfuffle with a snooty English girl in high-waist jorts after she informed me there was a special line for “people like you”…she should really be thanking her lucky stars that she still has all her bad English teeth.) Finally, we managed to board and string up our hammocks in the ideal sleeping and chilling location on the middle deck, view of the south bank, not too close to the bathrooms.
In all, there were about two-hundred people on the ferry, which was your standard open-air floating metal structure with three levels. The bottom two levels each boasted a big open space for hammocks, a tiny mess hall that would seat about twenty people (meals were taken in quick shifts), and a unisex bathroom containing around 6-8 dark rusty showers and unpredictable toilets. The sleeping area was packed to the gills with hammocks; one could hardly miss the uncanny similarity to a Newton’s Cradle, one of those 80s desk gadgets where you pull the silver ball and create a ball-tapping chain reaction. Fortunately, we were all too inebriated by bedtime to even notice the constant hammock reverberation.
The top level was the place where everyone hung out when not lying in their hammocks (apart from the few unfortunate souls who were forced to sleep up there because there was no more room in the lower decks for their hammocks). The top deck was also home to a steadily-growing mound of trash bags and a small snack bar that continuously ran out of beer…clearly they weren’t prepared for an onslaught of alcoholics. Fortunately, we stopped at various ports several times each day to pick up or drop off cargo and passengers; it was quite the event to witness the Beer-Buying Olympics take place as numerous Brits in board shorts and flip flops had about 5 minutes to leave the ferry, locate beer, buy said beer, and return before debarkation.
Thus began four days of the completely-unexpected Amazon booze cruise, which consisted of lots of Brahma beer, Colombian Aguardiente, loud music, football chanting, Monopoly, chin-up contests (yes, that happened, and yes, I was a contestant), a little bit of hammock-sleeping, hardly any eating (as my vegetarianism reduced me to three days of subsistence on white rice and spaghetti noodles–I was pretty positive that I was stricken with scurvy or rickets by the end of it) and general madness reminiscent of 8th grade birthday parties. Loads of nationalities were represented on the ferry: English, American, Colombian, Mexican, French, Belgian, Irish, Australian, Swedish, etc, along with a few shell-shocked and unprepared Brazilian families.
Needless to say, it was a fun few days, and I was definitely enjoying myself, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed in missing out on the Amazon cruise for which my overactive imagination had prepared me. Also, frat-party atmosphere aside, the Amazon River was quite wide, and you could barely see land most of the time, much less swinging monkeys and dangling sloths. Perhaps I’ve read “Love in the Time of Cholera” one too many times, but I felt cheated out of my magical realism surrealistic experience on the Amazon. Oh well, there’s my excuse to try it again someday.
After the debauchery on the Amazon, our merry ferry finally arrived in sticky Manaus, Brazil the morning of June 10th. Now it was time to quickly recover from the boat trip, eat some oranges, and prepare for what would be one of the most unforgettable months of my life: FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014!