Saturday, January 27, 2007


Manaus isn´t a pleasant place, dirty, run down, it just does not make you feel safe. We soon discover that most cities have this feel over themselves. The next city where we conclude this, is Belem. The differences between the rich and poor are so great, it makes you feel uncomfortable. For example in Bolivia there was a lot of poverty, but, and I really don´t intend to sound cynical, everybody is poor. In Belem we see a homeless man stripped naked in the middle of the street and being washed by some kind of aid workers. The next morning we are sitting in a modern mall a few blocks further looking how a poodle gets a pedicure in a dog saloon.

But first we have to get to Belem. The boat is the most logical option. We buy a hammock and go looking for a ticket. We don´t want to buy from the men selling on the street, as we are afraid to get a false one. We go directly to the boat before departure and are a little shocked by what we find: the deck is full of hammocks. Logical, but they are just hanging everywhere, and with that I mean three layers hanging next to each other AND on top of each other. Never seen such a crowded place.

After a lot of doubt (and the captain lowering the price), we decide to embark on this adventure and put up our hammocks and just hope nobody will steal our luggage under it. To get in it, I wake my neighbour, for others to get into theirs, they have to crawl under mine. Except for the sleeping comfort, it turns out not to be so bad, just long. It doesn´t smell and the food is OK. Soon we find the other tourists and the ten of us (Belgians, Argentineans, Sao Paolo, Dave) form a little group that sits on the top deck and drink alcohol (of course not us), chat and dance and even get off the boat to go for a swim on the lovely riverbeach of Santarem.
We also have the opportunity here to meet some Brazilians.
Portuguese is all is spoken here. Written it has a lot of similarities to Spanish, but spoken it is very different. We do our best to speak a little, but if they don´t understand you once, they decide they can´t understand you at all, instead of trying. So far we get by for directions and food and have little conversations on the boat with girls who do have the patience. A lot of young women are already married. One of the girls, Adriana dances every night happily with us, interested in the European boys, but she can´t hide the sad look in her eyes. At 22 she has been divorced for two years and is now taking care of her three children.

There are many beautiful children on the boat. Brazil prides itself with being a nation where all races mix, and in fact you do see black guys with green eyes or fair coloured haired girls with thick curls. But if it is so mixed well, it still makes you wonder how come the elite is all white and the poorest all are black...
The kids are often staring at me. Even though I don´t feel I stand out, I apparently do with my white skin and blue eyes. I do not mind at all, I love kids and enjoy playing with them. Kids are treated with a lot of care and affection here. The girls are little princess and the boys mini-machos, who already master sexy dance moves.
All that is ever danced here is Reggae and Forro (and its variations). I try to learn it, but it doesn´t thrill me. Luckily there is a Colombian guy as well and we danced salsa on the deck, which is great! Yes, I got ´jinga´ which is ´muito legal´!

In Belem we do not get our well deserved rest, see my remark about noise and heat earlier on. We do not feel well at all, as we have pretty bad diarrhea. We however keep on going, do not like Belem that much and take a night bus to Sao Luis. To our surprise the old, colonial part of town is lovely and we think we have found a quiet hotel in the non-traffic zone. Wrong. At night it suddenly comes alive and it sounds like we have several bands performing simultaneously in our room. We do stay three days, ´cause with every visit to the bathroom we feel weaker and weaker. Medications do not seem to do much, but we keep our senses and drink loads. As soon as we feel better we leave for Barreirinhas, where again it is noisy. We visit the dunes nearby. It is a huge sandy area, which makes you feel as if you are in the desert and watch the sunset.

Friday, January 26, 2007


The first week into the New Year was our first week in Brazil.
Not quite what we expected: New Years eve was -apart from some fireworks- pretty much a non-event, the beach in Florionapolis nothing special and the sea too cold. We did not even get that much rest, due to the suffocating heat, itchy mosquito bites and noise (situation still the same). It is not all that negative of course. It was good to finally do a little reading, there is proper coffee here, not Nescafe (but now tea is a difficult product) and to confirm a cliché: the people are beautiful here. The women are very expressive and the men have a beautiful skin colour and generally are really fit (I am however keeping my distance, as nao is not easily taken as an answer).

Brazil is huge. Bigger than Europe. To get to the rainforest in the north, we had to fly. We flew from Sao Paolo and made a stopover there for a day. Still dazed of the nightbus, we were lucky enough to meet Lilian there, who took us around the town with her two small children by car. Sao Paolo has more inhabitants than the whole of the Netherlands and is, to say it simply: ugly. High buildings seemed to be planted all over the place, without any clear planning. Some streets are ´good´streets, but the next street is dangerous.

On the way to the airport we meet Dave, a loud Australian, who we would be seeing for the next 10 days. We arrive in the middle of the night in Manaus. Dave gets a free ride to his hostel, but they don’t want to take us. Some guy offers to bring us for less than a taxi. Sylvia bargains it down. He doesn’t bring us to the hostel we requested (´full´) and tries to sell us his jungle tours. We are so tired, we decide just to go to bed. I am still combing my hair the next morning, when this guy stands in front of my nose again, trying to make me buy his tour. If you want to get on my nerves, this is the perfect way how.
We notice this later too: once you show some kind of interest, they keep following you around, hardly giving you any space to move elsewhere.
We leave the hotel and go to the hostel of our choice, which of course has plenty of room.

We do our own little research and then pick one tour. It feels a bit like going on a Disney trip (not that I have ever done that). Luckily my nerves are good for something; we discover that the guy from the airport is a scam artist.
Excursions are expensive, so again, we bargain. Bargaining seems to work most of the time in Brazil. Sylvia has understood the trick. It is called patience. If you wait and ask long enough, they will lower the price. They don’t seem to mind spending that much extra time on one client. Instead of having a good tourist infrastructure, people just seem to be busy to get money out of individual tourists. Everywhere we go we find that everyone has paid a different price, both locals and tourists. It makes it hard to understand what we are supposed to pay and to trust anyone. What we have seen in other South-American countries seems to be valid here even more: no long-term thinking, only looking at short-term gain. Or as another tourist phrased it: "Brazil is the country of the future and always will be."

At night someone shows us the synagogue. We are surprised to find one, at the edge of the jungle. There are about 150 Jews left, who at first came here because of the rubber trade (which later moved to Malaysia and Indonesia, but the tree is still called Hevea brasiliensis).

It is odd that almost 20 years ago I collected signatures in order to protect the tropical rainforest. I had no clue that it was a possibility to actually go there. It is still very much under threat; farmers, soja plantations, log companies. I don’t know how much harm our presence does.

We travel with the loud Ozzie, three silly Swiss girls and one decent German about four hours by bus, boat, jeep and by boat again to get to the jungle lodge. You know, the kind of place where you find a frog on the toilet seat (gesproken over kikker in je bil). The next four days we are kept busy with a walk through the forest, caiman spotting, eating a lot of fish, piranha fishing (and swimming in between them), chatting and playing cards with people from all over the world, sleeping in the jungle in a hammock, watching rubber making from the tree and visiting natives. And getting constantly soaking wet, because of the rain. The Tropical rainforest consists of many rivers and many trees and (medicinal) plants, so we spend a big amount of time in a little boat (which of course had no life jackets *see comment). We didn’t see many animals, which was disappointing.
In the end it is all in the name: lots of rain and lots of forest.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Four days in the jungle and four days on a boat kept me away from the computer. Feeling not so well now, must´ve caught something.
Hope to update soon!

Friday, January 05, 2007