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Alternate Routes · South America · brazil · Brazil · Jānis Stirna

The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

Author: Jānis Stirna1 COMMENT

The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

There are two options how one can travel the Amazon Basin rivers - either downstream or upstream. My choice was to go downstream. Most of these rivers begin in the Andes and then turn eastwards, contributing to the mighty Río Amazonas, which then falls into the Atlantic Ocean. Having collected information how much time it would take to go from one city to another by water, I decided to cross half of the continent this way, reaching Manaus. In order to fit into the available timeframe, I first took a flight from Lima in western Peru to Iquitos and started my way along the river from there. Iquitos (with almost 500.000 inhabitants) is the largest city on the planet unreachable by road. It is located deep in the jungle, and almost the only type of vehicles to be seen in its streets is three-wheeled motor bikes. As you step off the plane, the hot tropical air hits your face. Numerous taxi drivers at the airport literally jump on you, trying to offer the cheapest possible transportation to the city center. Iquitos is famous for Ayahuasca - a brew, which possesses hallucinogenic properties and is made of tropical roots and shrubs. Indigenous people of the region have used it since time immemorial and it is considered to deepen one's spiritual connection with nature's energy. Many travelers are seeking to try it.

Foto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

Having spent few days in Iquitos, I decide to continue my way down the river. The first boat that I take is a so called "rapida", or a fast boat. It takes me to the Brazil-Peru-Colombia triple frontier area. Before I get onto the boat, the local policeman checks my documents and then in calm voice and clear English language warns me: "Be careful". As I step on board of the claustrophobic boat, I have no idea as what should I be careful about. About five minutes after we have set off, the boat is stopped for the first drug check. Then the "rapida" starts speeding along the river at 60-70 km/h, avoiding floating logs and other boats, with every kilometer taking us deeper into the planet's largest remaining rainforest. It takes 10 hours, and I have reached a Brazilian border town Tabatinga in the triple border area. As I step ashore, I meet a friendly stranger, who makes a guess that I am on my way to Manaus. He helps me to acquire Peruvian exit stamps in my passport and takes me across the river. Moments later I am already in Brazil, although illegally, and in a hostel belonging to the abovementioned friendly stranger. There are some grasshoppers hopping on my bed. Of course, I will have to find my way to the Police Department to legalize my entrance later on and to decorate my passport with more stamps.

Foto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

A large boat from Tabatinga to Manaus leaves a couple of days later. Having paid the captain 200 dollars in cash, I get my hammock space on its crowded deck. There is an option of paying a triple price and sleeping in a cabin, but I would rather suggest investing some money in a good hammock, which makes this trip more comfortable and enjoyable.
Before letting anyone on board, the military police checks all the bags and pockets. The reason is that drug traffickers are trying to use these rivers for bringing cocaine from Colombia and Peru into Brazil. Although there is no checkup on the border, absolutely nothing can slip by unnoticed on this boat. After the inspection, you can go on board and find a place for your hammock, and the journey may start!
Here and there, the boat stops in small towns in the middle of jungle to let some passengers in or out. Gradually the boat fills up to such an extent that I cannot avoid bumping into other passengers dozing in their hammocks right next to mine.
These towns in the middle of nowhere are inaccessible by road or air, boat being the only way how to get there. I talk to people and I realize that going back and forth to Manaus and bringing city goodies to the jungle is a certain way of earning one's living there. We talk in Spanish, although their native language is Portuguese, but we manage to understand each other quite well.

Foto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

There are three meals per day provided, and they are very good and large with meat, rice and salad. After the meal everyone returns into their hammocks to lounge and drowse. Now and again this idleness is disturbed by the military police, which unexpectedly stops the boat to search it once again. As the police officers get aboard, everyone has to stand next to their belongings and wait for a checkup. All your stuff gets messed up and again and again you have to put it back in order. Few more times, and you realize that proper packing doesn't make any sense and you simply squeeze everything back into the bags until next time. After all, you have to be ready for such raids at least once a day.

Foto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

As you travel along the river, you will notice floating houses. Evidently, people live there travelling at the same time from one village to another. Arrival of a boat is a great event there - it means arrival of relatives or delivery of food and medicine, and everyone runs to meet the boat. For the most part, these villages are rather poor, but telephone, TV and internet keep them connected to civilization. There is a small bar with TV on the third deck of the boat, too, and one night there is a chance to watch a football match between Brazil and Argentina. Funny part is that there was a guy whose task was to adjust the antenna all the time to catch the signal.
Traveling by river is a superb way to observe numerous birds. You can be lucky enough also to see freshwater dolphins swimming up to the boat, too. The river is rather broad, and it's quite difficult to catch sight of any jungle inhabitants along the banks, but the most common creatures are large beetles, flying towards the lights of the boat at night.

Foto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands StillFoto: The Amazon River Where Time Stands Still

There is a surreal sensation that time has stopped during such a trip. You have no power to speed up anything or to slow down - you can just observe. When you have finally reached the destination and leave the boat, it feels as if waking up from a dream. Such a journey with the riverbanks gliding by slowly is just great for reflection and thinking over some matters.
Manaus is located at the confluence of the Rio Solimões and the Río Negro. There is a clearly visible line separating the Solimões muddy waters and the Río Negro pitch black ones.
And that is the way how I reached Manaus before continuing my way to the north, towards Venezuela...

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