Thursday, November 27, 2014

Slow Boat to Tefe

Greetings All,
From the Arctic to the Amazon!  We are in Brazil exploring the central Amazon region.  Our journey started in Manaus, just a 5-hour flight from Miami.  Manaus is a bustling city of 2 million people in the heart of the Amazon.  Here is a map showing where Manaus is located in Brazil.

Map of Brazil Showing the Location of Manaus

The city owes it's existence to the rubber boom that took place at the end of the 19th century.  The most iconic site in Manaus is the Opera House, that's right - an opera house, in the middle of the rainforest.

Manaus Opera House

The wealthy rubber barons from Europe wanted to bring the culture of their homes to the Amazon. They constructed an opera house with ornate balconies, columns and murals painted on the ceiling.

Murals on the Ceiling of the Dome

Balconies of the Opera House

Opened in 1896, the Opera House is still in use.  We spent 2 nights in Manaus at the Hotel Tropical which is also the site of a zoo.  It was sad to see the animals of the rainforest in small cages but they appeared healthy and well cared for.  It provided a good introduction to some of the animals we were likely to see such as squirrel, capuchin and howler monkeys, macaws and parrots and other birds as well as jaguars and an ocelot that we would be extremely lucky to see.  Suddenly, I noticed that a monkey had escaped from his cage!  A closer look revealed a small troop of black and white monkeys visiting the zoo. When we looked them up we discovered they were pied tamarins (Saguinus bicolor), an endangered primate species found in a restricted area in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest!  Here they were just outside our hotel in Manaus!

Pied Tamarin
Early the next morning we took a taxi to the New Manaus Dock to pick up our riverboat, the Rei Davi, for the trip up the Amazon to Tefe.  When we arrived at the dock at 5AM, it was bustling at this early hour and our driver wasn't sure where to drop us off.  He asked a few dock workers who pointed to a yellow dock on the river below and left us in the middle of the chaos to find our boat. We climbed down some steep stairs to the dock and searched for the Rei Davi but there were no boats there with this name.

Has Anyone Seen the Rei Davi?

We asked around and finally understood that the boat had not yet arrived but would come at 6AM. To my relief we finally saw a large riverboat approaching and I could just make out Rei Davi written on the bow.

The Rei Davi Approaches

We clambered aboard even before the boat had docked and climbed to the top deck to look for a cabin but they all appeared occupied.  Marc returned to the dock and found a man issuing tickets and he gave Marc the key to suite #5, located on mid deck.  When we opened the door I was shocked.  It was a metal box with twin bunks, a plastic chair and nothing more. 

Our Suite, Aka "The Box" 

Yikes, I thought we should have opted to bring a hammock like most of the locals.  At least we had a secure space to lock our duffles and packs and went to the top deck to hang out.  There were fewer people here and we settled into plastic chairs for the long voyage to Tefe. 

Marc Settling in for the Long Voyage to Tefe

Finally, we were underway and left the sprawling city of Manaus behind.

Leaving Manaus

We headed south at first along the Rio Negro to the confluence with the Rio Solimoes, then headed west along the Solimoes, the main tributary of the Amazon.

Map of our Voyage from Manaus to Tefe

The river here is about 3 miles wide and is very developed.  Most of the forest along the banks had been cut down to make way for villages. Every once in a while we'd pass larger towns, certainly not what I expected in the heart of the Amazon.  It began to rain and we moved our plastic chairs under a roof.  Most of the locals sought refuge in their hammocks.

The Locals Sleep in Hammocks

There isn't much wildlife along this stretch of the river but amazingly we caught glimpses of gray river dolphins. 

Gray River Dolphin

We had been advised not to eat the food on board as some tourists recently got ill.  We had purchased nuts, crackers and sandwiches for the journey from a store near our hotel on the previous day.  After the sunset we joined the locals to watch TV showing Brazilian soap operas and comedy shows.  I couldn't understand a word of Portugese but it was still entertaining.  Around 10PM I couldn't stay awake any longer. We had been on the river 10 hours and had only traveled 100 miles, just 300 more miles to go!  I reluctantly returned to our suite (aka "The Box") to sleep.  Fortunately, we had brought our silk liners, the sheets didn't look too clean but there was air conditioning!  Around 1AM we awoke to 3 blasts from the ship's horn.  There was music blaring as we came to a stop.  "Where in the world are we" I groggily thought, "we can't be in Tefe yet".  Marc got up to investigate and found we were in Codajas, about the halfway point.  We let some passengers off and others got on.  We resumed our course and I drifted back to sleep.
We awoke around 6AM the next morning, almost 24 hours into our journey.  I couldn't wait to escape "The Box" and returned to the top deck for some fresh air.  The weather had cleared and there was less development along the river, "now this is more like it," I thought with relief.  We retrieved our plastic chairs and continued our watch of life along the Amazon.

Marc back in our Plastic Chairs

The larger towns had given way to small communities of Ribeirinhos or people who live along the river.

Typical Ribeirinhos' House

Most eke out a living fishing and growing bananas, manioc and corn along the river banks.

Ribeirinhos Fishing

We switched from side to side of the boat as the sun direction changed or to get a closer look along the shore.  We chatted with the only other westerners on board (the boat holds up to 533 people), a couple headed to Tefe to do volunteer work.  Around noon we arrived at Coari to let passengers off and on.

Dock at Coari

There were some pink river dolphins swimming about but we only got glimpses as they came to the surface to breathe.

Pink River Dolphin
As we continued up the river the settlements became smaller and further apart.  Some of the locals passed the time playing cards, watching soccer on the TV or snoozing in their hammocks.  We just sat in our plastic chairs taking it all in.  As the sun set for a second time I really wanted to be off this boat.  We were moving at 11 mph and at this rate would not reach Tefe until around 10PM.  Finally, after 40 hours of boat travel the lights of Tefe came into view.  Music was blaring to greet our arrival and we were among the first to disembark.  We grabbed the first taxi, an ancient pickup truck with a slightly drunk driver and told him to take us the Hotel Multicultura.  At first he didn't understand but when we wrote it down he seemed to know the place.  Marc climbed in the back with our luggage and I in the front with our driver.  I had to remind him where we were going as he seemed to have forgotten after 5 minutes.  Finally, around 11PM we arrived at the hotel.  We had survived the slow boat to Tefe!
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc

No comments: