Truck days. What to say, it’s a means to an end, it’s called over landing for a reason but when its long consecutive days in the truck the days merge into each other being a succession of service stations or bush wee’s (never popular with the girls!) snacks and drinks. Set up camp / check into hotel and move on next morning.
But the next place always makes it worthwhile as you never know what’s around the corner in terms of interesting people, a nice meal or simply a few beers along the way.
For the 2 days to Porto Velho we were due to bush camp but in fact it was one bush camp and a bonus hotel stay. Nice opportunity to shower and freshen up. We then had a relatively easy 200km to roll into Porto Velho as needed some shopping time for long sleeve shirts and new trainers as my not inexpensive Merrel’s have hopelessly split across the right toe.
Arrived in Porto Velho and into hotel with the first priority to sort out what luggage to leave on truck as its going by barge rather than our ferry and we will catch up in Manaus probably after the jungle trip which we have decided to go on. Afternoon both got some shirts but no joy with trainers will try again in Manaus.
Out to a group dinner of burgers and beers and on the short walk back to the hotel stopped for a self serve ice cream sold by weight with Colin, Jane and Anthony. We passed a pet shop where a cage of ducklings had escaped and where having a fine old time running around the shop. Next morning they were firmly back in the cage!
Breakfast wasn’t included at the hotel so we had a little walk to one of the many “cafes” and had breakfast as Karen can find “Pao de queso” cheese flavoured rolls made of tapioca flour.
We then had a group hammock buying session which was great fun, looking at the styles but also getting good advice from Pete on the quality of the knotting – apparently the make or break of a good hammock. Once selected you then haggle by calculator i.e. vendor types in a price and you type in an offer! I was happy with the $70 real’s each, we paid for good hammocks and mosquito nets. Vanessa, a direct speaking Bolton lass, got the best deal paying just $50 from an opening price of $65.
We went on to the boat early to get a good spot which had been reserved for us and got a lesson from a crew member in how to tie up hammocks for the 3 nights we would need them. Did I say 3 ? make that 4 as we didn’t sail that night but 25 hours later, this as Brazilian time/schedules being somewhat flexible. As in “soon” could mean anything from 5 minutes to sometime in the coming week.
The crew member was surprised at our mosquito nets as said there are no mosquitoes, a few of the group them showed them their spectacular collection of bite marks and he laughed. Karen and I haven’t used the mosquito nets at all as indeed there don’t seem to be any mosquito’s. Could have halved the cost of hammock buying, think they saw us coming as of course the group are the only people on the boat with them. but hey!
Bags loaded, we then retired to the local fish market, which was 3 fish stalls and 20 cafes, for lunch and we then went to the bar opposite for a few beers and a very sociable afternoon with various members of the group who came and went.
Ferry ticket includes food but we were slightly taken aback that you apparently had to provide your own plate and cutlery, in fact there were 2 options a self service for those with said implements or a row of 10 places where you sat down, ate and then the bowls were washed for the next sitting, 5 mins later. I passed as it seemed to be a somewhat unappealing noodle soup however Kirsten managed to get Karen and Vanessa a gluten free rice and meat dish which we shared. Delicious. Most of the group improvised dishes from empty water bottles and were tempted to become gluten free ………..
The other slight concern was that the toilets and taps seemed to be steadily becoming more dysfunctional, potentially not great on day one of a 3/4 day trip. However all fears allayed as once under way a plentiful supply of gray water pumped in from the river and the facilities cleaned every couple of hours. Phew.
As we had been warned the locals piled onto the ferry literally carrying the kitchen sink and somewhat haphazardly slinging their hammocks in what appear impossible spaces, our strategy of arriving early paying off.
Hammock pleasantly comfortable and the ferry remarkably quiet once people settled for the night, apart from the top deck which blasts out local music on massive speakers apparently 24 /7. Went through a spectacular rain / lighting storm over night and we did spread a little in the morning as we had been a bit too cosy in the night, the trick being to maximise the space without creating such a gap you get a squatter J
Having spent the day watching the loading of more onions than I have ever seen, when you think they can’t possibly get any more on board another truckload would appear and the casual labour would set to in the heat, carrying 3 sacks at a time. They must get paid by the load as its sheer hard physical labour.
We had a delicious lunch at the market of local fish, rice, salad and beans. Coca Cola to drink for around £8 for both of us.
Confidence grew about departure as fresh food, fish and vegetables were delivered along with the essential bar stocks. Also interesting loading as the cases of beer were tossed 10 or 12 ft to the top deck to be caught, certainly quicker than the 2 flights of stairs.
Once under way, you just chill as there is little else to do – the scenery is unchanging – trees with the odd shack / village at the water’s edge, interestingly most with satellite dishes. Read in your hammock, have a beer or interact with the neighbours. We had a little girl Raquel next but one to us and she kept us entertained each day as she was clearly fascinated by these strange people who couldn’t speak to her.
Woken at 6 am by a whistle and call for coffee which was served with crackers. A pleasant surprise was lunch served in disposable aluminium foil dishes, why this wasn’t done the night before for dinner is anyone’s guess, meat and rice for lunch, chicken and rice for dinner.
Somewhat alarming is the way the locals casually dispose of rubbish overboard including plastic and the aluminium foil. They seem to have no awareness or concern for the pollution issues, everything just goes overboard.
This habit and the somewhat unappealing river colour (its heavily silted) caused some to avoid the showers over hygiene concerns but Karen and I had no problem taking what we thought are sensible precautions. i.e. we wouldn’t drink it but fine to wash, and for teeth cleaning using the bottled water we brought on board. Although there is filtered water on board for drinking and cooking.
2nd day some of the group spent a very relaxed afternoon playing backgammon, the relaxation being provided by copious quantities of vodka. Which led to a competition for naming cocktails e.g. the obvious “Sex in the hammock” but the winner being the funny if tasteless “Bridge over the River Kuat”. Kuat being a local soft drink.
The drinking led to a mildly amusing incident in that François struck up conversation with an Austrian couple and invited them over to chat he then produced a guitar which he asked if he could play and a very relaxed Kirsten said “yeah, go wild”. The group then remembered this was the same shockingly bad and stoned pair that had been performing the night before upstairs. Cue mass exodus – “for a fag” including a number of life long no smokers.
Kirsten then embarrassedly had to rectify situation by saying “sorry, some of the group are trying to sleep could you go upstairs ……..”
All in all a fantastic experience we would never have known about or probably dared do on our own. Certainly not to everyone’s taste but if you have a glimmer of curiosity about the world, a tiny sense of adventure then the minor creature discomforts are repaid a 100 fold in the experiences. Life in the old dog yet and on to the jungle.
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