South America Trip.4 – Manaus to Belem

Third Class Amazon riverboat accommodation – 1967


On Monday, July 17, 1967, after two fascinating days in Manaus, George, Ian and I began a trip 1000 miles downriver to Belem at the Amazon’s mouth. Our boat was the Lobo D’Almada. We got on the boat with a few US peace corps guys whom we’d met in Manaus. We slept and rested in hammocks for the three night trip.

We had flown into Manaus from Georgetown, Guyana, via Boa Vista, a muddy little jungle airport in northern Brazil near the Guyana border – to save money. The cargo of the DC3 from Georgetown consisted of paying passengers and contraband Black and White whisky hidden under the plane’s floor.

My Trip: July 13 to September 5
My Trip: July 13 to September 5

We had to scramble to buy tickets for the connecting flight, which was to take off soon after they unloaded the booze. Someone fortunately interpreted for us when we floundered. Don’t know where we would have stayed if we had missed it. The pilot had a pet ocelot on board and everyone made the sign of the cross as we took off. I think we did, too, even my Japanese-Canadian teacher friend, George, who was Buddhist if he was anything.

Manaus had once been a boom town due to its huge rubber industry. It had gone bust after seeds smuggled out of Brazil were used to set up plantations in Asia. The Opera House, where the most famous dons and divas of the late eighteenth century had come to entertain the extravagant rubber barons, was still standing and still beautiful, but silent. A pair of workers squatted in the sun on stools in order to clean the weeds between the cobblestones by hand with basic scraper blades. Not much vehicular traffic in 1967.

Most of the men had left town for the jobs they might find in Sao Paolo. Prostitution appeared to be an important source of income for a significant fraction of the women. Women outnumbered men in Manaus by a ratio of eight to one, we were told.

I remember a wonderful 5-hour excursion we took from Manaus in a small cabin cruiser with other tourists.

French couple, Brazilian mother with 2 sons on Manuel’s boat
Manuel serves oranges on our excursion

We were shown the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Amazon, where the black water of the Rio Negro was clearly different from the reddish Amazon flow. There were isolated dwellings of people of Portuguese descent who farmed and fished on the tributaries.

Another Boat On the Rio Negro
Small House & Boat on the Amazon near Manaus

We entered a small stream in a rowboat that had been tethered to the larger boat, hearing nothing but macaws, monkeys and insects. I seem to remember swimming in a place where there were no piranhas, or so we were told. Maybe that’s why we paid Manuel, the pilot, his fee in advance!

I remember lying on the deck on our way back watching stars I could almost touch. Saw about three shooting stars as well. Magic.

The three night journey from Manaus to Belem, the bustling, prosperous, port at the Amazon’s mouth, cost us the equivalent of 6 U.S. dollars for third class accommodation. This meant sleeping on the main deck in your own hammock. Not trusting the food or the water, for the entire trip we ate only bread and sardines we had bought before we boarded. We waited till noon for the bar to open to wash it down with cerveja. The Amazon is so wide that insects were not a problem. The trip was very pleasant. I learned a little Portuguese, having made friends with a fellow traveller who lived in Belem.


***Letter from the Amazon-Belem Boat***


***Some More Photos***



***Diary Notes***

Dimanche, July 16 – Manaus, Brazil, 10:20 PM

Left Georgetown Saturday at around 1 PM in a DC3 piloted by Señor Adelson to whom Mrs. Baldwyn had introduced us. He spoke English and there was not much trouble. This flight smuggles whisky into Brazil. Customs just close their eyes. Whisky is much in demand here and about 600% profit can be made by buying it in bond in Georgetown and selling it in Brazil.

The flight from Georgetown to Boa Vista (U$35 return) was a little rough but only a little. We passed over seemingly endless forests and then swampy, flooded savannah (the Rupununi). It was easy to see that it was the rainy season here. (Note: Boa Vista is north of the equator and so its rainy season and dry season are opposite to the seasons south of the equator -ed.) The savannah is virtually uninhabited (because of floods and swampiness), but, in the middle of nowhere, we came upon an airport and a town – Boa Vista. Muddy runway. There we were – Brazil.

We stayed no more than 45 minutes there – bought a one way to Manaus (U$ 17). Buying separate tickets saves you U$ 23 – one way fare to manaus is $58. I should be able to get a refund for my return half (BV – Georgetown) which was not used. (Note: I know – blah blah…) Obtained second ticket quickly with aid of an interpreter. It was now five minutes to three and pouring rain. Crew and passengers were given umbrellas to go to the plane and we quickly took off again (at 3:07). We had to get to Manaus before sunset.

Talked to Fr. George Marskell – a Canadian Catholic priest from Hamilton who works in a little place called Itacoatiara, about 6 h by bus. He introduced us to Noel Denny [who got us a place to stay – Hotel Garrido for 4000 C a night] upon landing in Manaus around 5:30 PM. We rode from the airport on the back of a truck to the hotel – Great feeling!

Went to the Commodore last night – some rather attractive whores present (5000 C!) (Note: I mention prostitutes to add colour to the trip, but I simply admired them from afar.)

Today I got some money changed: 1 U$ = 2700 Cruzeiros. (Note: inflation was so rampant in Brazil and some other South American countries at the time that the discerning traveler would always get a better rate on the Black Market than he/she would in a bank.)

This afternoon Mr. Manuel at the Lord Hotel took us to (and up) the Amazon for 15 000 C (about $6). It is one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had. Why? Because:

  1. Junction of Rio Negro (black) and Amazon (red).
  2. Interesting sights on shore.
  3. Small canoe trip into the jungle
  4. Magnificent sunset on the river
  5. Saw a shooting star

We went to the junction , then into a tributary of the Amazon. Sparse houses on shore (fair, often blonde people inhabiting – Portuguese ancestry? –> Yes) At one point 8 or 9 of us got into a small boat with an outboard motor and went up a narrow part. Saw monkeys and scarlet macaws overhead – what a sound those birds made. Snapped the macaws. On the way out – several pictures of sunset – magnificent. Place so calm, no flies, quiet, cloudless (amost) sky. Gave me many inexpressible feelings.

Can eat well here at Restaurante e Bar Miranhenses.: Steak, rice & chips for 2500 C (less than U$ 1). Can have a beautifully served meal at another place, we had a choice of steaks or fish (both delic.) Meal came to less than U$ 2.

I have never seen such friendly girls – ratio is 8:1 so they have to be friendly – they also must marry as virgins. Some very beautiful.

Tomorrow we leave Manaus for Belem by boat (1000 miles down the Amazon). It costs $6 third class and $22 first class!

N.B. Sweet drink made in Manaus – Guaraná 600 cc for 200 C. Delicious.

Wednesday, July 19

Monday in Manaus we discovered that a bunch of congressmen had bought up all the first class tickets so we were left with third class. Bought hammocks to use. Took pictures in the afternoon. bought food, cups, can opener, etc.

Got on the boat (note – Monday) with Dick Powell, Tim Schnapps, Jay Lopez, George ??, Ian and George (Oike). Put up hammocks and got to sleep shortly after the boat left at 8:10 PM.

Tuesday morning – had a third class breakfast – coffee and bread. Read and got acquainted with Edna and Dorothy, who live in Belem. Dorothy is a blonde Portuguese girl – lovely complexion.

At lunch time – no coffee served – the bar closed – ate sardines and bread (bought in Manaus). Bar opened at 3 PM. Drank like a fish.

Night – uneventful. Scuttling each other in hammocks.

Wednesday at 1 AM – Reached Santarem, the Lobo D’Almada’s main stop, ahead of schedule – congressmen have influence, I guess. In the morning the usual bread and coffee. (Note: Could not drink the water or eat fresh salad, so we stuck to our stock of bread and sardines.)

Left Santarem Wednesday at 8:20 AM after a seven hour stop, during which we had to stay on board.

Afternoon: hardly yet begun. Sardines and bread for lunch. No coffee. Bar closed. Ate an orange. Drank beer later with Jay, who’s played some football. Inter-mural football is a big thing at Notre dame. Equipment, coach, competition for positions, etc.

Night: Played hearts.

Thursday, July 20

Lovely sunrise – completed roll B. (Note: Agfa slide film, 36 exposures) Then came the riot squad to clean the ship. Small brooms – inefficient – wetting luggage, wetting deck below. Lay around, played cards until 2 PM – the boring life of Riley.

Belem – arrived the same day, Thursday, at 9 PM. No open hotel – slung up our hammocks on the boat. Number of whores depressing. Fantastic market and mud-port. Men scurrying along – large wooden trays on their heads, jungle drug store selling bush cures, whites, indians, negroes and every combination of the three. bananas, skins, toucan beaks, sea horses, trinkets, vegetables, fruits. Very busy when we were there – 7:30 AM Saturday. has tall buildings, not attractive tho’, sells Guara Suco and Lara Suco, local sweet drinks for 250 C. Beer Ceipu – 750 cc, Brahma & Antartica 1000 cc.

Stayed at Hotel Baré, met a Lithuanian chemical engineer – well-educated, who asked me to the movies. This might be quite normal in Lithuania, but I declined. Hammock again was useful – only two beds in my room with George and Ian.

Cobblestone streets, some paved, buses, cars (many VW’s).

***End of Diary Notes***


Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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