The captain’s voice boomed over the tannoy, announcing to the 300 passengers that breakfast was being served. It was 6am, our 3rd day on the Diamante, the vessel which was transporting us up the amazon from Manaus, Brazil to Leticia, Columbia. The whole journey would take 6 days.
My eyes opened, I peered out of my hammock around the second deck of the boat and was greeted with the rainbow of caterpillar like cocoons covering the whole deck which I had grown very fond of. I watched the other passengers, mostly Amazonians, gracefully dismount and head down to the first floor for a breakfast of eggs, fruit and coffee. Not one to miss a free meal I swung my hammock in order to reach a gradient necessary for a smooth landing. The sound of my body crashing on the steel deck reverberated around the boat, thoughtfully informing those whom were not awake that the gringo had risen – there is a certain art to hammocking which I would eventually master, however on this particular morning it had eluded me somewhat.
Perhaps the hangover from an abundance of cachaça the night before, nonetheless I stood up and looked out of the side of the boat, awestruck yet again by the sheer size of the Amazon River. As the plane landed in Manaus I could see its might, hundreds of arms flowing and interlocking as far as the eye could see – the open veins of planet earth. However when you are stood on a ship in the middle of the liquid giant you gain a certain respect for it which you cannot appreciate from the sky. A respect which only increases when the captain mistakes the depth of the river and banks the boat, 3 days from rescue, baking heat which would usually be offset by the breeze of movement, 290 hungry locals and an international banquet of 10 foreigners – A moment of irrational fear before the Diamante’s engines finally thrusted us to deeper waters.
The Diamante, as well as transporting pretentious mammals was also the bearer of cargo. Food, water, alcohol, puppies, tables, chairs – a whole host of products on their way to the small communities which are strung along the amazon at surprisingly frequent intervals. We would stop at these ports every couple of days and as a crew of 15 or so men, smaller yet stronger than you or I in every sense of the word would hustle a staggering amount of goods off the boat along slippery tree trunks or planks of wood between the boat, the port and land. The group of school children who had been competing in an athletics tournament in Manaus would jump off the back of the boat to the buzz of hundreds of separate conversations as small communities gathered to see what goods the floating package had brought with it and to find out who the hell these people were with their brightly branded clothing and pale, un-weathered skin. Unfortunately for the Spanish student we were still in Brazil, Portuguese being the national tongue. Broken conversation, smiles and nods were thrown about the place and I would now confidently challenge anyone to a game of charades.
Midday welcomed the full force of the inferno, which glistened on the ripples of our wake, the top deck now a giant frying pan, many of the passengers would retreat to the shade of lower decks, moving their hammocks to the side of the boat to benefit from the merciful breeze. Those to whom the sun was still a novelty however would de-robe, sun bathe and read in the fire, much to the bemusement of the entire boat. That being said there was no divide between locals and guests, a comradery due to the shared experience and eating together 3 times a day had developed, local children who were surprisingly good at chess still had a lot to learn about drinking as their so called professor shared his spirit, only to cover any drunk, sleeping child with toothpaste in their coma. Revenge however was sweet, as the passed out professor was covered in toothpaste, shaving foam and had his nails painted on the final day after a morning binge on cachaça.
As the sun retired over the Diamante, giving way to staggering sunsets. The coolness of the evening brought most to the top deck. Looking out onto the collage of greens and browns whilst an orchestra of squawks, howls and chirps began the evenings soundtrack one couldn’t help but wonder what a life spent on this river would be like, passing through over 6 days aboard a surprisingly comfortable ship, with showers and 3 meals a day doesn’t compare to a life lived at the mercy of the world’s 2nd largest river. Wooden shacks on stilts, fishing for food, the opportunity to grow crops and play with friends opening up only in the dry season. A simple life no doubt but a life which is placed in danger as a result of deforestation, as conglomerates burn their home and give them in return a damaged ecosystem and a load of cattle shit.