As soon as we drove in to the port, the men were on us. They whistled and shouted to get my attention but I knew where I was going, and was in no mood for distractions. Balark had already called the contact agent on the business card Tolio received for me two days early, so I knew the man would be waiting. Despite already having made a choice of boat to take, one short and persistent fellow found out the name of the company I wanted, and he told me to follow, running between cars. Balark wisely stayed back with his van and said “call me when you’re on the boat”. The traffic was too congested and there was no point. I felt vulnerable having lost my translator, but found solace in following the man through the labyrinth.
Within minutes of my arrival to the kiosk, my initial contact agent from two days before had left, and a group of people were telling me I had to ride my bike down the steep walkway to the dock. Oh boy. Up on the curb and across the sidewalk I was, as people scurried to get out of the determined Canadian’s way. I had 4 people hurriedly create a path through the crowd until we hit the dock, and I reminded them to continue. The dock consisted of two floating platforms, and although quite long, had a foot wide chasm between them, and one was about 6” higher than the other. After a moment’s hesitation, I gunned it over the gap with a loud bang from scraping the bottom of the bike. Finally, I was at the end of the docks, with one cheeky helper asking for ‘cem’ reals, or $60 CDN for about 5 minutes work. I told him to ‘pound sand’, and went through a diatribe of explaining to them that just because I was a ‘gringo’ did not mean i was rich. One woman really understood and smiled, while the others just quietly disappeared. I instead gave them $R20 between 4 of them, as they really did help out. It seemed I was at the end of my troubles, and celebrated with 1, 2 and then a 3rd beer.
By 12:30 pm, a ½ hour after we were supposed to depart, a wiry, septic old man approached me and excitedly told me I had to come back the way I had come. It was supposedly illegal for vehicles of any type to be transported on the passenger boats, but the crew always do it for the extra money. I confirmed with a nice man sporting a wart on the end of his nose that indeed I should follow the old man’s directive. I went back over the gap mentioned earlier, but this time I high-center the whole bike and have to be pushed over, with a disturbing bang.
Then I faced a narrow plank going into the boat, not even wide enough for me to put my feet down. A truck was already inside and had to be pushed back to make room. The 3 beers were feeling like a pretty bad idea by that time. With a little help and grace I was up and over the metre-wide space between dock and boat. I paid the old man $R5 for the help, although he offered to stay and tie up the bike. I was then ushered over to the desk manned by a younger be-spectacled fellow who politely asked for my ticket, ushering in a whole new mood. My original contact agent had told me it would be $R200 to transport my bike, but when the office man writes down $R600 I flip. After protesting angrily, I retrieve the agent’s card, and tell the desk clerk to call him to sort it out. It wasn’t the first time I had been misled by a local on this journey, but never before was it such a gross difference between fact and fiction. I had to let go of the $R400 that made me feel so rich, and forget about it.
My spirits soon exploded like fireworks, as I realized I would have 4 days with young backpackers who spoke English, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Another motorcyclist was on board; a Mexican who was on a similar journey to mine. France, Germany, England, Denmark, Spain, and Australia were also all represented, as well as an older Canadian/American couple travelling from Fanny Bay, B.C. The three European students travelling from Curitiba saved the last spot in an already impossibly crowded network of hammocks slung to the ceiling of the 2nd deck. I really was in a festive mood, and made an effort to chat with everyone. It was the first time in months that I felt really excited, and relieved about the type of people that surrounded me. I had forgotten how lonely I had felt for so long. I certainly didn’t mind our 5 hour delay (true Northern Brasil style), but the Danish woman was quite nervous, as she and her boyfriend booked a flight out of Manaus the same day we were meant to arrive there. I served as her translator, and did my best to calm her down.
We all slowly got to know each other, and shared our different cultural ideas. We were on the Amazon after all. Mingling with the locals, I am sure they were a little cautious around these strange people. We were all surprised with the quality of food, and prices of everything on the boat. It was kind of like a cruise for folks on an extremely tight budget, with music on the top floor and a bar. Everyone kept busy with an assortment of things, with Marco the German resorting to making blow darts he was taught to make from his jungle tour guide. I joked and asked if he was going to make one for each person on the boat. There were lots of kids around, and they became more and more comfortable with us as the day progressed. The night was surprisingly cold compared to the day, and I had to wake up, run downstairs and get my blanket.