March 27, 2007

Amazon River Boat Tips
Manaus, Brazil

A collection of thoughts on how to prepare and maximize your Amazon River boat experience.

All Things Hammock

If you're not already packing a hammock around with you, you'll need to buy one for the boat trip. There are as many styles to choose from as colors, but don't overpay, BR$20 will be more than sufficient to cradle you in comfort.

You will most certainly need two small lengths of rope to secure your hammock to the ceiling of the deck. This can be bought at the docks; pay no more than for BR$12 for the pair.

Your first time stringing up a hammock? No worries. A crew member knows this, and might very well offer to assist you (for nothing more than a thank you). If not, look to your neighbor for help—it's best you make introductions now, as you'll be spending a good amount of time next to each other.

Arrival time at the dock to string up your hammock is just as important as every piece of advice you've heard (and read). The guidebooks suggest an arrival at the boat 4–6 hours before departure; however, by this time the savvy locals have already laid claim to many of the best spots. Get there as early in the day as possible.

I was concerned about arriving early without my backpack and leaving my hammock unattended—the thief of my hammock would be a problem. This does not appear to be an issue though. Entry onto the boats is loosely controlled, but controlled none the less. There is a local culture in place that seems to keep the relocation or theft of a hammock to such a minimum I have yet to hear or see any incidents of such behavior.

Hammock placement is a big one. Figure out where the engine is, where people use the bathroom, and where people eat. Find a spot as far away from these sections of the boat as possible.

The boat will travel on both sides of the river; the starboard side gets just as much shoreline time as the port. This shouldn't factor into your hammock placement.

I opted for spots as far towards the bow as possible, next the wall. This gave me a shred of extra privacy on one side, but drastically decreased the flow of air passing by my hammock. The middle of the deck, dead center, will be the most popular spot on the vessel. Just accept the fact that you're open eyes will almost always be looking at someones face.

Items To Bring With You

  • A phrase book can go a long way in an environment where people only eat, drink, watch the river, and chat.
  • Bringing a game that doesn't require much verbal communication would be a fantastic addition. It gets windy/drafty on the boat so card games might be a bit of a challenge—dominoes would be absolutely perfect.
  • Take enough aspirin to suppress the headaches.
  • It may sound a bit over the top, but if you have a hard time going to sleep (or staying asleep) in public places, I would recommend ear plugs and an eye mask. The bare bulbs of florescent lights illuminate the hammock area both day and night. Some Brazilians try to drape towels below them to help cut the light down, but you'd be better off just covering your eyes. The ear plugs are for your snoring neighbors, wailing children/babies, and the Brazilians who enjoy waking up at the crack of dawn and start chatting.
  • The meals on board provided more food than I knew what to do with. What I wish I had was a Tupperware container than I could place the excess in for consumption several hours later.
  • Both my vessels provided hot sauce to flavor the food and water to drink. You need not buy and bring such things.
  • Lunch is served around 11:00, dinner around 4:30. Coffee is the only thing on the menu for breakfast. If you have problems going from late afternoon until late morning without food, I'd suggest buying snacks to keep your tummy happy.

Keeping Your Smile

Please, pretty please, with extra syrup on top, take showers. You probably smell, and The Amazon River water won't hurt you.

It's worth it to sample some of the interesting and natural snacks provided by the Amazon that the vendors are selling. Make friends by offering some of your purchase to others.

If you have no games or language skills to offer up for fun or conversation, try sharing your music. You don't have to hand over the device, but give over your earphones for a few minutes and break the ice.

Figure out early on how to get a few moments of privacy. Find a spot where you can get away from everyone and everything, sit, and soak in the part of the world you're traveling in.

Footnotes

The bigger the boat, the more likely it is to contain other backpackers on it. Decide for yourself if that's something you want or not.

Look at the boat before buying your tickets (if at all possible). Observe the material of the deck. Stay away from ships with decks of wood; they are noisy from the level above, and the painted surface gets very slick when wet. Opt for metal.

Keep an eye on your gear, and lock/chain it up. Most Brazilians have duffel bags that they keep a small padlock on. Hammock neighbors warned me to watch closely when the dock vendors are aboard. If you have a top-loading backpack that you can't lock, I would strongly suggest the peace of mind that a Pacsafe wire mesh can provide when coupled with a rain fly.

Mosquitoes are only a problem in the hour after sunset. You won't need a net for your hammock. I was bit only once in six days, in contrast with the dozen times since I arrived in Manaus.

It can actually get quite cold on the boat if it has recently rained. The boat will move along at a pretty good clip, and the draft can chill considerably. I recommend keeping your pants and a fleece at the top of your pack, and consider bringing something to use as a blanket at night.

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Comments:

Ethan Zara

April 3rd, 2007

Take with you a copy of Huckleberry Finn, or any novel with riverboat scenes to read or re-read. It will become even more real.

-Ethan
Backpacking on Little Money

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