The Amazon is a notoriously difficult place to get around in. There are only a few highly inaccessible roads, and if you want to catch a flight to the jungle’s interior it’s Manaus or bust, an option that’s too pricey for most jungle residents and backpackers alike. But who cares about these dull and isolating modes of transport when you can catch a ride on the river.
Starting in Belém, one of the easternmost port cities on the Amazon River, my travel partner and I bought our tickets for the trip to Manaus one day in advance, plenty of time to ensure a spot. Of the many options offered by the “travel agents” who’ve taken up residence at the docks, we went with a boat oh-so salaciously titled “The Clivia,” a vessel of the cheaper, older, and more battle-worn variety. For about $200 US each the fare included a spot to fling our hammocks (don’t forget to pick one of these up before boarding!), three meals a day, and five of the most awe-inspiring days of my life.
Since traversing the Amazon via the river is really the only practical way to go, and because we’d opted away from the cushier and ludicrously more expensive “tourist” boats, our traveling companions ranged from Peruvian farmers, to families returning to their homes in the jungle, to a bevy of chickens that settled into the lower deck. As we set off around sunset on the first day, the river reaching an almost unfathomable width, chatter in Portuguese, Spanish, and scores of native languages rose up around us. Over the following days these voices would become a slew of fascinating characters and friends, from the group of Bolivians who always invited us to drink caipirinhas with them, be it nine o’clock in the morning or midnight, to two twelve year olds, in the midst of a river romance, who decided to adopt us.
Much more than what was on the boat, however, the true adventure lied with what could be espied from its decks. Rickety wooden villages built upon platforms littered the coastline; whenever we neared one a cavalry of young men in canoes would paddle up and tie onto the boat, jumping on for a few minutes at a time to sell their wares (the hearts of palm are delicious). Monkeys watched us from the trees, and a few days along the legendary boto (pink river dolphins) caught up with us to become our new river buddies.
Interspersed with all this natural beauty, however, logging farms brought a daily reminder that the jungle’s survival, and the survival of the many people who live in the Amazon, is threatened in multiple ways. Five days on the Clivia showed me just some of the variety of wildlife and the diversity of cultures that are unique to this extraordinary place and that we must all do our part to protect.