Out of Rio and into the Amazon (Brazil continued)
Sometimes I look through the 8,349 pictures that I took during the first 12 months. And then I think: "I can't believe I've come this far without flying".
Brazil is a giant - and such giants are not fit for this project. No more than Russia or Canada were. How am I supposed to get a balanced view of this country in its enormity. How is anyone? Well, I'll try :)
The Red Cross escorted me into the Parada de Lucas favela which lies far from the heart of Rio. Your classical imprinted picture of a Brazilian favela might typically be a lot of poorly constructed but colorful houses reaching from the bottom to the top of a hillside. However "favela" is simply the word for slum area and is by some regarded to be an offensive word. "Community" is the proper term these days. Having said that, many people living in these communities are now taking back the word favela and turning it into something positive: their identity.
To me the favela we went to did not seem scary, hostile or as poor as other areas I have visited throughout my life. It was located in a flat area and mostly consisted of standard urban buildings. However I'm fairly sure that I was protected by the neutrality of the Red Cross vest that I wore and that you shouldn't seek out visiting this place on your own. But through the quick glance that I got these were normal people, living out their lives with football, TV, family, food, school, work and friendships. It might not be the best schools or the most well paid jobs and naturally you will have a rotten apple here or there and life isn't a fairy tale for everyone. But all in all this is a representative part of the real world too. Although this community consists of people who rely on a very low income their intentions are not evil. They are not out to create "the axis of evil 2.0". These are people living out life with the best intentions. People who love to laugh, smile, play, talk and celebrate life...pretty much like your average person anywhere on planet earth. I'm not saying that bad things do not happen. Of course they do. We live in a world that contains disease, war, extreme poverty, devastating natural disasters, greed and at times pure evil intentions. Just turn on the TV and you will see. And if you hear it often enough you might just start to believe that it is all there is.
So how do you explain that I have travelled to 59 countries in the past 12 months and haven't come across any evil towards myself? How do you explain all the kindness I have been shown by complete strangers? Easy I say: the media is based on what's extraordinary and sensational. You are very unlikely to be attacked by a shark or to be struck by lightning - so that will certainly make headlines if it happens. You are on the other hand very likely to meet a friendly stranger. So you are almost certainly never going to read about that ;)
The world is no doubt a better place because of Red Cross volunteers.
I still believe that the Red Cross plays a very vital role in society. In fact that belief is constantly reinforced as I interview the Red Cross. Sometimes that role is for privileged people like you and I if they have lost everything in a very unfortunate event. Or like in the favela if you were simply born into a very unfortunate place. The worst case scenario is of course being born into a unfortunate place and then being struck by a series of very unfortunate events. People who love to laugh, smile, play, talk and celebrate life deserve a chance...or a second chance. And the Red Cross has been around for a very long time to ensure that the most vulnerable also have a chance to live a dignified, humane and worthy life no matter if they were born into an unfortunate place or just arrived there. The Brazilian Red Cross does a very fine job if you ask me.
The best and most thoughtful present I have received for a long time. A stay at a hotel in a city of my choice. Thank you Helle :)
An overnight bus got me from Rio to Belo Horizonte which is another large city. My friend for more than 15 years, Helle, had arranged for a hotel room so that I could rest up. It was my birthday present from last year. Talk about finding the right present! I was scheduled to meet this guy named Leo. I didn't really know a lot about him and was referred to Leo by a mutual friend in San Francisco. Leo turned out to be an amazing person who was easy to talk to and happy to show me around his city. And what a city! Belo Horizonte translates into "the good horizon" and it is a fitting name. I hope Leo makes his way to Copenhagen some day so I can return the favor. In fact at this point I hope to see a lot of people turn up in Copenhagen some day :)
My best friend in Belo Horizonte: Leo :)
Another overnight bus got me to Brasília which is the capital of Brazil. I arrived early in the morning and had the full day to walk around and enjoy the new surroundings. It was built to be the capital not long ago and it has a very peculiar design. In fact I must revise an often used statement about big cities all being the same. Because Brasília is not like any other city I have ever seen. Well, go there and you will see what I mean :)
The futuristic structure of Brasilía.
While in Belo Horizonte Leo gave me a contact in Manaus. Manaus being my next scheduled destination. As I was looking for a few days of resting up...but while still being on the move...I had contemplated getting on a boat for about 5 days which could get me further north to Manaus. Leo's contact, Mauro, was helpful and advised that if I was looking at getting on a boat from Brasília to Manaus then I had 2 options: either head to Belem or to Porto Velho and catch a boat from there. I had a look at the map and found that Belem was about 500km closer to Brasília than Porto Velho so I was planning on Belem. But then I revised my thoughts as I suddenly figured that Belem might be very touristy being an easier destination (north east Brazil) and that Porto Velho could be a more authentic experience being that it lies so far inland and is less accessible.
Yet another overnight bus would carry me to Porto Velho and into the Amazon. Technically it was 2 nights in the bus as the ride took a whopping 42 hours! The scenery was beautiful but it was still a very long time to spend in a seat!
Porto Velho sure was more authentic. I struggled to find anything that would resemble a hostel and I never spotted anyone who looked anything like a tourist. I did however sweat a lot while carrying my belongs around under the relentless sun. Eventually I found a restaurant near the shore of the Rio Madeira river and it sort of looked like there might be a hotel/hostel attached to it. It was only a restaurant and they knew nothing about any hostels. At this point I decided to ask 3 guest leaving the restaurant if they spoke any English. One of them said yes. One thing led to the next and soon enough I was in a car with these 3 heading towards a hotel, and then another hotel...and then a 3rd hotel :) Long story short: they were all great people! They also helped me with finding a boat to Manaus and we ended up having dinner together :)
From the left: Robson, Mariene, me, Rosangela
The next morning an unhappy taxi driver left me at the port not understanding why he couldn't charge me 2,5 times the price after he had taken me to the airport before we finally arrived at the port? My main argument was that I showed him a picture of a boat along with my ticket and I don't know what kind of boats leave from the airport?
Motor vessel: "Vieira I"
Hand loading cargo.
Be there at 08:00am they said. The boat leaves at 10:00 they said. The boat left at 11:00. Well, as a matter of fact I have not encountered anything in Brazil that neither arrived on time nor left on time apart from the bus driver who left me at the service station on my first day in Brazil. But that's just a cultural thing and it has its own charm. There was an thick, moist heat at the port. And a noise from the engine of what I suspected to be the boat next to us echoing against the side of the boats. Men were hand loading the boats at the small port from nearby parked trucks. The "Vieira" was being loaded with bananas. On deck I found room for around 20 hammocks which would later be hanging from the ceiling of the upper deck. For 1 year I have been carrying my own hammock around and it has only come into use once - now it was finally time to pull it out!! :) The Brazilian flag was present everywhere: on the boats, on t-shirts on small flags and all that was spoken was Portuguese. However the entire scenario with the heat, the hand loading, the foreign language and the obvious friendships among the port workers reminded me of an Arabic port.
As the "Vieira" finally left the dock I realized that the annoyingly noisy engine wasn't the boat next to us. It was us! The sound gets to you as a dripping water faucet might eventually drive you crazy. I mean...if the dripping faucet was an angry Tyrannosaurus rex! But I was tired and fell asleep in my hammock. When I woke up we were well on our way. If I am to describe the scenario then I would say that the waterway ahead of us is very wide and that each riverbank is a steep climb of about 10 meters followed by a low lush green forest. The water is brown and it all reminds me a great deal of the southern part of Bangladesh which is known as the Sunderban.
I read some Hemingway and fell asleep again. This time I woke when someone was tugging my leg because dinner was ready. After the sun set it quickly got dark and everyone went to sleep in our hammock city. It started to rain and the wind got a little cold. The noise continued.
Hammock city :)
I woke up at 04:00am because some men were talking. I could hear them because the engine was off? But I went back to sleep. At 06:00am we were sailing again and there was a spectacular sunrise on my side of the boat. I fall asleep again but wake up an hour later when the engine again is off and we are at shore in the middle of nowhere. I see a boats mate walk by with the boats steering rudder? Because the engine is off I can hear something "breathing" in the water and when I look I see pink dolphins. I then sleep until lunch and when I wake up the boat is again moving. The food was okay but the beans tasted a little like ashtray? The noise is prevalent and the heat fills the air. It starts raining with thunder and lightning at 4:00pm. A French man (the first to speak to me) asks where I'm from? But nothing else. Dinner is served at 5:00pm. There is now a cool breeze...I read my book...a Portuguese boy speaks to me. His name is Odrigo and he wants me to read for him. The book is in Danish but he enjoys hearing a few lines. More dolphins, more rain. I see the woman next to me has a white Luis Vuitton bag. What is she doing on a boat like this? Paradox?
Lots of rain, big storm. Salted crackers and coffee for breakfast. The coffee already contains sugar in the thermos. I read about Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Simone de Beauvoir. The engine is so unbelievably noisy! I see dead piranhas in the water but no dolphins. I sleep. I wake up because the 60 year old man next to is listening to "girls just want to have fun" from his stereo which is resting on his chest as he lies in his hammock. We are served some sort of thick, warm rice drink? The heat is once again present. The skies are grey. I read more Hemingway.
We were scheduled to arrive in the morning. But I observe that we are far from Manaus. Another day passes by with eating, sleeping and reading. The boat breaks down again. We finally arrive past midnight but sleep another night onboard while in the port.
And that was how I got from Porto Velho to Manaus, a city of 2 million citizens smack in the middle of the Amazon forest.
The forest is so dense that the sun does not reach the ground.
I was lucky to meet Catia and Xavier at a hostel where the manager let me hang out and use the internet for free. I was meeting Mauro at 2:00pm so I had some time on my own until I met them. They are a couple that are traveling around South America and we ended up hanging out for a few days. When Mauro picked me up he said he had a room for me. It turned out that Mauro was the owner of a spectacular Bed and Breakfast and he gave me a room there! The next day he drove Catia, Xavier and I to the bus station which lies 8 kilometers from the city center. And after that he dropped us off at the botanical garden which is 25 kilometers from the center?! Later when I got back to the B&B he took me out to enjoy a local Amazon dish called Tacacá which was amazing - and then he dropped me off at the bus station! How is it that I keep meeting people like this?? Wonderful, helpful people! And this being the 4th time while in Brazil makes it one better than a hat-trick :)
Mauro and I in front of his B&B pool (Renata is the smiling receptionist)
The hospitality I have received in Brazil has been truly spectacular. And it ranges from the south to the east and all the way to the north as far as I am concerned.
I have now reached Guyana's capital (in a somewhat adventurous fashion) but I'll leave that story for next time ;)
And welcome to country #60 ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - 1 year and 60 countries wiser.