Where I Have Been Map

Sunday, July 26, 2009

T-Pain would not want to ride THIS boat.

I pulled out my laptop to start writing about every new, foreign thing I had seen in the past few days, but as I opened my Mac and sat it on my lap, my legs began to itch. At first I ignored the sensation, but the itching began to grow worse and worse until it was too much to handle. I looked down and saw that my laptop was covered from screen to keyboard with hundreds of ants. I calmly sat it down on the desk next to me and brushed off all the ants that had crawled on my legs, for this wasn’t the first encounter with these silent swarms.

I grabbed a notebook and began to write this the old fashion way as the ants curiously explored the spaces between my keyboard. I guess I will have to transfer this to a computer eventually, but the simplicity of this small town of Gurupa had inspired me to write this way anyway. I had forgotten how much I loved this town. It had been 4 years since I last visited, and even then I only stayed a week. But after only one day here, the intense 36 hour boat ride from Belem seemed worth it. Oh but what a boat ride that was. After I write about it, I fully intend to start the repression process.

The moment we stepped foot on the rickety dock, I knew it was going to be no Disney Cruiseline. The unsteadiness of the board I stepped on caught me off guard and almost left me face first on the dock with a mouthful of splinters. But after I luckily regained my balance I centered my brain (despite the ADD) on every step I as taking toward the boat. This turned out to be a very good thing, because I began to notice wide gaps in the rotting wood that one wrong step could have left me dangling just over the smelly river water. Most of my fears of falling came from dragging my massive suitcase behind me. Having packed for 3 months of traveling, that thing weighed well over the size of a small baby elephant. Well, ok, maybe not that heavy- but a sickly baby elephant… definitely. So as I crossed the uneven boards saftely I prayed that my baby elephant suitcase would not start a domino effect of boards collapsing into the yellow water. Lunily it made it safely across, but each boat it rolled over maoned and creeked from the intense weight.

I finally made it to the edge of the dock and the only thing separating me and the boat was a tiny piece of abandoned wood, which was being used as a ramp. I almost wanted to laugh at loud at the thought of crossing this foot wide piece of wood, but realizing I was holding up a line, I picked up my suitcase and stepped on the beam, which began to bend immediately to support my weight. I suddenly wished my bag was a baby elephant so it could walk on it’s own, because carrying it proved to be hazardess. I had made it ¾ the way up when I took a wrong step and completely lost my grip on my suitcase, and along with that lost my balance. Right before I could test out first hand how long it took piranhas to sniff out fresh human meat in the water, a Brazilian older man grabbed my suitcase and my arm and in one quick motion swung me onto the boat. I wanted to thank him for pretty much saving my life, but he didn’t even gave me a second glance as if he does that sort of thing all the time.

Now that I was actually on the boat, I had to maneuver around crowds of Brazilians in the 2 foot wide spaces between the cabins and the railing. At this point I was really starting to loath my suitcase, which kept getting stuck on people’s hammocks or rolling over unsuspecting feet. When I finally found my cabin, I opened the door and chucked my suitcase on the floor. I was about to shut the door behind me when I took a second glance and realized my suitcase took up half the floor space of the 4-person cabin. No, this was not because my suitcase was THAT enormous, it was because this cabin, consisting of two rows of bunckbeds was about the size of my parents closet back home.

As tiny as his space was, I was still very thankful for my cabin when I ventured to the bottom floor of the boat to see how the more adventurous few students (who didn’t want to spend so much money on a cabin) were settling in. I jumped down the last step and found myself starring at a maze of hammocks. I searched through the few openings of the giant hammock web until I finally saw Lucy’s head pop up out of the maze… on the exact opposite side where I was standing. I took a deep breath and entered the jungle gym, hoping over, crawling under, and swing hammocks aside and then quickly apologizing in Portuguese after realizing sometimes there were sleeping Brazilians laying in these hammocks, until I finally reached the other students. They were hanging up their hammocks at the only free spot, right next to the motor that would heat up the already humid Amazon air and smell of diesel for the next two days.

The boat took over six hours to start. And even after the motor was running, it took another hour to get it out of the docks and turned around to face the right direction of the river. Since we were traveling up stream, I prepared myself for a long journey.

There wasn’t much to do that night besides go to sleep and hope we woke up late in the afternoon so we wouldn’t have to be awake for as many boring hours. Right before I crawled into my sleeping space in the cabin, I looked our at the river with my dad. As we watched the city lights of Belem disappear into the horizon, my dad said, “In a month, you are never going to be happier to see those lights again.” It was hard to imagine what it was going to be like to be going back home.

I walked to the front of the boat and looked out to the dark waters and shadowy trees bordering each side of the river. It was pitch dark, yet the moon seemed to give everything just enough light to make objects glow in the night. As I starred out into the exotic trees and waters I began to imagine all the creatures that lay hidden behind the peaceful scene. I started to realize how mysterious the rainforest was… and was excited to also realize I was only a boat ride away from discovering these mysteries.

I was confused and disoriented when I awakeded from sleep by a thine line of sunlight coming in from the cracks of the cabin door. I sat up quickly and smacked my head on the aluminum roof that made a hallow “boooong” sound as it vibrated from the impact. I remembered where I was fairly quickly, on a boat heading to Gurupa. My sister and roommates, Noah and Brian, were not in the room so I knew I had slept late into the day. This was a good thing since I hadn’t slept at all the night before.

I had underestimated how cold the boat gets at night. Even while being in the Amazon, the wind from the river cools everything down. And the air conditioner set to cool off its passengers in the hottest times of the day does not slow as the night comes. So as I shivered in my Nike shorts and sorority t-shrit, I listened to the sounds of the night. There was a constant rumbling form the motor, the splashing of the river water against the boat, and the consistent techno beat of Brazilian party music coming from the top deck.

I listened to the people upstairs who were watching a soccer game. I laughed as I realized I could keep up with the score by just listening to the Brazilians.When the other team would score I would hear angry yells at the TV, loud stomps on my celing, and occationally muffled Poruguese cuss words. But when Brazil would score, the cheers would echo so loud that it would startle me everytime and almost cause me to fall of my bunck bed. I could tell Brazil won when I heard the clinging of beer cands and dancing and laughing until late hours of the night.

After a long sleep into the day I opened my cabin door and almost suffocated from the intense heat that surrounded me. I went up to the deck to eat lunch, a sandwich called a misto quinte, or grilled ham and cheese. This sandwich put my grilled cheese I make back at school to shame. But considering how many times I had set off the fire alarm in my building while making these grilled cheeses… I guess where wasn’t much competition.

The longer that day dragged out, the more boring our card games got, the hotter and sticker we all got, and the smellier the boat as a whole got. I can handle the small spaces, crowded areas, and not well kept feel of the paint-chipped boat… but one thing that was hard to handle were the boat bathrooms. I tried to avoid them as much as possible, but up until the point my blatter was about to burst there was no way around it. I’d have to run to my mom and steal some toilet paper (which she brought after 20 years experience riding this non-toliet paper stocked boat) and slowly open the tin doors to something much worse than the nastiest porter potty you can imagine. The smell is what hits you first as it stings your nose, then you step inside only to find you are wading in 3 inches of overflowing tolit/river water. Lucky for me I had thought to wear extremely thick sandals so only my shoes had to drown in this brown water. But then came the part where I had to close the door, and it took a lot of will power for me to do this. Once closed my nose was inches from touching the door and the heat and smell mix into one deadly poison with no place to escape except inside my lungs, almost suffocating me. I got out of that devil sauna of a bathroom as quickly as possible and, with my eyes still watering, douced myself in the purecell hand sanitizer my mom had brought with her.

After a long day of doing nothing but sweating we all went to sleep. With the only showers on the boat being in just as bad condition as the bathrooms, I no longer wondered what the week long experience of “Bonaroo” would feel like. I had my fresh taste of it right here.

The Pace Family on the boat!

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