Hammocks Swaying In The Amazon
It took me some time to get to sleep the night before, but it didn’t take long to realise we had chosen the wrong hammocks. Yes, they were new and beautiful; the fancy red and green weave definitely caught our eyes — we were perhaps too quick in deciding to buy it. Unfortunately we didn’t know better.
You cannot get comfortable in your hammock from beauty alone, they need to be wide so you can stretch your legs without falling — ours weren’t. So, after moving about incessantly from side to side I finally found a half decent position and fell asleep.
Until the cold night woke me up. It was summer, we were in the Amazon and it was bloody cold! Unbelievable! I then wore my trousers and long-sleeved shirt, silently cursed, but this time quickly negotiated the untamed hammock.
After what seemed a few minutes the loud ringing bell woke half of the people on the boat. “Desayuno, desayuno!” (Breakfast, breakfast) The short and slender Peruvian crew member shouted as if to make sure the other half also awoke.
The morning crisp air was still giving me the chills and the majestic jungle had long woken up. It was bright, but not sunny and my hazy eyes surveyed the never ending green wall of trees. That sight would be there everyday for the next three weeks, but it would never be the same.
I gently poked Sophia and when her sapphire blue eyes blinked open I motioned that a horde of people were going downstairs. We picked up our tupperware and utensils and sheepishly followed them.
The queue was long and after getting into place, for a split second I wondered if we were in a prison camp. All lined up waiting to receive our morning rations — I wouldn’t have been surprised had a guard hit us just for fun!
But, no, It was still the slow boat and I hadn’t been slapped.
To my surprise it was indeed a ration! A ladle-full of runny, but scented porridge and a piece of bread with margarine on was handed out to each of us. Given the penitentiary-like scenario, we were actually impressed. I must add though it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
With no table or seats in sight we went back to our deck and skillfully dodged the web of hammocks before getting to ours. As I wondered whether I could get used to that simple breakfast, I raised my eyes and took in my surroundings.
A mother caressed her dozy child and friends ate together. Some people smoked cigarettes gazing at the unknown; the conversation was made mainly through their eyes and expressions — they were either respecting the sleepy passengers or there simply was not much to talk about at six in the morning.
I knew that whatever I wanted to talk about could wait — time was malleable over there and one hour took a lot longer than you expected. So I slowly shared my thoughts throughout the day and rather attentively listened to other traveller’s tales.
By now the heat stirred the deck. We were our own little ant hill floating over the Amazon — organised chaos, each to their own but aware of others around them. Those who had payed for cabins were finally coming out.
Nothingness creates this acute perception of what’s going on around you — there is no noise and no busyness, just the jungle and those next to you. You can enter into a meditative state just by standing still, feeling the soft movement of the boat and the light breeze on your face.
But when this movement shifted you knew what to expect. The ferry-like vessel took some time to moor; about a dozen people walked towards the handrails and what ensued was magical in its simplicity.
A glimpse into the life of the communities who lived along the riverbed.
The cows mooed, complaining, they’d clearly rather stay on the boat. The amount of platano being unloaded was only topped by the amount of watermelons being loaded. Kids waved from the beach as kids waved from the boat; I just smiled.
The calm ant hill was now under attack and the quietness became a living market. The essence of juane filled the deck and all sorts of fruits were being sold. Kids’ toys and electronics were also abound and I pondered the fact that even these isolated places had access to modern luxuries.
Some people’s slow gait made me realise that maybe I wasn’t the one watching — I was possibly being watched. I specifically remembered that if we were to be robbed, it would happen during these stops and took extra care of our belongings. Gladly, nothing happened.
Like a wave brushing the shore, as quickly as the locals boarded, they left the boat and tranquillity reigned again. Sophia resumed to her reading and I, to my thoughts.
I brooded over how lucky I was to be there whilst a macaw gently flew in the distance.
Then we heard the bloody bell ringing again; “Almuerzo, almuerzo!” (Lunch, lunch!) the same Peruvian shouted which prompted the same response in all of us: gather the utensils, form a queue and wait for the slap.
What the food lacked in presentation, it had in flavour — it was actually a feat to feed that many people in one go. Plain white rice with a sapid chicken and soft vegetable stew topped with a humongous platano, a feast!
Little did we know we’d be eating the same menu for three days in a row. We wisely kept some for later, since the last meal would be served at five in the evening. Still, we were satiated.
“Mira, mira,” (Look look) an excited little girl was suddenly yelling.
Approaching the ship’s edge we were welcomed by the stunning sight of a pod of river dolphins — botos, as they’re called. They playfully followed the surf, diving and jumping over each other as if it were a synchronised display. Bidding goodbye when the crowd roared in approval.
You could feel the happiness emanating from these animals enjoying their natural habitat — a stark contrast from the poor soulless victims surviving in the zoos.
In another place something would have caught my attention a few minutes after that, but on the boat things were different — interesting events happened few and far in between, you had to find them.
So I wrote, carefully describing my surroundings as I feared my memory would falter in the future. The cycle begun again with whole families entertaining each other, the quiet hum of modern Peruvian music in the background and the laughter of children lessening as they slowly fell asleep.
I later joined the nearby chatter, the common language was English, but the nationalities were diverse — a trader from America, a flight attendant from Slovakia, a stand-up comedian from Singapore and many others.
The common language brought people together; but, the wine and whiskey brought them even closer. These amusing travellers filled the air with narratives from Colombia, tales from Ecuador and anecdotes from Bolivia.
Then nature got jealous, it wanted to be part of the fun. The only way it could tell its story and tighten the connection between the group was by unhurriedly exhibiting its utter creativity. The explosion of pink, orange and red as the sun gradually descended rendered all of us speechless.
My goodness! I knew I wouldn’t need to write about it, since it was an unforgettable sight. Nature definitely made her appearance by giving each one of a us a motherly gift.
After supper, which was a much needed warm vegetable soup, the vivid mood progressively declined. Darkness had arrived bringing thousands of stars with it — the sky was suddenly a massive dot to dot worksheet and together we identified each constellation.
When our eyelids started getting heavy we retired to our quarters, namely the hammock cluster. I knew then what to expect from the bitter cold night and dressed accordingly. Sophia and I exchanged whispers as the dreams slowly replaced the thoughts.
If from the outside the jungle was monumental, imagine what it looks like from the inside — I wondered just before falling asleep.