Am I EVER going to write about tattoos and tattoo culture again? Yes…yes I am. I am doing a few guest pieces for other, far more popular blogs than mine and am currently applying all of my awesome tattoo-commenting skills to these articles. Miss my erudite tattoo insights? Try this and this. Still can’t figure out why I keep writing about South America? Start here.
This is how you say “chicken” and “thank you” in Portuguese. These are also the only two words of Portuguese I learned while in Brazil. Not very useful, I know (unless of course you ask for chicken and then receive some – in which case you are fucking golden.)
Just as in China people speak Chinese and in Korea people speak…oh shit – better google it (pregnant pause) Korean I learned that just because Venezuela and Brazil appeared to my ignorant eyes as mostly the same country they of course were not. And because they were indeed different countries they also happened to speak different languages. Gah – Duh. I know I had read that somewhere before crossing the border into Brazil but the importance of this fact failed to register until Paul and I arrived in the teeming port city of Manaus completely unable to communicate.
By this point we had acquired a small amount of Spanish and could almost butcher our way through the briefest of conversations. “Donde es la autobus? Donde es la bano? etc. etc. Once we hit Brazil that sliver of international exchange vanished. Nothing pisses off a Brazilian more than your dumb white ass trying to speak Spanish to them. Seriously. Do not attempt – No es bueno, es muy malo. I imagine it would be similar to trying to speak Chinese to a Korean person. Culturally insensitive and ignorant or what’s otherwise known as..”the American way”.
Luckily Brazilians are not only a ridiculously sexy and attractive people
they also happen to be quite friendly and were happy to struggle along with our pathetic Portuguese, attempt a little english , and when all else fails – hand gestures. In this way I was able to enjoy a “smoothy” that I know for sure had bananas and chocolate in it and I’m pretty sure a raw quails egg and perhaps some moss.
Up until this point our travels had been fairly sheltered. We went from a wealthy friends house to a chartered tour. Sure we had been on our own a few days here and there and taken some loooong bus rides but we hadn’t really got out of our comfort zone. Not until we hit Manaus. It was big, loud, crowded and busy – like any modern city. We ended up in a little hostel down by the water that had free continental breakfast – rolls and coffee.
A word about Brazilian coffee. I am a coffee fan. Love it. Just fucking love it. Brazilians boil their coffee until it resembles Aunt Jemima’s Syrup AND they boil it with sugar. A lot of sugar. Like stand your spoon in it sugar. Then they serve it in little plastic juice glasses – like the ones that you get at a pancake restaurant and only hold 4 ounces. I don’t know what kind of money you have to throw around in Brazil to get a coffee mug and some half and half – I never found out. Also as we were poor-ish travelers we stuck to the less expensive eateries which all featured the same cuisine. Boiled spaghetti noodles, pinto beans in sauce and maybe a little mystery meat or frango. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Plus the boiled coffee. Thank God for Guarana -Brazilian soda that tasted like hummingbird nectar – that shit was delicious.
Of course there were wonderful restaurants around – we just couldn’t afford them. The five waterfalls had not come cheap and now it was time to book a tourist boat down the Amazon. On the final leg of our bus trip into Brazil we met an English girl (imagine Paul’s delight!) named Allison who had been travelling for a while and spoke fluent Spanish. We had thrown our lot in with her and the plan was to head down the Amazon to Columbia and then fly to Bogota and finally into Ecuador. Good enough for me!! Of course Allison’s fluent Spanish did us no good in Brazil.
We began the confusing task of booking passage on a tourist boat on the Amazon. Pre tripadvisor and yelp and the internet we were obliged to simply go down to the docks and inquire at the numerous stands selling passage. We worked on this project for several days while exploring different areas of the city.
I remember being on the rooftop of the hostel at night looking out over the city lights only to be startled by something moving next to me. It was a monkey chained to a stove pipe. I asked another traveler about it and he said a lot of people kept pet monkeys in this way here. The sad faraway look in that monkeys eyes stays with me even today. The city at night felt edgy and unsafe to me and for the first time in my trip my impenetrable sense of well-being began to waver. Shit could go wrong here and that fear tempered my enthusiasm for the first time. I may not have been chained to a stove pipe but I felt the restraining tug of anxiety just the same.
I bought my first hammock at a street stand – a big colorful number for about 10 bucks. That thing stayed with me through many moves around the USA and finally was abandoned to mold and neglect only a few short years ago – whoever wove that thing did a hell of a job. I met more travelers here – many more and realized that I was a little out of my league. Everyone seemed so sure of themselves, so ripe for adventure. By this point I began to actually feel homesick and found myself missing quiet little Park City and Tom quite a bit. Paul and Allison were now the best of friends and spent many happy hours discussing the superiority of English culture to… everything else and I began to doubt my resolve. How many months before I could go home again?
Finally after several attempts at negotiating a fair price on a boat (sometimes the price would be raised 20 or even 50% WHILE you were in the process of paying and then you would retract the bills you were about to hand over and begin haggling anew) we booked passage from Manaus to Leticia, Columbia. The harbor was filled with brightly covered tourist barges bedecked in streamers and festive signs promising “Tequila” Music” “Party” – it all looked pretty promising and my spirits began to rise. Until we made our way down the docks to OUR boat. Have you seen “Lemony Snickets” – fun movie – I highly recommend. Anyways – there is a scene where the orphans travel to the home of their “uncle” and at first glance the house is a wonder cheery and bright and tidy and it looks like everything is going to turn out just fine but then they see the real house – a terrifying ramshackle disgrace and their hearts sink with despair. That was our boat.
No streamers, no parties, no tequila. Our inability to speak Portuguese and Paul and Allison’s dual thriftiness (we had passed on much nicer boat packages because of the expense) had led us to inadvertently book passage NOT on a tourist boat full of revelers but on a cargo ship filled with – mattresses. flour, grain, a Jeep and thousands of pounds of additional cargo. Our ‘cabins” were the supports underneath the main decking where we could hang our hammocks, our fellow passengers – Brazilian and Columbian people travelling in the cheapest way possible from point A to B. And our Captain? Wanted by port authorities for avoiding tariffs and dangerously overloading his ships. I learned this fact four days into our trip when we were told the boat was sinking. Explains why we had to leave Manaus in the dead of night.