So maybe you are at this website because the amazing Hannah Aitchison mentioned it on her facebook page yesterday and your all “Witch Doctors?! WTF?!” No worries – go here. Or maybe you are trying to figure out how much to tip your tattoo artist (a VERY popular search term let me tell you). Gotcha covered – go here. Are you thinking of picking and scratching your new tattoo? I wouldn’t. Why not? Go here to find out. Wondering if your tattoo might get you killed by the Russian Mob? Common problem dude. Go here. Why the hell am I on a sinking ship in the Amazon? (not right this minute silly…in memoir…ah…time). begin here.
Whew. Now that that is out of the way we can finally return to the (no longer) sinking ship.
After the excitement of the near sinking we settled into a sort of routine that paid no attention to clocks or schedules of any kind. The ship’s crew had their own routine and their “passengers” AKA “Human Cargo” represented just another series of chores to be accomplished. Mostly this involved feeding us twice a day. Breakfast was Brazilian coffee – black, boiled and sugared beyond all reason and served in a wee little plastic cup. This was accompanied by a steaming pile of spaghetti noodles and pinto beans. There may have been a sauce. It was probably just the pasta water.
So yeah. Not a gourmet breakfast but at least we dinner to look forward too. Dinner was; boiled coffee, spaghetti noodles and beans and…(wait for it)…chicken feet. Mmmmmm. We made more than a few friends amongst the other inmates..ah..I mean shipmates by giving away our prized chicken feet.
Food became a source of intense discussion and pre-occupation. So did water. Yes we were on arguably one of the worlds largest rivers but we couldn’t really get to that water – especially since it was no longer pouring over the sides of the boat. Water to drink. Water to wash in. Water to swim in. Water to make soup with for hell’s sake. (maybe if we boiled the feet and then added the coffee and perhaps crumbled the spaghetti…ahhh forget it.)
The trip was supposed to take 5 days but we had already wasted a couple of days with the inconvenient near sinking. The captain was still at the helm but time was no match for this man. He sailed as the mood struck him. Perhaps we would come to a standstill in the deep waters so he may enjoy a short nap. Occasionally he would “park” us near some brush and low trees so a crew member could collect a monkey for his personal amusement. And of course there would be extended afternoon “breaks” so that the crew could fish and swim. It was like a fucking Mark Twain infused idle romp through the jungle for these guys and the passengers mostly didn’t mind. The mostly part means us. The gringos. We minded.
We were never bored really. Just frustrated because we wanted to move onto the “next thing”. We had kind of seen the Amazon by this point, right? Right. Actually I look back on that boat trip – which ended up taking ten days (and will require another post to complete the telling of) and realized that it was one of the strangest and most interesting things I did on my trip. A trip already filled with strange and interesting things.
In my first post about my trip I mentioned the picture that was taken by Helmut. Here is the actual picture. I remember that morning very clearly. It was pitch black and the ship wasn’t moving. I was laying in my hammock quietly sweating to death and creating a safe harbor for a million mosquitos beneath my netting which I wore like a shroud. I couldn’t sleep. I lay there for a long time and eventually decided to go above decks and watch the sunrise – it felt close. Since being on the boat my sense of sunrise and sunset had sharpened.
I eased out of my netting, grabbed a shirt and some pants and climbed the metal stairs to the top deck. Empty. And black. And quiet. So so quiet. Just the gentle lap of the water against the boat. I sat on an overturned lifeboat (ha ha) and waited. Slowly a line of salmon on the horizon. A couple of stars dissolved into a black sky turned midnight blue. Then a streak of dove grey and lavender light. Less stars. More soft clouds. I watched that sunrise unfold second by second for maybe an hour until the sky was clear robin’s egg blue, the stars were to bed and the jungle was alive. It was my 24th birthday. Helmut snapped his picture and said nothing. Just acknowledging the morning with me. It was probably the best birthday I ever had.
And the best boat ride too, really. It was the people who made it so engaging. The friendly children who found us to be exotic and deeply entertaining. The younger guys who thought we were displaced movie starts – so glamorous our lives must be. One man who spoke no English but had the best smile and always seemed to be having fun made a habit of whenever we stopped at yet another mud town to exchange cargo he would survey the huts and stray dogs and roosters, spread his arms wide and exclaim with a big grin, “Ahhh Las Vegas”.
I became a very good card player and played hearts with Paul constantly. Now we were just mates and had begun to discuss my romantic life as a problem that needed solving. He was going to help me puzzle it out when we got to land and he offered to “sort out’ this Tom fellow for me if need be. We bet outrageously on our card games. At first it was precious gems in the form of cookies that we managed to buy at a few of the port stops. They were like fucking gold boullion Then we moved onto socks and semi clean t-shirts. Very valuable stuff man. Then we escalated to Cadbury Chocolates. At our last stop we had found amidst the warehouse offerings of grain and wicker a Civil-War era bag of Cadbury Chocolates which we guarded and parceled out Shawshank Redemption style.
10 Days. Just idling down the Amazon eating beans and spaghetti and playing cards. Doesn’t sound like much and it wasn’t. Not really. It was so so much more.
A big thanks to my good buddy Tom (Yes! That Tom…from the story!) for chastising me for not writing and making me get back on track. And for not minding me writing about him and for reading my blog (and not getting my husband too drunk on Tequila..this time) and for letting me post pictures of him online…
Love you kiddo – come back to visit again soon!