The language barrier is still a problem for me, and the dialect seems to change slightly in different areas, but the mist and fog is very slowly evaporating. Little by little I find I can understand more of what people are saying to me and to each other.
I managed to get to Manaus port early enough to find the boat (the Cisne Branco – all the boats have names here) and secure a good position for my hammock. I was in fact three hours early, but by the time the boat left Manaus it was full – so full that it was actually difficult to get in and out of the hammock. However, if you want or need to travel incredibly cheaply and see the mighty Amazon in all its glory, this is the way to do it.
The top deck always has a bar serving various cold drinks and food, and playing music. It also has amazing panoramic views, and is a great place to meet the many different people travelling – for whatever reasons – along this vast natural superhighway of rivers. I could quite happily spend a year doing this, but right now I had to get back to Almeirim, and thence to Porto de Moz. The first part of the journey took 3 days, and after a night in Almeirim, I picked up the fast boat the next day to Porto de Moz. And there I was – at the same point I was 4 months earlier, although this time the river was at its lowest. As they descended, the waters had effectively parted and formed rivers on either side of an island that I needed to cross. Now, I hoped, I could finally cross the stretch of land that had earlier proved impossible to traverse.
My first task was to find Antonio, an earlier walking companion (see team page). Since I no longer had his telephone number, I took a moto-taxi (one of the ubiquitous motorcycle taxis) to his house. Unfortunately he was working away, so I decided to do this section alone. It would be more difficult, but it would save me some money and a lot of time.
My mission was to walk between two points, one either side of the island, each of which I had previously reached by swimming (see map photo below). I arranged a boat and driver to take me across the Xingu at 5.30 am and drop me at the first point (a floating house). Once there, I put on my pack and – based on the advice of the house owner – headed inland, hoping to cross the island in two or three days. I had been told it would be quite dry and easy to cross, with two small rivers along the way. My original plan had been to walk around the island by the shoreline, since this ground seemed to be slightly higher than inland, but I decided to go with the advice I had been given and try the crossing inland.
Well, it wasn’t dry. Not only was it not dry, but it was full of closed, tangled vegetation tightly packed with skin-cutting razor grass to above head height. I found myself waist deep in thick black mud, fighting with the razor grass, and after a few hours I realised I would have to give up or be faced with a crossing that would take over a week and leave me without fresh water. Reluctantly, I turned back.
I struggled back to the house and sat there feeling defeated and looking out over the vast Xingu river thinking I would need some sort of miracle to get across this section. I knew I could not go back to Manaus until I had joined the dots on my tracking map, which has become a kind of bizarre, real-life computer game for me now. As I watched, a large boat came into view. It passed slowly down the river and I saw that it had the name ‘Patricia’ on it. I told the guy at the house “that’s my mother’s name. She passed away only a few months ago”. The house owner nodded and smiled and made me coffee. Then he said he would take me back across to the city. He told me he knew a guy living near the port who knew the land and rivers I wanted to traverse very well. “We can go there and speak to him,” he said.
Within a few minutes of crossing, I was invited in to the house next to the port and the guy agreed to take me back to the island again, “I want to help you. I’m not after money. Just pay me for the petrol,” he said. “Your idea of walking along the bank was a better idea, but it will still be difficult and very dangerous.” “That’s great,” I said. “Let’s Go!” He smiled at this. “What’s your name, by the way?” I asked. “Moses,” he said. “But my friends call me Moz.”
Two days later, I made my return to the island with Moses. I decided to try the original route along the bank. It was higher ground than inland, and I would have a constant supply of fresh water and could sleep either in the forest or at the few houses that are scattered along the bank. The only disadvantage was that it was more than 60 kilometres, as opposed to the 35km route across the island. Moses (Moz) insisted that he would stay in his boat and follow me for the first day. “I can go ahead and tell the people at the next house that you will be passing. They have many dogs for protection, and they might attack you,” he said. “Ok. That’s cool – fantastic – thank you!” He was as good as his word, and late on the first day, after traversing the tenuous forest paths made by oxen in the dry season (they call them “Caminho de Boi” (Path of the Ox)), I arrived at one of the promised houses. Moz had amazingly already arranged dinner and accommodation for me.
“Ok,” said Moz, that night. “I have an idea. This walk is very dangerous for you, and my family and I will be worried for your safety. I will go home now and get my bigger boat, buy some food and water, and I will stay with you on the river until you finish. You just pay me for the fuel and food. Okay?”
I was gobsmacked by this generous offer, although I did not want this responsiblity and was fully prepared to continue alone. Moz was insistent however, and I reluctantly agreed. It would certainly be safer to have someone nearby, since I was on my own on the trail itself. He left soon after, and duly returned the next morning with enough food and water to last two weeks. I got walking again, and made slow and difficult progress that day. However, arriving at another house that evening, I found that Moz had already organised a place to sleep & dinner. He said “Ed, the guy that owns the house, wants to walk with you. He knows the land well and he could do with a bit of money for his family, but it’s up to you.” So, two became three – one in the boat, and two walking along the bank.
The next night, we stayed at a fishing hut inhabited by three fishermen. We had fresh fish, a good rest, and great conversation while looking out across the Amazon river. All courtesy of the three fisherman there.
Ed walked with me for three days in total, and I did the last day walking alone with Moz in his small boat on the now turbulent Amazon river.
We returned to Porto de Moz along the Rio Aquiqui, a 9 hour boat journey where Moz seemed to know all the people who lived along the route. I was constantly bailing out water as the boat had a leak, but I didn’t mind. It was a lot easier than hacking my way through the jungle. What started out as a negative experience ended up positive not just for me but for a few other people. I also decided to pay Moz for his time and the use of the boat. He was over the moon and purchased a new-ish motor for his smaller boat. He asked me to join him and his family up-river at a community (Maripi) for a sunday festa (celebration).
All in all this traverse was very difficult. It was a case of constantly cutting, crawling, climbing & wading, dodging numerous fallen trees, and a lot of caiman. In the morning I would walk inland a little, then in the afternoon walk along the bank, as the river is tidal and recedes another metre in the afternoon. But I must admit it was one of the most enjoyable legs of this expedition so far, after having the miracle encounter with the river-wise Moses. He really did help me at the parting of the waters and the walk to my destination. Thanks Moses!
I will update this post after I have swum the meeting of the waters
Header photo: A young Caiman seems not to be afraid of me. I hope it lives to reach adulthood but I have my doubts. Almeirim: Para:Brazil
Some of the riverbank we had to hand cut our way through. Near Almeirim: Para: Brazil.
Tracking map before joining the dots
Dots joined. Mission successful. Near Almeirim: Para: Brazil
Fisherman, Moses (centre) & Ed (right) Near Almeirim: Para Brazil
Me walking along the bank of the Amazon: Near Almeirim Para: Brazil
A family house we stayed at along the Amazon
Armoured catfish – a very cheap and plentiful species of fish here. Rio Xingu. Porto de Moz: Para: Brazil
The seasonal low waters on the banks of the Amazon reveal shells and pottery embedded in rock. The waters slowly erode the rock. Near to Almeirim: Para:
Moz (Right) talking to the guy at the first house along the route. Porto de Moz: Para: Brazil
Moz on his boat. Amazon River: Almeirim Para: Brazil
A Boat full of timber exits the Paru river heading east down the Amazon.
The return boat to Manaus.
Pan and zoom map below to see more detail.