We spent most of the previous evening and our journey in a sweat from worry and anxiety about making the flight from Boa Vista to Manaus. Trying to judge the timings of each part of the trip, when you are in the hands of several authorities and a Portuguese-speaking taxi driver, makes for very stressful journey. We left the hostel in Santa Elena on-time – good start, and arrived at the Venezuelan border on-time – excellent. Venezuela is determined to leave an indelible mark on our memories because both of us had a baggage search for drugs at the border. Now you must be impressed with this because it means that, after 12 weeks of travelling, we must look like real backpackers with dirty hair, worn out clothes and flip-flops! This search throws our schedule, but they realize quite soon that we have nothing. Well Sven is released but Debbie’s search was far too interesting for her guard not to go through her bag completely.
Onto Brazilian immigration where we have to sit and wait whilst they kindly fill out all the paperwork for us but it would be quicker if we filled the forms ourselves. Finally on the road 30minutes adrift of schedule and a two and half hour drive to the flight.
The taxi driver managed to get us, another lady and a child, his missus, our backpacks and bags, his crates of beer and food all into his clapped out VW car that had no door handles, window handles, locks or inside panels. We never thought this heap of tin would be able to travel 220kms to Boa Vista in any case never mind all the weight it was carrying. But, true to his word he managed to get us to the airport bang on time – 12noon, and in one piece! We made the flight, this time there was a number, departure time, boarding gate and carrier – so easy when you are in a civilized country.
We finally arrive in Manaus but our worst fears have been confirmed. Both of Debbie’s cards have been cloned and used so she’s blocked from her accounts and 2 of Sven’s. Fortunately, we both have Amex still working but trying to find a place in South America that takes Amex is not easy. We checked into a local hostel, and went to the banks but without luck and it is now Friday afternoon with all the UK banks having been put to bed for the weekend, Debbie has managed to get some info from her on-line accounts but I can’t get hold of anyone – Barclaycard seem to have shut down completely and she can’t talk to the fraud team until Monday. Meanwhile neither of us can get any money.
So we’ve walked the streets of Manaus with the aid of our guide book, found a Best Western hotel that will take Amex and moved out of the hostel (which will only take cash) into the hotel. At least we can get breakfast here and as we found out the barman makes an excellent G&T as we drowned our miseries last night. We are down to our last 49 reals, about $30.
This morning we had a bit of a breakthrough, Sven decided to give his Gibraltar VISA debit card a go and it worked, so we were able to get out onto the Amazon for a river ride, which was excellent, and we love pottering around on rivers. So there’s hope that tonight we will be able to get some dinner. If anyone is expecting a tip – forget it!!
The trip on the Amazon was a highlight for us and thankfully a lot more interesting than we expected, after many reports that you see nothing. The (very slow) boat took us to the point at which the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes meet and form the mighty Amazon. The Rio Negro has the same reddish tinge that we saw in the rivers in Canaima but looks black from a distance. The Rio Solimoes, on the other hand, is yellow brown, the same colour of the rivers in Peru (where its source is). The two rivers flow at different rates and have significantly different temperatures so, although they become the same river, the two remain obviously separated (by their colour) for another 18km until they adopt the yellow brown colour of the Solimoes.
The Rio Negro is a huge river in its own right. At Manaus it is over 4km wide and 80m deep and commercial tankers and freight carriers travel over 1,650km from the sea to reach the port. There is a container port, an oil refinery, a naval base as well as the usual commercial facilities running alongside one another. The difference in the height of the river at this point between the dry and wet seasons is a whopping 8m to 10m– a phenomenal volume of water. There is a table on the port wall by the floating harbor that shows the different river levels in different years. The highest to date is in 2009.
We disembarked from our boat into, what were described as, canoes to visit a marshy swamp off the main river. These motorized little craft just about managed to navigate their way through the shallow waters left at the end of the dry season to get to a local ‘camp’ where the buildings were constructed on large trunks of trees chopped down from the forest.
The marshy swamp was full of alligators and our guide, a fat little chap whose name we never learnt, threw a couple of large dead fish onto some wooden boards below the viewing platform which enticed a very large reptile to haul itself out of the water to wolf down a free meal. When he (or she!) slid back into the pool, vultures turned up to fight over the scraps and an eagle turned up to see what was going on. It was great entertainment for a boggy marsh whose main attraction was supposed to be some giant lilies that only flower for 3 days a year and then only at night!
In the evening, we went to a restaurant confident that we could pay for our meal using my Gibraltar debit card (because we used it to book the river trip). However, it did not work and despite much protestation and general huffing and puffing, Debbie was put to work in the kitchens and I became the Maitre D. The restaurant has never looked back!