Running ham-mok on the Amazon


We are sailing: View from the back of our boat

“With my head I love you and with my heart I respect you,” slurs Gabriel, fixing me with a slightly perturbing stare and insisting I take a slug from his near-empty bottle of whisky.

“For you,” he adds, thrusting the remains of his exciting dinner of cheese lumps and manioc flour in my direction.


Gabriel moments before he vomited into the river

“I’m good for cheese lumps and manioc flour,” I plead, but he refuses to take my very genuine no for an answer and, reluctantly, I tuck into what I can only assume is the Amazonian equivalent to an end-of-night kebab in England.

My new Brazilian admirer also shares his delicious whisky, flour and cheese cocktail with the lucky fish below, firing out a stream of projectile vomit over the edge our Amazonian vessel.

After five fails, he hoists himself into his hammock and within seconds is snoring, presumably dreaming about his respect for the heart of an Englishman made of cheese and flour.


Alright now stop… Hammock Time!

I clumsily collapse into my own precariously attached hammock, ruing my failure to achieve the knots badge during my four years as a cub scout.

Below me, the engine rumbles, while all around swinging, makeshift beds creak in the gentle breeze.

Outside, in the darkness, I can just see the outline of the dense jungle, where the calls of unidentifiable animals float above the ripples.

Earlier that day I had spotted a group of three freshwater Boto dolphins burst through the surface, but apart from that, visible wildlife on the river is limited to the occasional macaw on the hunt for food.


A small child looks on as we motor past

It is the river dwellers from the hundreds of isolated wooden riverbank huts we pass, that provide the main visual spectacle.


A young boy paddles towards the ship

Children, some of them completely naked, vigorously steer rudimentary canoes as close to our boat as they dare, in the hope that those aboard might throw them a plastic bag containing clothes or other goodies.

I lob out one of my t-shirts which is scooped up by a tiny lad of no more than seven-years-old… I hope his dad’s a big fellow.

Other canoeists are more daring and they dexterously paddle, or in some cases motor, to a position flush alongside our much larger vessel.


A girl balances precariously above the fast-flowing waters as she tries to board the ship

As we glide past they skilfully hook on to tyres that dangle over the side.

Most have some sort of product to sell: Baskets of dried prawns, fresh fish and, of course, lumps of white cheese.

On the bottom deck our vessel is already crammed full with a cargo of thousands of onions, oranges and various other vegetables which took an age to load.

It also meant we left Belem six hours late, taking our total wait for departure to nine hours.

The dinner options for us on the ship are limited to a small cafe serving up bread roll and coffee breakfasts and a bar with a splattering of snacks.

Lack of choice means we are forced to sample our first Brazilian pot noodle (not bad as it goes!).

However, this being Brazil, beer and spirits are in plentiful supply and blasting MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) provides the backdrop to life at the Amazon bar.


Five months in Brazil and still looking like a polar bear

On the top deck, above two floors crammed with hammocks, are the onboard, open-air showers and, as Sophie gets a pair of earrings made by a friendly Chilean, I climb the stairs to take a much-needed opportunity to cool down.


Sophie gets a pair of earrings custom-made

There are a fair number of children aboard and they playfully chase each other around as anxious mums and dads watch on, hoping their offspring don’t slip through the railings into the swirling, coffee-coloured waters below.


Smiling youngsters play hide and seek among the hammocks

On one side of the boat a small dog nervously peeks out of a hammock.


I don’t fancy a doggy paddle in that there river

On occasions the river is vast, with one edge just a distant speck.

At other times it narrows and both banks are visible at the same time.

As we port at the Amazonian town of Santarem, at the end of our third day, we are treated to a beautiful farewell sunset.

Our shabily strung up hammocks are untied and we prepare to disembark. I feel a hand on my shoulder.

“One for the road,” says my old admirer Gabriel, thrusting a plastic beaker loaded with whisky at my face.

“Why not,” I gratefully reply, but something is missing.

I throw out a speculative request.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any cheese and flour to go with that?”


Sunset over the Amazon


About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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One Response to Running ham-mok on the Amazon

  1. matt says:

    I’m not jealous. Not jealous at all…. (sounds bloody amazing)

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