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Sleeping in the lower hammock is dangerous

Beware - Gold diggers around

semi-overcast 38 °C

The happiest person on our ship is the guy wearing ‘Crocs’. I first became aware of him towards the end of our initial shore excursion when I was thinking, “Its difficult to appreciate 3rd world despair when ones feet hurt”. I guess that idea extends to; the best place to raise funds for the needy would be at the exit from a chiropodist. I further surmised, “That guy packs his own luggage”. He has continued to wear them on every occasion – the restaurants, shows, lectures, excursions and in the gymnasium. He radiates confidence and security while I try to disguise my envy. The observation caused me to categorise my fellow passengers into: those who follow their wife’s instruction and those who don’t. It’s a fascinating study that doesn’t restrict to dress sense. Type and quantity of food on the plate, comments in the lift, choice of seating in the theatre and selection of new friends are all indicators. The majority of the passengers are easy to categorise. (1) The lady is obviously conscious of her appearance while the man is equally smart – and even puts on clean clothes for dinner. (2) The lady is appropriately dressed while her partner, although uncoordinated, appears ‘comfortably’ attired. In some instances, it seems he thought he may be asked to help in the engine room. There is a 3rd group - (3) Both partners appear they took a wrong turn on the way to a fancy-dress party. Unfortunately, exacerbating the understanding of this normally consistent group, is the fact we have experienced Christmas afloat. This gave opportunity for some to break out their red & white costumes. Funny hats, bizarre shirts, often emblazoned with advice for Santa or his reindeer) and ‘overgarments’ (I struggle for a better word, although I considered, regalia) that would, if still at home, result in their children consulting a mental health professional. I further suspect some believed their grandchildren would show up for the holiday as usual. I do hope the excellent medical facilities on board include counseling facilities,
It was one of these ‘cat 3’ people who joined us in the elevator up to our ‘stateroom’. We often have interesting 10 – 20 second conversations on the way ‘home’. The guy, who I was reluctant to engage, said, “Are you odd”? My quickly considered reply was, “We expect others to reach that conclusion as we seldom dwell on the subject”. While we completely understand those who consider us odd, especially as we have a very strange accent and Flypaper is often possessively holding my arm suggesting I need support and direction, I don’t believe we are asylum material yet. It wasn’t until we were safely locked in our room we realised he was enquiring which side of the ship we lodged. (We have an even number, but noticed he appropriately turned to the other side.)
At the Amazonian port of Parintins we enjoyed a festival called ‘Boi Bumba’. It is 2nd only to the Rio Carnival. Check it out at … http://boibumba.com/brief_en.htm The costumes are stunning and the rhythmic music is entrancing. There is little likelihood of going to sleep. At the restrooms latter I overheard a couple of guys commenting … “The girls really made the show – particularly the leading ladies who didn’t need costumes to gain attention”. The restrooms are the best place to hear true sentiment. The same guys would have told their wives and friends at dinner, “Wow, those costumes were stunning”. When Flypaper asked me how I liked the show, I said, “The music was a bit loud and repetitive”.
The ships 900 passengers use an astonishing amount of water. I suspect most is in the form of ice in the drinks. The ship has a massive desalination plant to convert salt water to fresh drinking water. However, the Amazon River is brown, silty, fresh water – the plant doesn’t work. As a result, the vessel purchased water at 3 of the major cities along the way. They also advised us not to drink the local water. There’s a conflict. We were additionally instructed to drink copious amounts of bottled water when ashore. Nothing unusual about this. Gullible people everywhere believe they need it. As a result, frail passengers who had spent a fortune purchasing flimsy clothing and lightweight shoes, staggered down the gangway laden with multiple bottles of water. These people had just risen from breakfast where they consumed juice, smoothies, water and gallons of coffee. Quite enough liquid to last 3 hours until lunch where the menu included water, juice, beer, wine and gallons of water. A significant amount of a 3- 4 hour excursion is typically spent at restrooms along the way. Such is the power of brainwashing. (Note to business people, not only involved in offering baubles to tourists but any business, offer free restrooms and you will prosper.)
I was privileged to spend some time over a coffee one morning with a gentleman who was a regular traveler on cruise ships. He was a widower of many years who figured out cruising was cheaper than owning a home and employing a house keeper – which he added, was still cheaper than taking on another wife. He proved to be very wise and shared his wisdom with younger guys like me. He said, “There’s lots of women aboard looking for a wealthy husband. If you want to meet them, and are a bit of a teaser, just fold up some toilet paper into your wallet and carry it in your trouser pocket. They will notice, and you’ll be very popular. When you’re tired of them, just say your previous wives bled you dry and you won your cruise in a raffle”. I could never learn valuable stuff like this by staying at home.
The Amazon basin is the worlds largest, virtually impenetrable rain forest. There are no highways or even local roads. All inhabitation is along the river and all transport is by water. There are water craft ranging from small canoe’s, to small Taxi’s, larger busses and huge trucks – all carrying every item normally transported by road. The boats all require fuel and every town has at least one barge on the river that is a petrol station. There is every other service imaginable for boats to be found along the shores. Travel between cities can take days and even weeks. The mainstay of longer journeys are multi-storied ‘bus boats’ which carry people, stock and freight. At night people sleep cheek by jowl in hammocks suspended above the deck. Children’s hammocks are often strung above adults. Frequent fights break out between parents when children annoy those below. Bed wetting is an example. The most important person on the bus boats is not the captain or the engineers – it’s the Satellite dish operator. Women will only take a boat that has a reputation for providing every available TV soap opera. As the boat snakes around following the river, the TV signal comes and goes. A skillful guy on the roof continually adjusting the direction of the dish to maintain a perfect signal is critical. If he fails, the women lose patience, the boat owner loses custom and he loses his job. They don’t care if the boat breaks down, just as long as the TV continues 24/7.
An curious feature of Brazilian travel is the ‘Tourist Police’. PC260011.jpg
They exist to keep an eye on the visitors and to maximise the tourism spend by extracting a little extra foreign currency if an offence is committed or even a transgression as trivial as failing to find a restroom resulting in an ‘exposure’ indiscretion down a secluded ally. The chances of falling foul of the law in this instance is heightened as Restrooms are not signposted. Actually, we have a similar situation in New Zealand. It’s called a ‘hotel toilet tax’). Our guides explained they were also there to rescue the disoriented and abandoned. Their demeanor and belt full of weapons suggest they deal with some very dangerous tourists. I wanted to tell a policeman that the feared lady on our ship who storms out of restaurants for inadequate service and berates the staff who stray within range, had just robbed a beggar whose empty cup could be used as evidence of her crime. I didn’t do it, because I feared she may escape. Call me a coward if you must.
I did display more courage when asked by another lady to confirm the river had risen overnight as a result of the rain. She based her concerns on the fact more floating rubbish was passing us and no ‘beaches’ could be seen at the rivers edge. I was able to reassure her she was safe and the river hadn’t risen. As proof I showed her a line marked on our ships hull and explained, “The water was up to this line when we entered the river and its still at that same line,” It was heartwarming to notice the calm that returned to her demeanor after this simple reassurance.
While onboard we have increased our knowledge and understanding about all sorts of things. Lectures given by credible Doctors of this and that, Professors, Geologists and retired Senior Diplomats. I was already aware that Brazil has an issue with corruption at the highest level. Indeed, the best president they ever had is currently in jail for getting caught at the game and his successor, the current president, is currently being impeached and will undoubtedly serve time soon. The drive to stamp out corruption is driven by the disadvantaged masses and corporates who collectively are able to fund the procedures. However, I don’t think this problem will be solved anytime soon. Today we learned that, here in Brazil, there is a waiting list to join the Civil Service which is regulated by the very costly bribe required to succeed. However, there are instances of clear thinking on the subject. It’s possible to receive a receipt from a ’guvmint’ servant to whom one made a bribe payment, and that receipt enables one to receive a tax credit in the following year. It’s a cost of doing business – seems sensible to me.
The Amazon River cities of Santarém, Manaus and Parintins are pleasant to visit. They have a shabby appearance as a result of equatorial climate, no understanding of the word ‘maintenance’ and low incomes, but display a sense of pride in being relatively clean and tidy. Most of the trash collection budget appears to be spent correctly. The regional capital, Belém, at the mouth of the Amazon River however, is in contrast. Its it could represent Brazil in the world championship for ‘garbage H/Q ‘. Initially I thought they may be hosting a ‘trash exposition’ … but soon realised this was more than just spreading around some rubbish. Belém has been prepared and matured over a long period. The smell is evidence of that and likely to clinch the gold medal. The meat market; an open-air collection of stalls hasn’t been even superficially cleaned for years. Even the flies could only stay for short periods. They attack in shifts. The fish market on the other hand (the largest in the region) and part of the huge ‘Ver O Peso’ Market offering everything imaginable, did get a hose out each afternoon, but smelt as though they recycled the same water every day. In a way, I suspect they do. If they pump it out of the adjacent river its right where they dump the fish bits they can’t sell. The smell causes visitors gut-turning dizzy spells. I suggested to the guide he should issue chemical warfare masks. Bizarrely, our guide took great pride in showing us their ‘piece-de-resistance’, a specially built sheltered inlet carved into the wharf, where the fishing boats come to clean and fillet their catch before hoisting the bins of fresh fish up to their sales agents in the adjacent market. When the tide goes out, as it does twice a day and occurred while we visited, the riverbed is exposed along with fish skeletons, fish heads and unidentifiable fish scraps. The smell is horrendous – but does serve to attract about 200 ugly black turkey vultures. If the judges are marking when the vultures are fighting over the scraps they will award gold, silver, and bronze.
A feature of the ‘Ver O Peso’ Market is the large section dedicated to natural herbal medicines. The Amazonians claim to have a prevention or cure for every ailment. Their health system is virtually non-existent so perhaps they have little option. I couldn’t help wondering why, having scoffed so much healthy herbal preventatives, anyone died in Brazil. I was also vexed (and possibly visibly indignant) when lady stallholders chased after me offering large bottles of their homemade Viagra. Given the large size of Brazilian families I have no doubt it works well but my vexation resulted from their immediate positive belief I needed the product. (They could at least suggest a test.) After leaving the market I wished I’d bought an assortment of various cures because I’m certain I don’t have immunity to many of the things I came in contact with there. I also fear my optical and olfactory system have been irreparably damaged.
The last Brazilian I met was an interesting fellow. He is a one-man mobile radio station. Quite a brilliant commercial venture in this era where business promotion is very difficult given the diversity of media option. He travels on his bicycle to anywhere there are large gatherings of people,(eg. The market) to anywhere his advertisers want to target a specific audience and to sporting events. On arrival he cranks up appropriate music to suit the audience and proceeds to entertain. Between songs and jokes he delivers his advertisers message(s). He’s loud, he makes his captive audience laugh and is in demand. I liked him a lot … even though I didn’t understand a word he said. PC300041.jpg

Posted by Wheelspin 08:47 Archived in Brazil Tagged police turkey hammock carnival tourist brazil amazon o dress peso basin vultures belem fancy corruption santarem crocs ver viagra flypaper chiropodist stateroom parintins boi bumba brainwashing watercraft Comments (0)

Lets invite a croc to lunch

Why is there piranha in the bathroom ?

overcast 35 °C

When I was a lad I read a book about a guy who traveled down the Amazon River. Along the way he wrestled a caiman (alligator), fought off Indians who were shooting poisonous darts at him, battled a giant anaconda, repulsed a leopard with a burning branch and lost a few chunks of flesh to piranha … but finally, while suffering malaria, succumbed to the charms of a lovely Brazilian maiden. I wanted to be like that guy despite the unfortunate ending. (I could never understand why Tarzan, the Phantom and Zorro all ended up in the clutches of women. I vowed never to let that happen to me.) At last, quite a bit later than initially expected, I now find myself travelling 1.600 km (1,000 ml) up the Amazon River. I still don’t understand why, but, like my heroes’, there is a woman involved in the story. So far, the 2nd most exciting action has been watching a sloth climb a tree for an hour … the most exciting was watching a bumptious woman storm out of the ships best restaurant because she considered the service was too slow. The Amazon was named after fierce women. I find myself exposed to dangers my childhood hero could never envisage
The Amazon has recently become the longest river in the world. That claim used to belong to the Nile but is seems they were cheating. However, that’s nothing: the total discharge by Amazon River alone is greater than the total discharge of 7 next largest rivers of world taken together! 20% of Earth’s fresh water that enters the oceans comes from Amazon. The interesting facts go on and on – and can be found elsewhere … with more credibility.
The ships decision makers felt compelled to deliver a special newsletter to the rooms of those who had booked the excursion to have an interesting morning Piranha fishing on Maica Lake. The letter reads, “Please be advised that the catch will not be allowed to be bought onboard the ship”. What an extraordinary dictate. Piranha are among the most prolific fish in the Amazon. They are also among the most regularly eaten. The concept of eating something that has the predisposition to eat me appeals. I’ve had the satisfaction of eating many carnivores that, under different circumstances, would not have hesitated to make me their ‘catch of the day’. I questioned the ships management about this rule which seemed directed by some unacceptable PC / sustainability principle and was assured this was not the case. On a previous voyage a passenger had bought a couple of Piranha on board and kept them alive in his bathroom hand basin. The next question, and the one you’re all asking, is, why? Can only I imagine he intended to remove the light bulbs and encourage his wife to use the bathroom first that night. Visualize his feigned surprise the next morning when the house-keeping staff asks him about the bones in the bathroom. I’m encouraged that innovative thinking regarding ‘spousal removal’ still exists.
I’m proud to report I was the champion Piranha fisherman aboard the local boat that ferried us up river to the lake via small tributaries in which we saw quite a lot of wildlife. I did see the monkeys, water buffalos, a snake, sloths, goannas and dozens of exotic birds. Some fellow passengers swear they also saw the chameleon the captain pointed out in a tree. He did so with a twinkle in his eye. Chameleon are the world camouflage champions. I couldn’t see it – and I now suspect I was afloat on a huge and sometimes dangerous river with 19 people susceptible to autosuggestion. They are either gullible or outright liars. Nether would be good if our boat begins to sink among the piranha. Our group caught 9 fish of which I caught the first, the smallest and the largest – a veritable monster about 40mm (16in) with teeth that generated a lot of respect. PC240028.jpg To my eternal shame I asked our guide, a vivacious chatterbox who seemed to be about 20 but boasted of 5 children and a husband who is seldom home (?), to remove the hook. She had 2 fingernails grown longer for this task and to pull back the lips of the fish so we could photograph the wicked choppers that even after death would remove a finger off the unwary. For my achievements I was awarded a crudely mounted dried piranha to take home. Given it was Christmas Eve it solved a problem – I was able to present it to Flypaper as her Christmas present. I know she loves it but she hasn’t been very demonstrative. She’s probably overawed by my fishing prowess – as were many of the other even older women aboard.
Generally, I like elderly people. I plan to be one - eventually. However, this journey has again made me acutely aware of both physical and mental limitations for those in their autumnal years. In Mexico we listened in dismay to a guide who recounted a recent experience with an elderly customer who obviously had some mobility issues. However, when he uncontrollably ‘soiled’ himself it was discovered he travelled in nappies. Investigation discovered his grown up children funded his continuous holiday, so they could occupy the family home in his absence and hoped his eventual termination would occur in a country with economical funeral costs. Aboard this ship are others I suspect are in similar circumstances. While I do feel for them, I confess, when they block my progress (think urgent bathroom inclinations), require assistance to rise and shuffle to their next destination, wear elasticated supports on all appendages (I’m assuming about this), distribute food around the table when attempting to eat and require constant crew attention or insist on telling me about their medical conditions, I believe it’s time to give up the urge to complete the bucket list. I do confess at these times to considering the euthanasia debate has some merit.
However, there is one guy I felt sorry for, and foolishly tried to assist. Possibly because I classify him among the bewildered and may find I’m in the same condition one day soon. At the buffet breakfast I found myself standing behind a man in a very inappropriate shirt – it was possibly his 1960 Hawaiian honeymoon shirt. He was staring fixedly at the various food options. After about 2 minutes without decision and given the queue was becoming quite long (although none looked starved), I asked if I could help. “Would you like a poached egg?” Yes. “How about a sausage?” Yes. “Some baked beans and a hash brown?” Yes. “The plates pretty full but I could drape some bacon over the egg and add some fried onion to the sausage?” Yes. At that very moment, an agitated woman appeared between us and said, “I only sent him back for his spectacles”. Well … what was I to do? Given the equally agitated queue, I ate his breakfast.
Our final destination before turning downstream again was the city of Manaus – 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from the ocean. Home to 2.5 million who spend half the year treading water during the rainy season when the river rises 10 – 15 meters … mostly due to snow melt on the Andes Mountains 2,000km to the west. Its where the only bridge spans the Amazon river. The bridge, by the way, is reputedly the most expensive per metre in the world and effectively goes nowhere. The official cost was US$570 but the locals say that is nonsense as leaks from city hall estimate over US$2.5 billion. That also goes some way to explaining why many influential people immediately retired from office and have never been seen since. Its well-known, corruption is the handbrake on Brazil.
As we were in port a couple of days we were keen to have ‘experiences’. Flypaper responded to an invitation from the ships Executive Chef to visit the fish and produce markets then transform their acquisitions into an evening meal. Surprised as I was, I can understand if the chef has become interested in ‘body sculpturing’. I didn’t become the shape I am without Flypapers expert assistance. As I had no invitations, I decided to take a river / jungle boat excursion. It started badly with a ride out to the ‘meeting of the waters’ – where the River Negro meets the Amazon. The flows don’t mingle for miles and are obvious by the clearly defined difference in colour. Some dolphins leaping from one river to the other saved the day. From there we headed to a weedy waterway accessing the assumed jungle experiences reminiscent of my childhood hero. Just as we arrived at the mouth a siren went off and the river police pulled us up. The 4 cops were typically arrogant and totally uncaring that their bullying may delay our lunch. I watched a couple of American guys who were clearly itching to become involved – then watched their wives who were not at all certain that was likely to be helpful. One guy commented that he had a much bigger pistol (at home) than the local police issue and wished he had bought it along. I kind of wished he had too. After 15 minutes of harassing the boat captain and engineer, the skinny cop started checking the lifejackets. He found 8 (from 60) that were missing the waist strap, then a fire extinguisher that was last certified in 1998 and a few paperwork issues. It took another 15 minutes to issue the infringement notice. On restart, our agitated captain spun the helm so hard it hit the stop – and broke the sheer pin. After a further 15 minutes the engineer concluded he had no spare, so they called 2 small speed boats and positioned them against each side of the front of our boat to provide steering into the still waterway.
At that stage we transferred to some long canoes with outboard motors. Only 1 passenger dropped his bag in the river and was reluctant to leap leap in to retrieve it – in spite his wife shrieking it contained irreplaceable cosmetic items. (Just quietly, between you and I, I consider it was time she tried some new brands.) After selflessly assisting many of the elderly and infirm together with those terrified of swimming with the piranha, I was embarrassingly requested to serve as ballast on one side to balance the narrow boat. If this had been the US I would have taken out a lawsuit against several parties. After disappointingly putting around looking at birds that looks monotonously similar, we stopped. Our guide told us the caiman here could grow up to 5 metres and weigh 400kg (800lb). He asked for silence so he could call one to visit us. To me, a 5m croc beside an unstable 9m canoe full of unstable passengers did not sound prudent. I noticed some of the passengers bow their heads – possibly in prayer. The guide did make a very amorous sound which I presume was the mating call of the Alligatoridea family. We waited in silence for a while. Serious silence – I think some were holding their breath – only to let out a huge sigh of relief when it became obvious the prayers had won.
We zoomed on across the lake to a rickety jetty leading to an even more rickety wooden walkway further leading up into jungle canopy. It was obvious none of our passengers were structural engineers – because they would have refused to set foot on this structure. Moments later all were having second thoughts, but such is the attraction of monkey viewing they continued. I lagged far behind until the most portly had travelled well ahead. I wouldn’t admit to being scared – I was terrified! Boards were rotten, missing or at least poorly fixed with 30-year-old rusty nails. The whole structure creaked and rocked. When a monkey peed on the shoulder of the lady just ahead I remained silent. We didn’t need a stampede to the washroom. Following the unexpected safe return of our party we boarded our rescue boat – a fast ferry normally used as a ‘bus’ on the river for locals. A satisfactory experience – but I’ll always wonder what would have happened if the caiman had arrived.
On another excursion our guide wanted to talk about the lack of mosquitos at this time of year and particularly around the highly alkaline (Ph4) Negro River. Struggling for the correct terminology he turned to me and asked, “What you call mosquitos in English?” To my eternal shame I responded, “In New Zealand we don’t call them – they come along all by themselves”. While this did result in a boisterous laughter, I did notice he received all the tips later.

Posted by Wheelspin 06:20 Archived in Brazil Tagged monkey lake river brazil amazon elderly caiman manaus sloth piranha negro maica bewildered infringement alligatiridea mosquetos Comments (1)

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