World Travel Wednesday: Where Are All the Hammocks?

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My trip to Brazil in 2003 required taking a 24+ hour boat trip down the Amazon from the big city of Manaus to the small hamlet of Maues. My friend Swamp was already there and picked me up with another smaller boat that we took to the place where we were staying in the jungle, about three hours further down river. But before any of this could occur, I had to buy a hammock.

I knew that I would have to buy a hammock once I got to Manaus so that I could sleep on the boat, but I wasn’t really sure where to find one. Swamp had told me there were sidewalk vendors all over the city and that it would be no problem. I saw plenty of sidewalk vendors, but no hammocks. Whenever I travel abroad, I try to learn as much of the native language as possible in terms of what I might need to say or to understand. I sort of give myself a crash course. So I knew enough Portuguese to be able to ask directions to a hammock vendor. I went in the direction I was told and still didn’t see any.

After wandering for a while, I was stopped by some man selling watches, and I started interrogating him about hammocks. He motioned for me to follow him, and took me on this maze-like journey up and down back streets, going in the front door of a business or restaurant, and coming out the back onto the alleyway behind it. One of those alleyways finally presented a hammock vendor, and I was able to buy one (in my favorite color, no less) and give the watch guy a tip for his kindness, for which he seemed very appreciative. It was probably a pretty good tip, because I had not yet become practiced at figuring the exchange rate in my head (not to mention I’m terrible at math anyway) and just handed him a bill I thought might be a good amount.

Once I had my hammock, I made my way back to the port to look for my boat. I climbed aboard over a very narrow gangplank and strung up my hammock with all the others in steerage. Far from a cruise ship, this boat had maybe four actual rooms with doors (which I was not willing to spring for), one bathroom, storage on the lower level, hammock steerage on the middle level, a bar, and an open top deck.

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I chatted as much as I could with my neighbors, two older ladies who were on their way to visit family who lived in Maues. They showed me the ropes and helped me get my dinner of bananas and watermelon where it was being handed out below deck. They were eager to see a picture of Swamp, who I explained I was going to visit, and to finger the mysterious English words of the Judy Blume book I toted with me. In the morning, I had been up on the top deck taking some pictures and enjoying floating down the Amazon, and when I climbed back down, they excitedly pointed out to me a rainbow that was hanging in the misty spray of the boat’s wake.

When the boat docked in Maues, everyone seemed to know what to do in terms of exiting, and I tried to stall for time by taking a long time gathering my belongings. It became clear after a little while that I was going to have to climb over the side and go somewhere. I had just thrown one leg over the side of the boat when I heard, “Hey, American girl! You need a ride?” I looked in the direction of the English, afraid I’d see one of those hostel-hawkers waving a brochure and saw Swamp waving at me with a big smile.

We went to grab something to eat because I was famished from only eating fruit for the last 24 hours. And I am really not a big fruit person. We hailed a couple of motorbike taxis. I slipped onto the back of mine and held lightly onto the driver’s shoulders because I was afraid not to hold on in case I fell off, but I felt weird sitting so close and touching this person I didn’t know. At the restaurant, I wandered around and checked out the brightly colored parrots on the property. I ordered the fish, only to find out it’s an endangered species. OOPS! (It was actually delicious. I felt so guilty.)

Later, Swamp and I went back down to the docks to the boat he had brought to pick me up. We maneuvered around to head further down river and passed another boat that contained as passengers my two ladies who had retrieved my supper on the overnight trip. They stood up and pointed us out to their relatives on their boat beside them, smiling and waving.

Our trip into the jungle went into the night, and I spent most of the three-hour trip laying on my back on the open top deck of the boat, admiring how the stars (southern hemisphere stars that I’d never seen before!) hung in a dome over us, in the wide, expansive curvature of the earth’s atmosphere. Some things you can’t really take a picture of.

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4 Comments

  1. Jessica said,

    May 6, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Hammocks on boats? Where do I sign up for this journey? That really sounds fabulous! I sadly didn’t get to lay in a single hammock during this trip to Belize. I did shop with a friend for hammocks, although none were purchased. Maybe next time.

  2. Aaron said,

    May 7, 2009 at 4:48 am

    What an amazing experience. Great pic of the hammocks. Heart of Darkness eat your heart out.

  3. meggitymegs said,

    May 7, 2009 at 5:15 am

    Unfortunately I think I lost my hammock the last time I moved. It could still be in the basement of my old house in Asheville. Sad.


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