From Rock & Roll to a Hammock in the Amazon (6) | Playing Football with a Rat

Rio Solimões, Amazonas, Juni 1995

The Veleiro del Amazonia, Captain Valdecir’s ship with which I depart from Manaus upstream towards Tefé, is a small riverboat without cabins. Thus, we have little shelter from the elements when they start to play up. The first night, we moor at a small island in front of Iranduba, where we plan to buy fish the next morning. The river is heavily trafficked, and the transports continue even at night. The swells caused by the ships swing my hammock back and forth like the pendulum of a mad clock. The music blasting from the boats across the water and the bright searchlights scanning the shore constantly disrupt my sleep.

The next morning, we are told there’s no fish for us. Everything caught is headed to Manaus. On our way to the next place where we want to stock up on provisions, Manacapuru, we pass towering stacks of wooden planks, stilt houses, small plantations, and women and splashing children in the water. To get ashore in Manacapuru, I have to balance on narrow planks. They bend deeply towards the stagnant water below, which is greyish-brown and emits a smell of decay. On the street, children are playing football with a live rat. The animal squeals loudly as it runs back and forth until, after a final well-aimed kick, it can’t continue and lies twitching.

Manacapuru is one of the larger municipalities in the state of Amazonas. The town is located about eighty kilometers upstream to the west of Manaus, near where the Rio Manacapuru flows into the Rio Solimões. Many streets are flooded. Floods are not an exception here. They occur every year and contribute to the high biodiversity of the ecosystem. However, for the inhabitants, it is a plague. People complain about the mosquitoes, the stench.

After the bags of food supplies – rice, beans, manioc flour, coffee, tea, and sugar – are brought on board, we continue our journey. It begins to rain, softly at first, but soon the water pours in streams down the hastily lowered tarpaulins. Parrots fly overhead, squawking loudly. In the crown of a tree, a sloth moves slowly. A caiman waddles on long stilt-like legs towards the shore and slides into the water. When the rain stops an hour later, dozens of vultures along the river spread their wings full width, like black sheets, over the branches to dry.

We sail up the Rio Manacapuru. Some parts of the river are so wide they resemble elongated lakes, like the Lago Grande de Manacapuru further upstream. More downstream, near the confluence with the Solimões, lies Lago Manacapuru, our next stop, where we will spend the night.

We are not alone on the lake. At the end of the afternoon, large numbers of parrots gather on the branches of a small group of trees in the water. They arrive in pairs. The noise is deafening. Only after hours does it quiet down. At least, as far as the parrots are concerned.

The night rustles, creaks, shrieks, and screams in the dark. Occasionally, something splashes into the water.

To be continued…

Total: € -

Former music journalist. Swapped the editorship of the Dutch music magazine OOR for a hammock in the Amazon in the 1990s.