Doug McLean World Tour 1999-2000
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May 5-10, 2000 - Amazon River: Belem to Manus

Current Date/Location: 
August 10, 2000. Currently in Georgetown, Texas.

Current Itinerary:
Going back to South America in a about 2 weeks. Well, I am not especially proud of the fact that I am sending this journal 3 months late...but I am happy to have written it. I am currently WORKING (hard to believe, eh?) on my parents ranch building fences and doing stuff with my dad in his consulting practice. I am loosely planning to leave for South America again in Late August. I will be visiting Luciana in Sao Paulo (big surprise, eh?) then going on to Paraguay and Bolivia (I think...plans are sketchy...aren't they always!).

Here in Texas, I finally have a phone number that I can be reached at:
512-869-7048 is now free to call me 24 hours a day without waking anyone but me for the next couple of weeks.


JOURNAL-

May 5, 2000 (Fri- Continued...onboard the Sao Francisco III, Belem to Manus):

I boarded the boat, the Sao Francisco III, and couldn't believe the number of people and hammocks already onboard. I had been told that by arriving at 6pm I would be fairly early for boarding, and I should have an easy time of stringing my hammock...hmmmm...this information is somewhat INCORRECT! 

The Sao Francisco III is a 3 level boat...bottom level being for cargo...middle level for human cargo (the hammock people!) of which I was a member...and the top level which had a big open area for enjoying the scenery, a covered area and concession stand to sell drinks, and a few cabins. I found myself trying to navigate the middle level to find a place to string up my hammock. This was not easy as there were already tons of hammocks strung up...I finally found a place...or rather, I made a place by stringing my hammock where there was a little room. Literally, the hammocks are strung 2-3 feet apart...little room.

I ended up meeting an Argentinean guy and girl who were traveling together, Martin and Pierina. We also met Alessandro...who is Bolivian, but has been living in Montreal, Canada for awhile...so he speaks Spanish, French, and some English...weird combination (smile). We all ended up chatting for awhile, we were all excited about our upcoming boat ride to Manus. Basically, for the rest of the trip to Manus, I would be hanging out with these folks...we became quite a tight group.

I ended up going to sleep late...my first night sleeping in the hammock. I found it difficult to go to sleep...I think this is because I was excited about the trip and that I was in an unfamiliar sleeping contraption. I eventually drifted to sleep sometime during the night.


May 6, 2000 (Sat)-

Woke in my hammock (nestled firmly between two other hammocks...the night had many incidents of swaying and bumping into my neighbors) at 6am with a whistle indicating breakfast. Hopped up and grabbed a spot at one of the tables (which are immediately behind my hammock) to get first crack at breakfast...I would learn over the next several days not to exert myself so much...for breakfast consisted of a piece of buttered bread and coffee...and I hate coffee.

Not the best start for the trip, being greeted with bread and water for breakfast...hmmmm...isn't that how prisoners are treated...hmmmm...I am not able to leave the boat for 5 days...hmmmm...

We were all fascinated by our surroundings (the boat was still new to us, I guess)...we sat and watched the river go by...the banks of the river held houses, boats, and families that clung to it for life. I was fascinated by this glimpse into a totally different way of life. People were in houses above the water...literally to leave the house, they hopped in their canoes. Small children (3, 4, 5, etc. years old) would be paddling boats out toward our boat as we passed. Some were wanting some sort of gift to be thrown to them...others simply wanted to play in the waves created by the wake of the boat. 

I couldn't help wondering...What kind of lives do these people lead? Is it truly the tranquil, peaceful, simple life that we often idealize...or is it a struggle...one that they fight because they don't have other options? Have they living here by choice or by chance? Hmmmm...Not sure I'll ever know the answers.

The whistle blew and we galloped (sp?) en masse to the tables for lunch...hoping it would be better than bread and water. Actually, it wasn't bad...with chicken, rice, beans, and noodles...

I found out there was another foreigner onboard...a guy from Norway, named Sigurd. He has been traveling a lot...and is now in a cycle of 6 months of work in Norway and 6 months of Travel. He says that under their form of taxation, if he worked all year, he would be paying an enormous percentage in taxes...by working half the year, he actually only earns a small amount less...and has lots more time for seeing the world...and less stress...cool, eh? 

I ended up trading him my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo for a Scientific American and a book called Hard Aground by James Whall. 

I am trying to read Darwin's Origin of Species, but am finding it a difficult read. Have met some Brazilians onboard, some are in a theater troupe and some are some young girls trying to grow up way too fast. 

Again, Martin, Pierina, Alessandro and I ended up talking late into the night and crashed in the hammock after 11pm.


May 7, 2000 (Sun)- 

Woke at 6am, had buttered bread for breakfast again. There was an AMAZING Sunrise over the Amazon this morning. The Amazon basically runs West to East...so as you travel up or down the Amazon, the sun and moon always tend to rise and fall above the river...it is lovely. 

I talked with Sigurd for awhile while we sat at the front of the boat (on the deck just in front of the Capitan). I think this is the best spot on the boat...cool, breezy, in the shade, and with a good view of what we are about to pass. We enjoyed talking and watching as we glided up the Amazon.

We stopped to pickup/drop-off supplies in the small river town of Almerim. The river changed after we stopped at Almerim...it got much wider. Also, it was less jungle and more flat, marshy areas. We started to see more houses with herds of water buffalos up to their necks in the water. A very interesting sight. I also saw an entire herd of them in a corral that was elevated above the water on wooden pylons...it was cool.

Played gin (cards) to pass the time. Read an interesting article in Scientific American about crowding...saying that contrary to previous thinking (Malthus), people (and primates) adapt well to crowding. Acts of aggression do not necessarily increase due to crowding...unless resources become scarce (like mealtimes here on the ship).

I continued to read Darwin at times...but it is still slow going.

It promised to be a good sunset so we all went to the top deck. We were just sitting and talking when a man walked along, slipped and crashed to the deck. I have never seen someone knocked-out before...but when he hit, he was absolutely knocked out instantly. I called for help, and briefly thought about our situation...and how far we were from help...in the middle of the Amazon River. One of the ladies working on the boat is a nurse, and she revived him (through rubbing alcohol under the nose and water poured on the head). He was very affected by the accident and continued to look woozy.

...this accident affected me greatly. One minute he had been fine...the next second knocked out...literally. Life can throw us curves (good and bad) at an amazing speed...we need to as prepared as possible. The flip side is that regardless of our preparation, things can happen instantly...do the things that are important to you NOW, don't wait...there may not be time. 

But, the moment passed and we continued to watch the sunset. Had dinner. The theater group performed for everyone on the top deck...they were OK...it was big, melodramatic acting with lots of colorful, overdone costumes and makeup. 

Stopped briefly at a small village to load and unload (and for me to get a coco!). I tried to call Luciana...no luck :( .

We played cards onboard for awhile...then went to hammock.


May 8, 2000 (Mon)-

Woke at dawn (6am) as we pulled into the city of Santarem. As we approached the harbor, I saw the backs of some dolphins. I had been told that there were fresh-water "Pink" dolphins in the Amazon...but this was my first confirmation that this was a true story.

We were going to be in Santarem until 2pm, so I disembarked and went into the city...past rows of boats. The city was empty...except for hundreds of folks in front of every bank! It was really weird! I would later learn that today was the day that the retirees received their monthly stipends.

I found a bakery and had breakfast and read Darwin as the city woke-up...speaking of waking up...I had called Luciana's cell phone and woken her up (she had slept at the hospital)...it was great to hear her voice finally...smile.

Later, I walked around looking for internet. I went in ABC Informatica and met Ana Lucia, another girl, and Clauberto (who they woke up to talk to me). This is actually going to be a school, but is 1 week old, with computers still in boxes. Clauberto starts calling around to find me internet access. Next thing I know, we are unboxing one of his new computers and configuring it for dialing his internet service provider (ISP). The line is continually busy, which I think is the end of it...but then we hop in the car and go to the ISP office!

The ISP has a couple of computers for customer use, and I am invited to sit and check my e-mail! I got some sweet e-mails from Luciana! When I am done, they give me a mini-tour of the city and then we go back to the office. I gave him some computer tips, and mentioned that they could make extra money by marketing internet access by the hour to travelers...next thing I know, we are designing promotional business cards in English! Then lunch with them and then they took me back to the boat. They had been wonderful to meet and I wish them luck with the new business.

Back at the boat, we took some silly pictures. 

The guy who slipped and fell yesterday found me onboard and thanked me profusely. I said I was glad he seemed OK, and that he should see a doctor. He insisted on giving me his copy of his nephew's CD, Carlinhos do Boi/ "O Animal". I was very touched by his gesture. Kindness always is returned to you...

We headed out of Santarem, and again, I saw dolphins a little way from the boat. I also saw where two rivers come together and the colors are different where they meet.

That night we saw a wonderful sunset, had a pretty good dinner...it was a spectacular night. We could look up in all directions and see clouds and lightning in the distance...but, directly above us the stars and partial moon were shining brightly...music was playing on the top deck, as we slowly glided up the Amazon River. It was truly one of those special travel moments that makes it all worthwhile. I mentioned this to Alex, Martin, and Perinina...who were ideal travel companions for this journey. 

The only thing that could have made it better would have been to have Luciana with me...some things are best shared. 

It began to rain eventually (and hard!)...and we all headed to the lower decks to our hammocks. Alex had been sleeping below, on the cargo deck, but since many people got off the boat in Santarem, he moved his hammock up to our deck. But, he caught hell as he strung his hammock on the women's side of the deck! We laughed...and again, went to hammock.


May 9, 2000 (Tue)-

Woke in the hammock onboard. Relaxed in the morning, talking with Pirinia, Alex and Martin...we have all bonded nicely. Lunch was OK...and we started to eat at the last call (Ultima! Ultima! Ultima!)...which was less rushed, and more relaxed.

Stopped for awhile in ??? (small river town). I tried to call Luciana, but her phone is down right now...c'est la vie. Back on the boat, I read Darwin for awhile...then enjoyed the sun and shower on the top deck with some of the Brazilian guys.

The river is changing...wider in places now, but fortunately we generally hug the banks. We passed a beautiful spot with a red exposed cliff, it was incredible. Today I probably took 40 pictures...color and black & white...I hope some turn out half as spectacular as the reality. The sunset was amazing! The Amazon (running basically West to East) creates and provides stunning sunrises and sunsets...with the sun rising or setting over the water...ahhhh. 

Later that night we all sat on the deck, talked, and looked at the moon and stars. It was a special (and last) night onboard. To celebrate, I broke open my can of shrimp and stash of crackers and shared them with my new good friends. Alex is a good dancer and was dancing with Pirinia...he practiced dancing quite a bit, and I was able to benefit from his experience by him teaching me a new dance move. It was a good evening. Hit the hammock late.

May 10, 2000 (Wed)-

Woke at 5am...went to the top deck and watched the sunrise. Also saw several pink dolphins (yes, pink...I could finally see the reflections of their color in the distance) at various distances. Too quick for me to take a picture...some images are more vivid in the mind than on film. I am still fascinated in watching people living on the river.

The Capitan has a fazenda (ranch) along the river...so the boat was stopped for 20 minutes or so along the banks. Alex and I had talked about wanting to swim in the Amazon (but not in the dirty harbors in the towns we had docked in)...and we took this as our great opportunity! So we jumped in!!!!

The water was nice! We were splashing around and having a great time, but the crew was not amused. They frantically gestured that we should get back onboard the boat. We worked on ignoring them for a few minutes...but eventually understood what they were saying (In Portuguese)..."Get out you idiots, there are electric eels around here!" Hmmmm...we considered our options, decided that we were happy with our experience and that it was time to retire to the boat...and swam like heck back to the boat. Smile...hmmmm...I guess that sometimes ignorance is bliss. 

That afternoon, as the boat was moving onwards, I finally finished Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES...a truly amazing book. The conclusions, insights, and his writing skills are enviable and admirable even today, 140 years later. I was stunned by his book...a little slow to start, but absolutely fascinating to read, and the conclusion was riveting.

Darwin held me spellbound, here are some of my favorite passages:

"As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications."

"Milne Edwards has well expressed it, nature is prodigal in variety, but niggard in innovation"..."for natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest and slowest steps." (Darwin was quick to give credit to others for ideas that he both liked and disliked. He seemed to give credit where credit is due...an admirable trait.)

"If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection" (I love this because he is so confident in his findings, that he shows one where to look to destroy it. Challenging them to tear apart his conclusions if they can...laying it on the line.)

"Natural selection will not necessarily produce absolute perfection; nor, as far as we can judge by our limited faculties, can absolute perfection be everywhere found."

"Natura non facit saltum" (meaning: Nature does not make jumps)

"...a classification founded on any single character, however important that may be, has always failed; for no part of an organisation is universally constant." Darwin was speaking about classification of species...I like this quote in regards to stereotypes and prejudices...they are always doomed to failure.

"The struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high geometrical ratio of increase which is common to all organic beings" ... "More individuals are born than can possibly survive. A GRAIN IN THE BALANCE WILL DETERMINE WHICH INDIVIDUAL SHALL LIVE AND WHICH SHALL DIE."

Finally, the following long paragraph is the last paragraph in the book, is a summary, a statement, poetry, and inspiration all wrapped into one:

"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. The laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth and Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

WOW! I am not sure I can summarize for you what a powerful effect that final paragraph had on me as I was traveling up the Amazon...but it was profound, indeed. I immediately decided that I would not be trading this book, that it would become one of my few permanent assets to be kept forever. I inscribed the following on the inside to commemorate my feelings and the moment...

"May 10, 2000. I completed the reading of this monumental book while traveling on a boat up the Amazon River (Belem-Manus). It has forced me to question my life struggle...things I have done, what I am doing, and what I will do in the future. I am joined on this boat with 3 new friends (Pierina, Martin, and Alex), as well as my frequent thoughts about my new love, Luciana. I think that these people have assisted me in my quest to evolve into a better person. (signed) Doug McLean"

Anyway, the boat continued onwards upriver. We cruised into Manus just as dark was falling. We saw a spectacular sunset that was made even redder by the pollution in the air near the city...hmmmm. Anyway, we saw the dividing line in the river where the Amazon and the Prieto Rivers converge...waters being different colors and not mixing for several kilometers downstream. As we entered the city, we got hit with a torrential downpour of water and wind...that with the spectacular lightning show was quite impressive!

I was in need of my own space and a shower...so upon arrival, a room in a hostel/hotel became a top priority. We ended up walking around looking for a place. A tour-guide basically attached himself to our party trying to be our new "best friend" and "helper"...I was not amused...and he got the brunt of experiencing a tired, hungry, short-tempered, grumpy Doug...it wasn't pretty...I feel a little sorry for him in retrospect, but only a little.

We all had dinner and then crashed...happy to have made an incredibly wonderful 5-day journey up the Amazon...a dream come true.

Doug
Texas Nomad