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São Gabriel de Cachoeira, Amazonas, July 2007

We boarded a river boat to get a different experience from flying over the Amazon. Flying low over the water was a thrill, but the boat ride was neat in a completely different way. Friday night one of us partied a little hard with caipirinhas and the other played too much soccer, but we still managed to bundle our stuff together with the new hammocks, and make it to the boat before it left Barcelos. The boat has 2 levels for sleeping, but we only just squeezed in next to the engine on the lower level, and the sound was deafening. Still, I slept great (Gregg less so), and the next day when we stopped in another town, I ran the stuff up to the next level to hang our beds in a better spot.

Sao Gabriel boat ride
Gregg digs the hammock

Once again our timing was lucky, as Saturday was the final match of the Copa Americana, and Brazil was playing Argentina in the final. Valmi, the boat owner, was on board and was incredibly kind and welcoming to us, lubricating our afternoon conversation with many of his beers. Everybody ate and drank too much and Brazil won of course. The boat has a huge satellite dish on the roof of the top deck, that periodically had to be tuned as we slogged upriver towards São Gabriel.

Churrasco on the top deck

The boat served up 3 squares plus snacks, and the food was great. It was neat to see how the transport and delivery worked on the river. To ask for pick up from a town that isn't a regular stop, people call the boat from shore using a VHF radio. The big boat is towing a smaller open boat with an outboard motor, so the staff hop in this lancha, and zoom over to pick people up, drop them off, and/or pick up and drop off supplies.

Rio Negro village
Village on the Rio Negro

There were two helmsmen, and they alternated so that one of them was always caffeine-fueled and alert to drive the boat. We managed to pry a few words out of Eugenio, who seemed to take the wheel more during the day. Eugenio is about 5 feet 2 inches tall, three feet wide, and mahogany brown with forearms as thick as my thighs. Conversation with him was kind of comical, because he typically would nod his head yes to any question, and only if I re-asked the question would he consider it, and answer with as few words as possible. He is 55 years old and has been navigating the Rio Negro for more than 40 years. At the helmstation there is a compass, VHF radio, depth finder, tachometer, and switches and fuses for all of the lights and other gear. These guys are navigating by engine revolutions, watch, memory and when possible, sight.

Bella Adormecida
Bella Adormecida (Sleeping Beauty), the mountains of São Gabriel de Cachoeira

After three days of fishtailing up the river against the current, we spot the "Bela Adormecida" (sleeping beauty), as the mountain next to São Gabriel de Cachoeira is called. We disembark a few hours later. We are told that 80% of the population is indigenous and it certainly seemed to be true looking at the faces around us. We visited the spot where, legend has it, the Angel Gabriel placed his foot on the earth. This is a great spot to see the rapids, a rock at the crest of a hill. There is a small footprint, circled with white paint. And also a hole which seeps water.

The São Gabriel Cultural Center was a highlight for the architectural details. Neat ceiling panels woven from natural fibers ("aluma") appeared to be installed as sound-proofing in the ceiling, and could also be slanted opened or closed to yield more or less light from the electric lights hidden above them. The building also had beautiful wooden vertical supports made from a wood that sounded like "acariqua". Some shots are in the photo gallery.

We had a few lazy rainy days at a hotel on the beach in São Gabriel, with a few walking excursions to town. Friday we hopped back on the same boat to return to Barcelos and relax a little before the next trip.