As our boat passes settled areas people come out in small craft, often very small children by themselves. I was at first told that this is for the fish we stir up in our wake, but later someone says it is for the litter constantly being thrown overboard, any sort of container or manufactured material being useful in these remote homesteads. I have watched the small boats, sometimes in danger of being swamped by our wake, and cannot tell which is the truth, other than that at a very young age children go out unattended onto the River.
Sometime in the torpid afternoon of our first full day on the River we come to Breves on the island of Marajó, our first stop. Here small canoes come out, some of them actual dugouts, rowed by women and children who beg for money. People at the railing throw ten-Cruzado notes (about 5 cents, US) into the water where they are scooped up by the children.
By the end of the first day I had fallen in with a bunch of Italian sailors who invite me to share supper with them. Already it appears that private arrangements are being made for meals and in fact an independent kitchen has been set up by some women on the lower deck to offer faster service and more selection than the ship’s galley (and the ship, having been paid up front in our fare, seems to have no quarrel with the arrangement).
The second night I moved my hammock a few inches and found it made all the difference, as no one bumped me and I got a passable night’s sleep. It helped, of course, that the novelty of the boat had worn off on the children and they no longer ran wild around the deck.
By the following day I realized I was on the sun’s schedule, rising at the first hint of light in the eastern sky and retiring to my hammock when it got dark, as did almost everyone else, and in the time between I moved with the shade and lounged in my hammock when there seemed nothing else worth doing. I left my wristwatch in my pack and forgot about it. Ship life was becoming more regular and familiar, if rather less sanitary. The odor of urine from the latrines, rank even before we started, now makes its way back to the stern. This is all, I suppose, what the lady at the boat office meant by “mais tipica”.
My boatmates gradually begin to emerge as recognizable individuals. There was a pudgy little man with a mustache in a rumpled suit who carried a briefcase that he never allowed out of his grip, even when he was sleeping in his hammock. He spoke to no one and I imagined him to be a fleeing embezzler escaping upriver to hide out in a Somerset Maugham short story.
In contrast to this furtive little fellow there was The Gaucho. Proud of bearing and rugged of appearance, a dense mane of black curls and a d’Artagnan beard, his dress and gear cried out “pampas” and even standing still he seemed to be on horseback. So impressive was he that I didn’t even consider trying to speak to him, lest he turn out to be just a cowboy.
The people on the boat are wonderfully patient. They stand uncomplainingly in long lines for each meal. They are packed in, densely overcrowded, and the ship’s crew -- surly and seldom-seen -- pay no attention to them. When they are not waiting in line they doze in their hammock or sit quietly or laugh and joke and seem to be enjoying themselves. There is no fighting or even harsh words or any “misunderstandings” that need to be soothed over, though I suppose to be completely objective I ought to note that this is only the second day of the trip.
Far from my imagined white suits on the promenade deck, I have given up on wearing a shirt unless I am in direct sun and, not being a sun person at home, was white as flesh-colored snow, which may be why the little dark children found me so curious.
My binoculars seemed to have wandered off and I discover that they were last with a young fellow called Heitor, who remembered that he had given them to some cute girls and goes off to recover them. I am sure that everyone on board had already met Heitor, as he was charming and insubstantial and innocent of any seriousness, the sort of person who even had he lost my binoculars I could not hold it against him as he was plainly a flake and I ought to have recognized that and not let him borrow the glasses in the first place, so I thanked him when he brought back my property that he had given to the cute girls and resolved never to let him borrow anything else, fairly sure that if I refused it wouldn’t bother him all that much. Later, finding me writing in my hammock, he told me that I really ought to get myself a girl “to pass the time with”. He seemed to have several at the moment and I am sure would have been happy to share. Heitor will probably have a nice enough life, if no one shoots him.