I was comfortable in my perch at the stern rail, only occasionally bothered by trash thrown down from the deck above. If I can sleep and eat the food and stay out of the rain and not come down with some chiropractic affliction from sleeping six days in a hammock, this could be a pleasant trip. So I curled up among my fellow bats.
Our hammocks, however widely spaced they might have appeared when they were strung up, once they had a person’s weight in them they hung down and bumped against their neighbor and someone's twitching six spaces away was transmitted from one hammock to another. But, as there was nothing to be done about it, no one bothered with “desculpa” and everyone seemed to take on faith that we were all doing our best and soon enough we seemed to find some sort of tonic stasis that made it bearable. The bat to my right was smoking, but there were also some pretty lady bats hanging not far away, and what is adventure but inconvenience rightly understood?
Later, I wandered to the upper deck where I found the bar and bought a bottle of water. The bartender was short and mustachioed and snarled at his customers and barked out prices as if they were a challenge. I wondered if he could keep that up for six days.
The nice lady at the boat office had told me that we would depart at seven in the evening; we got underway at 11:30. It made no difference to me and apparently to no one else.
I slept little that first night, with dreams about awful things happening to little children, though this may simply have been from all the little children running past and bumping against my hammock. I got up at 5 a.m. when there was just a touch of color in the eastern sky. I ate a cracker and drank a bit of water and wondered when I should face the ship’s food. I had seen some of it the evening before and it looked like Dickensian gruel.
Breakfast was interesting. The four or five hundred people on board reduced down to a single line (actually two lines: there was a separate one for women and children) with some junior crew member in charge, the first person in authority I had seen. The process took over an hour.
We are ladled an eight-ounce cup of sweet, creamy coffee from an iron pot large enough to cook a missionary in and forked a crushed piece of sweetish bread and then spewed out of the line, with no place to sit. I wandered back upstairs and sat on the deck with my back against a vibrating bulkhead. I assumed I would figure this out as the trip progressed.
Though it is said that Belém is at the mouth of the Amazon, this is true only in a general sort of way, as the main channel lies to the north, on the other side of the island of Marajó, a huge riverine island the size of Switzerland which we must pass along narrow channels in order to reach the main course of the River. These tight, winding passages looks like a place where someone on their own could get lost. There are few settlements and now and then a flimsy house perched along the bank on stilts, its back to the jungle.
Most of my fellow passengers seemed to be wearing tee-shirts with something written on them. A sweet old lady was wearing one that said “Oh, Shit”. I choose to assume she does not understand English.