Sunday, February 3, 2013

entering the main channel

We passed the confluence of the Rio Xingú and the river seemed to widen.  The Italian sailors invited me topside to a video interview with an old fellow who had a camcorder and we jabbered away for a while in a mish-mosh of Italian and English and Spanish and seemed amazingly enough to understand each other.  I watched the playback and did not appear a complete fool, even with the red bandana around my forehead that I had forgotten I was wearing.

Dawn of the third day oozes over the horizon directly astern of our boat.  I can lie in my hammock and watch it come up over the River.  We are a few minutes south of the Equator and the Amazon runs east and west and the morning sun enfilades our boat, briefly lighting up the open stalls of the deep interior where families have piled their bundles and hung their hammocks and set up temporary home.  A wake-up call to be up and in line for breakfast before they return to their hammocks for another day of doing nothing because, of course, on the boat there is nothing to do.  All  things considered, I think the children are remarkably well behaved.

The river had changed from brown to black.  We must have finally passed Marajó and entered the main channel of the Amazon.  Breakfast on the third morning was a half-cup of coffee with sugar and cream and all the stale crackers you wanted.  At 7:30 we stopped at Monte Alegre and food sellers came on board.  For about thirty cents I bought a slab of white cheese, dry and slightly sharp, from a little boy.  It was quite good.  He said his mother made it.  I took a few perfunctory photographs of the town in case anyone should later demand proof that I had been to Monte Alegre and wondered why anyone of their own volition would come here.

Floating masses of vegetation like small islands drift past our boat, giving the impression of movement, though we are still tied up.  At length, we are underway again.

Our first trouble: a man rushes down from the upper deck with a small child limp in his arms.  As they pass me the child opens her eyes and looks at me, them closed them again.  With four or five hundred people on a six-day voyage, I suppose the demographic contingencies of birth and death might catch up with us.  I never heard what happened to her.

In mid-morning the clouds part and the sun turns my hammock into an oven and I flee into the interior of the boat.  Topside, I discover that the surly bartender not only speaks English, but is from San Francisco.  I also find that the bar has no salt, which I had been looking for as I was beginning to worry about salt loss from perspiration.
Eventually, I find salt: a cafezinho-cup full, which I put into a plastic bag to carry, while keeping in mind that since the local salt is powdered rather than crystal, that a plastic bag of white powder might look to the authorities less innocent than it in fact was.

Approaching Santarém, we pass into the wide Rio Tapajós and within sight of the town I noticed that the river changed from muddy to dark and clear.  Later that day I heard the first argument.  Some raised voices, but soon settled.  There was not much opportunity to get drunk on the boat.  

I noticed a rainbow and wondered for a moment if I should have expected them to be upside-down in the Southern Hemisphere, or, as we were at the Equator, if it ought to be straight.  In Rio, I had remembered several times to watch water go down a drain to see if it really did go clockwise, as I had long been told the Coriolis Effect required, but thought my results inconclusive.

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