Current Date: Friday, May 30, 2003 11:55 a.m. (Sao Paulo)
Current Itinerary: Back in the grind, teaching English in Sao Paulo.
Note#2: As I have now returned to a somewhat "normal" life, I have stopped writing for the time being. The last journal will go through May 13th. There will be updates, and when I start to move again, we'll return to our regularly scheduled program.
Note#3: The following two journals are written a bit differently than what I have done previously. I wanted to try to capture the essence of what was happening better since the Amazon portion of the trip was so important to me...and on the boat I had time, so most of what is written here was actually written as it was happening and is therefore in the present tense. Because of that, sometimes things may seem a bit disjointed as often I would be writing, get interrupted, and then return to writing with new thoughts in my head. Also, these journals are much less about what was happening each day, and more about my thoughts and reflections from all that was going on. After leaving the Amazon, I retyped all that was written (a few things were altered/added) so forgive any erreneous changes in tense.
Note#4: This is easily the longest journal to date (but hey, it's been awhile!)...it covers my time on boat down the Amazon river. In rereading and recopying it several weeks after the fact, it brought a lot of strong feelings back for me. Lots of soapbox talk so look out. I hope you enjoy...and again, comments are always welcome.
On with the show:
As the boat shoved off from the dock last night, it was an unbelievable feeling. I guess it is just that there is a certain amount of gratification that comes from accomplishing something you set out to do. I have been talking about going down the Amazon for several months now and the moment that the boat set off, I could not help but to be filled with pride and a sense of accomplishment. I think it was the general feeling of everyone...sort of a enlightening realization that we are ON THE AMAZON!!
It was dark by then...it was very surreal watching the lights of the city of Belem disappear into the distance as the boat headed straight into the darkness of the rainforest.
The boat has about 50 people or so on it...relatively small in terms of passenger boats that make the trip down the river. Generally, I think most boats have 150-200 people. I think it is better this way though...I mean the hammocks are pretty packed in tight, but nothing like the horror stories I heard about people being stacked 3 high with only inches to either side. Here, no one is above or below me. There are about 10 people on board that were in the same hotel that we were in Belem...there are also several Israelis (of course) and many other foriegners. About 20-25% of the people are Brazilian. I sort of wish there were a few more but I am happy...there are still a ton of people from many differnt countries.
Anyway, the boat is a decent size...about 150 feet I would guess. There are two decks...below, there is mostly cargo, with a little space where a few people have slung hammocks. Above is a larger open deck where most of the passengers are. There is a roof over us and the boat is open on all sides, but a tarp hangs there that can be lowered down to keep the rain out. The back of the boat has a little bar and an area where people sit to play cards, drink, and eat. That area is actually pretty happening...loud music and quite a little party back there last night. Not as I had pictured it before.
Anyway, last night WAS great. After we did finally get moving...which of course was not until almost 9:00, I walked around the boat for a bit, checking out what would be my home for the next few days and meeting a few of the other folks on the boat. I met two really cool girls from England, Dot and Hat (short for Harriet). Sounds like a comic strip duo but they are great girls. They told me a pretty crazy story about their bus to Belem being hijacked...I'll spare you all the details but nobody was hurt or anything and it was actually a pretty funny little tale. I think most travelers would agree, it is often the moments were things don't seem to be going so well that end up being the best stories from your trip. I could write a thesis on this subject.
Anyway, we all hung out at the back of the boat for several hours, having a few beers and listening to music. I met so many cool people I cannot describe them all. A guy form Argentina, Ariel and a Brazilian girl married to a guy from Switzerland were a few. One thing of note was this guy on the boat who could not have been younger than 45 who was with this girl who could not have been over 20. I was hoping it was her father...but I was wrong. Seeing them kiss disgusted me. This tends to happen FAR to often here in Brazil and it really gets to me sometimes. Something about an old crusty dude being together with someone so young is just a little unsettling. That was why I never liked that movie, "As Good as it Gets". Nicholson and Helen Hunt...just didn't work for me. Maybe it would have worked with someone a little more debonair...like Sean Connery...hmmmm...why I am I thinking about this.
ANYWAY, it was a super fun night getting know all the people that I would be trapped in a very small place with for the next several days. It was more of a party than I expected it would be. Since it was pitch black out, you could not see anything but I was surprised at the number of boats we passed in the night.
One pleasant surprise was there were virtually NO mosquitos. I guess the boat is moving to fast for them to get past the wind created by our movement...sort of like in a car on the highway...nothing gets in the window because of the "wall" of wind created by the velocity of the car.
My first real night of sleeping in the hammock was a bit tough. My back hurt a bit and it took me some time to get comfortable...eventually I was able to get a decent amount of sleep.
When I woke up today, the world of the Amazon was finally there for me to see in the light. At that point, we were at a pretty wide stretch in the river...it must have been 10 miles wide. I had heard about that from many people...that some spots are so wide it feels more like being on a lake or the ocean than a river. We were close to one bank though so I watched the foilage go by for quite some time. You can see many different birds which is pretty cool but other than that there is not much in the way of animals...which is what I figured. One thing that has been VERY surprising for me today has been the number of houses that we have seen on the river bank. They are just small, shacks...one room, four wall homes, but still there are MANY. I can't believe how many people live here on the river. I thought it would be much more desolate. The people in their houses often wave at us when we go by. Interesting to think about their lives. I mean, how in the world do that get stuff? A lot of them have small farms and you see some cows and chickens...so I can see that they have milk and obviously food is plentiful as they have the forest at their disposal, but what about clothes and things like that? I mean, they are wearing regular clothes and sometimes the kids are playing soccer...where the hell does that ball come from? I am very curious how these people obtain goods. I was just thinking that the nearest town has got to be Belem...which is about 13 hours by boat...a fast boat, so do they just set off one day with a list from the other nearby houses and come back a few days later with a boat full of stuff? Hmmmm.
Well, now that most of the day has passed, a lot of what I was pondering earlier has been answered. We ported this afternoon in a small city. I didn't realiize that there were SO many people living along the Amazon. The place we stopped seemed pretty large...I would guess atleast 20,000 people. There is a big difference between what my vision of the Amazon was and what it really is like. I really learned a lot today, doing nothing more than observing my surroundings...in this one day I have gotten sort of a grasp of what life is like for people living along the river.
I am on information overload here so it is going to be tough to get it all written down. Being here, you really take a LOT in visually and I think it is going to be tough to describe what is happening and my surroundings, and especially how it is making me feel. I think later, when I come back and read these journals, it will serve as a strong reminder for myself about how I felt and reacted to all the situations I have been in on this trip...but it bothers me to know that often, it will be very difficult for you, the reader, to understand. I am reminded of that scene in "Good Will Hunting" (definitely in my top 5 of all time) when Robin Williams is talking to Will in the park on the bench. He is basically saying to Will that he might know a lot from what he has read in books, but to really understand something you have to live it. There is a particular part when the point of the whole monologue comes out:
"So if I asked you about art you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written... Michelangelo? You know a lot about him I bet. Life's work, criticisms, political aspirations...But I bet you couldn't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling."
Anyway, I was saying that I have learned a lot today. First of all, as I said before, there are MANY people living along the river. You get a sense that many of them work together to sort of survive. Sometimes you see a couple of houses, seemingly secluded from civilization...but then you realize they are not. They almost all have a small boat...sometimes a motor boat, and every so often there is a small town that has a couple stores and many of the "goods" that one would think might not be so readily available down here. Well, what seems to happen is that in each of these slightly bigger towns, there is atleast one guy who has a decent size boat that can carry about 15 or twenty people. That person goes to the people who don't have larger boats, or boats with motors, picks them up and takes them to what they need. Therefore, you very often see a larger boat, with several people on it, towing a bunch of smaller boats behind it. I imagine the guy with the larger boat charges a small fee to make his living and viola! People who seem to be disconnected from the world and trapped in the forest, have a simple, easy way to obtain some of the items they need...which of course, isn't very much.
I know most of you may have this vision that the people that are down here in the Amazon live in tribes and live in huts in the forest...but that is not the case. They live in houses, some of wood, some of stone, they have access to "everything" (I use the term losely) we do...they have TVs and cell phones and have regular jobs in the little towns. Of course, this region of Brazil is very poor, and it is not like living in NYC or anything. I mean, there aren't any large malls or movie theatres and things you find in cities like Rio or Recife. Life in the Amazon is indeed simple, and conditions are harsher...but the people here are more comfortable than most of you might think.
Written Sunday, April 6, 2003
Got cut off from what I was saying yesterday...Last night was cool again. There are several Brazilian guys on this boat that have been drunk and partying since the second we left the port. I don't know how they can keep going like this. I figure they probably deserve to let loose though. The boat ride from Belem to Manaus costs about what the average Brazilian makes in a month. And when people work here, there is none of this 40 hour a week crap...it is probably more like 90. So I figure, these guys probably saved a long time to come on this trip...they probably work just about everyday of their lives for about 15 hours a day...so when they get 7 days of R&R on a boat ride, I figure they are entitled to go overboard (no pun intended). Anyway, they were all pretty rowdy last night, but it was funny to watch. We spent a bunch of time playing cards, and this pretty cool German game that Andy taught us, Moulet.
Anyway, I left off yesterday as I was going to talk about what it was like the first time we ported. It was very interesting. First of all, there are people waiting there trying to sell you anything and everything in terms of snacks and food. It was the first time I realized how different it was economically in the Amazon than in the rest of Brazil...I mean, the small cities where we port look just like any small city in Brazil...but the prices are vastly different. My beloved popsicles, which are usually somewhere between 1 real and 1.50 go for the low low price of 20 centavos in the Amazon!! The people just sit there at the port all day, waiting for the boats to come in and trying to sell stuff to the passengers in order to make what could not amount to more than about 10 or 15 reals (about 4 or 5 USD) per day.
As the boat pulls into port, there are MANY people that paddle their small canoes up to the boat and just sit waiting for the passengers to throw them money, food, or anything they can. Let me tell you, that most of these boats are VERY small and barely sea worthy. The women pack the boats with their kids to increase their chances of getting more money, and many times, it is the job of one of these kids to bail the water that is getting into the boat through the small cracks in the wood. It is some sight to see. They just look up at you, waiting...I was very transfixed by the whole thing...and my mind was racing with questions about them. I really would like to stop in one of the small ports and live a few days to see what life is like for them. I couldn't help but to feel almost guilty, walking around up on that boat, listening to my CD player, snapping pictures with my digital camera. It just didn't seem right somehow.
Anyway, I was also very moved by something else I saw at that first port and also throughout the day yesterday. Some of the other Brazilians who were on the boat with us...they had obviously gone between the cities on the Amazon several times. Well, what they had done was brought several small plastic bags of clothes and food. At the port, they were throwing these clothes overboard to the people who came to beg. Also, sometimes, as we were going down river...when you pass some houses, the people paddle their boats out close to our boat in hopes that someone will throw them something. The people on our boat were throwing these "goodie" bags to these people. It was amazing to me...people who already have so little, sharing in anyway they could. You start to learn something when traveling in the northern region of Brazil and particularly in the Amazon. The less people have, they more they are willing to give up to help others. Doesn't seem right, but that is exactly how it is. It gives you something to think about.
Today has been sort of a tough day. Earlier, I was just lying there in my hammock thinking about everyone back home. It was the first time I felt a bit alone on my trip. I guess it was a mixture of being in such a remote place and being somewhere where I would have loved to have someone close to me along to share the experience. I guess for the first time, I am just lonely. I really like the folks I am traveling with, but I don't really feel that "vibe" with them and I am a bit of an outsider in the group. But it is cool with me, I mean, I really enjoy having a lot of alone time out here on the boat, just thinking about things. But of course, if you have a bunch of time on your hands to think, you start remembering all funny stories and cool times with loved ones. It can be tough. It's all good though. I'm sure I will be just fine. I'm on the freakin' Amazon for goodness sake.
It's weird to think how relatively remote I am from everything. I mean, the whole world could be going up in flames right now and I would have absolutely no idea. Actually, with all that is going on in the middle east at the moment, that isn't too crazy of a thought. In fact, the last thing I read just before leaving Belem was that Saddam was going to do "something" that the western armies had never seen before. I have no clue what happened...it could be WWIII right now for all I know. We would probably be among the few worldwide survivors being down here in the forest. That is a weird thought.
Anyway, MANY folks keep asking me about the war and what I think about it and how it is affecting me down here...I guess it has come time that I address this issue, although it has become one of my least favorite subjects. Before I even begin, I will just say that I expressly forbid anyone to reprint any of the following paragraphs without reprinting ALL of them together. Nothing worse than someone taking your ideas out of context...anyway, here is my take on things for anyone who cares.
The first issue I would like to tackle is the world view on what is happening right now...how people I talk to from Brazil and other countries perceive the US as a result of it's actions. I like to keep things simple so I provide this analogy of what is going on. I sort of see Sadam as a bully on a playground...pushing all the weaker kids around and just being an all around asshole. Now, if the kids on the playground rise up against the bully, everyone thinks it is a great thing and it is commendable. I mean to say, that if there had just been a civil war in Iraq, I don't think most of the world would have even looked up from what they were doing. Somehow, this type of war is more justifyable in the public eye.
Now, if another big kid appears to beat up the bully and restore order...well, that is not necessarily good either...but still sort of acceptable. Had Iran or another country in the middle east decided they were sick of Saddam's crap and declared war, I wonder how much worldwide attention that would have gathered? Would people blame the entire problem on the president of Iran? Something to think about.
So let's talk about what actually did happen to the bully. I sort of see the US in this situation as somebody's father...not of one of the kids being bullied, but just a dad who hates bullies. Now, if you are watching a bully on a playground, and somebody's father comes and beats up the bully...well, then that is quite an uncomfortable situation. First of all, the father had no reason to be sticking his nose in the situation in the first place, and second of all the fight was completely unfair. So that is the problem...that is how people outside the US see it, and it pisses them off and they are right as far as I am concerned. I know what some of you are thinking...but WE did have reasons to meddle in the affairs in the middle east...I'll tackle that one next, don't worry. I just want folks to understand one of the many reasons this should not all be happening and how it looks from the outside. BUT, I will say this, in the end, when this is all over...the kids on the playground WILL be better off and I think most will be happy the bully is gone...even though how he was taken down was not agreeable. Problem is, most people are too short-sighted to even consider this yet...many people here in Brazil and travelers I meet are just too stuck on "War is bad" mode to really intelligently think the whole thing through. This is the basic thought process of MANY of the people I have encountered:
Bush wants war.
Bush is bad.
Bush is American.
Americans are bad.
I am not kidding. That is it. Many people (especially travelers) are just anti-war so they are against the whole thing. Fine...but let's be consistent here folks. I think that since it is a war AND the US is involved is the reason we have so many anti-war people crawling out of the wood work. See, whether any of you reading this know it, it is some what the trend to hate the US. Now part of that is because it is a very wealthy country full of people who don't give much of a damn or know much about all the other poor countries out there. It is sort of the same reason we all hate little rich kids...how many times do you drive through a really nice neighborhood, see some kids playing, and say to yourself "those kids have no idea how good they have it." I think that is a situation most of us can relate to...well guess what, just about every other country in the world sees the US as a little bratty rich kid. I am not saying it is right or wrong...I'm just telling you that's how it is. SO, now we have a situation where we are throwing more fuel on the "hate the US" fire. Going against what everyone says (Including NATO!) and doing whatever the hell we want...something that can only be done if you are the richest and most powerful. You think France could start a war without US approval? The whole thing from an outside prospective seems like a VERY arrogant and defiant move...and I will tell you that that is EXACTLY how Bush comes across on TV...he sort of has this "we are the biggest and baddest so get the hell out of our way" mentality. That's great out on a football field but when you are talking about thousands of lives and world wide affairs...it might be better to be a little more tactful. You act like he does and guess what happens...TONS of backlash. Who can be surprised by this? The whole thing became so ridiculous just before the war started I could hardly bear to watch...It all became this pissing contest between two guys with egos to big for their own good. THESE are the people leading us!? Good God. And people wonder why I hate politics and politicians.
So that is the reality of what is going on...somebody's dad is out on the playground beating up little kids. The funny part is that he is trying to convince onlookers that the little kids somehow actually pose a threat to him (puh-leeze) AND at the same time trying to justify the whole thing so his own kids don't get mad at him.
I believe there are three main reasons why this war has begun. The first is a no-brainer: Oil. We all know it so it isn't worth discussing. I will say though, that unlike the first Gulf War, this was not the primary reason why the war started.
2. Also another short one...I really think Bush, and many Americans, are geniunely upset by countries that do not live in a democracy. It doesn't seem fair and goes against all we believe about freedom and liberty...so naturally we want to help...to sort of propogate our way of life (which we think is the best...I think I agree though. Freedom IS good and is, I believe, the reason the US is in the position it is in today) in other countries. But, if we can do this in a country that has a world reknown tyrant (notice I did NOT say 'terrorist'...more on that in a minute) in power, and we can take him down in a very visible manner, then even better for Bush because...
3. It's a big campaign year. It's time to set the stage for run at re-election. The economy is in the crapper and we basically got bitch-slapped by Osama Bin Laden, and (atleast in the public eye) weren't able to do much about it. You put all that together, and you get a guy who is (as we say in the college football world) on the hot seat. SO, what can he do? Oh, I know! How about start a war that is unlosable, try to make everybody forget about financial woes, and start thumping your chest and yelling America is the best. Please. You are trying to tell me none of this is part of the campaign? I can already see the adds now: "Vote for me! I bombed Saddam. I did something about terrorism. I saved us all from a potential terrorist attack!"
Alright, so that brings me to the most annoying part of this whole thing. In order to gain public approval back in the US, Bush is trying to justify all this to the American public by saying that it is a war against terrorism. You have GOT to be kidding me. I mean, I'm sure Saddam wasn't crying when Sept. 11 happened...and he was probably indirectly connected to the whole thing, but let's be real. It seemed to me that Bush didn't give a speech and an article wasn't written where terrorism wasn't mentioned. What a complete snow job. I mean, I can see that people eventually would just start thinking, yeah, it is a war against terrorism. One of the best political cartoons I saw in the last couple weeks is of Bush standing at in easel with a map of the middle east. He then says, okay, the terrorist came from here (points to Afghanistan) so we will bomb HERE (points to Iraq). Better if you see it, but you get the idea. I mean, has anybody else even noticed you haven't heard the words Osama Bin Laden since Novemeber. It was like, "well, he got away...so who else can we go after...I know, Saddam." And just like that it was ALL you heard about for months. I guess it wasn't a bad political strategy if you think about it...quite a nice diversion tactic. Now, instead of people bringing up Osama for the next year until the election (story with no ending) people will be talking about Saddam. And Bush will be calling the whole thing a "Victory" for America. Whupty-do. I'm supposed to get all patriotic because we beat up a bunch of little kids on a playground. THAT's why I'm supposed to vote for you!? Somebody please stop the madness.
Well, we should be arriving in Santerem around 4 a.m. tomorrow morning. We will stop there for a day...there is supposed to be a great little town nearby with a cool beach...if that even sounds belivable out here in the middle of the Amazon. It will be cool to be off the boat, I guess, but I'm not too sick of it yet. There are some people who are continuing on to Manaus on this same boat...namely, the folks from England, Matt, Dot, and Hat, who are pretty cool and we have hung out with a lot over the past couple days. Maybe I'll see them in Manaus. Anyway, the first part of this river ride has been great. I say again that I have really enjoyed the time I have had to myself and also getting to know the Germans better. So far, it has been a wonderful experience.
Written Monday, April 7, 2003
The boat arrived in Santerem around 4:30 a.m. this morning. We were allowed to stay aboard and sleep, which we did until about 7 when we started to pack all our things up and get off the boat. Just to remind everyone, we were, Kristie/England, Lisa/Australia, Athena/Australia, Merieke, Anton, and Andy/all Germany. I found out that the boats were leaving for Manaus the next day at 4 which was perfect for us. We bought tickets and then treked into town to catch the bus to Alter do Chao. After an hour wait, and an hour busride we made it. It seems amazing to me that here we are in a small city in the middle of the Amazon and we can ride a bus for an hour and still be in civilization. It really gives you an idea of how many trees they had to cut down to build all this. Almost too monumental to conceive.
We arrived and found the hostel and we were VERY pleased. The lake and beach looked beautiful!! It looked just like the picture we had seen back at the agency in Belem. We could barely wait to get out there.
Everyone took a much needed shower (it had been 3 days) and then we headed for the beach, which really is an island. Athena, Andy, and I swam across to it (about 300 meters) and the others took a boat so they could carry our cameras/books/etc. I must say, that short swim was tougher than it looked. That seems to happen pretty often whenever I take a long swim...I grow an appreciation for swimmers and their abilities.
Anyway, we got to the beach on the other side and it was great. Very beautiful. I don't know why, but I was still feeling a little lonely today. I guess it carried over from yesterday when I was thinking so much about all my great friends back home. Anyway, we had a meal and a pretty good discussion about the "phoniness" of today's pop music world.
Afterwards we swam for awhile and joked around. Despite my beautiful natural surroundings and the cool people I was with, I was still feeling a bit down. I have to say that it was the toughest point for me up until then. Somedays are just like that...you miss home, your friends...people who know you. Sometimes it can be tiring to try to let people get to know you as much as you can during a short few days. It really is impossible...but sometimes things just click right and it works. Not that I don't like all the folks I am traveling with at the moment...they are great. But I don't find it easy to open up...still not quite sure what the reason is. I just seemed to rubbing everyone the wrong way...so I decided to go for a walk alone towards the nearby forest. I figure the best thing to do in those situations is to get some alone time. The forest was cool (watched some leafcutter ants finish off what was left of a bush for about 30 minutes) but I didn't go too far because the path started to split, twist, and turn in too many directions and I did not want to lose my way back.
I left the others on the island and headed back to the hostel...I was dying to look at the pictures I am carrying with me on my pocket PC. You have NO IDEA how much it helps to have those. I sat for an hour thinking about everyone and looking at the same pictures over and over again. It was nice. I almost forgot that I was buried deep in the Amazon forest...strange...almost like reading a good book...I was completely lost in thought. I really miss everyone so much. I know that days like that one will happen from time to time, but rather than be sad, I think it is better to smile and appreciate all those great friendships. Although I missed everyone more afterwards, I felt much better...if that makes sense.
The others arrived a bit later and I was glad to be in better spirits. I read for awhile and took short nap (it had been a long day on a short night of sleep). Finally we all headed out for dinner around 9. Not much is open here in Alter do Chao at night...it is a very tiny village. We found a cool restaurant though and had a good meal...well everyone except Anton and Mereika. They are vegetarians and Brazil is not a vegetarian friendly country. I felt bad for them b/c for the second time since I had been with them they ordered a non-meat meal and it still came with meat. Anyway, it was "sort of" corrected but they both ended up with subpar, undercooked pizza...and they were not happy. Hmmmmm...my tolerance for vegetarians has increased considerably in the last few years (even though it still does not make much sense to me...but what the hell do I know) but it seems to me that they would be accostumed to having difficulty eating out. I was informed that in most countries, unlike in the US or Brazil, menus are more vegetarian friendly...fair enough I guess.
Anyway, the meal was great besides that, as I said, but I must stop to express a bit of exasperation that I have had on my travels. It seems that paying the bill is ALWAYS a 20 minute process with travelers. It is always get out your calculator and add up what you owe to the exact penny. I really have begun to lose my patience with the whole process. I am more of the school of everyone pays what you think you owe...and it doesn't come out fine, everyone just throws in an extra buck. I mean, we are all friends here...nobody is trying to rip anybody off!! Anyway, I generally just throw in my cash and try to ignore the mathmetical hoopla...but on this day I was particularly annoyed. I have also noticed that foreigners have a very difficult time with the concept of tipping. That makes sense to me...if you don't grow up in a place that tips, then it IS difficult to wrap your mind around why they do it in other places. But in the end I say, when in Rome...I mean, if you visit a place, I think you should adapt to THEIR everyday customs. That is all there is to it. This is probably the numer one reason people see American tourists as obnoxious...they always seem to want to act as if they do at home...I always do my best to break that stereotype...but the more I travel, the more I see that we are not the only ones that have a lot to learn about other cultures.
Okay, off the soap box. We walked back to the hostel and it was nice to once again be in a nice small town where I felt completely safe at night. It was also very quiet and peaceful.
Back at the hostel, worked on journals for a couple hours and crashed.
Written Wednesday, April 9, 2003
We boarded our new boat yesterday at 4 after a taking a little time to explore Santerem. It is WAY bigger than I thought. I have said it 20 times, but I am still shocked as to how many cities and people live in the Amazon. I really had a skewed view before.
Anyway, our new boat is much bigger than our last one. We have a lot more space, although Kristie almost had to beat up this old lady that tried to take part of our spots we had claimed with our hammocks. We had hung our hammocks the previous day so we could secure a place and this old lady came in and just starting moving all our stuff around. Luckily we arrived just in time to foil her diabolical scheme.
The best part about the new boat is that you can go out on to the roof of the boat an sit in the open air. It is great up there. Last night, I sat up there for the first two hours after we left Santerem, watching the city lights fade into the distance.
This boat is much less of a party boat, which is pretty cool. We all sat up on the deck last night, talking about the war, and and other things. It was cool and I was really feeling like part of the group again. Today has been rather relaxing. I think I will try to spend the entire thing in my hammock.
I forgot to mention the struggle I was having reading the book that I had bought WAY back in Evanston, IL (when I went there with Bridge, just before leaving on my trip) "Catch 22". I think I referenced in a very early journal that I was starting to read it. Well, I have stuggled through the beginning of that back over the past several months...trying my best to get through the confusing beginning. It was killing me so I just put it down for about a month, but of couse, I have been carrying it with me. Well, every single person I encounter that has read it says the same thing, they had to try and read it 5 times because the beginning is so tough to get through. It sort of became a running joke for me over the past couple months because I have had so many discussions about that damn book. Anyway, I was absolutely determined to tackle it while on the boat and I have been making serious headway over the past several days. It is pretty funny, but I am not too impressed. I have read about 80% of it here on the Amazon...I'll be finishing that damn thing soon and then passing it on to the next sucker.
Man, that was a dumb tangent. I think I will go to the upper deck and listen to some tunes.
Today as I was watching the riverbank pass by, I started to wonder about all the little shacks. I mean, there are so many of them and the people just seem to be hanging out there watching the boats go by. So I sort of wondered out loud to Lisa, "All these people don't seem to have much to do...they have all the wood they could possibly need at their disposal...why not work on a little home improvement!? I mean, why not build a nice big sturdy house." And then as the words escaped my lips it hit me...only what they need. They only build and take from the land what they need and nothing more. Why build a huge house when a little one is doing you just fine? See, they are just fine and happy with what they have...a concept that we just cannot grasp in the United States. We are always taught to want MORE and to strive for bigger and better things. We can almost never be content with what we have and it is perfectly acceptable to us. I really started to questioin myself...and if the mentality under which I grew up was right or not. I mean, what is wrong with wanting more? Is there some limit where we should stop? It seems to me that I SHOULD want more. Is it okay to be like that? I mean, should we really be living so far beyond our necessities? What is the justification for it? I mean, for these folks, this is the life they live and it is all they know. Is my existence somehow better than theirs because I know how to use the internet? It is a concept that I am really trying to wrap my mind around and I don't really come up with answers. I mean, life for them seems so simple that it must be bliss...but I think about all the things of the world that they will never even know exist or see, it makes my wonder if that is okay? I mean, ignorance IS bliss...we all know that, but I sometimes think that knowledge is bliss too. I love that I know what the internet is...or how cells produce proteins...or even that I can be on this boat right now, seeing all these shacks on the side of the river. All these things would not be possible if I had not wanted more...so when is it okay? I think anybody back home reading this thinks this is an easy one...shack on the Amazon or comfortable four bedroom house in the suburbs, but for me it isn't so clear who has it better. I know it doesn't make sense, but that is b/c of the mentality that we all grow up with. I am struggling to look at things in a different way but it is very difficult...I mean, how do I possibly escape thinking like the person that I am? You could go nuts thinking about this stuff...but that is what happens when you are out here on the river. You have so much time to think. I don't really have answers to all these questions...but I really believe it is important to ask ourselves about these things. I mean, if nobody asks it, it can't be answered...so we need these questions to help our minds grow...but then, what if I don't have the answers? Was it worth asking then? I guess I will have to think about it.
Well, I think I sort of have some answers to some of what I was saying before. I think if I must choose between Ignorance (which I will assume for the sake of argument is equal to bliss) and Knowledge, then I choose knowledge. I think it takes knowledge to even understand and appreciate that ignorance is bliss. Therefore, in living in ignorance, you cannot know it is bliss and hence, you can't even appreciate it...so what is the point. In English, I am saying that, had I not come on this trip and seen some of the things I have out here in the Amazon, I might not appreciate quite as much how good I have it, OR how good they have it. The same is true for someone who might come from here and be plopped into my life...they would really grow an appreciation for all the things I have (perhaps more than I could), but they would also finally understand how good they really had it too. So it takes knowledge to be able to appreciate ignorance, but once you do, you then appreciate both knowledge AND ignorance. For that reason, I think is better to be in my position...than theirs. Their means to gain knowledge about my world is far more limited than mine to see theirs. I think it's better to know the difference, and then take what you learn and to incorporate it into your life. That is what I am striving to do.
Well, my time on the boat is almost over. We will arrive in Manaus at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. I have to say, I am not ready for this part of this Amazon trip to be over yet. I have loved the time I got to spend here, chillin' in my hammock and watching the Amazon. Yesterday morning we saw some beautiful parrots, living on the cliffsides. The forest is so beautiful I think and I have really enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the small towns where we port. Many people told me that the boat ride is boring and that there is nothing to see. I couldn't disagree more. There is so much to see and think about...it isn't just the trees and the sounds of the forest that I loved, but also watching the people who live here and thinking about how they get by has been very enjoyable. I also have loved some of the people I have met on the boats and just being alone with my music. I even grew to like eating the same meal of beans, rice, and meat everyday. I really think anyone who comes to Brazil should not miss out on the experience of going down the Amazon by boat. It was as enjoyable as it was enlightening. I will carry with me forever the images of what I saw...truly unforgettable.
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