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Back of the boat

I just started on a reporting trip in Amazonas state, so a word on the means of transportation here, which pretty much boils down to ABC: Anything but cars. Highways are few and far between here, both because historically it has been very difficult and expensive to lay down a lasting highway here, and these days, it is considered environmentally hazardous to the land it runs through. I've heard a few different slight variations quoted, but something like 52 out of 62 municipalities in the state cannot be reached by road.

I’m headed to Novo Aripuana, about 150 miles as the crow flies (and more like 300 as the fish swims) from Manaus, and there are three ways to get there by public transportation: the 36-hour slow boat, the 12-hour fast boat and $180 airplane. I suppose you could swim, too, but I don’t recommend it.

I’m on the fast boat, which costs 120 reais, almost $70 at the newly punishing exchange rates, and have an important travel tip for anyone planning any sort of trip via public transportation in the Amazon:

Sit as far forward in the boat as you can.

As I write, I'm sitting practically on top of the engine. Anyone who thinks the Amazon is a quiet place, it is. But not on top of the engine. I tried to get some sleep, and the noise was what I imagined it would be like to sleep in a foxhole with constant machine gun fire around you. Without the danger, of course.

In the short video I'm attaching, you will see one man asleep near the motor, and a couple of kids playing right on top of it. So it is possible to get used to it.

On the slow boats, which take days to go between cities that no highways link, you don’t get a seat, you hang a hammock. I was on one of those boats too, five years ago, and it was only a few days in that I ventured to the lower level where the engine was and noted that those who boarded later were stuck down there next to it. And it sounded like a machine gun as well. So a better rule: find the motor, and get as far away from it as you can.