Amazon Boating: Slow Boating – “Just The Tips”
PART 2: Gurupa to Santarem
In PART 1 of Amazon Boating, I introduced you guys to boating on the Amazon River. I invited you to take a shower with me, tried to describe the crazy scale of the Amazon River, gave you a first-look at some of the riff-raff who choose to Slow Boat on the Amazon, and got a bit happy and sad all at once talking about the scale of environmental issues and the amazing number of smaller, opposing environmental projects that operate throughout the region.
During this second leg of the journey, I’ve settled into boatie life and figured out where to sit and watch the incredible sky roll by. I’ve become the ship’s barber for a short time, told a story or two, and listened to dozens of stories from “Loosey Goose”, even though I only understood every 3rd word.
In this post, I’ll share “Just The Tips” for making the most of Amazon Slow Boating.
Just The Tips
Finding A Boat
I walked across Belem for 2 days without much of an idea of what I was doing – all so that you don’t have to! You lucky buggers.
Your options: Ticket-sellers; Tourism Outlets; Direct with the captain.
Most boats leave from Porto do Belem (A) and you will find ticket-sellers out the front until 5pm every day servicing all the various locations up-river. Inside the building are also ticket windows where standardised rates are displayed for the different companies.
Tourism Outlets are available in a few spots across town as well. I marked a couple on the map (B & C), but I found the ticket-seller to be far more knowledgeable about all available routes, he didn’t seem to be contractually obliged to one boat over another and, like with everything else, the closer you buy to the source, the more efficient, flexible, and barter-friendly it will be.
If you’re really trying to stretch your reais as far as they’ll go, and you don’t want to be locked into anything, just find out when the boats are leaving (from the outlet or the ticket-seller), then turn up to speak with the captain a few hours before the scheduled departure.
I bought my ticket to Santarem from a ticket-seller I’d spoken to a couple of days in a row, for a price (R$125) that I was happy to pay, but I could’ve turned up at point (D) in the morning and probably got it down to R$100 or less.
It’s a pretty safe bet that there will be space for you – and space to haggle if you deal directly with the boat captain. The downside: maybe they’ll have no space for you… But this is fairly unlikely.
Just The Tips:
- Ticket-seller for the win: knowledge, flexibility, bartering.
- Direct on the boat for cheapest, and last minute.
- Travel Agents – Nah, give it a miss.
Hammock (unless you buy a cabin ticket)
Sleeping bag or blanket
Food and/or some cashola
At the best of times, I personally find it a little difficult to eat healthily in Brazil. The Brazilian diet consists of a lot of sugar, cheese, meat, and deep-fried stuff. Fresh fruit and vegetables don’t make up a large enough part of the average food pyramid, in my opinion…
Plus, I’m a vegetarian, so that cuts it down to sugar, cheese, and fried cheese. :/
On the boats, the availability of food varies from boat to boat – but don’t expect a buffet. Plus, it won’t be cheap and don’t expect to be stopping along the way to buy food, either. Stops are an in-&-out affair.
My top tip for boating is: Bring some healthy food!
Water isn’t a problem. Every boat will have access to filtered water, so there isn’t any need to buy a bunch of bottled water. Just pack a reusable bottle and refill from the filtered water supply.
Just The Tips – TOP TIP: PACK YOUR SADDLEBAGS WITH GRUB – Fruit, Vegetables, Nuts, Raw foods, packets of pre-cooked beans. Bring a reusable water bottle as well.
HINT: ALL water bottles are reusable.
The Science Of Sleep
Most people will be in the hammock section. My boat wasn’t super busy, but I’m told they can get crowded. Getting to the dock early and choosing a primo position is paramount to a successful journey.
When you’re thinking about the science of sleep, you need to take these 6 factors into account:
- Noise – The motor will be chugging along 24/7 and will usually be located toward the back of the boat, nearer to the propellors.
- Light – Try not to string your hammock up directly under an overhead light. Stay away from the light!
- Temperature – It’s a warm part of the world, but it can actually get pretty chilly at night. Bring a sleeping bag.
- Your Gear – Peace of mind will help you sleep better as well. I think you have to be kind of unlucky to have your stuff stolen, but better safe than sorry right? Set your hammock up next to one of the upright metal poles and bring a chain/lock. This way you can secure your valuables bag to the pole and sleep easy.
- People – This is the hardest factor to predict, and something totally up to your personal preference. Just choose your bunkmates wisely. You’ll be sleeping next to them for a few days.
- Smells – Location, location, location. Usually, the toilets will be at the back of the boat. They aren’t terrible or anything, but they’re still toilets. Just keep your distance.
Whatcha’ gonna do with all that time?
It’s called “slow-boating” because you’re in a boat… and you’re going slow.
This means you’ll have quite a bit of time to fill from Belem to Santarem. Two and a half days, for 24 hours per day, chugging along at a constant pace upstream. The river is large, and the riverbanks often covered in thick forest, but gazing at trees on the distant riverbank can only occupy a person for so long before boredom sets in.
Soooo… Make sure you have some things to keep you busy when the water becomes “just water”, and the forest becomes “just trees.”
Just The Tips:
What you’ll have:
- Other humans
- electricity outlets
- communal areas
- Incredible 360deg sunsets
- Time. Loads of time.
What to do:
- Bring an instrument – but if you’re terrible at it, go to the roof and practice way down the back.
- Bring cards, chess, or other board games – but if you’re terrible at these games, don’t be sore about it, somebody has to lose!
- Bring something to write with (laptop, pen and paper) – but if you’re terrible at this, just keep trying… Like I do.
- Bring something to read – books are more valuable than clothes.
- Play “Snack & Nap”. This requires food within reach of your hammock, so setup your bags accordingly. It’s all in the name, really. Reach down, eat snacks, get comfy in the ham, and nap. Repeat (obviously).
- Climb onto the roof for sunset/sunrise. This won’t get old – I promise
What did I miss??!
Or is there something I should have mentioned?
Light up the comments below – and I’ll answer if I know.
If I don’t know, I’ll make something up! ;D