In Praise of Hammocks

Leticia is a sleepy little town, one of the few places in the Colombian jungle that is not controlled by paramilitaries or narco-terrorists. Although military checkpoints are common throughout Colombia, there is a particularly strong military presence in Leticia. In the little time that I was there, I saw a lot of uniformed men and women in the streets. In spite of this, Leticia has the relaxed air that you would expect from a small isolated town.

Shortly after checking into my hostel, I met two guys and a girl who were planning on getting the boat to Brazil the next day. I had wanted to spend a few days in Leticia before leaving, but the next boat left at the end of the week and I didn’t think there was enough in Leticia to occupy me for that long. I also suspected that if I stayed it would only be me and one woman in her forties in the hostel and I would end up reading the books that I had saved for the boat trip

The next morning, we went to the dock to board the boat. I bought my ticket, which only cost $80 and included all meals. We arrived a few hours earlier so we could secure a good spot to hang our hammocks but it turned out it wasn’t necessary as the toilets were in a separate area to the deck. There were about a hundred people sleeping on the second deck with us, most of whom were Brazilian. In total there were ten tourists, us included.

Surprisingly I fell asleep almost immediately after the boat pulled away from the dock. Obviously there was a lot of noise; there were lots of young children on board and for some reason, Brazilians never listen to music with earphones, but lying in the hammock was very relaxing. The others ended up with sore backs from sleeping in flimsy hammocks but mine was made from a very thick material.

For the first two days, I hardly left my hammock. Mostly I slept, read and tried to learn Portuguese from a Portuguese-Spanish dictionary I had found in Leticia. The scenery wasn’t particularly exciting; I had looked forward to traveling down the Amazon but we were too far from shore to see any wildlife and in any case, the motor from the boat would have scared them off.

By the end of the second day, I had finished my books and there was nothing to do but sit on the top deck or play cards. By the third day, boredom had set in and I was glad that it was the last day of the journey. Fortunately the bathrooms were not too dirty but they really needed a good airing out as they had the stale urine smell that portable toilets always reek of. I found myself holding my breath whenever I used one and I couldn’t bring myself to have a shower on the second day.

After disembarking in Manaus, the ten of us checked into the same hostel. Manaus is a large industrial city and upon arriving, I realised I didn’t want to spend too much time there. Later that afternoon, I found a cheap flight to Salvador that was leaving in three days and spent the remaining time hanging out at the hostel and walking around town.