Are You A Free Bird?

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I’ve met a lot of creepy guys in Asia and most of them are not worth mentioning. But there was one who particularly stood out – I guess because he was the only one who truly made me feel uneasy.

I met him out the front of my hostel the night following St Patrick’s Day; it was close to midnight and we were both sitting in beach chairs, waiting for the loud music to end. Several times I caught him staring at me and although I pretended to be absorbed in my phone, it wasn’t long before he struck up a conversation.

He was Polish and had arrived on the island that day. Sensing his sleaziness, I was initially standoffish but I began to take an interest in what he was saying when he told me he had swum in phosphorescent plankton earlier that night.

He offered to take me to the spot and I agreed, thinking Eli who was standing in the distance would surely want to come. I beckoned him over but he was on the phone and shook his head.

I should have turned down the Polish guy at this point but because he’d told me that the spot was nearby, I decided not to say anything. We started walking.

As soon as we passed the strip, we were plunged into darkness and the Polish guy suggested sitting down to enjoy the stars. I guess I should have realised that it was stupid of me to venture to a semi-secluded spot with a guy I had just met but I was more annoyed than anything else; it was all I could do to not to roll my eyes at how cheesy he was. Trying to keep the impatience out of my voice, I suggested we continue walking.

It wasn’t until we had walked the length of the beach and were standing at the head of a dirt path which led into the forest that I began to feel scared. I had assumed that the spot he had spoken of would be around here. My first impression of him was that he seemed harmless enough but now I wasn’t so sure. Once again, I asked him if we were nearly there and when he replied that it was, I felt I had no choice but to continue down the dirt path.

We followed the path to the other beach. Aside from some bungalows next to the forest, this beach was completely uninhabited.

To my immense relief, the Polish guy announced that we were here. Ignoring his suggestions that we go for a swim, I stood ankle deep in the sea and watched the water light up as I moved my feet. I was glad I had come; now that I knew where it was, I could return the following night.

I was no longer scared but all the same, I didn’t want to spend any more time with him than what I had to. I thanked him for showing me the spot and we walked back to our hostel.

The loud music was still playing when we returned so we sat out the front again. By now I was even more bored with his company but with nothing else to do, I pretended to listen to him and half-heartedly answered his questions.

“Are you a free bird?” he asked, stroking my swallow tattoo. Whether this was intended as a genuine question or sexual innuendo I honestly couldn’t tell.

In any case, I figured it was as good a time as any to wrap up the conversation. Feigning sleepiness, I said goodnight and went to bed.

A Romantic St. Patrick’s Day in Cambodia

That day on the beach, we met an English guy, two Irish guys and a Finnish girl who invited us to drink with them that night for St Patrick’s Day. They were staying in bungalows on the more expensive side of the island but in saying that, it only took us ten minutes to walk to their end.

Koh Rong attracted a lot of dishevelled looking hippies and for a small island, its nightlife was lively. We had drinks at the restaurant bar for happy hour before continuing on to the main strip of bars. The bar we ended up in was quite amusing; nearly everyone was on drugs and danced enthusiastically to techno as though their lives depended on it.

After a few hours, Paul, the Norwegian guy, told me he was planning on going to bed soon; he hadn’t been drinking much because he had to get up early the next day to get a ferry to the mainland. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him exactly but sensing his boredom, I asked him if he wanted to go for a walk.

We walked along the beach until I suggested sitting down in the sand. We had a clear view of the sky and he was in the middle of pointing out some stars to me when we saw a shooting star. By now, we were lying side by side; he had laid down first and I had followed suit.

It must have been obvious why I’d suggested leaving the bar together but I grew impatient with waiting for him to make a move so I leaned in and kissed him. He kissed back, pulling me on top of him. Then just as quickly, he pulled away and told me he couldn’t because there was a girl he was sort of seeing.

Immediately I felt relieved, as though I had been let off the hook. I suppose I liked the idea of being with him; he was good looking and had just finished a year in the army, but I hadn’t felt any chemistry when we kissed.

We walked back to the hostel, passing a circle of people who were singing Kumbaya (not making this up). He was quite affectionate and it wasn’t too awkward. But we were sharing a dorm and I felt weird about going to bed at the same time as him so I went back to the bar. I found the others and sat with them for another hour before I went to sleep.

My Infatuation With The Beach

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Not knowing what to expect from Koh Rong, I only decided to go at the last minute but I’m glad I did because it was one of the best places I have ever visited. In many ways it fit my fantasy of a remote island; although only two hours from Sihanoukville, it was undeveloped in the extreme and very few tourists visited. By my estimate, there could not have been more than two hundred foreigners when I was there.

There were no roads, ATMs, hot water or medical facilities on the island; though strangely enough, wifi was widely available. Electricity was limited to the night when the generator was turned on. Chickens and young children roamed freely on the main beach where the strip of bars and budget accommodations was located. I even saw an ox wandering around on occasion.

Like most backpackers on the Southeast Asia circuit, I read The Beach a few years ago and I have to admit I am a little obsessed with it. But it wasn’t on my mind the night that a Norwegian guy and a French guy invited me to trek with them to a secluded beach on the other side of the island. I was sceptical when Eli, the French guy, described it as a beautiful beach that we would have to ourselves but I thought it’d be nice to trek through the jungle and told them I wanted to come.

We started the trek the following morning. It wasn’t long before I realised why so few people attempted it; not only was it very strenuous but there was no clear path. The only way to know that you were going the right way was to keep an eye out for trees and stones that had been painted red but these only appeared very occasionally. But Eli assured us he knew the way from doing the trek the day before and when we met two Dutch girls who had spent the past hour wandering the jungle after taking a wrong turn, he told them the same thing.

After half an hour, we reached a cliff. There was no way around it and Eli continued to assure us that this was the right way. It was a six or seven metre drop but the others climbed down with relative ease. Watching them sort of reminded me of Richard jumping off the waterfall in The Beach but I didn’t want to risk spraining my ankle if I took a fall so when it was my turn, I gripped onto some branches to lower myself down.

I’d had my suspicions early on that Eli was bluffing but it was abundantly clear that we had gone the wrong way once we were over the cliff. Now there was no path at all; instead we had to pick our way down some rocks which were covered in slippery leaves.

Clearly pissed off, the Dutch girls picked up their pace and disappeared as soon as we cleared the steep incline. Funnily enough, I felt strangely calm; I guess I was just relieved that we had reached flat land. But I could see why the girls would be annoyed considering they had already been lost for an hour when they met us.

We continued to walk in the same direction for another half hour until we got to the beach. It was exactly how Eli had described it – it was the most beautiful, pristine beach I’ve ever seen. Although there was some bungalow accommodation nearby, we only saw twenty-five other people. We spent the afternoon there and paid a local to take us back in a longtail boat when it got dark. It was perfect.

Last Minute Lack of Planning

Last month I left Melbourne to travel Cambodia and Thailand for six weeks. Ever since I first visited South East Asia three years ago, I desperately wanted to return. I began thinking about it in the same certain terms usually reserved for more important matters such as buying a car or graduating from school. Even when I decided to put other priorities first and money became tight, I always had a few grand put aside for South East Asia just in case the opportunity suddenly arose.

Without going into details, things recently fell into place in such a way that made it possible for me to drop everything to return to Asia but the flipside was that I was preoccupied with these personal matters up to the last minute and I barely gave the trip much thought. Having only made up my mind that I was going one month ago, I hadn’t done much in the way of preparations besides booking my flight. Generally I don’t like to plan much when I travel anyway but even as I was packing my bag the night before my departure, I felt strangely detached from what was about to happen.

It was only when I disembarked in Kuala Lumpur that it really hit me that I was travelling again. It was strange how something as mundane as putting on my backpack and walking to the bus stop could bring on such a strong rush of excitement. It was my second time in Kuala Lumpur but the Islamic beauty of the city was not lost on me. As soon as I got into the centre, I rode the skytrain which was worth it just for the view.

After spending a day in Kuala Lumpur, I got a connecting flight to Phnom Penh and a minivan to Sihanoukville. On the van I got to talking to a Swedish girl who asked me if I wanted to share a cheap hotel room with her. My plan had been to look for a hostel upon arriving but I agreed, sensing she was reluctant to stay in a dorm.

It wasn’t long before I was glad that I was sharing a hotel room with Anna. I immediately disliked Sihanoukville and most of the drunken backpackers there. When I first visited Cambodia, I spoke to quite a few travellers who highly recommended Sihanoukville; one guy likened it to Koh Phangnan before it became popular. Perhaps I was there three years too late because I think it would be more apt to describe it as the Phuket of Cambodia but without the nightlife to redeem it.

In any case, I enjoyed my time in Sihanoukville. We split our time between Serendipity and Otres during the day and at night, we usually had dinner with a middle aged Swedish guy, who was a friend of Anna’s father, and his Cambodian girlfriend. One night they took us to one of their favourite restaurants in town, which was a nice respite from eating on the beach where we were usually hassled by Brits promoting bars and Cambodian children selling fireworks.

After four days, I caught the ferry to Koh Rong. I said goodbye to Anna and told her I’d most likely be back in a couple of days.

Why Hostels Are Not Romantic Places

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The next day we went on a waterfall tour. Phillip had wanted to go for the last few days but they had held off until now because they were waiting for a Swiss friend to join them. First we were taken to a river which I did not think was that special. I think the only reason we went was for the huge twenty metre tree that the tour guide and Phillip jumped off.

Then we were taken to a natural slide; it was formed by a huge rock which jutted out from under the waterfall. Because the rock was very slippery and slanted at an angle, once you began sliding, you picked up speed until you plunged into a river. After trying it once, I did not want to go a second time but Phillip pushed me and I slid down the rock so fast that I spun around and went into the river backwards. He also forced me to go under the waterfall with him. As soon as we went in, I felt claustrophobic and wanted to get out.

Although I was ambivalent about him the day before, I was beginning to really like Phillip. I was impressed by how good he was with languages; even though he had only begun speaking Portuguese two months ago, he was already fluent. He spoke Portuguese with the tour guide and Spanish with a Colombian guy in the tour. I found everything about him attractive, even the things that I would normally find annoying; his smoking, his French accent, the way he dropped the h from the start of some words.

That night when we were sitting on the patio again, I asked him if he wanted to lie down in the dorm. Because the five of us were the only people staying at the hostel, I knew no one would be in there. We had sex in my top bunk which was not such a good choice. It was a small bed without rails which creaked loudly and we were conscious that hostel owner’s ten year old son was in the next room.

Usually I can’t stand being around annoying couples but I think that’s how we must have appeared. I tried to make sure that we were not always next to each other when we walking around or on the bus. But he didn’t seem to care and often put his arm around me or held my hand. One day we were waiting for a bus and he bought me a flower from a guy on the street. He told me it was because he felt sorry for the guy but I thought it was a sweet gesture.

On the fourth day – Phillip’s last day in Paraty before he left for Ilha Grande – we went to a beach, the name of which I can’t remember. He was supposed to meet us in the morning but when he failed to appear, I told the others to go first and I would go to his hostel. I woke him and we got the later bus.

We had to trek for an hour to reach the beach. At one point we stopped because he wanted to have sex. Because he loved hiking and being amongst nature, I think he probably got off on the idea of having sex in a forest. But I said no as even if I had wanted to, there wasn’t anywhere flat where we could have lay down.

Later that night we spoke to a Dutch couple who had also planned on going to Ilha Grande the next day. They said that all the hostels were booked out and it seemed that the three of them would have to stay in Paraty an extra day.

We drank and played cards on the patio, which was all we seemed to do every night. I asked Phillip if he wanted to go somewhere private and told him there was a private room upstairs that was being used for storage. But he said he was tired and going to bed. I was disappointed; the last time we had had sex was in my dorm two days before but really, all I wanted to have some time alone with him before he left.

We hadn’t discussed what we were going to do but the next morning the French couple and the other two girls decided they wanted to return to the beach we had visited the day before. Because Phillip had said he was staying an extra day, we walked to his hostel to tell him but when we found him, he told us that he had found a hostel and was leaving for Ilha Grande in an hour.

I had a feeling that he would go but I was still hurt that he had obviously been sitting there smoking nonchalantly for some time when he could have gone to our hostel to tell us sooner. When we said goodbye, he was sweet but he didn’t seem particularly sad. I told him to have a good time studying in Mexico before turning away to catch up with the others.

I was trying hard not to cry as we walked to the bus terminal and got the bus. I was embarrassed that I had gotten so attached to him in four days and that my feelings for him were obviously a lot stronger than his feelings for me. It was only when we started the long uphill trek to the beach that I began to feel a little better.

After a couple hours I left with the Swiss girl and we walked around the town. She’d had enough of the beach as well but I think she felt sorry for me and wanted to keep me company. Strangely enough, most of the town was still unfamiliar to me. It was small in size but we had gone on day trips every day since I arrived. In spite of my low spirits, I liked the Old Town – it had an understated charm I could appreciate.

The next day I left for Sao Paulo. It is a large city with a population of 22 million, more or less the population of Australia. It was raining for most of the time I was there but I did not have much interest in exploring. I still felt sad. It was a combination of how I felt about Phillip and being on the verge of going home. I wasn’t too upset about going home – in fact I was sort of looking forward to it – but it was strange that I was going so soon.

In the morning I packed up and got ready to leave. I walked around for a while and had lunch. Then I got a taxi to the airport where I boarded a plane to Johannesburg. And that brought an end to my five months in South America.

When Every Day Is The Weekend

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I had one final day in Rio. It would have been quicker to go straight to Paraty but my things were still in the locker and although there was nothing I particularly wanted to do, I wanted one last day there. The English guy was still at the hostel and we talked about going out that night. I told him I was thinking of getting some cocaine and we walked to the steps where he had gone to buy marijuana in the past.

Although the steps were in a poor neighbourhood, they were pretty cool and a tourist attraction in their own right. As we soon discovered, it was one of the stops the tourist buses make when they take people on city tours. When we got there, there were lots of middle aged tourists walking up and down the steps and taking photos. Then a police car pulled up. We couldn’t work out whether they were monitoring the area because of the drug dealers or to look out for the tourists or both. After a while, we got bored of waiting for the tourists and police to clear off and left.

Because it was a Saturday, there were a lot of Brazilians staying at the hostel and most of them were planning on going out. Close to midnight, the English guy went to bed to take a nap before we went out with them and I decided to do the same. I figured someone would wake us up but we both slept through the night and awoke the next morning.

After breakfast, I packed up my things, said goodbye and left. It was only a four hour bus ride to Paraty and when I arrived at the hostel, I met a French Canadian girl who I hung out with in Salvador. She introduced me to a French couple and a French Canadian guy she was with; they had all met each other a few weeks ago and arranged to meet again here. Even though they seemed to be the only other people at the hostel, I was a little hesitant about hanging out with them as the French couple didn’t speak much English and I didn’t want the group to feel awkward about speaking in French in front of me.

But I sat outside with them anyway and talked to the French Canadian guy. As soon as we started talking, I was fairly certain that he liked me and was trying to impress me. Among other things, he told me he didn’t own a TV and that his first overseas trip was to Central America when he was eighteen. He asked me a lot of questions about myself, including how old I was. I was attracted to him so after a few drinks, I made up my mind that I was going to sleep with him that night.

After playing cards with us for an hour, Phillip said he was going to return to his hostel to go to bed. I hadn’t realised that he wasn’t staying at ours and blurted out that I needed to go to the convenience store so that I could walk out with him. Once we were walking down the street, he asked me what I had to buy. I hadn’t thought as far as that and quickly made up a lie about needing ear plugs. I also realised then that I couldn’t remember where the convenience store was and hoped I wasn’t going in the wrong direction.

I found myself asking him where he was staying and what sort of room he was in. At first it seemed that he didn’t get the hint but after a moment, he told me I was walking too fast. I laughed and said maybe he was too slow. Then it all happened very quickly; he put his arm around me and we kissed. I followed him back to his hostel where we got a private room.

I think it would have been better if there had been more time for it to develop naturally – if we had stayed up at the other hostel to talk after the others had gone to bed. I think he felt the same way because as soon as we got to his hostel, he suggested that we sit outside and talk first. But because we both knew what was going to happen next, it was sort of weird. Because we were the only people sitting out there, the bartender said he would put on something romantic and played us a strange DVD of a Brazilian singer who sort of reminded me of Cher.

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about him the next day. He seemed very relaxed at breakfast, too relaxed, and for some reason, he talked about winter in Quebec and things he did as a kid. It wasn’t exactly awkward but it didn’t feel natural either. He wanted to go to Trinidade, a nearby town, and when we went back to my hostel, I was glad that the French Canadian girl wanted to come as well.

We got the bus to Trinidade and walked along a trail which led to a natural pool. The pool was beautiful, with pockets where small bright fish swam. Although I’d expected him to become aloof, Phillip was affectionate with me and I felt comfortable in his company.

That evening, we returned to the hostel and had dinner on the patio with the French couple. Although we hadn’t discussed it, I assumed Phillip had given up our private room and we would go back to our respective dorms. I was tired so after a few hours of sitting around, I said goodnight to everyone and went to bed

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Depth Takes A Holiday

I left Rio once more, this time for Ilha Grande. Another woman at the hostel, Brenda, was also going and we went together. I was really pleased about this. I liked her but more importantly, I was planning on meeting Claire, who I had met in Ouro Preto, and I figured they could talk to each other. They were both from London and I thought they would probably get on. From the moment Claire had suggested going to Ilha Grande together, I had dreaded spending even more time listening to her complaints. Although she was very sweet, Brenda talked a lot as well and I figured that if the two of them had each other to talk to, it wouldn’t matter if I tuned out.

After meeting Claire at the bus station, we got the bus to Angra dos Reis and the connecting ferry. By chance, Brenda and I had booked into the same hostel but I hadn’t booked for that night. When we arrived, we asked if there were beds for Claire and me but they were booked out.

We went down the street and found a really nice private room in a guesthouse for nearly the same price. After staying in dorms for so long, it was a luxury to have our own room. A part of me was tempted to keep that room for the rest of my time on the island but I knew I would need the company of other people if I was going to be with Claire for that long.

The next morning, we checked into the hostel. There was a guy and a girl, also from London, who hung out with us. I found the guy incredibly annoying and he was the only person in the group who I truly disliked. One night we went to the bottle shop and when he went to pay, the total price came to more than he expected and he couldn’t understand what the woman was saying to him.

I told him she was probably asking him to leave a deposit for the bottles, which would be refunded if he returned them. He didn’t exactly lose his temper but he started making snide comments to her in English about how he just wanted to get his beer and leave. The woman seemed unfazed as she called a local from off the street to translate for her but still I felt sorry for her. His sense of entitlement made me cringe; he didn’t seem remotely embarrassed or apologetic about not understanding the local language and customs.

However, for the most part, the people from London were not too annoying and I really liked Ilha Grande. It was really beautiful. There were no cars on the island and it wasn’t overly developed. The day I enjoyed most was the last one at the beach. The beach was not exactly secluded but we only discovered it on the third day when we went on a trek. There were not too many people there and the water was calm and peaceful.

I considered staying an extra day but it rained heavily that night. So far we had been very fortunate with the weather but it seemed like it was going to rain for the next few days. I decided to leave. The next morning, I got the ferry and bus back to Rio.

Brazilian Easter/Boat Party

The bus pulled into Ouro Preto at 5 the following morning. At first I thought that we had stopped somewhere else on the way to let some people off but I looked out the window and read the sign. It was annoying that overnight buses in Brazil were often scheduled so they arrived at awkward times.

It was only a short walk to the hostel but I was too groggy to navigate my way there and in the dark I would probably get lost. I suspected that at this hour there probably wasn’t anyone working at the hostel to let me in and that I should probably wait in the bus terminal but when a taxi driver approached me, I agreed to get in. As soon as I arrived, I knew that I had made a mistake; it was only a small hostel, not the sort that had 24 hour reception. I knocked for a while anyway and then sat on the front step, wrapped in a blanket.

The hostel faced out onto the main square and I could just make out some people loitering on the other side. Because Ouro Preto is a quiet small town, I wasn’t worried about safety but it was really cold. I continued to sit there, getting up to knock on the door every twenty minutes or so. It was better when the sun came up an hour later; I could actually enjoy the view and it wasn’t so cold. Finally at seven a guy leaving to get a bus opened the door and my wait was over.

I had wanted to spend Easter in Ouro Preto because I knew that the town had a large Semana Santa festival. However, there wasn’t any English information online and even finding information in Portuguese was difficult so I didn’t know what was happening. There were ceremonies over the next few nights, which I attended, but essentially they were open air masses that went on for hours. The most important day of the festival was Easter Sunday; this was when the cobblestone streets were decorated and a procession took place.

I woke at six on the morning of Easter Sunday and went out into the street to look at the decorations before they were trampled on. I found out that the other girls at the hostel had stayed up to help the locals; at the time I had been dubious how much we could help when we couldn’t understand Portuguese and had gone to bed early, but they told me that they had spent an hour making a dove. I was surprised at how elaborate the decorations were; they had mostly been made with a material similar to tissue paper. The streets were bright with Jesus faces, crosses and abstract shapes and swirls.

We followed the streets to the church where a service was being held. We stood outside until the procession began. Hundreds of people dressed up as Romans and angels passed us, then a marching band. After a while we walked in the throng of people that was walking alongside the procession. When the marching band wasn’t playing, the atmosphere was surprisingly sombre. We passed about four other churches on the way to the main square and the streets echoed with the ringing of church bells. It was an interesting morning and I was glad that I had made the festival.

I returned to Rio the next day. I had planned on staying in the bus terminal for an hour before I got the bus to my hostel, but for some reason, the bus got in at six and there was no need to wait around. To my surprise, there were a lot of English speaking people at the hostel when I got in. Later that night, they asked me if I wanted to go to a boat party with them as they had a spare ticket. I hadn’t gone out in Brazil yet, aside from a street party I had gone to the last time I was in Rio. I was only there for half an hour as it wasn’t so much a street party as it was people aimlessly milling around.

The boat party had unlimited free drinks for girls in the first hour so I went with them. It was only when we were on the boat that I found out that it would be on the water until four and we would have no choice but to stay on for that long. But I had an alright time and the time passed surprisingly fast. I remember checking my watch at two; then before I knew it, it was four and we were back on dry land.

Much Ado about Rio

After spending a week in Salvador, I travelled down to Itacare and onwards to Porto Seguro, where I got a flight to Rio. I didn’t like Rio as much as I thought I would and much preferred Salvador. Salvador was closer to the images conjured by my mind when I thought of Brazil; it was vibrant and colourful, the people relaxed and you could often hear African drumming in the streets.

By contrast, Rio is a drab grey city with bad traffic. I went to the beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema and was underwhelmed; the waves were too rough for swimming and aesthetically, the beaches were average. I couldn’t really understand why Rio is considered to be such an iconic city; presumably it owes much of its reputation to Carnaval.

Nonetheless, I spent a week in Rio and enjoyed my time there. I was staying in Lapa, the nightlife district. Rife with transsexual prostitutes and homeless people, it was a pretty dodgy area.

As with Salvador, there was a surprising number of homeless children in Rio. Occasionally I saw children no older than ten sleeping alone in the street. One night I walked out of the hostel and into a group of rapping street children. They stopped for a moment to heckle me before launching back into their rapping. Even though they seemed hardened, they were still sort of cute.

Most people at the hostel did not stay for long; they were mostly Brazilians staying in Rio for the weekend and the foreigners usually ended up moving to hostels closer to the beaches. But I liked the hostel and didn’t mind that there weren’t many people. There was an English guy who was staying there indefinitely and a Portuguese guy who was there until the end of the week. We passed the nights by drinking beer in our dorm and standing on the balcony where we could watch the people in the street below.

The guys who owned the hostel let me keep a locker there so at the end of the week, I left behind most of my things and went to Ouro Preto. By this point I had over 15 kilos of stuff; I had decided to keep the hammock and was holding onto already read books in the vain hope that I would be able to exchange them somewhere, so it was good to travel light for a change.

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.