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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie


 Travel Diary : Boat-hitchhiking on the river Amazone

 The idea
In Salvador de Bahia, I was chatting through internet with Karanbir, a fellow traveler from India that I met in Peru. After some minutes interacting about the last news, I finally asked him in which part of the world he was at the moment we had our conversation.
This one answered to me:
“I am in Salvador”
Surprised to hear this familiar place, I asked him again:
“Are you in the country El Salvador, in Central America?
-No!”, he answered before to add this: “I am in Salvador de Bahia, in Brazil”.
We kept on discussing like this, as I was saying:
“I am also in Salvador de Bahia!”
So he said: “I am in the neighborhood of Barra!”
I answered to this: “I am also in this area!”.
Then he kept on: “In a internet cafe, near the beach.
-And me too!”...
A little bit later, I felt someone on my back who was trying to attract my attention . It was Karanbir. He changed, he had now a moustache but no doubt it was him, I recognized easily his indian accent as he was still pronouncing the “W” in english as if they were german. We were sitting next to each other for an hour, everyone of us in front of our computer, and we didn´t even see each other!

Karanbir explained to me how he succeeded to hitchhike a boat on the rio Amazone, that it was possible if we were looking for it and still, with some luck, we never know.

Me, Agostina (my argentinian host in Salvador de Bahia), my friend Karanbir and Juan (also my host)

The research

Two weeks later, I was in Santarem. The best way to reach Manaus without flying from the south of Brazil is to do it by the river. This way, I went to the city of Santarem where I could start my research for hitchhiking a boat.

By experience, I know that looking for hitchhiking this kind of vehicle can take weeks. In Panama, I looked for 5 weeks for a boat that would help me to go to do the 150 kilometers to Colombia.

This time, I will have to travel 600 kilometers to get to the capital of the State of Amazone.

I am walking on the waterfront of this half brown-half blackish river. Indeed, the Rio Tapajos and the Amazone are meeting in front of Santarem. The different currents don´t have the same temperature neither the same speed. They are mixing each other after some kilometers side by side.

The meeting of the Rio Tapajos and the Amazone in Santarem

This early stroll allows me to have a first check to the city. Santarem is like every city in the Amazone: dusty, dirty and its inhabitants seems to wander like ghosts instead of going somewhere with conviction. However, the port seems more agitated. There are a lot of slow motorboats. You can succeed to go onboard only after having step on a little ladder installed on a middle of a heap of algas. Indeed, those motorboats seems more to have been pulled out of the water than to be moored on the pier.

The boat´s “parking lot” of Santarem

After a little research, I learned that those ones are only traveling locally. Thus, I am going further towards the entrance of the commercial port. This port is welcoming bigger boats like cargos and especially the long distances “ferrys”.

The commercial port is welcoming bigger boats, like here a cargo coming from Monrovia in Liberia.

I hear that two boats are going to Manaus today. The only problem is that I can´t get in the port because I don´t own a ticket. Nevertheless, if I want I can find them in the little woody huts in front of the entrance. Those are the travel agencies.
I am talking with a policeman who is supervising the entrance of the port. Through his black sunglasses, he is showing me where I can find his boss. After passing by another intermediary, I finally find his boss and his assistant. Laurel and Hardy. The assistant, too white to be from here, is interested by my story. Thanks to him, his hegemonic boss is offering to help me: he will indicate me who is the captain of one of the two boats when he will see him.
However, the entrance of the port is still closed to me. After waiting one hour, the boss and his assistant disappear without even informing me of it. They won´t come back.
So I go to see another time the first policeman with the dark sunglasses and this one is finally offering me to enter the port. That wasn´t so complicated in fact!
I arrive on the pier where the two boats are moored (for real this time).
I go to see the first one. The captain isn´t here, so I go to see the second one. I succeed to convince the young man iwho is registering the passengers, so he agrees to introduce me someone in charge of the ferry. I explain my story to the first mate and this one is introducing me to the captain. Here I am, I finally have the right person in front of me, the one I will have to convince.

First, he seems listening to me with an inattentive care but I know that this man in his late forties is somehow getting what I am saying. When I start to say that I would eventually write this part of the journey on my website, I see his eye looking more interested. So I said the magical word: “internet”. He has absolutely not interest having me peeling the carots. The web convinced him and I will have a free trip to Manaus.

Thinking looking for a boat for weeks, I have this time found a ferry in less than 3 hours! Finally it has been even easier to get a boat than hitchhiking a vehicle on the side of the road in this country!

After a quick hello in the travel agency to get the “courtesy ticket”, I got my bags and jump aboard the “San Marino”. I will indeed boat-hitchhike on the river Amazone!

The “courtesy ticket” in the travel agency of the San Marino


The journey
We are getting off the port, not without almost got hit by the other ferry leaving in the same moment for Manaus.

The departure from Santarem has been a little bit tricky

The San Marino is a three storeys ferry. There are very few cabins but a lot of passengers. Indeed, everyone is bringing his own hammock and suspends it where they can on the boat. I totally have not think about this little detail and I will be the only one passenger to sleep on floor.

The passengers are sleeping in their hammocks

The crossing from Santarem to Manaus lasts 45 hours. The calm flow of the Amazone, the slow vertical movement of the hammocks and the monotonous landscape help to make of this trip a relaxing cruise. A feeling of powerful mass is coming from this river. Imagine that the flow that the Amazone delivers to the ocean correspond to the cumulated flow of the next eight biggest rivers of the world. On his way, the Amazone is also collecting. Aboard the San Marino, the captain has no fear to go over those big pieces of tree. Our ferry also is very powerful!

Super captain on the Amazone

The Amazone is collecting all kind of vegetals and trunks

The monotony of the days are interrupted by the music coming from the bar and during the time of the meals. I take the opportunity to visit the kitchen. Indeed I like to know a little bit more about the life of the locals and this time about the staff aboard.

The cooks are enthusiastics about me being in the kitchen and willing to photograph them. They are showing me how to do the daily soup and some pastries that I will never see on the menu.

The cooks of the San Marino

I find some same cooks cleaning the boat the morning and barmen at night. One of them admited only sleeping 3 hours during the working days. I imagine that they can rest between two departures, but still.

The bar

Sometimes, our “three storeys ferry” stops in the middle of the river to allow some locals to sell their products. They can bring you some bananas or even the catch of the day.

The business on the river Amazone, “fishes” on sale

Between all those stops and activities aboard, I really enjoy to let myself driven on the adventurous part of the world. Every sunrise and every sunset are for me a blessing, as the orange of the sky is contrasting with is green of the amazonian tropical vegetation.

Here I am boat-hitchhiking on the Amazone

After two days spent on this mythical river, we arrived at our destination. Manaus, the rubber Empire, is opening to us its gates, as to invite the passengers to the discovery of a new world. I collect my two bags, take a last picture with the San Marino, this boat that allowed me to realize another one of my dreams: crossing a part of the river Amazone by boat.

The San Marino that I boat-hitchhiked

See you very soon in Venezuela,


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