Saturday, 19 January 2008

Around Brazil – Gurupá

The Amazon River is full of small towns clinging to the banks, sometimes half submerged. The river boats stop at every one to load supplies and passengers and to deposit passengers with collections of cameras and wallets. There is around half an hour to hunt down more booze and ice and have a little look around. In only one of these towns did I spend more than half an hour and it was highly memorable for all concerned.

Our boat had broken down at various points, the latest one appearing to be almost terminal. A tiny boat towed us for some way and then gave up. We spend all of Blondie´s birthday marooned at the edge of the Amazon, swimming amongst the floating islands (only after the crazy chef had done it first) and drinking from before dawn almost through to the next one. What else was there to do?

A unique way to spend a birthday was enhanced at the finish by a boat full of buffalo arriving out of the darkness to tow us to the nearest town. The next morning found us hungover and struggling to climb out of our hammocks or whosever hammock we´d fallen into. We were moored at a pier. Some of our group had already hit the town, the rest followed higgledy-piggledy in the early afternoon. It could well be that the town won´t forget our day either. By the time we met up again outside the bar by the pier, everybody was drunk again, all having different stories. Some played a game with the local kids that involved putting a bike tyre around the ankles and pulling it. A tiny Amazonian kid could pull a hairy gringo off his feet. Others visited pools or played pool with the locals, making friends all around.

We explored the town until we realized there was nothing to explore. The jungle was behind. We couldn´t go any further. A hot equatorial sun was burning down. We saw a pool table in a backstreet bar on the last street in town. The shade made sense, the beer made sense, the pool didn’t. After a game or two a crowd of local kids had gathered. We invited them to play, not knowing that was illegal, and they baffled us with the rules which seemed to change with every game. After finishing our sport for the day, we chatted to the two sisters who owned the bar. They told us so much about their way of life and how hunting the jungle animals was illegal, but everybody did it anyway because they were poor and needed food. Despite the obvious poverty, they showed us their Açai processing machine (like a meat-grinder), and one of their sons shinned a huge palm to bring us down a branch with the small green nuts attached. They gave Blondie some earrings hand-made with Açai seeds and generally treated us like visiting relatives, including inviting us back for the Reveillon party in the town. Their hospitality was warmer than the overhead sun and is one of the main reasons that I´m glad our boat broke down.

Back at the pier, things started to get messy towards sunset. The drinking turned to singing and chanting and roaring and dribbling, none more so than the crazy chef who was in the bar halfway down the pier, making more noise and having drunk more than the rest of us put together. He was already a legendary figure in my eyes, but not for his cooking skills. It looked like we could forget dinner that night. I won´t forget Gurupá though, and one day I´d like to go back to see if our friends remember us. Then, as well as a unique birthday, we could experience a unique New Year on the Amazon.

No comments: