When I left Óbidos it was with a fresh face (figuratively -- beard is now on second week) and a happy east tail wind to blow me across the narrows of the Amazon River in front of the city. Locally, the area is known as a garganta da Amazonas -- or, "the throat of the Amazon" since it is the mighty river's narrowest point -- with just over a kilometer of width during the dry season. The wind kept up until I had just about made it to the other side, and then slacked off and left me floating backwards with the current towards Santarém. Obviously this meant it was time to take the sail down and load the canoe for paddling -- that of course meant putting all my stuff in the back of the canoe so that when I sit in the front to paddle, waves do not sink me. Just as I was about to do so, the wind changed once again, this time coming from the southeast, albeit rather weakly -- but good enough, and so I skimmed along the south bank of the Amazon River for a few hours at perhaps two knots.
Around 1600 the wind weakened to a point where, despite the fact that I was travelling at perhaps five metres per second with the wind, I was actually stopped completely, since five metres per second happened to be roughly the speed of the current at the time. And so I docked on a protruding stick and decided to try and catch some fish for dinner. As I was preparing my gill net, a local appeared out of nowhere and made a short interrogation, which ended with him giving me a watermelon and wishing me luck. I cut a chunk out and munched on farinha as I waited for my net to fill with fish. The local's dog was overtly friendly and loved to swim, and was met with harsh words from his owner when he leapt joyfully into the river and got tangled up in my net. If nothing else, at least I would have a dogfish.
Upon bringing my net in, I discovered that I had caught three aracú, a pacú, and two small yellow-bellied piranhas. I promptly cleaned the fish, salted them, and put them away. The wind had picked up once more, and so I sailed for about fifteen more minutes before it died again. Rather than loading the boat for paddling and continuing on, I decided to call it a day and make camp for the evening, as it was half past five and I did have some pasta to cook. I was still on the watermelon benefactor's land, and since he was out fishing in his canoe too, I asked him if it was all right if I made camp in the nearby jungle. He assured me that it was no problem.
After removing my gear and pushing the canoe up onto the half sand, half mud beach, I brought my things into the jungle (about 30 metres from the river's edge) in four trips, not including a trip to fill my big pot with river water. The pasta cooked quickly as did the fish, and I had an early night and went to bed around 2000. I must note that my decision to buy an entire litre of gasoline in Óbidos turned out to be an excellent one, as fired in the jungle were now accomplished in a matter of seconds, as opposed to the up-to-an-hour that the infuriating search for dry tinder in tropical rainforest would often take.
The next morning dawned calm and absolutely windless, and so I loaded the boat for paddling and set off upriver in a good modd, after my morning coffee and more watermelon -- the latter which I ate until almost bursting, since I feared it would soon spoil in the heat.
After paddling for about an hour I came to one of the many riverside fishing communities in the area. As I was paddling by, a medium-sized boat and its occupants whom were repairing what seemed to be miles of gill netting by hand, signaled for me to come over. I did so and proceeded to enjoy a few hours of chatting and a lovely lunch and half-hour nap in the shape.
The wind, it seemed, was playing game with me that day -- while I was on the boat eating, it blew merrily from the east and everybody commented profusely on how excellent this was for me. However, as soon as I weighted the canoe for sailing, rigged the sail, and attempted to head upriver, it promptly died -- not even having the decency to ruffle my sail. And so, with the whole world watching me and probably thinking something like, "that guy'll never make it to Manaus," I paddled back to shore, emptied the water out of my boat (I have a small but persistent leak on the port side of my bow almost on the waterline that only really leaks when she is poorly weighted for paddling), weighted for paddling, and paddled off, chattering jovially with my boat friends as I passed about the useless wind.
Before I left, the net menders warned me of what they called praia grande - or "big beach" - and that as soon as I arrived to it that it was important that I passed on the outside and not the inside. I assured them that I would do so, and spent the next three or so hours trying to figure out what the bloody hell that meant. As evening came I passed an abandoned cement house along the side of the river that had two massive male iguanas guarding its doors and enormous baoba trees growing around it. I thought about camping here but decided that it would be better to try and make a few more miles before night set in. I stopped around six in a different fishing community and decided to camp for the night in the nearby jungle. As I was preparing my gill net for dinnertime, a local smelling strongly of cachaça came up and informed me that it was, ahem, proibido to fish here. I took a quick look around me at the four (that I could see) gill nets within my line of sight and asked why that was. He told me it was because I was desconhecido - a stranger, and basically that they didn't take kindly to strangers in those parts. And so I explained what I was up to and showed him my passport -- and at last he reluctantly agreed that I should be able to stay the night in the area, and that he supposed that it would be okay if I fished a little bit. I thanked Sr. Suspicious and set out my gill net and left it as I carried my gear to the jungle, set up camp, and gathered firewood.
When I went to retrieve it at just before sundown, I found that I had quite a lot of work ahead of me -- for in the roughly 45 minutes that my net sat in the river it had snagged no less than eighteen red-bellied piranhas, four pacú, three aracú, a yellow-bellied piranha, and a catfish as long as my forearm. Due to the sheer quantity of fish I had before me, I threw everything that I could remove from the net (without mortally wounding) back into the river. However, I still ended up with quite a bit more than I could eat: eight red-bellied piranhas, three aracú, and the catfish. Also, I still has a salted yellow-bellied piranha and a pacú leftover from the previous day's fishing. I sat on the beach cleaning fish well into darkness, and suffered the evening onslaught of mosquitoes with grudging acceptance.
That evening I made rice and fried up the catfish, one of the aracú, the previous day's salted yellow-bellied piranha and pacú, and one of the red belly's. The rest I salted and put away, thinking that at least I would not have to stop early for fishing the next two days or so.
...to be continued! Look out for Part Two next week.
Author is currently resting in Parintins, Brazil after 720 long, sweaty, wet kilometers through the most beautiful and vast tropical rainforest in the planet. Many more kilometers are in the immediate future. For more information go to www.HitchTheWorld.com.