One day takes the other and time have long ago stopped existing. There is sunrise and sunset and in-between there are changes in the weather: Sun, wind, rain, clouds, more rain. The Amazon River has swelled to an impressive size and we often float for multiple hours without getting close to the shore. It actually get’s quiet monotonous but I know from experience that it is part of a sailing trip: The monotony of time and the isolation of a ship in the ocean. Except, we are not in the Ocean, but on the largest river on Earth. It leaves you time to think. About life, about time, about prioritizes, happiness, joy, everything and nothing. Read books. Cook. Write. Sleep.
Ship traffic has slow but steadily increased and huge barges are drifting upstream with a patient speed. Beautiful passenger and cargo ships made from wood are striding fast and elegant through the waters. When we drift closer to the shore, we hear the loud concert of insect sounds. And during the day we can hear echo of the screaming howler-monkeys, the loudest land animal on the planet. The nights are spent anchored to the river-shore among aggressive swarms of mosquitos and hundreds of singing frogs.
Since we lost our roof in a storm, we are very much subject to the rain. It is annoying, honestly, as everything gets soaked when the rain appears. Sometimes the rain stays for days. But there is also something wonderful about the roofless raft. We are left at the mercy of nature and can not hide from the wet sky. Life becomes more immediate and it leaves you humble.
We are approaching the largest town for a 1000km: Tefé. Like many other towns along the Amazon River, it was founded by missionaries to convert the indigenous tribes of the Amazon Basin. 60.000 people are living here and we want to stop to resupply with some food. And to do something else, to look around town and get a dose of civilization: Nice food, interesting markets, cold beer, painfully slow internet and some interaction with the local people.
We arrive in the late afternoon and land our raft at a little sandy beach close to the center of town. The locals are staring at the phenomena of a roofless, damaged raft and three foreigners, unshaved and dirty. Behind us is a huge old building, that appears like a cross-over between a cathedral and a haunted house from a horror movie. It looks abandoned except for a yellow light spilling out of one of the windowless windows that punctures the rough, dilapidated brick-walls. I jump unto land and are anchored the raft as I sense a man approaching me. I look up and a man with a funny hat and a big smile is looking at me. I return the smile and extend my hand for a handshake. He takes my hand and pulls me into a large, affectionate bear-hug.
“Welcome to Tefe!” he says and explains that he is the caretaker of the “ghost-house”. Perfect, because I would really like to visit it. “What is it?” I inquire. “It is a priest-school” he says and continues: “We also run an orphanage for homeless kids, a rehab-clinic for drug-addicts and an asylum where elderly poor people can enjoy their last days”. “And that block there houses a theological and philosophical study-unit with classrooms and library” he concludes. His name is Jaoquin and he informs us that Tefé is a safe place and that he is happy we are visiting. “So am I” I genuinely reply.
I arrange to visit his religious and social “ghost palace” and two days later he shows me around the entire facility. I do not subscribe to any established religious beliefs, but carry a great respect for them all, as long as they refrain from absolutism and intolerance. I loved the social tasks that this establishment had taken on: helping kids, drug-addicts and elderly people. “You can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their weakest” someone once said.
The next morning we wake up and realize that the beach that we are parked at, is where all the local boats are parked during the day. Hundreds of eyes are staring at us and we need to move to another spot to gain a little bit of privacy. Within long, the local kids have located our new position and swarm the raft to fish and play with us. A local man sails up to the raft and discreetly opens a box for Misha to see the content. It is full of guns and the local man raises an eyebrow to see if we should have an interest in buying some of his hardware. Fast but politely we refuse and he sails off. Hmmmm.
I drift around the fish markets of Tefe, eat at the chaos of the food-markets and patiently try to use the internet that is almost as slow as it is expensive. Spend a day at a plastic-table-bar at the river-side drinking cold beer with Peycho, sorting out the world situation and laughing with the locals.
After 3 days we drift out of Tefe and very slowly through the quiet backwaters that takes us back into the Amazon River again. We are 600km from Manaus, the largest city of the Amazon Basin with more than 2 mio. inhabitants. We are also drifting into some wild areas: there are hardly any signs of villages on the shore and when there is, they seem very poor and in decay. The river shore is teeming with birds and insects. Dolphins have never been so abundant.
The police doesn’t patrol these waters and piracy is rife. Our map is packed with warnings and we are a little cautious of where we sleep. Surrendering ourselves to the uncertainty of life, what else can we do?