I felt a long, deep sting of sadness, the day I arrived in Manaus. After many intense months on the river, the adventure had come to an end and it was time to say goodbye to the raft, goodbye to the adventure, goodbye to each other. All the freedom of the raft would be gone and it would be left as a memory. I learned to understand that the melancholic sadness about the raft was a good sign; it was good that I was sad to leave this adventure. It proved, vividly, how much the adventure had moved me.
It was time to celebrate the end of the adventure: The intrepid construction process, the many friends we had made, the long list of places we had visited, the excitement of all the hard times, the curious indigenous people, the storms, the damages, the nonstop proximity to nature, the access to untouched jungle, the serene river beaches. It had, in so many ways, been an unforgettable experience and it felt natural, almost required, to be sad when such an adventure comes to an end. Now, the feeling of accomplishment started to encroach on me: We had made it to Manaus after 3000+ km through 3 countries and the vast Amazonian Wilderness on our own homemade bamboo raft. Time to relax, enjoy Manaus and celebrate our experiences.
Like most other Amazonian settlements, big or small, Manaus was a strange place. It is located, more or less, in the center of the Amazon Rainforest, with jungle expanding for thousands of kilometers to each side. There, deep, deep inside the jungle, man had constructed a city with more than 2 mio inhabitants. I spent days walking around town, getting lost, photographing, eating street food and visiting museums. Walking around town, through great parks and dimly lit side streets. Jumping on local buses to be carried to the outer rim of town. Browsing the markets, tasting traditional soups. I was happy to be in Manaus and happy that I had invested the last 5 months of my life in the Amazon Raft adventure.
Manaus had thrived during the Rubber Boom: An economic wave that washed over large swaths of South America when the colonizers realized the many uses from the sap of a certain jungle tree. Money poured like rain, while slaves and indians worked the plantations. The huge tide of incoming funds had helped finance some extravagant buildings in Manaus. The most famous and splendid, and nowadays the landmark of Manaus, was the Teatro Amazonas: A huge neo-classical Opera house. Like a monument to human audacity, the fine art of Opera was brought to the middle of the untamed, rough, jungle wilderness of the Amazon. Detailed ornaments, puffed chairs, high balconies. It now hosts an International Opera Festival once a year.
The World Cup in Football is coming up, and it is on the lips of all the Brazilians around town. The conversations tend to be diverted equally between the sport and the political aspect: Who’s strong, who can win, can Brazil win? And then: Who is paying, Brazils economy is in ruins, FIFA is cheating us, inflation is double-digit, what happens with the empty stadium, why didn’t they built the infrastructure that they promised, World Cup is a disaster. I attempt to balance my views to not get roped into a, apparently long-lived, national discussion about the legitimacy of hosting the largest sport event on our Planet, while poverty is rampant. It did, however, make me cheer for Brazil to win it: They are playing at home and the country seems to need something to unite them. And strongly need something to “defend” their own role as hosts; a World Championship will likely make the people forget the billions of dollars and shady deals, at least for a while.
I meet a German Journalist who is there to frame a story on the “Broken Promises” of the Brazil 2014 World Cup. We go out for some beers one day and bump into some friendly local Brazilians. They suggest that we go to a big club in the outskirts of town. I am reluctant to go: It is Sunday, so I don’t foresee any real party happening. “Live Brazilian Music” they enthusiastically add and then “many people, and girls, dancing”. I am going. We enter a huge roofed complex with, literally, a thousand people. It looks more like a concert venue: 10 musicians are playing on a large stage in front of a gigantic crowd of dancing Brazilians. The high roof and the lack of walls keep the fresh, tropical breeze flowing into the huge, happy Brazilian dance party. The live band plays Brazilian dance-music on brass instruments; we order beers, attempt to talk to the locals and dance the night away with the flirty Brazilian women. It’s all right on a Sunday night in Manaus.
The last day, I walk around Manaus and pass our raft. It is dismantled and the bamboo is laying on the quay, like a dead relic of a great adventure. It had done its duty and carried us to great experiences. I didn’t photograph these sad “leftovers”, in my mind the raft is still a brave, floating bamboo vessel.
We all parted from Manaus. Peycho was out of money and headed back to Bulgaria, scheming on work while brewing on some further adventure ideas: Mongolia on a horse? Misha bought the remains of the raft: the engine, the solar panel, our small boat, and headed back to Peru, where he intends to run some tourist activities.
I caught a plane to Colombia and quickly found myself at the quiet Caribbean coast. I will be spending 1-2 months here, writing a book about this Amazon raft-adventure, while the memories are fresh. To explain the experience, first and foremost, to myself and, hopefully, I will build the courage to actually publish the book. I will then return to my bicycle and finish what I set out to do, more than 3 years ago: To cycle around the world.
Do me a favor: Next time you are having drinks with your friends, raise you glass and bring a cheers to possibilities, positivity and persistence. Those three concepts, combined, is an extremely potent cocktail.
And go on, live your life! You might only have one.