August 2015 – Boat trip on the ‘Liberty Star’ from Belem to Santarem
Last year I took my husband, Ken, on his very first boat trip on the Amazon. Many years ago I traveled with two close friends from Santarem to Manaus, this time started our trip from Belem and traveled to Santarem, three days on a regular boat. After a few days exploring Santarem, we went by plane to Manaus and returned to Belem by plane, in time to celebrate our birthdays at the end of August. For Ken, this was a special birthday, he turned 70 on the 30th August.
This trip was interesting from the start. When we arrived to board the boat in Belem, we found it full of heavily armed police, and were shocked to discover they would be traveling with us all the way to a town called Almerin, just before Santarem. They were escorting a gang of criminals, which happened to be housed in a room only a few meters from ours. On top of it, the boat was in great disrepair, and kept breaking down. We had only a few hours to get to Santarem when all engines stopped, and due to the strong currents on the river we could literally see the boat being carried back in opposite direction from Santarem, towards Belem. With the engines gone, so did the electricity and the water (they use a an electrical pump to supply water to the showers, toilets, sinks, etc). Ken and I were at the prow of the boat when this happened, and we knew they had sucked mud and sand up the engine when they tried to travel too close to the margin to avoid the strong current.
Talking to some of the locals on the boat, I learned that there would be a fast launch traveling from Almerin (which we had left the night before) to Santarem that morning. If the captain of our boat radioed the company that run the speed boat service, they would likely be able to come and pick us up. So I went to talk to our boat captain, who confirmed that the speed boat was on its way to Santarem and would be passing near us shortly. He radioed the boat and they said they had space for us and would come and rescue us. On learning of what I had arranged, four other fellow travelers decided to leave the broken down boat and come along with us. Three of these travelers were an Argentinian family from Patagonia, mother and daughter and a friend of the mother. The other, was a local man, a vet, from Monte Alegre, who had had his mobile phone stolen the night before from right under his nose, and he didn’t want to spend any more time on the boat.
We were rescued and managed to arrive in Santarem that afternoon, several hours after we should have arrived on the Liberty Star. However, we later learned from some German tourist that stayed on the boat, that they nearly capsized that night when a horrendous storm hit and and the crew was drank and didn’t provide any assistance to the passengers. We felt really lucky that have been able to leave when we did!
After the troubled boat trip, everything run very smoothly. Santarem was so beautiful and peaceful. The Amazon had flooded very badly during the raining season early in the year and the waters still had not receded to its normal level for that time of the year (August is summer in the Amazon region). However, the full river was much more interesting and beautiful, so much bird life and fish, and we were able to travel by canoe to places that would not have been possible if the river was lower. It was memorable, and Manaus much the same.
In Manaus we stayed at a floating hotel in a small inlet of the Rio Negro (The Black River). When we got there, they had placed us in the wrong room, not the superior one we had paid for, so to make up for their mistake they upgraded us to their top of the top suite, with 360 degree views of the river and surrounds. We even had our own private deck with a generous size spa and outdoor showers. The sunrise was right in front of our room, and I woke up early every day to watch it. All the birds at that time make a deafening noise, and the colours…
There were not that many people staying in this very big and comfortable hotel, so we were literally spoiled. They took us piranha fishing, dolphin watching, sunsets cruises, walks in the forest. We had to pay for some of these outings, of course, but we were well looked after. On the last day in the hotel we were literally the only guests left, so they asked us what we wanted to eat, and prepared our favorite dishes specially.