Stories from the Amazon

  • Young child being helped onto boat
    A young child is helped onto the boat in Tabatinga Brazil as the boat is loaded to begin the five day trip down the Amazon River to Manaus.

    Jacobs Battles Food Poisoning, Dehydration While Trying to Continue Down River

    Early in the morning, I found myself planted on all fours in the yard of the hostel.

    Lucas, a traveling companion from Austria, watched with empathy as I battled a case of food poisoning from the previous evening’s dinner.

    At least I had a ticket in my pocket for the boat, thanks to Lucas. Two days earlier, he spent an entire night at the port waiting at the front of the line for when the tickets went on sale.

    Lucas had asked, “Can you bring my money for the ticket?” He didn’t want to spend the night at the port with a pocket full of cash.


    The next morning, I arrived early at the port with his money and mine. I also had our passports. A long line of Haitians had already formed behind Lucas. The boat had space for only 500 people. Our teamwork paid off and we were third in line for tickets.

    Two days later, my space on the boat was in question as I spent the early morning being sick.

    Dehydrated and determined not to miss the boat, I regrouped, threw on my backpack and set off to find Lucas.

    At the port, I was greeted by a mass of people who were all hoping to get on the boat for Manaus. A line system had snaked back and forth under the covered area of the port. For reasons unknown to me, I was directed to a place in the line not far from Lucas and Deja, a woman from Montenegro.

    I decided to cut across and join them.

    The woman standing behind them had a fit, until a woman from Peru in front of us explained I was there earlier in the morning but had to go back and get the rest of my belongings.

    I bought ice cream for the Peruvian woman and the children of the woman who had the fit. Things settled down as the wait to board stretched into hours.

    Finally after the arrival of the federal police to check everyone, passengers started to board.

    In 10 minutes, the whole line system collapsed, and I found myself in a sea of people all aiming for a two-foot wide gangplank to get on the ship. With my large pack on my back and my small pack on my chest, I was smashed between bodies all pushing and shoving forward.

    As the heat of the bodies pressed against me, it began to take its toll on my already dehydrated body. Sweat rolled down my cheeks and my shirt became soaked. I was concerned about passing out.

    This is when I had the realization of what it must be like to be leaving a ravaged country like Haiti. A sense of desperation and panic filled the air. A fear of being left behind could be seen in the eyes of the people.

    It took an hour to move five feet closer to the gangplank. In front of me, Lucas plowed the way like an offensive lineman. Between us was a tiny indigenous Indian couple completely smothered and overwhelmed by the aggressive Haitians.

    “You first,” I repeated over and over to the frightened couple as we inched closer to the gangplank.

    The system was painfully slow; the federal police checked every bag for every person who boarded the ship.

    A federal police officer at the end of the gangplank would point to the next person allowed to climb aboard. He pointed to Lucas, leaving me with the tiny couple. Next he pointed to the couple, but they missed his signal. So, he pointed to someone else. Another 20 minutes passed. I started to feel lightheaded, and I was still experiencing symptoms of dehydration.

    Catching the officer’s eyes, I pointed to the tiny couple in front of me. A minute later they were gone.

    “Keep breathing, Dean,” I repeated to myself. “Breathe in, breathe out.”

    Fifteen minutes later, the officer pointed to me and I scrambled up the gangplank, hoping I would not fall off because of my lack of balance.

    As I climbed, I turned to see the countless number of eyes watching me board.

    On the second level of the boat, I found Lucas. He had tied my hammock next to his. The five- day journey down the Amazon River to Manaus, Brazil had begun.

    Officials inspecting luggage
    Brazilian federal police check the bags of loading passengers on the boat bound for Manaus.

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.