This first tale is a Portion of "Hell
Hath No Hammock" by Mark Edwards
Reasons to be fed up:
1. Camera jammed following jungle jaunts. Is it taking pictures or not?
2. Cracked a rib; despite Marinilza's expert attention yesterday, searing pain if I try to move while breathing
3. This I can't avoid doing while clambering over rubber - straighten up, bounce, strike balding pate on
roof repeatedly. Redundant instruction book for camera placed inside hat for protection.
4. No tobacco - and no sympathy likely for this either. Large granny, only fellow pipe-smoker met so far,
has just enough for herself wound round curious bent sticks on which it is sold here. Damn. This is where the
stuff came from in the first place - wonder if there's any growing out there in the forest somewhere?
5. Heat, sweat, dirt, bites, hunger, headaches.
6. No hammock, left on Chico Mendes.'
The worst of these is the lack of a hammock. It's hard to describe how utterly lost one feels without a
hammock on the Amazon; nowhere to sleep, read, write or just rest and nowhere to 'belong'. What is more we don't
travel through the night. We stop off at a rubber tapper's house.
It is perched at the top of the bank, looking like an old garage on stilts, lit inside by oil lamps. There
is no furniture. We sit around on the cork-like floor, some 16 of us, silently eating another meal of rice and
warm tinned sardines. The smell and grunts of domestic animals (I hope) beneath us rise up through the floorboards.
Everyone repairs to their hammocks, slung like the cocoons of insects from the rafters, a testament to
the strength of the house. In the lamplight their bodies seem somehow stronger, smoother, more graceful as they
prepare for sleep. The children are rocked vigorously in their mini-hammocks and go to sleep immediately.
If, that is, they have a hammock. And I don't. Joćo, the strikingly good-looking father of the large family,
gives me his. But what will he do? He'll be all right. He'll sleep in his wife's hammock. But she, hugely pregnant,
doesn't want to sleep with him. She gets out and stomps around, complaining bitterly about the gringo who's stolen
her hammock. I swing in it feeling like a complete bastard, gazing up at the pelt of what looks horribly like
a freshly-killed jaguar hanging from the rafters. The daughter of the house, displaced from her room, tunes into
the local radio station which sends out messages and requests for Brazilian pop favourites across the jungles
Next day things get worse. We leave one of our two motors with a new boat that's being launched for Macedo,
and shortly after we've done so the other motor stops. The skipper (whose name I can't catch - he can't spell
it either) repairs to his hammock with the two sisters who both seem to be his girlfriends. He doesn't have a
chave, a spanner.
Now, a skipper with no chave on the Amazon
is like, well, a gringo with no hammock. We drift helplessly in the dancing current. Alarm spreads through the
boat. Joćo takes charge. I'm not sure quite what danger we might be in, but the chances of reaching Cruzeiro
in time to catch my plane seem as remote as we are. One passing boat ignores entirely our plaintive cries of
'Chave! Chave!' and I write in my diary that the Amazon is full of bastards like me.
Our next tale is from "The Hammock Life" by
I'm swinging back and forth - like a little
kid, like some sort of lazy fool, like, I want to say, a good traveler.
Underneath me is a hammock: I purchased it in Iquitos, Peru (for significantly less than what the person
in the hammock next to mine paid, I'll have you know). Underneath my hammock is a wooden deck, then a lower deck,
then the engine room. Underneath that is the Amazon River.
With me on these two decks are a few dozen other people, most swinging (or holding onto something so they
won't swing) in their own hammocks. There's a jungle of hammocks around here. We're traveling from Tabatinga,
Brazil, to Manaus, Brazil (or points in between). Or we're supposed to be traveling. For right now this aged
wooden boat, the Santo Antonio de Borba III, is not moving. In fact, it has been not moving with some regularity
First it was just a question of the engine dying. The crew would climb down to the engine room, poke around
for a while, and then restart it. After a while the engine would die again. But now a new step has been added
to this sequence: The boat's battery also dies.
First time this happened, we hailed another passenger boat and temporarily borrowed their battery. Next
time a motorboat spotted us and secured a battery from someone on shore to give us a charge. But this time, we've
been forced to send out our rowboat to look for help. So far no help and no sign of the rowboat.
So we're just drifting. And I'm just swinging. I'm not reading much: All I have with me are a couple of
densely written, academic books on globalization. I talk some, mostly with my gang of fellow travelers (Scottish,
German, French and Israeli). I look at the river some, unless it rains and they pull the tarps down. Three times
a day I take my turn at the long, wooden table at the stern (a little too close to the toilets) for satisfying,
if unvaried meals. Once I managed to bring up water in a bucket from the river and dump it over myself in one
of the 'bathrooms' - a kind of baptism we call a shower. But now I'm just lying in my hammock.
I figured out somewhere along the way, you see, that there's nothing I can do about this; I can have no
effect whatsoever on when or whether this boat starts moving again. And that's a relief. Usually, in my life
there's lots I can and should do about things: send an email, dial a number, pay some money, plan, plead, cajole;
even in Iquitos I managed to find the place that sells the cheapest hammock.
It helps that nobody else on this boat seems particularly agitated by our lack of forward progress. In
fact, an opportunity to take a lesson from the great numbers of people in the world who often manage to take
things as they come is one of the great benefits of travel for a fellow like me - a fellow who works on the island
of Manhattan. With my hammock to support me, I think I'm proving a pretty decent student.
We're gonna be late into Manaus. Too bad. They really should buy a new battery. Not my problem. No, I'm
just drifting with the drifters. I'm learning that the unplanned life is sometimes worth living. I'm keeping
an eye out for whatever exists beyond our plans. I'm just breezin' along with the breeze.
Look, I know I'm not that good a student; I know this ecstatic mood won't last. Tomorrow I'll manage to
worry about my schedule or the folks back home or the wholesomeness of this food. But for now I'm experiencing
one of the states I think we want to experience when we travel: a loss of control, an acceptance of fate, a sharp
reduction in concerns. It's similar in some ways, I suspect, to a religious state.
A storm comes. Then another motorboat shows up and finds us another temporary battery. Eventually we locate
our rowboat and start moving again, for a while at least. I'm lying here listening to the music of the boat's
engine and breathing the candied, heavily oxygenated Amazon air. Just swinging in my hammock.