Evening of Swing

HAVE been forced to acquire or relearn a range of skills during my overlanding adventures.

My cooking skills were put to the test in Africa and on the less frequent cook groups around South America, while camping – once avoided at all costs – has become second nature. Even something worth savouring.

My linguistic skills, never fluent despite a French A-Level pass which is being dragged out with differing results in French Guiana, have been put to the test in a range of languages. Normally mangled.

Must stop replying to people in the language from the previous country.

To that list of talents you can add one more – sleeping in a hammock.

Albeit with plenty of work to be done to reach anything approaching expert level

My previous approach of keeping well away was never going to work with hammocks forming our main source of accommodation on two different Amazon boat trips – one of 24 hours and another, still to come, over at least five nights.

Having taken my first tentative steps into hammock lounging during various opportunities to laze around campsites, the first real exam came on the overnight ferry from Belem to Macapa as our journey north out of Brazil towards the Guianas crossed its biggest hurdle.

The Amazon river delta.

There was no hiding place for the novice hammock user as the test was taken in the midst of a crowded deck with little room between the person on each side of you – some of whom may be even less adept at this new skill.

Home sweet home for the night. That’s my black and white hammock front left.

Lying in the hammock is not that hard – get comfortable and lie there. Been a master of that for many years.

It is the getting in and getting out which is the biggest problem, particularly given the lack of space on either side.

The first step is to decide on the height of your hammock – the higher it is, the flatter you will lie but with increased jeopardy climbing aboard or disembarking.

Greater height also comes with the added advantage that any stray elbows, feet or shoulders from anyone next to you have the opportunity to pass underneath. 

How a stray foot made it into my hammock at one point is far from clear.

Having jacked up the height of my hammock – originally slung by a ruthless advance party we managed to get in the priority boarding queue to secure a prime spot for us all – the question switches to how you climb on and off.

You have two choices, the more traditional sit on the middle of the hammock approach (not always easy to line up and avoid being perilously close to one side) and the more ungainly straddle technique – one leg either side and sit back or pull yourself up by the ropes.

Opted for a combination of the two, one to get in and the other to get out – mainly as getting my leg across after increasing the height was not an option, either for my health or those in range of a stray foot.

And so we whiled away 24 hours sleeping, listening to music, reading, drinking, playing cards, exploring the rest of the boat (which did not take long), watching the Amazon go by or just relaxing in our hammocks.

The on-board entertainment was blaring, awful music controlled by a bloke whose main contribution was playing everything at the wrong speed, ensuring Gloria Gaynor managed to sound like both Barry White and The Chipmunks. Think he thought he was mixing.

Most of us ventured into the boat’s restaurant, several of us later having to explore its other facilities more often than we would have liked.

Sleeping in a hammock needs a bit more work but it was a more comfortable evening than expected, especially in such tight confines and with many of the lights left on all night.

Not that it was the only unusual sleeping arrangement as we ended our lengthy stay in Brazil by eating up the miles heading north.

After our first day’s driving on leaving Lencois deposited us on the banks of the Rio Palmeiras for the night – which left its mark on Lisa after a slip down the truck steps – the next was interrupted by a walk to a waterfall and a swim in the bracing pool at its base with the added bonus of watching a group of monkeys feasting on fruit on the way back up the hill.

That night’s accommodation bordered on luxurious, an Air BnB in the small settlement of Taquarucu which came complete with dorms – although not enough, a few of us opting to stay under canvas on the lawn.

Told you camping had become the norm.

Alongside a pool and the standard facilities, it came with a sauna, which we could not get to work, and a kitchen which we certainly did – the cookery pupils from Salvador putting their lesson to the test and serving up moquecas.

That set us up nicely for a long, hot day on the truck until the search for a suitable bush camp.

Which is where the plan started to unravel.

Unable to reach the hoped-for spot or find something suitable nearby, we headed off on a detour to a place marked on an overlanding map.

The isolated Refugio do Raiz was a lovely spot, complete with refreshing showers, a kitchen, seating area and some shelter for those of us who grabbed a prime spot before the late-night downpour.

It was just getting there and away which proved problematic.

Turning down a wrong path in the dark needed a multiple-point turn to return to the main road which merely ground us into the sand, leading to a hot, sweaty session of digging and manoeuvring sand mats.

Refreshed by the facilities and a good night’s sleep, we started the next day in similar fashion, stuck and needing to turn in limited room – more digging, a touch of tree surgery and shifting a big pile of sand making way for the truck’s exit.

Which left the guy from the refuge scratching his head at what his unexpected visitors had done to his entrance.

There was no problem with room the next night as we pitched our tents – thankfully under cover again – in the vast empty area at the back of one of the truck stops which dot Brazil.

Surprisingly comfortable and handy, albeit limited in facilities shared with a lot of truck drivers. There was probably more scope to look after the trucks.

It was back on the road early as we headed off with a deadline to meet – arriving in Belem in time for Will and the truck to catch his slow vehicle ferry across the Amazon.

While they headed off to 36 hours afloat, we settled into our air-conditioned hotel and set about exploring the city, which mainly revolved around daily trips to a wonderful burger place in a mall and the banks of the world’s longest river as it nears the end of its journey.

It is practical rather than pretty although much of the waterfront has been turned into bars and restaurants while the old markets remain a fascinating place, although still not sure why anyone would want a bottle of spirits with a crab inside.

We jumped at the chance for beers priced around 20p at a club overlooking the river. Once we had paid a lot more to get in.

But our exploration of Belem was merely delaying the inevitable, our own ordeal by hammock.

Our destination of Macapa was hardly the most salubrious – think closed, run-down English seaside resort – but at least it came with a hotel bed.

And the final chance, for now, to sample a Brazilian caipirinha at the city’s birthday celebrations.

They always help with a good night’s sleep, hammock or no hammock.

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