Boarding the first ferry at the historical Brazilian port of BelĂ©m, on the south bank of the river mouthâ€”an unimaginable 320 km (200 miles) wideâ€”you quickly, and literally, â€śbagâ€ť your space, slinging up your hammock, making the knots secure, and storing your bags underneath.
All that is left is to master the jaguar-like lolling in your hammock until casting off on this trans-continental river journey. The river, known in Brazil as the Rio SolimĂµes, will do the rest. The passing stage show rolls like a green conveyor belt of lush exotic trees, plants and flowers, between which flitter parakeets, toucans and macaws. The pendulum-drop cacique nests hang like natureâ€™s woven jewels.
Occasionally, evidence of human life is signaled by dugout canoes drawn up at small clearings. Muddy paths lead to a few small wooden plank-built, stilt homes beside plots of banana and yucca plants. Children run amok, laughing and screeching as they jump into the muddy waters and play football. Churches stand out, meticulously maintained in white and sky-blue paintwork, almost in defiance of the encroaching fetid fauna.
After a day or two you soon become accustomed to the rhythms of river and boat life. The early morning alarm call of clacking kingfishers is closely followed by the shrill whistle for breakfast. Bread rolls and coffee are accompanied by the gently-rising sun behind, and passing local fishermen in their dugouts tending to their nets. The after-dinner entertainment is watching the magnificent burning sunsets or searching the boatâ€™s wake for friendly river dolphins who follow behind.
Larger crafts go by where passengers hold parasols aloft against the beating sun. Long narrow thatched-roofed boats, piled high with bunches of green bananas, chug between village quays. The occasional huge barge lumbers past on its mission to Manaus.
Arriving at the great Amazon city of Manaus is a shock after the tranquil pace of fluvial travel. Amongst this modern commercial centre is the opulent Opera House. Crown of the late nineteenth-century rubber boom, it is decorated with the most magnificent French materials and fashions of the day. Across the harbour one can see a distinct line where the dark waters of the great Rio Negro meet the brown Amazon.
Then itâ€™s all aboard again for the next 1100 km (670 miles) to the border at Tabatinga, where Brazil meets Colombia and Peru. After crossing to the Peruvian frontier town of Santa Rosa, you take the next boat for Iquitos. This old Portuguese-influenced city is a doorway to the true tropical rainforest and its abundant fauna and flora. The last sail takes the right fork up the RĂo MaraĂ±on until you arrive at the small bustling port of Yurimaguas.
From here it is but 24 hours overland to the ocean. A combination of moto taxi and Jeeps drive over the beautiful, mystical tropical cloud forest mountains to Tarapota and a bus journey takes you to the coastal desert plain city of Chiclayo. Finally, a mere half hour ride takes you to the historic coastal resort of Pimentel, and, dipping your toes into the cool Pacific waters, the journey is complete.