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The Kindness of Strangers

Busses zoom past us, jockeying through traffic congestion…about 25 busses per minute. Mare and I swelter in the Amazon sun which vaporizes the recent downpour.

The Bus Stop

We tote backpacks and each hold a “carry-on.” We’re looking for bus #307, to take us to the terminal, where we will catch a 12-hour bus from Manaus to Boa Vista, an Amazonas city in Brazil. From there, we plan to catch a 4-hour bus to Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela, to begin our trek to Mt. Roraima.

 We understand not a word of Portuguese. The sweat from our backpacks pulls our pants down. Finally, we board overcrowded bus #307. Stumbling through the turnstile, we crash into fellow passengers with our packs too many times. We hold on for dear life, as the driver guns the bus, and then slams the brakes two feet later in this impossible traffic. It’s rush hour in the Amazon, in Manaus, this city of 2 million people.

Sweat pours from my elbow onto the knee of the unfortunate fellow sitting under me. Mare and I laugh at each other, heads dripping as if we’re in a Bikram Yoga session. Darkness descends and we have no clue where to disembark. A young couple lucky enough to find a seat senses our discomfort, and gestures for us to place our backpacks between their legs. Ever try to take off a backpack from inside of a crock pot? It’s dangerous. What a relief to shed 50 pounds. Now we can feel the other moist bodies squeeze against ours.

The Opera House in Manaus

The Opera House in Manaus


I remember about three days ago, when we fly first class for the first time ever, (a free benefit of travel miles) reclining in the lounge with a blanket, the flight attendant serving us wine, cheese and fruit, as we relax in this fancy restaurant wearing booties on our feet. The pilot maneuvers through a river of clouds, about 25 feet from the ground, when he suddenly hits the throttle and jets straight back into the sky. I know that something is terribly wrong, but don’t care. I finally fly first class, and my life is complete… The pilot circles until the weather clears.

Making Friends

Making Friends

 In Manaus, before visiting the opera house, we walk to Rio Negro, where we sit with an elderly man, who nibbles on quail eggs. We communicate with beers and smiles. Another man sits across from us, wearing a bandana and singing a slow song. Rain pours like Niagara Falls, banging on tin roofs sounding like a monster train approaching. The locals do not appear to get wet, and if we didn’t know better, we’d thing that they somehow dodge the raindrops.

Inside the Opera House

Inside the Opera House

 We tour the opera house, “Teatro Amazonas,” with a group of British cruise ship travelers. One of them expresses envy of our independent style of travel. Opened in 1896, artists from Italy, France, and other parts of Europe worked with locals to create a semblance of civilization in the heart of the Amazon. We wear slippers over our shoes to slide across the hand carved multi-wooded floors, adorned by canvas paintings depicting the Amazon muses.

The Floating Dock on the Rio Negro

The Floating Dock on the Rio Negro

 A jolt brings me back onto the bus…where we sweat embarrassingly excessive. A stranger gestures to Mare and says in broken English, “Come stand here.” His friend moves from a strategic position, near an open window. “I’m sorry for bad English,” Neto says.

“Your English is beautiful,” Mare responds. “Thank you so much.”

“Nobody here speaks English, so I was afraid to try with you.”

 We learn that Neto tried to help one other English speaker recently, and cherishes the chance to practice the language. He comes to Manaus from the city of Fortaleza, for his job. He communicates to us about where to disembark, and tells the driver to remind us. He also explains that we need to walk overtop a bridge to get to our terminal. Neto saves us. The hardest part yet is moving through crammed bodies on the bus to the exit doors, toting packs.

 The overnight bus to Boa Vista is sold out. After much confusion, we purchase tickets for the following night, from an annoyed clerk. We get a taste of how the many immigrants or visitors must feel in our home country. At least we can afford an air conditioned taxi back to our hotel in the historical section of Manaus, within view of the Teatro Amazonas. We hop into the shower, where water drips from the 220-volt wires that heat it, soothing us like a first class cabin.

Universal Language

Universal Language

 The folks on the bus share their human spirit with us. Neto verbalizes that spirit, and I write about it. The next phase is to pass it along, and Mare’s first gesture is to help a table of Asian men, who sit next to us, order beer.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Pat #

    Fabulous to hear your blog voice, Ron, and to know you’re safe (albeit sweaty) in Brazil. Hugs.

    February 11, 2011
    • Thanks Pat, good to read your voice too. Yes, from Brazil, we have a few hours today before trying again.

      February 11, 2011
  2. Toni #

    Great entry Ron! I feel like I am right there in the moment. Keep up the good work, and have some more of those great life experiences for all of us.

    February 11, 2011
  3. Carole #

    What a great adventure so far. The Manaus Opera House was recently redone and opened a couple of years ago. I think it is the one our friend Gary Gantner talked about when he worked in S.A. Sure is gorgeous. I think I’d like to be there except for all the sweating.

    February 11, 2011
    • Thanks for all the comments guys! We finally have some time to work on a couple of updates today. It is so awesome to communicate this way…the wonders of electronics that I will probably never understand. You all have no idea how much you inspire us.

      February 21, 2011
  4. Jason #

    Reminds me of some of our bus travel stories in the Dominican, very uncomfortable at the same time but much more memorable than any of the kajillion flights we’ve been on. Sounds like another amazing adventure, looking forward to keeping up with you on this trip.

    February 11, 2011
  5. Matt #

    Let the journeying begin!

    February 11, 2011
  6. Ma & Pa #

    Keep up the terrific writing Ron, it is good to hear from you and know that you are safe .. and in spite of all the sweat, etc. you’re still havin’ fun.

    February 11, 2011
  7. Totally enjoyed reading about your adventure(s)… but…do I wish I was there with you??? Well……
    Stay safe, my friends…

    Keep up the interesting and facinating writings..
    I am in so envious..


    February 11, 2011
  8. Carole #

    Ron and mar, great start and thanks for sharing the things we remember, the delay because of a booked bus is so classic. Mike

    February 12, 2011
  9. Dom #

    Ron looked as if he was having a good time.

    February 28, 2011

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