Mark Eveleigh: ‘1000 Miles Up the Amazon River’

Mark Eveleigh’s job takes him everywhere. The globe-trekking Englishman is a photojournalist, adventure traveler, and book author. He has been called one of Press Gazette’s 50 top travel journalists, and for good reason. The man travels the world, visiting places we’ve only seen on documentaries and in National Geographic.
So who better to put our new rugged TPro® Bold collection from Travelpro through its paces than Mark Eveleigh? We gave him a couple TPro Bold bags and a Crew 8 backpack, and sent him down to Latin America. He has already been to Chiapas, Mexico, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, and today we find him cruising the Amazon River.
Byline: 1000 miles up the Amazon River
There is a barely noticeable change in the rhythm of my swaying hammock. Normally I might not even notice it but, after so many hours on the boat, I seem to have become attuned to the thrum of the throbbing diesel engine. By now I feel every creak of the old wooden hull through my hammock strings.
Also I am packed so tightly among my fellow travellers that every change in momentum causes us to bump repeatedly against each other like so many little rowing boats moored in a changing tide. There are more than a hundred of us strung up in cargo boat’s middle deck and mine is only one of several drowsy head that peers up over the side to see what has caused this interruption to our cradle-like rocking.
The equatorial sun is already glinting piercingly off the rippled face of the Amazon and, up ahead, I can see a dugout canoe making a beeline to intercept us. The skipper has clearly cut his engine speed to avoid a full-bore collision with this little boat. As we come closer I see that the dugout is being paddled by three little girls. The oldest may barely be eight years old.
They are still heading straight into the path of the massive cargo boat. Just as collision and disaster seems inevitable however the girl in the bow leans out with a metal grappling hook and, in a flash of white-water, their little boat has spun ninety degrees and is effectively surfing on our bow wave. The girls work fast, like the experienced sailors they already are, to secure their craft to our hull.
Life is tough for the people of remote Amazon settlements and the few reais that these girls can make selling coconut candy (or the few packages of half-eaten food that the passengers give them) could make all the difference to their family. Brazil is a relatively rich country by South American standards yet these girls must risk their lives several times a day running these hazardous little boarding party raids on passing cargo boats.
Over the course of the last 2 months my trusty Travelpro luggage has meandered the best part of 10,000 miles from Mexico City south to Sao Paulo before turning north again to the equator and the Amazon. It has been subjected to the battering of baggage handlers from seven different countries and has travelled by rail, road and dirt-tracks, on motorbike taxis and pickup trucks. Even on horseback and in the ‘cargo sack’ of a hang-glider!
By the time I reach Manaus, the so-called ‘Gateway to the Amazon,’ it has taken me exactly 100 hours by cargo boat to get upriver from the oceanic port of Belem. From here I must take a series of consecutively smaller boats as I head deeper into the world’s greatest rainforest. By the time I am a farther twenty-four hours up the river, near the Rio Negro tributary, I am in a dugout canoe, clawing my way along a shallow stream with a paddle. We cross a shrinking lagoon (the Amazon is the driest it has been for almost fifty years) where caiman bask and piranha hunt and pitch our hammocks in a jungle glade where we are lulled to sleep by the distant roar of a troop of howler monkeys. Apart from the agonising bite of a bullet ant in the early hours, and the last hammering downpour of the waning monsoon just before dawn, I have a wonderful night’s sleep.
To many people the world’s great jungles are a place of danger and threat, where life is lived more intensely than in the world’s most frenetic city. To others it is a profoundly relaxing place; I rarely sleep more soundly than I do in the jungle (bullet ants aside!). My only disappointment is that we have not been revisited by the jaguar that, my guide tells me, is occasionally seen passing through this glade on his hunting forays.
I sit on the pontoon of a local houseboat the next morning and watch fish jumping and the shadows of clouds playing over the lagoon. A five year old boy displays his already formidable canoeing skills out on the water and I think once again what a privilege it has been to spend this time getting to know the Amazon.
Then the realisation that I am still only halfway up the world’s greatest river pops up once again…I take this as reassurance that I will certainly be back again one day!
©Mark Eveleigh, 2010