Keith Irwin

Santarém

Apr 18, 2014

Brazil, Hitchhiking, Travel, Latin America 2014


This is part of my story of hitchhiking from New York to Buenos Aires and back, which I did in 2014. I may publish the entire tale in a book someday. Until then, you can read it for free here. To see other parts, check out Latin America 2014. 

April 18

A photo of a city, taken from a river
The city of Santarém

In the evening of the second day, we arrived in Santarém. I fished a disposed water bottle out of the trash and filled it with coffee from the cooler. On deck, everyone was packing up in the tight quarters, and I stuffed my hammock and belongings in my backpack among the chaos. Everyone was eager to disembark, and stood on the second deck, waiting for the ganplank to be lowered. In the crowd, I saw the ticket of another passenger as 100 reals. R$150 must have been the gringo price! 

A photo of a boat at a dock with many people waiting
Docking in Santarém

It was dark when I got out. I wandered along the city’s pier and found a floating supermarket barge, where I got some supplies. Then I walked into town. I went to a bar and drank a beer and played a round of pool. It was Friday night and I was feeling social but I was the only one. So it seemed like time to be on my way. 

Todd had a guidebook with some maps I had photographed. By zooming in on the pictures in my camera's viewfinder, I could see where I was going. 

A photo of a map taken from a guidebook
The photo of the map

I got help finding the road to Alter do Chão. I was told that it was about 35 km. I decided to find a place to camp outside the city, hopefully some shelter where rain wouldn’t wake me. The road was deserted and very dark. I heard monkeys howling in the trees, and was surprised at how loud they were. 

After a few hours, I found an abandoned building and laid down to sleep on the porch. But the mosquitoes were so bad that I couldn’t sleep. So, I decided to continue walking until morning. It was likely that I could arrive at Alter do Chão by daybreak. I drank the rest of the cold coffee in my bottle, threw on my bag, and continued down the road. 

In the depths of the night, I passed through a sleeping village. I was weary and dirty, so I decided to wash myself in the murky water of a stream (the Igarapé). The flow was high and fast, so I sat on a dock and poured the cold water over myself with my pot. I dried myself with my blanket and proceeded walking. 

In the early morning, a car passed and I thumbed it down. The driver said he was a taxi. I didn’t want to pay, though he lowered his fare. I said I would rather walk than pay anything, so he drove away. But he was kind and came back for me after a moment. 

He was going to Alter do Chão to pick up a tourist and bring him to the airport. He dropped me off at the hotel. I asked him where the road to Rurópolis was, so I could get another ride. He didn’t seem to understand the question but eventually said “this is.” 

I followed the road until it ended at a beach. Then I followed a different road. it went a long way, past quaint houses and many hostels. But it ended at a plaza with a dead end. I went back the other way, passing through the town square. At this point, I needed directions, but the city was asleep. Finally I saw a man standing around, using an iPad. I approached him and asked how to get to Rurópolis. He spoke a little english and tried to figure out what I wanted. 

“Excuse me a moment,” he said, taking a call on his cell phone. I didn't understand much of what he said, but it sounded like he was arranging to be picked up. 

“Now… where are you trying to go?” 

I explained how I had walked from Santarém, and was trying to hitchhike to Rurópolis to continue my journey to Argentina. I showed him the map on my camera. He explained that the map was misleading and Alter do Chão was actually a dead end. To get to Rurópolis, I would have to go back to Santarém first. 

I may have some luck, he explained. He and his colleague were about to go to Santarém. And if it was OK with him, they could take me along. His associate pulled up in an SUV and my new friend explained my situation. So they gave me a ride. 

They were small-plane pilots and were going to an airport near Santarém to medevac a gunshot victim from a remote village to a hospital. The didn't yet know how he'd been shot or any details about his condition. 

We passed the river I had bathed in. It was a shame to see all my walking go to waste. But the airport was a little south of Santarém, in the direction of Rurópolis, so I made a little progress. 


Amazon Riverboat Rurópolis