This morning we woke up to find the Braemar at anchor, and the skies overcast, but with the sun trying to peep through. Across the river we could see a collection of a few wooden buildings and houses on stilts, along with a small landing stage. This was the tiny Amazonian village of Boca da Valéria. Boca da means ‘mouth of’ in Portuguese, and this village was situated at the mouth of the Valéria river, a tributary of the Amazon.
There were no organised tours today; you had to get the liberty boat across the water and do your own thing. The village was so tiny it wouldn’t be worth doing any excursions and you could see everything within half an hour!
We decided to spend the morning on board and venture ashore after lunch. We had a leisurely breakfast outside the Palms Café and wandered around the deck. We could see the tender boats going to and fro; the villagers would come out in their small rowing boats and come right up to the tenders, trying to sell the passengers hand-made souvenirs or asking for money or gifts.
We spent the morning sitting out on deck reading our books, then went to the Marquee Bar for some lunch and a cold cocktail. We then went along to collect a tender ticket and await our turn to disembark.
As we were boarding the liberty boat, the skies opened. Once everyone was on board we set away; it only took about 10 minutes to cross. At the other end, some people took one look at the weather (or, possibly, at the place itself) and decided not even to get off the boat.
We disembarked onto a small landing stage with a sort of ‘pier’ of wooden decking, and my feet had no sooner touched the ground when I was surrounded by a group of grubby local kids, two of which grabbed my hand, one either side. They practically pulled me along, jabbering away in Portuguese. I looked around for Trevor, who was quite a way back, so I slowed down to wait for him. The kids were still chattering away, but I could recognise the words “reïs” and “dollar”, so it was obvious they were after money.
Trevor eventually caught up with me. I kept trying to pull my hands away from the grabbing hands of the children, but they would keep getting hold of my arm or my hand. I didn’t really like it all that much; their hands were unpleasantly sticky and one of them kept sticking his fingers up his nose – euyuk! Also, if they’d been holding the hands of other passengers you could understand how germs and bacteria could be spread.
Eventually I turned my pockets inside out to show the kids I didn’t have any money on me, but this didn’t deter them – they then turned to Trevor, actually touching his pockets. We wished we had brought some of the night-time chocolates or some sweets for the kids, just to bl***y get rid of them! 🙂
Anyway… Boca de Valéria consisted of a few wooden houses on stilts, a single church, one school, a bar, and a few stalls selling handicrafts. If you wanted to take photos of any of the people or buildings, the villagers expected you to pay a couple of dollars. Some of the children had been dressed in the traditional Amazonian Indians costumes, more for the benefit of the visitors than anything, because most of the kids just wore shorts, t-shirts and sometimes football shirts.
As well as the stalls selling handicrafts such as wooden masks, beaded jewellery etc. some of them had animals tied up, such as alligators (with their jaws wired shut), sloths, monkeys and even lizards, birds and insects. The idea was to charge the tourists for photos, but I really hate to see animals exploited in this way.
One or two of the wooden houses had hastily-scribbled signs inviting visitors to see inside, and charging them for the privilege. Apparently they depend on the tourism industry to make a living, as well as fishing and growing manioc.
We wondered just how much all of this was put on for the tourists – were these people really as poor as they made out? I may sound sceptical, but one of the houses had a satellite dish outside it (!!). Also, we noticed that some of the locals were quite overweight; they obviously weren’t just living on fish and manioc, and doing manual work!
We walked along the muddy dirt track and decided to seek refuge from the showers (and the kids!) in the bar. It was simply a wooden shelter with a few tables and chairs and it only sold Bramha beer or soft drinks. It was packed with people from the ship. We came across Colin and Liz and joined them for a beer; Liz had some wet wipes in her bag and gave me one to clean my hands. 🙂 The kids, who had followed us all the way, eventually gave up and found someone else to pester.
After our beers we decided to go back to the ship. We had a look at the stalls but there was nothing that took our fancy. We went back to the ‘dock’ and queued for the liberty boat; someone from the ship was giving out cold apple juice to the passengers waiting in the queue.
So that was our experience of Boca da Valéria. A tiny village of less than 100 people, very primitive, very poor. But how much of it was real?