It was October 13, 2009 and I sat in the Los Angeles airport awaiting my first international flight of my big world trip. It was going to Manaus, Brazil and this would kickstart my adventures into a world very different than my own. A place where everything is different and unfamiliar. As I sat waiting for my flight, a feeling of complete heaviness fell upon me and I began thinking, " what the world am I doing?!" I felt that deep Nausea form at the pit of my stomach and felt, for the first time, very alone. I called Bret one last time before calls were impossible and I remember crying hysterically as I told him I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing. I wanted to crawl into a hole and forget that I even wanted to travel, I wanted to fly back to Bret and stay in his arms forever, because the thought of leaving and never seeing him again was unbearable. I was indeed alone, but not in spirit. Bret calmed me down and reminded me that I was prepared and that I would be just fine. He assured me he was there and he would be there every step of the way. His phone call got me through my overnight flight and I hung on to his every word. As soon as I boarded the plane, I realized there was no turning back at least not for a while!
All my parents of course were concerned and were very adamant about knowing certain details of my trip at first. So when I told my mom, Janet, I wasn't sure where I would be staying yet in Manaus, she was hysterical. Her husband James had been there many times for business and knew the area was pretty rough. So this wasn't going to cut it! He had stayed at a nice resort North of the town several of times and so after much convincing they booked me my first 5 nights there, appeasing their minds and assuring I would have a safe haven. When I did my research, I found only one hostel in Manaus and only one active couchsurfer, so my options were limited. I had initially planned on just asking around when I got there, not really knowing what to expect. After my flight landed, I grabbed a shuttle that would take me immediately to my resort and give me my first glimpse of Amazonia Brazil. I remember thinking, wow, this is much different than the movies and songs that glamorize the Amazon. I remembered my first impression was certainly not glamour, actually quite the opposite, very plain. As the shuttle sped fast and reckless around the winding narrow streets, I saw mostly people, walking, riding, selling, talking, laughing, yelling... the buildings were neat, colorful but seemed to blend into the scene. Nothing stood out to me except just plain life. However, my ride to the resort was short and when I got there I realized I was not within walking distance of downtown ( where everything was, including my hostel), but actually quite far away. It was such a short introduction I immediately wanted to escape this resort. The road to get there was long and parts were secluded, so walking was not an option. Taxies were outrageous and so I knew I needed to get into town. I had two weeks in Manaus and my main goal was to trek in the Amazon forest.
I immediately felt uncomfortable at my resort because I was the only person a mile around wearing cargo pants and hiking sandals! Everyone was so fancy and I they all treated me as if I was an alien who crashed my spaceship and accidentally stumbled
upon the only 5 star resort around! The rooms were lavish, the pools were full, the breakfasts were beautiful and the Samba show was exuberant, but I couldn't stay. This was simply not how I wanted my trip to start. I wanted to begin by meeting other travelers and adventurers so that I could integrate and eventually connect with the locals. That's the beauty with meeting fellow travelers on the road, they usually befriend locals very quickly, stay in places long enough to earn the language and know all the perfect places to truly visit. I checked out two days early and took a taxi into town in hopes of finding the one hostel. Town was quaint but there was a looming feeling that came in and out like waves. I felt safe, but not really safe. I felt reluctant, especially after my taxi stopped where I was thinking, " please don't stop here, please don't stop here," in my head! He did, right by the old opera house, which actually was a main attraction, but I just was so scared. I think I was scared because I chose a place so different as my first stop. I remember grabbing my video wand and talking and recording myself walking to the opera house. I felt so alone and I think that is why I felt the need to connect. I sat on the steps alone, until I felt comfortable to put my recorder away, and wondered what do I do next? Then! Like music to my ears, I heard English!!!! American English! A couple were walking by and So I walked up to them instantly. There just weren't that many tourists there in general, so I felt lucky! I told them I was looking for a hostel, which they confirmed they were staying there and told me where it was! I began my 20 min walk and managed to find the hostel without much trouble. When I walked through the entrance, a woman was standing there with a huge smile; I could tell she was American and was very surprised to find many "gringos" walking about. I checked in and they showed me around, the hostel was very tropical, mostly outdoors, trees growing through the rooms, hammocks everywhere and the smell of the most amazing grilled food ever!!! I instantly relaxed. When I emerged, that same woman came to me and introduced herself as Mo! She was from New York and her demeanor was the most refreshing; positive, gentle, gracious and intelligent. One of the first things she asked me was, " why did you choose South America as your first country to backpack in!" I remember replying with, well because of the weather!" She laughed and I think she appreciated my naïveté, but she explained that a general rule of thumb for new backpackers is to rate travel to continents based on safety and convenience and then work your way up to the harder ones. Europe being first, Australia, South America and so forth. She giggled and said, "but since you're already here, you need to learn a few things right now!" She took me under her wing and taught me the ropes. We were apart of the same group that went into the Amazon for a week. We walked though town, tasted all the street food, visited all the markets, and of course camped out together! My experiences in Manaus ended exactly different than they had started. Not only did I learn an immense amount of information from Monique, I had formed many friendships, ones that I would eventually stay with later in my trip!
Stay tuned next week for more tales from the trip!