I woke to an unusual noise that I had not heard before whilst in my bunk. A ferry is a noisy place at the best of times. There is the noise of the engine that fills the air, whilst its vibrations can be felt throughout the ship. The engines also power a generator that gives electricity for the whole boat. There are various pumps that pump cooling water around the engine, pumps water out of the bilges, pressurises the various water systems for showers, basins and for the fire extinguishing hydrant system.
There is the constant hum from the air conditioning system which can be heard whether you benefit from the air conditioning or not. The refrigerators in the cabins switch on and off as they pump refrigerant through their coils. There is the noise of footsteps of people who shuffle their feet along the corridors, the banging of doors and flushing of toilets.
My pet hate was the four large speakers that banged out noisy local music from seven thirty a.m. to midnight in both the bar and the aft sundeck. But that morning there was another noise. It was raining heavily. It beat down on the top of the boat and my cabin was on the top deck, so it was hammering on my roof. It hammered on the decks and open walkways. It beat on the surface of the water and it fell heavily on the leaves of the trees in the jungle just a few metres from the railings of the boat. It was a noisy start to the day.
The good thing about the rain was that before it eased off in mid-morning, it helped to drown out the music from the bar. We continued up river and again arrived at our next port of call ahead of the scheduled time between ports. It was scheduled as a journey of seventeen hours, but we cut nearly two hours off.
We had a fifteen-minute call at the wharf to unload some onions, cabbages and potatoes, whilst a couple of pirates tried to sell us fried bananas or ice creams. They didn’t come aboard, but had long poles with their wares in a small basket. You helped yourself to what you wanted and put the money in the basket. If you didn’t have the right money, your change was given to you by the same method.
We were away after a series of blasts on the horn, each of three long blasts of ear-shattering intensity. Even though there were two warnings and we were late arriving and anyone with an eye could hardly miss a large ferry coming into port, there was still someone who managed to miss the boat as we cast off.
There was some frantic activity on the dock and a man with a suitcase got into a fast small boat which rushed up beside the ferry. He made the difficult transfer of getting his luggage and then himself off the small boat and up the side of the ferry and over the gunwale.
Now it was just a twelve-hour trip to Manaus, shorter if the skipper continued to make ten to fifteen percent faster time than the revised schedule allowed. I went to the restaurant for an evening meal. I call it a restaurant, but it was in reality just a small ship’s galley at the aft of the air-conditioned dormitory with a small outdoor area for five tables with four chairs each.
I was surprised as the meal was free because the ship was overdue. It was only a soup, but it was a thick vegetable soup and was filling. You needed to bring your own bowl or other vessel to eat from, but with a bit of improvisation and sharing, everyone who wanted food got some.
There was a knock on my cabin door at four thirty a.m. I was already awake as the continual engine noise had changed and I was mentally alert to the potential of arriving in Manaus. I was already partially dressed and the door was unlocked, but in the few seconds that it took for me to stand up and open the door, there was no one there. It had been a crew member knocking on all the doors along the corridor to ensure that everyone was awake and dressed, ready for mooring and disembarkation. She must have been very quick, as she was already at the far end of the corridor.
We had arrived shortly after five a.m. and had made up more than six hours on the revised schedule. It was dark, but we had made up more time. This was as important to the passengers as it was for the crew, as they had less time than usual in which to complete all their jobs. Some of them were already collecting keys to cabins, emptying rubbish bins and tidying chairs before we were even moored. They would normally have eighteen hours in port, but now had just six hours, which also included loading the freight to be taken down river before their scheduled departure time back down the river to Belém.