Manaus Postcard

Ring the ambulance. Inside oneself there was nothing but despair. Breaking down, static, the pieces were disaggregating, dissolving in the humid air.

I had been told the bus for Venezuela left at 8:30am. It was already 10 o’clock, tick-tock. I was standing on the other side of a main thoroughfare; drenched in sweat.

I needed to catch a city bus to the terminal but none would open their doors for me. Locals pushed pass and boarded. I was not wanted, for-lone, loveless.

Eventually I succumbed to my nemesis, a taxi. Cheaper than an ambulance it took me away, never to be seen the same again.


At the terminal they told me the one daily bus to Venezuela had gone. Fact; not the deluded fiction I had desperately tried to grasp. I could spend another night in Cartagena. But there was no guarantee I could make it back to the bus terminal by 8:30am tomorrow – things happen, strange things.

I decided my only option was boarding a bus headed towards the Venezuela border. It would keep me moving and headed in the right direction. Santa Marta, was four hours away; a city by the sea, with a warm ocean breeze to soften the excruciating heat.

Day 63 of a scheduled 90 and I had to somehow make my way to the east coast of South America, down towards Rio de Janeiro and then back to Santiago, Chile.

Then, after a night in Santa Marta, back to the terminal for another bus; this one bound for Caracas, Venezuela. At the border the army was in control, brutally build figures. Bags searched, scarred, they were on to us. I figured they sent the message onwards.


They want to undertake a full rectum search and then make you pay for it; the arrogance and the gall of it all. I counted my US dollars to make sure I had enough money.


Caracas, a city surrounded by high hills. The bus drove slowly through the centre of town in the early morning light. But I was not staying. Another bus beckoned.

Ciudad Guayana, southeast from Caracas, the gateway to Santo Angel or Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall; a plunge of 807 metres.

Angel Falls - it was out there somewhere. Like when you are drunk and go for a leak, hoping you stumble across the dunny.

Reaching Angel Falls was described as a complicated affair; way, way too complicated. The Asian-American Ninja Warrior had reached Angel Falls - but he was mad, not suicidal.

It started to rain.

Darkness at 6:30pm. The next bus leaving Ciudad Guayana, heading south, was leaving at 7pm. I had half an hour to lock-in my plans. The bus was headed for Santa Elena de Uairen, a town on the border with Brazil.

Another backpacker was at the bus company counter.

A Challenger!

I had noticed him on the various buses all the way through Venezuela. In fact he had probably boarded the bus before Santa Marta.

I stood close by and listened as he booked his ticket to Santa Elena de Uairen. It seemed like the logical plan, especially after I listed the cons of spending a night in Ciudad Guayana:

I booked my ticket to a second straight night of sleeping on buses. At least I will be able to look at myself in the morning…

1am in the morning. I was awoken by a tap on the shoulder. It was someone from the Venezuelan army. The message had been received. He wanted to check my passport. Meticulous and slow, I tried to signal the Venezuela entry stamp was somewhere near the middle of the passport.

In reply, he signalled for me to follow him off the bus.

Taken into a small office he further signalled that I should empty my pockets, undress to my underpants and unpack my backpack. It was what I had been waiting for, it was time for the rectum search.

My wallet was on the desk, in the small office, in front of his commanding officer. The contents were emptied onto the officer’s desk, with a small wad of US$20 notes falling from the desk onto the floor.

My money was laying there helpless.

I was signalled to repack my backpack and redress.

No mention was made of my money. But I knew my rights…

“You are not taking my money without a rectum search” I demanded.

“A rectum search?” the commanding officer queried.

“Yes, you are not taking my money unless you stick your finger up my arsehole.”

Well that is not really what happened…but as there were three other backpackers in the office I did point to my wad of cash on the floor and ask “Excuseo”.

My money was returned and we were all allowed back on the bus…to be stopped a further eight times that night…unpacking and repacking our luggage…the pain of it all.


Santa Elena de Uairen at 11am, an Italian guy, a passenger on the bus, was talking to the Challenger about his plans to travel to Manaus. I was up close, listening and asked the Italian if I could tag along.

The Challenger was not there, just the three of us, the Italian, his companion and me. A taxi to the border and another taxi to another town, somewhere else, we had to get there to watch an Italian World Cup Football game.

I was not interested. It was a contest between watching a World Cup Football game or catching a bus and the bus won.

Boarding the bus to Manaus, I saw the Challenger. He had caught the bus direct from the border. He would not go away, he could not be beaten.

Manaus Operat House
Manaus Opera House

As the saying goes…If you cannot beat them…

We reached Manaus, a city on the Amazon, together and decided to talk.

Even though he had been in South America much longer than me, we were both on a tight schedule and we were both headed to Rio de Janeiro via the Amazon.

The difference was he was not suicidal or on the surface, stupid. He even knew some Portuguese.

The Italian had recommended a hotel in Manaus. We caught a taxi and booked a room for our first rest on a bed in four days.

It had been three nights, straight, of travelling on buses. But still we could not sleep…