City by the book: Amazon/Manaus & Ibbotson

Perhaps my favourite read from my trip was, unsurprisingly, a children’s book. Mid way through our trip we arrived in a small city close to the Colombian and Peruvian borders of Brazil – Tabatinga. From Tabatinga we took a four day boat to Manaus, a bustling city in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. While most people on the boat were saving their pennies in hammocks, my sister and I splashed out for a cabin. To our surprise, it ended up being the most luxurious part of our trip, and allowed for a lot of reading time.


The boat was really quite spectacular, as we covered 1200km of the Amazon river, accompanied by daily sunsets and sunrises, dolphins, lots of birds and obscene amounts of pasta, rice and potato brought to our door three times a day. The absolute joy of the boat trip was made even more magical for me as I read the celebrated children’s story Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.

Not joking about those varied carbs…
Or the sunsets!

The story is about a British school girl, Maia who is orphaned and sent to live with her long lost relatives on the edge of the Amazon river, near Manaus. What she hopes to be a jungle adventure full of local delicacies and cultural exchange turns out to be Little Britain with added disinfectant as her relatives are nothing like how she imagined them to be. Luckily her governess Miss Minton and fugitive Finn save the day, offering her all the adventure she could have imagined.

It is actually pretty dark at times for a children’s story, but it is one of those unforgettable adventure stories that leaves your mind wondering, not least over questions raised by Maia. My favourite was probably ‘why can’t grown-ups understand that we might know what is right for us just as well as they do?’


More than that though, Journey to the River Sea educated me about the area as I drifted down the Amazon. I learnt about the rubber industry, the origin of the Amazon’s nickname ‘River Sea’ and the Teatro Amazonas which I was excited to see right behind our hostel when we arrived in Manaus.

Miss Minton is a bit of a feminist hero in the book too, if I say so myself. Her corset seems to act as the image for all the restriction she experiences, physically, intellectually and proffessionnaly. The way she tosses it off when she’s free is very empowering, and even though the moment is sad, when the corset returns it is not an un-funny moment:

‘Miss Minton had spent the night with her sister and bought another corset because the good times were gone’. 

I loved this book and I loved the boat portion of our trip. It provided the perfect opportunity to transition from Spanish to Portuguese, playing Uno with new friends who spoke no English in the evenings and meeting a man from France who happened to grow up in the tiny town I taught in during my year abroad. However, I was rather suddenly dropped into the Portuguese as the sniffer dog, Alaska, before we got on the boat took a liking to my bag. Trying to explain English Breakfast Tea turned out to be much harder than one might expect… let’s just say we didn’t get very far with them screaming “marijuana?” at me and me replying with “PG TIPS!” Not quite Maia and Ibbotson’s adventure, but it was an adventure nonetheless!

Amazon dog rating: 9/10 – all for Alaska!

Alaska the sniffer dog and me

Previous City by the Book:

Cartagena & Márquez
Lima & Llosa

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