Up The Amazon - an adventure . . . of sorts


And because summer is here, many people will soon be taking a vacation. We hope yours will be everything that you want it to be. But what if it doesn't turn out so well? At least, what happens when travel dreams become travel nightmares?


SIMON: We're not talking about the airline lost my luggage or I got a flat on the interstate with two screaming kids in the back seat. We would like to hear about some true travel atrocities. To begin things off, one of our own, Peter Breslow, has a tale of woe from a long-ago trip in Brazil, where he'd been wandering around on the cheap.

PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: So it's the late '70s, and I'm on a banana boat, chugging up the Amazon with my girlfriend - she's flown down from the States to travel with me. My visa's expired. I'm illegal in the country. I've been robbed of most of my cash and my passport. And I'd spent the last month recovering from hepatitis. So just before we get on the boat, I get a telegram from Lefty Monaghan (ph).

Lefty Monaghan - this is my childhood New Jersey friend. Turns out, he showed up in Rio - I didn't know he was coming - looking for me. And now he's on a 56-hour bus ride north to meet up with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Lefty) Bres (ph), where are you?

BRESLOW: Lefty always calls me Bres. But I'm gone. I got to get out of the country before they arrest me. So my girlfriend and I get on this banana boat. Yeah, yeah, there were birds, kind of like that. It was literally the banana boat from hell.

The ride was just interminable. The Amazon was in flood. It was just this big, brown body of water. You couldn't even see the far shore. We chugged, chugged, chugged up the river at a - I'm not kidding - a walking pace. And you just spent your days staring blankly over the railing. The meals were beans, rice and meat - meat, rice and beans. But anyway, after about 10 days on the river - that's right, you can cut the sound now - we got to Manaus in the middle of the Amazon. But at this point, my girlfriend had enough. She got on a plane back to the States. She dumped me.


BRESLOW: And I was broke, so I got a room in the cheapest place in town. And it was a $1.50 a night. And I shared space with glassy-eyed travelers who'd been in the tropics too long and Tupamaro guerrillas from Uruguay. And, I mean, some of these guys still had bullet holes in their legs. And it was an awful insomniatic (ph) time. And I couldn't even get drunk because I was recovering from hepatitis. And you're not allowed to drink. So I just tossed and turned in my bunk every night. And finally, after about 10 days, I just had to get out of there. I could not wait any longer for Lefty.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Lefty) Bres, wait up.

BRESLOW: So I got back on yet another banana boat.


BRESLOW: That's right. Cue the birds. Now cue the putt-putt.


BRESLOW: And, once again, chugged, chugged, chugged up the river, another interminable process of beans, rice and meat - meat, rice and beans. So anyway, I'm going up the river. And I don't know what's going to happen to me when I reach the border. And I finally - I get to the border. And I'm - you know, I'm very nervous. And turns out, the Brazilian authorities there could care less about my passport. They stamp me out. I'm great, you know. And so then I'm going to go get into Colombia. Finally, I'm getting out of Brazil. I cross this little bridge. I go to the crossing station. And the guard says to me - well, where's your tourist card? And I said - what tourist card?


BRESLOW: Turns out you needed a tourist card to get into Colombia. You had to get it back over the bridge in Brazil. But the offices were already closed. It was Friday afternoon. And there were going to be presidential elections on Monday. So I was stamped out of Brazil and not stamped into Colombia. And I spent the next four days just kind of in no man's land, wandering between the - Tabatinga, Brazil, and Leticia, Colombia and the whole time hoping that good old Lefty Monaghan was going to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As Lefty) Hang on, Bres. I'm coming.

BRESLOW: And I'm sitting in a juice bar one of the days. And all of a sudden, there's a familiar, gangly figure walking down the street. And there is Lefty Monaghan. I ran up, gave him a hug. I was never so happy to see anybody in my life. And from there, things improved vastly.

We had found out that you could bribe your way onto an old DC-3 and get a flight out of Leticia to Bogota. So Lefty and I found the two pilots. We met them the next day. And we were going to fly in the cargo hold of the plane.

So the plane is full of these cardboard boxes. And the pilots are just kind of tromping through the boxes to get into the cockpit. I remember they're, like, stepping and crushing the boxes to get in. And it turns out, inside the boxes are these plastic bags full of tropical fish in water. And then in some of the other boxes, there are a bunch of bags of moldy Cheez Doodles.

So anyway, Lefty and I are lying on the boxes. It's a freezing cold cargo hold. There are these two Colombian guys on the plane. They break open the Cheez Doodles, pass around the bottle. The plane takes off. And we just skim along the jungle canopy on our way to Bogota, Colombia. My travel nightmare had ended.

SIMON: That's NPR producer Peter Breslow's travel nightmare. Yours doesn't have to be quite so epic. But we'd love to hear it. Go to WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY at npr.org. Click on contact, and then start your story with the words travel nightmare.

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