Friday, January 22, 2010

Day Fifteen: Thursday, January 21 – Communities Along the River

Special note:  Our video camera batteries were all used up on Day One and Day Two of the boat trip and our belief that we would be able to charge them on the boat turned out to be untrue.  Thus, the teams with video responsibilities for today and tomorrow have produced slideshows that are combined into one overview of these two days.  Please see Day Sixteen to view the slideshow.

We ended up staying at our piracaia point all night, moving downstream once the sun rose.  A couple of people awoke with the move, but most stayed asleep in their hammocks.  In fact, by the time we arrived at our first destination, some of us still hadn’t awakened.  Apparently we are pretty comfortable sleeping on the boat.

Our first stop was a community called São Miguel.  It counts as somewhat developed in the area, as it has a health clinic and some electricity.  No one but the clinic has electricity full time, but still, there are communities and homes along the river that don’t have electricity at all.  We saw some of the homes in which people live and we saw that things that constitute “community” for them: their church, their school, their recreation room designed for soccer.

We also got to see the place in which community members grind mandioca using a millstone.  Mandioca and the related food macaxera are staples around here and we have eaten them many times in many ways.  We had no idea what level of effort it took to produce the flour and other forms of each that are ubiquitous here.

Some of the members of the community also focus on arts and crafts, using items from the rain forest in the design of their work.  We saw people making necklaces, bracelets, baskets and other woven items out of seeds, reeds, grasses and leaves from the rain forest floor.  Selling these goods to people like us who come through on boats is one means of income for the community.

We also had an unusual special treat in that one family took in a baby monkey after a tropical storm several years ago.  The monkey lives in a tree behind their house and is friendly enough to be held by strangers (like us!).  We were probably a bit too fascinated by the monkey but the family didn’t seem to mind.

From there we set off to Ponta Grande, our original destination for our piracaia last night.  We stopped earlier than planned to capitalize on the last moments of daylight to dig our hole for our fire.  Thus, we used Ponta Grande as a swimming, bathing, and lunch spot today instead.  We walked way out onto the sandbar that stretched deep into the river to get some perspective on the beach and on the immensity of the river system that we are traveling.  From many points along our route, it is almost impossible to believe that these waterways are rivers because they are so wide that they dwarf the rivers we know in the U.S.

Once we left the beachfront, we headed to our next Amazon community: Urucureá.  This community is even more widely known for the fine baskets and other goods that they produce from items in the rain forest.  We walked around to get a feel for life in these remote areas and talked to a few of the residents (through Jesse and/or Ana, of course).

We watched as a group of men felled a huge tree with only an axe and a rope and we all realized that few of us would have the strength to chop down a tree in that way.  We are constantly reminded how much our daily lives are removed from strenuous forms of manual labor and we sometimes laugh at what we usually mean when we say the word “work.”  For most of the people we know here, “work” almost never involves sitting at a desk and typing on a computer.

We walked through a thick patch of rain forest to the next community upriver and we got to see how thick and lush the vegetation is throughout the area.  We also got to see a group of monkeys frolicking in the wild as they followed us down the path from their treetop viewpoint and kept an eye on us.  We thought we would see lots of huge spiders and other gargantuan bugs, but no such luck.

We got back on the boat just as night fell and headed to a spot just short of our eventual final destination: Santarém.  Our cook on the boat, Louro, had to be at a different job by 8:00 a.m. so our plan was to get within range of dropping him off at that hour, then continue on a bit to take care of our mission to catch some piranhas.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were following a storm that we never experienced directly.  Still, the high winds that accompanied the storm were whipping across the river, causing huge waves that reminded us of the ocean.  The boat was really pitching and rolling, making a few of us somewhat seasick.  Our chairs were sliding around on the deck with the force of the movement, sometimes being blown by the wind.  We all stayed low, put on our jackets to break the wind, and rode out the waves with only a small amount of fear.  Just as our seasick companions began to lose it, we started to sing to distract them.   We were still singing when we reached dry ground and we managed to avoid any vomiting; we count that result as a pretty grand achievement.

We sat up in the boat and talked for quite awhile to shake off the memory of those waves, then headed for our hammocks to rest up for our piranha-fishing expedition.  We hope to have piles of piranhas to show for our efforts tomorrow!

A pet monkey that we got to hold at Såo Miguel.

Through the jungle we trekked to meet the boat on the other side of the river.

The sun said good morning as we awoke from our hammocks and started the day.

The sunset off of Såo Miguel as we departed and continued our journey along the river.

The intricate and handmade woven baskets that involved a long, patient process.

Locals felled a huge tree.

A Brazillian waiting for the perfect catch.

Heave Ho!

We saw lots of beautiful scenery walking through the Amazonian Rainforest.

We were captivated the flora and fauna in the Rainforest.

Jesse, Jared, and Neil set off on an adventure through the Amazon. 

Local kids watching us tour the town of São Miguel.

Hand-crafted baskets by the local artisans.

The inside of a church in São Miguel.

While relaxing in his hammock, Neil captures a shot of  Ponta Grande.

Our sleeping quarters on the boat.

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