Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Eighteen (Thursday, January 22)

Today’s video was produced by the team Paz.

We awoke this morning on a riverfront beach outside the community of Urrucureá. Among other things, we immediately learned that we are quite a loud bunch of people. As it turns out, the entire community was quite aware that a boatload of U.S. Americans had arrived in the night. Our loud voices and laughter carried across the water and shattered the usual quiet that reigns supreme after dark in this area.

As we mentioned before, the communities out here have very little access to electricity. Most have a central generator that provides power for a maximum of two hours in a given day. Thus, when darkness falls, the day ends. When the sun rises, the day begins. This entire concept is pretty foreign to us as U.S. Americans based on the lives that we normally live.

No one was particularly perturbed by the fact that we made our presence known so obviously (except maybe some of us who were disturbed by the noise inside our own boat), but it was an important cultural lesson for us to notice that sound itself can be oppressive. In fact, we have only recently noticed that apart from the music and parties identified with Brazil, this culture is actually relatively quiet. We rarely hear someone call out across the room or the yard to get someone else’s attention. We almost never hear car horns honk. Even when we approach a friend’s house, the appropriate move is to clap our hands softly out front to get the occupants’ attention. Though SMC groups have been to Brazil several times before, no one ever made this important observation on any of those trips.

Before continuing on a description of our time in the community, our readers might be interested to hear about our sleep in the hammocks. Honestly, most of us struggled a bit, but everyone managed to sleep eventually. Alec, who is 6’6”, probably struggled more than anyone. The basic method that helps people actually sleep in a hammock is to position one’s body diagonally so that the body is essentially parallel to the ground and not in the “V” position usually identified with lounging in a hammock. If Alec achieved this position, though, he would take up much more than his share of the deck space. He decided right away to give up on the hammock entirely and put a cushion on the deck instead.

In Urrucureá we took a long walk through the rain forest to find our way to a huge river-fed lake called Lago Grande. The edge of the lake was a reed-filled marsh that also contained one of our new favorite things: Piranhas! We busted out the fishing poles again and baited them with red meat. Our guides taught us how to simulate a sense of distress at the top of the water then drop our bait into the middle of the ripples we created. By the end of the session, we had caught 10 piranhas! (We are not going to admit here how many of them were caught by our guides and how many were caught by us.) A few of them were small, so we only kept four. The small number didn’t disappoint us at all, as we were stoked to have caught any at all. (Marie and Joey might have been a little less enthused, as they got stuck babysitting the freshly-caught flesh-eaters inside their canoe. They survived the trauma.)
We walked back through the rain forest with our fish, stopping along the way to marvel at the huge plants (especially palms and ferns), the weird bugs, and the highlight of the hike for some of us: monkeys! A few of us heard something drop from a tree and stopped to look. We finally noticed a big monkey way up high and lured it closer to us with little noises that we might use to call a cat. Once we moved on from that monkey, another set of four started following us down the path at a safe distance so that we could see them and watch them, but they were never terribly close to us. We returned to the boat pretty hot and tired, so we decided to find a spot to swim and bathe in the river.

We took our fresh catch to a beautiful undeveloped beach and added in the two huge fish that we mentioned in our post about the food run before the boat trip. We went all along the shallows with our fishing nets, but didn’t catch any more to add to our feast. Our captain, Rionaldo, dug a pit in the sand and set up a beachfront barbecue with a bonfire on the side. He and our cook, Louro, tended to the fish for more than an hour to get it to a state of utter perfection. We ate until we were stuffed, then ate a little bit more. Some of us washed dishes and got settled into our hammocks while others sat around the bonfire telling ghost stories.

We just can’t believe how little we have around us and how happy it makes us feel to be here doing just this. Apparently, we are adjusting to the quiet that is around us. Some of us have even pulled the ever-present headphones out of our ears to embrace the quiet just a little bit more. A lot is happening for us: in our heads, our hearts, our spirits, our minds, our bodies, and even more. We look forward to finding out how much of this new perspective sticks when we return home.

Today’s newest member of the Order of the Purple Bike is Felicia Zhuang. Felicia was supposed to ride the bike a couple of days ago, but when Alec saved Shana from the dangerous hammock-flip, he took the honor. Felicia has been a trooper in Brazil in many important ways. For one, she braved some ladder work while we were painting that went on for hours and hours. Secondly, she overcame a legitimate case of arachnophobia (fear of spiders) by coming to Brazil at all. Finally, she was so excited about the whole hammock thing on the boat that it was a joy to behold. She was giddy about the hammocks, snapping pictures before everyone awoke just to capture the experience. Yay, Felicia!

After our unsuccessful piranha fishing, we feasted on the fish that our boat drivers caught.

This picture is a little deceiving because what you don’t know is that my camera is zoomed in completely. Our gator friend is actually a little baby.

Just for scale please notice that the fish are almost as large as the machete in the background.

We had a fish bbq on the beach.

Taking a bath in the river.

The fish we bought at the market was cooked on open fire for our luau-style dinner.

Just one example of the beautiful sunsets we got to see during our boat trip along the Tapajos River.

A picture of the beach we stopped at to have a luau-style dinner complete with bonfire and scary stories.

Evaldo, taking a quick break while spear diving for dinner.

A picture of our boat at one of the beaches that we stopped at along the river.

This is a view of the boat during sunset.

This is our barbeque pit where we cooked our delicious fish.

Katie collecting wood for our bonfire.

This is Evaldo, our first mate on the boat.

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