Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Nineteen (Friday, January 23)

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The boat started moving this morning while we were all still asleep. Rionaldo had decided to stay at the ghost story beach but then move early to get to our next community. We all awoke at 4:00 when the motor started, but most of us managed to figure out what was going on, then go right back to sleep. We motored for about two hours to get to the village of São Miguel.

Before venturing into the community, we had breakfast on the boat. Along with our usual fruit, meat, cheese, and cake, we also added leftover fish from last night. Louro cooked up some eggs so that we could swirl the fish in for a very Amazonian breakfast. Of course, he had also prepared fresh juices for us, including graviola and acerola. We are in food heaven despite our otherwise pretty primitive mode of living.

São Miguel is a lovely community that operates almost entirely cooperatively. Their main sources of income seem to be crafts and the products of the manioc plant. Manioc is more than just a pantry staple here, as virtually every meal involves manioc in some form. The farofa that we sprinkle over most of our food comes from manioc, as does every form of tapioca that we eat. It is cooked into soups, including one of our favorites to say: tacacá. To visit the manioc-processing hut in São Miguel is like visiting a historic reenactment of a 19th century U.S. town. They hand-process the roots of the plant to grind it, cook it, dry it, and prepare it for consumption.

The town is made up of dirt roads and paths, with a few horses or other work animals (usually oxen) trundling along sometimes. Motorized vehicles are rarely visible, though we are told that buses run along the messy roads outside of the main cities to connect these various communities to the larger commercial site of Santarém.

There is a clinic in the town that looks pretty clean and efficient, even if small. There are satellite dishes to be seen, but they are all part of the telephone network and have little to do with other forms of electronic communications. Occasionally we see solar panels that power some portion of a community (usually the clinic, the post office, or the school), but this particular town did not have any.

What this community DID have that fascinated all of us was a family with a pet monkey. The monkey was like another child in the family, except that when we saw it, it was tied to a tree. Apparently it is not always on a leash, but when big groups like ours come through, the family is more careful. The matron of the family was quite proud of the monkey and told us that it was not only vaccinated, but also baptized. We each had a chance to hold the pet if we wanted and to snap a picture with it. Ana was, as usual, the favorite, as the monkey got very attached to her very quickly and was reluctant to let her leave.

We finally managed to tear ourselves away from the monkey and the rest of the community and headed off for another bath in the river. We actually carry our toiletries to the edge of the water, go in wearing swimsuits, float our shampoo beside us, and wash our hair, shave, and lather up to feel cleaner. Though we know that the water is polluted, it definitely makes us feel better. It is, admittedly, a bit odd to bathe all together like this, but no one seems too troubled by that issue.

At the end of the day we needed to cover quite a bit of territory to set ourselves up for tomorrow’s early morning hike through the rain forest. We thus spent several hours on the boat trying to make it to the village called Jamaraquá so that we could wake up and meet our guides by 7:00 a.m. We’ve gotten used to moving with the daylight now, so that hour won’t be terribly difficult to face.

And now for our final honored participant! Today’s Purple Biker will hereby be known as the Supreme Ruler of the Order of the Purple Bike. Though everyone on this trip has far exceeded expectations (even their own), no one can surpass today’s honoree: Ana Ahnen. As a native Brazilian, Ana has demonstrated an easy comfort in adapting to an entirely new environment (even for her, as the northern region of Brazil might as well be an entirely different country from her native region in the south). She has been our unofficial translator, backing up Jesse at all times and sometimes leading her own group when we need to divide up. She is beloved by the children we’ve been working with and she is also loved dearly by all of us. Thus, now and for all time, at least symbolically, Ana will ride the Purple Bike. Congratulations, Ana, and all of the members of the Order!

We spent the morning fishing for these piranhas, which we ate for dinner. Yummy!

Within a community we found a family who domesticated a monkey!

This community makes money by weaving reeds into bracelets from the rainforest; first they must cook them to get the desired light brown color.

The dominant religion in Brazil is Catholicism; a church like this one is found in most communities.

This giant dragonfly jumped on Erik before landing on Marcia’s sweatshirt.

A local from the community making a craft.
Kids from a local community on the banks of the Amazon river.

A contraption used to squeeze water out of the manioc root.

A pet monkey at a local community.

Our boat and home for 3 days.

A pet monkey that we all got to hold and take pictures of.

A local woman talking to us about her pet monkey.

Starting at a young age, the children prepare to fish using nets.

An example of homes built by the local community

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