Saturday, January 10, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Six (Saturday, January 10)

Today’s video was produced by the team Paz.

Wow. A day that we may remember for the rest of our lives. We worked today with the kids from the neighborhood around our construction worksite. About thirty (maybe 40?) of them showed up for art and recreation activities, along with some English lessons from us. There was a bit of hesitation when we first got started, but once things clicked in, they clicked in fully.

We got to the beach with the supplies that we bought during the week and started setting up. Georgete was interested in teaching painting today, but the wind was a bit daunting. We set up a big tarp for her anyway, along with a couple of canopies under which the kids (and we) could find some shade. We weren’t quite sure how things would unfold, and we especially weren’t sure what the specific agenda was. None of that mattered, though.

When the last of us walked onto the beach, the kids swarmed around us like we were celebrities. They showed us a “low-five, then fist-bump” handshake that they said they use with their friends. We asked if that meant we all are friends now and they said that it did. They were right.

We played games. We taught them some English (“Hello. How are you? I am fine.” “I like ice cream.” “Head, shoulders, knees and toes . . .”). They taught us some Portuguese. They kicked our butts in soccer (fútbol). We took their pictures. They took pictures of themselves with us (on our cameras). They dragged us in the water and splashed us. They held our hands and hugged us. A few of them asked for kisses (but didn’t get them).

Throughout the day we became more and more aware of the language barriers between the kids and us, but our awareness of those barriers only helped us to find ways around them. We’ve gotten very good at charades here, and we have all taken up a much more physical way of talking through the use of exaggerated gestures and overly performative facial expressions. (We think that we are really going to annoy people at home with these new practices, especially the dramatic overuse of the double “thumbs up.”) The incredible warmth and openness of the kids, though, helped us to overcome all barriers and to find a way into their world.

Their world might look pretty bleak from the outside, but even in this single day we got a real sense of the joy that their lives embody. We ran through examples of young kids we know in the U.S. whose lives revolve around video games and other forms of technological interaction. For these kids, though, their lives are about their friendships, kite-flying, soccer, the river, and the possibility that they might make new friends who have come from far away. It was a pleasure and a privilege for us to be the newest friends in their lives today.

When we left at lunchtime, a few of us stayed behind to complete the deck we started yesterday. We installed a railing and fixed some of the places where the whole thing just wasn’t square. It took a while, but we got it done. For the rest of us, we found out that a morning in the sun doesn’t prove how exhausting it is until after lunch. During siesta time, we crashed. We needed to crash. When we awoke, we learned that our otherwise very effective SPF 50 sunscreen had let a little bit of pinkness through on some of us. We also realized that we were sore and tired, but there was no doubt whatsoever that it was worth it.

A bunch of us went into town in the afternoon to get beach towels, as tomorrow afternoon we are going to visit a river beach after another morning with the kids. Tonight we are going to bed early so that we can get up and attend an early morning mass at the church in the center of the city.

The one downside to today was that our Rider of the Purple Bike, Margeaux, needed to sleep in all day because of a minor illness. She is better tonight, but she missed her day of purpleness. We’ll find a way to make it up to her.

Soccer game organized by the kids themselves.

We all worked together to set up tents for kids to do their artwork.

A little boy was eager to learn how to use a camera....

...and this was the successful picture (of the entire group) he took.

The kids thought it'd be funny to drag their new American friends into the water to play.

The girls who came to the camp taking some pictures all together.

Everyone joining in on the circle game and having a great time.

Ana making a sand castle with two very cute little girls.

Felicia and Mercedes posing with all the girls after having some fun in Lake Papaco.

Joey and Joe giving a local boy the time of his life in the water.

Shawny and Mercedes learning Brazilian hand games. These are the last contenders in the game that began with over 40.

The kids learned to kayak today. These girls were a little nervous.

Two iguanas walked across the sidewalk outside our living quarters. They are both larger and quicker than we expected.

Tara and our jungle cat Zily taking a siesta.

Georgete taught art lessons on the beach today. They use recycled objects as brushes and natural products as stencils.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Five (Friday, January 9)

Today’s video was produced by the team Dar um Jeito.

Today we made an important realization: we are thrilled and blessed that Ana Ahnen is one of our group members. Ana was born in Brazil but now lives in the U.S.; her connections to Brazil remain strong, though, as do her language skills. Ana has been very gracious at every turn with all of us and even more so with our hosts and our new Brazilian friends. Thanks, Ana! And thanks to her family for letting us have her in our midst for this experience!

Though we love and adore Ana, she is NOT the rider of the purple bike today. Instead, we gave it to yesterday’s star, Joe Arnold, who entertained the kids on the beach so thoroughly and who just had a fabulous glow of happiness about him all day long. Congratulations, Joe!

Most importantly, though, we FINALLY got to do some actual work (and not just prep work) on the project for Georgete and Jaime. As we mentioned a couple of days ago, they are trying to improve the small building in which they store their equipment, so we turned Chris Verrips loose with a bunch of Portuguese-speaking carpenters and a non-Portuguese-speaking set of students (they’re not fluent, anyway) to start doing construction on the new deck/veranda outside their space. They had a very frustrating beginning, but things soon started clicking into place and we made a lot of progress today.

We learned quite a bit today about the relationship between manual labor and the Amazon climate. Mostly we learned that it is too hot to sustain the levels of work that we might reach back home. We would saw a piece of wood then walk around to the shady side of the building to rest. Or hammer six nails and feel like we had just done something pretty strenuous. Our Brazilian co-workers, mostly João and his son Jadson, were unaffected by the heat and, in fact, seemed superhuman to us all day. Even more than their levels of endurance, we were floored by their skills with handtools. They could maneuver handsaws, chisels, and hammers in ways that few of us had ever seen.

Also, we learned that we need LOTS of water to keep things feeling right. Fortunately we brought lots along and even managed to get some 5-gallon jugs delivered right to the site. No matter how much we drank, though, we never quite felt hydrated, as that constant trickle of perspiration that we mentioned before turned into something more like projectile sweating. No one really overdid things, though, and by the time we broke for lunch/siesta, it looked probable that we would actually finish the small deck in one day.

Speaking of siesta, that’s another huge realization for us: naps in the afternoon are essential to most people’s existence here, including ours. A few of us resist the urge to actually fall asleep during siesta, but most of us crash HARD, eventually waking up totally confused about where we are and what day it is. We recover quickly, though, and start anew with a fresh level of energy.

Not all of us were at the construction site today, as some stayed at camp in the morning to get our lesson plans together. Because we have now seen some of the kids from the program, we are more excited than ever about planning activities that will be really fun and helpful for them. As it turns out, some of them know a few words in English (including “dollar,” “good bye,” and “Barack Obama”), but they all really want to learn more English right away. When we told them we would help them learn it for the next two weeks, they squealed with delight.

Thus, all of the teams have really produced high quality visual aids for their lessons and have practiced and practiced how to do the parts that must be spoken in Portuguese. We have tested out our lessons on each other and everyone has been pretty agreeable to every silly request (like singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” on the video yesterday). Some of us ran into town today to get more goodies to help bolster our lessons, including soft bouncy balls and newspapers. On Saturday we get a chance to put our plans into action with the kids in the program.

After siesta, we switched roles and the lesson planners became construction workers and vice versa. The construction workers had to face even more brutal afternoon heat than the morning crew had survived, but no one seemed terribly unhappy about it. We drank lots of water, pounded lots of nails, and actually got the small deck within one plank of completion. We, of course, wanted to install that last board, but João had been up since 5 a.m. and it was his wife’s birthday. So, we agreed to stop just after 6:00 p.m. and head back to camp. The kids followed us up the red dirt road like we were celebrities and screamed that they would see us tomorrow. We can hardly wait.

Speaking of tomorrow, we already know who will ride the purple bike. But we’ll wait until tomorrow to write it here . . .

Working hard on the job site using a chisel on the wood.

A very beautiful Brazilian girl who enjoyed coming to the work site and watching the work.

An iguana we spotted at camp this afternoon.

Georgete’s dogs that we saw when we visited her home up the street from the job site.

The last picture of our work site before its transformation.

A road that is on the way to work.

While Erik attempts to fix the broken posthole digger; Shana continues to dig a hole for posts of the deck.

Joe and Cassidy using the posthole digger to make holes for posts that will support the deck.

Our future students that we will meet tomorrow.

As we work, children watch attentively to us from a distance.

Sisters playing with a kite in front of their home.

The beautiful and calm road to work.

Working hard but still maintaining a smile.

Working with other local men in the shade.

Jadson taking a break in the shade.

Here's a long view of the almost finished deck.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Four (Thursday, January 8)

Today’s video was produced by the team called Bota Fogo, which consists of Marie Cacciatore, Mercedes Matthews, Ana Ahnen, and Alec Tappin.

By today we have all completely lost track of time, including what day it is. Nearly every hour someone makes a comment about something that has happened, and we say, “Was that today or yesterday?” or “How long have we been here?” Each day is so packed with unique experiences that it feels like we are living three or four days in the space of each 24-hour period. Happily, we spend most of our time being amazed, so it’s no problem for us to do that a lot.

This morning brought the completion of some tasks that began yesterday, as teams went forth again to search for the goods we need to perform our major service project for the Associão Amazonica. Yesterday, the group that went lumber and hardware shopping faced major frustration as they clearly seem to have faced a situation of overt discrimination against them. Today, though, that entire experience was reversed; our community partner Jaime found another source for the wood we need and not only was the entire staff of the store completely warm and friendly, but also the price of the goods at the new store was less than half of the price that the group was quoted yesterday. Although buying 2x4s is rarely regarded as a triumphant move, in this case it definitely counted as a major victory.

Another set of folks continued the search for art and recreation supplies and they, too, experienced major success with few obstacles. At the same time, two bike technicians came to our camp and performed all of the final maintenance on our great new bikes. Thus, though at times yesterday it seemed like we might never get to ride the bikes, suddenly, they were ready to go. It seems that things flow this way in this region all the time: things move slowly, obstacles emerge, logistics get complicated, and then the path just clears and the job gets done.

A couple of the groups that didn’t go on materials runs stayed back at camp to work up the lesson plans that they will use to engage the children that are part of the day camp we will assist in the coming weeks. Each group is working out plans for a song, a game, an English lesson, a health and nutrition lesson and a lesson of their choice. Two of the groups, then, worked most of the morning to develop their ideas, which meant that we all heard several rounds of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “The Hokey-Pokey.” By lunchtime another hard rain had started to fall so we all took naps knowing that our prep work was done and we could take a break before beginning the next phase of our work.

Before leaving, though, we had to divide up the bikes, knowing that none of them was perfectly selected to fit anyone’s individual body size. We tried to put bigger bikes with bigger people and smaller bikes with smaller people, but things didn’t always work out just right. Still, everyone was happy with having any bike at all.

One person who should be especially happy with her bike today is Sam. She was awarded the special privilege of riding the only one-of-a-kind bike in our whole set: the purple one. Yesterday, while all of the teams were out running frustrating and tedious errands, we discovered in the middle of the day that Sam was actually just a little bit under the weather. She hadn’t made a peep about it, though, and she just kept trooping away. Once we realized she needed rest, we offered her the afternoon off. She didn’t take it. She got enough rest in the night to turn the corner on whatever was ailing her. Though we don’t want to imply that anyone should hide an illness that needs to be addressed, it seemed that Sam showed exceptional toughness on this particular day. For that, she was rewarded with the purple bike. Because there is only one such bike, it will change hands daily as different students are inducted into our entirely imaginary “Order of the Purple Bike.”

The next phase of our day included hopping on our bikes and riding to the worksite where we will help with construction and where we will work with the kids in Georgete’s program. We expected the lumber to arrive at about the same time that we did, so we hoped we could plan out the building project and take some of the first steps. Like so many other things this week, the delivery did not work out as planned. Again, like so many other times this week, we capitalized on the available time in a great way. In this case, one of our hosts, a carpenter named João, offered us a chance to explore the marshy deltas of the Tapajós River. He and his son Jadson took us into one of the most stunningly beautiful experiences we have had so far. From the fronts of two rowboats, the father and son piloted two separate groups of us through reeds, grasses, and highly unusual lily pads to a lake in the delta that stands at the edge of a dense nature preserve. It will take pictures and video to make any attempt to convey the beauty and wonder of what we saw.

While two boatloads of people were out in the marsh, the remaining members of our group waited on a river beach full of fishing boats and their occupants. At the edge of the water was a group of happy and rambunctious boys who played in the water, ran up onto the beach to play soccer, flew kites, and swam some more. We eventually connected with the boys and threw the ball to them in the water as they screamed and fought madly to retrieve it. One of our group, Joe, turned out to be the ultimate expert at placing the ball just where it would produce the greatest mania in the boys. Using bits of Portuguese, he would ask if they wanted the ball to be thrown high or low, near or far. They would scream an answer and he would meet their request, whatever it was. They eventually offered their evaluation of him by giving him the most laudatory nickname they could think of for a U.S. American: “Barack Obama.”

Our day ended with the arrival of the lumber, which we decided to leave at João’s nearby house. Tomorrow morning we will move it to the program site and begin the improvements that we have planned. Stayed tuned to learn who will be riding the purple bike!

Bike Wranglers (Teams Dar Um Jeito and Jungle Cats) work on our lesson plan after the previous day’s success of obtaining 20 matching red bicycles.
A Bug’s Life: a group of crickets hanging out near our rooms.
Margeaux took this morning’s rain as a chance to test out her new poncho.

Today was the day we got to ride off on all of our brand new bikes.

Our shiny, matching, attention grabbing, bright red bicycles.

On the canoe ride on the Tapajos River.

Catch of the day.

Big Air.

The river had so many plants hiding the nest of the Anaconda.

Team Paz sending messages of peace to the Anaconda.

The edge of the water near where we work is populated mostly by fishermen. Many of them stay in their boats all day even when they are not fishing.

Near the site of our work project, these kids swam and laughed and played all day long.

The beach we sat on, the kids we played with, and the river we boated through.

Our work site: before shot. We will be building a deck (veranda) around it as well as replacing the back wall and adding a door.

This is not the first, and we’re sure it won’t be the last, gorgeous sunset we see in the amazon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Amazon 2009: Day Three (Wednesday, January 7)

Today’s video was produced by the team called “As Onças” (pronounced “oz OHNzuhs,” and meaning something like the Jungle Cats). They include: Margeaux Pelusi, Samantha Yeates, Rob Silva, and Felicia Zhuang.

The morning started early for a few of us who went to check out our jobsite this morning. Like yesterday, today involved a lot of walking in the hot Amazon climate. We’re definitely figuring out how to cope with the heat, though. Now, if only we can learn how to overcome all of the logistical difficulties we face whenever we try to accomplish even the simplest tasks . . .

Georgete (pronounced “zhor-ZHE-chee”) and Jaime (“ZHY-mee”) took us to their program site on the banks of the Tapajós River, where we learned that they have a small storage building that needs some repairs. Because the ultimate veteran of the SMC New Orleans hurricane relief trips, Chris Verrips, is with us as a consultant, we are actually capable of completing the repairs they need. Along with these repairs, they also hope to attach a small deck on one side of the building so that they can be outside the building but still in the shade of its extended roof.

In just a few days (on Saturday), the children will return to the program, so we need to get as much work done on the building as we can before we start dividing our time between working with the kids and doing construction work. Thus, we spent the morning hustling around in different parts of town chasing down three important sets of supplies: lumber and tools, art and recreation supplies, and – most fun for us – BIKES for us to use as our primary mode of transport.

One group went with Jaime to chase down construction materials. That group includes Ana, our Brazilian group member whose fluent Portuguese is a godsend to all of us. She helped Chris translate construction needs, which means they spent the day playing a crazy version of talking charades where they speak of the function of the item and act out its use to try to learn the word for the tool they are seeking. Turns out that they – and the Brazilian hardware store workers – are pretty good at the game, as they succeeded in finding everything that they need except for one important item: lumber.

The problem was not that they couldn’t find the lumber, it was that there was a bit of an intercultural conflict at the lumber store. That is, Jaime had gone to the store ahead of time and priced out the items. He had the same list when he returned with our group members, but it turns out that the presence of our group immediately raised the price by a significant margin. Jaime was incensed and decided never to return to that store again.

For us, the experience was humbling, as we realized that as U.S. Americans (it seems weird to call ourselves “Americans” here, as everyone around us is also an “American”), we are automatically seen as rich and privileged. And, in comparison to every single person we’ve encountered since we arrived, we are rich and privileged. For example, today we purchased a power saw to help us deal with the lumber we’ll need to replace floorboards, frame out a new doorway, and build the deck/walkway outside the building at the program site. The customers in the store around us were in awe, saying that such a saw was so completely out of reach for them that they had never even considered buying one. For us, saving ourselves some grueling manual labor in the Amazon sun was worth the price of a power saw; for them, grueling manual labor in the Amazon sun is the only way to get anything done.

Another group joined Georgete in pursing art and recreation materials for the program. That group was also humbled, but not by the recognition of their own relative wealth. Instead, that group was awed by Georgete’s incredible resourcefulness and creativity. She showed us all some of her art made from discarded goods, including used coffee filters. Some of her coffee filter work looked like it was made from some exotic stone, when, in fact, it was made from “garbage.” In her program, she teaches local children to create similar art from discarded objects, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of sustainability to the future of the Amazon region. We look forward to joining into her classes so that maybe some of her talent will also rub off on us!

The final group got the job that was supposed to be the most fun: ten people at a bike store riding off on ten bikes, then returning to ride off on ten more. So far we have used three modes of transportation (not counting the planes on which we arrived): a hired bus, city buses, and walking. The first one was a great way to get home from the airport but it is too expensive to be feasible on a daily basis. The second is a great cultural experience, but it is confusing and daunting due to our language barrier. The third is great for exercise and sightseeing, but it is grueling in this climate. Thus we opted for a fourth alternative: bikes. Because this is not a tourist area, there is no shop or agency that rents bikes. Thus, our only option was to buy bikes. They will improve our lives drastically in three ways: they will save our swollen and aching feet (our hands are swollen too, apparently as a side effect of humidity), they will allow us to get more sleep (as we can leave for the worksite later and return for siesta faster than we can on foot), and they will improve our spirits (already pretty high) by reducing the frustrating tedium of repetitive sweat-soaked walks.

Things didn’t go quite as planned due to a series of complex but uninteresting financial technology glitches. (Now why would a credit card company be suspicious about a California resident suddenly buying twenty bikes in one day in the Amazon?) Five different modes of payment failed, including a very surprising one: travelers checks. As turns out, it is almost impossible to exchange travelers checks for cash, no matter how much cash they represent. Finally, though, after a series of runs to different banks, currency exchange spots, money-wiring depots, etc., we managed to purchase the bikes. Strangely, though, we did not manage to ride away on them. The bikes we bought, as it turns out, needed to be assembled at the store’s warehouse, so they offered to deliver all twenty of them to us this afternoon. We took them up on their offer and found our way home for a very late lunch.

We lunched, told each other our stories of retail adventure then settled down for our naps. When we awoke we saw thick black clouds that would eventually deliver a pounding rain forest rain. We also saw the truck pull up to deliver our beautiful bikes. Once we got the bikes under cover, the clouds burst. We gathered on the porch to watch the water fall (“Is rain wetter in the Amazon?”), then succumbed to our inner impulses and went out and frolicked in it.

We had hoped to start our construction work at the program site today, but things just didn’t unfold that way. It seems that lots of days work this way in the Amazon. We’ll have to get used to this.

Amazon 2009: Day Two (Tuesday, January 6)

Today’s video post was prepared by Team Paz (peace in Portuguese), which consists of Erik Coloma, Joe Arnold, Cassidy Gunter, and Shana Dhillon.

After our thrilling (and THRILLED) arrival in Santarém, we got the added boost of moving into our new January home. We are staying at Campus II of the local university, UFPA (which, translated, stands for Federal University of Pará). SMC groups have stayed here twice before, and Shawny, Jesse, and Marcia, were all very surprised about how much the area has grown since their last visit in 2005. Still, the beautiful coziness of the UFPA cabins and bunks remained.

We were greeted by the person that we now all appreciate the most: Dona Maria, our cook and housemother. She was happy to see us return, and when we told her how happy we were to be here, she explained that the camp was almost destroyed a couple of years ago. Strangely, she said that our group’s multiple trips to the region helped to save the camp, as they used us as an example of the great global outreach that the camp provides. We were pleased to hear that we had helped them, but we were even more pleased to settle in and make the camp start to feel like home.

We loaded gear and sorted first aid equipment. We staked claims on our favorite bunks and hoisted mosquito nets above them. And we made friends with our first visitor, a skinny-bone-jones cat that we have named Zilly (a shortened form of Brazil). We also looked for the monkeys that hang out in the trees outside our cabin, but we haven’t seen them yet.

Some of us took our weekly dose of malaria medicine, while others took their daily doses. We aren’t really in an area with a high risk of malaria, but we’d rather be safe than sorry. We also had several immunizations before we came, including Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, and Typhoid. Despite our knowledge of all of these (very low) threats around us, the whole world around us seemed too beautiful to be anything but benign. We’ll continue to enjoy the beauty, but we’ll also take every available precaution.

We took a siesta in the afternoon, but Shawny didn’t let it go on nearly as long as it would have if we had been left to our own devices. She knew that if we slept too long in the afternoon, we would have trouble sleeping at night and our body clocks would not adjust properly to our new time zone. When we reluctantly awoke, we took a walk into the town. We doused ourselves with sunscreen (50 spf) and mosquito repellant (with DEET) and ventured out into the stifling heat.
The heat here is difficult to describe, as it is so thick and heavy that it seems possible to measure its mass and density. It is often only about 90 degrees, but the humidity weighs down on us in a way that is really oppressive. Also, a constant trickle of sweat is running somewhere down each of our bodies at all times. Because we are surrounded by spiders, mosquitoes, gnats, ants, and other crawling things, it is not hard to imagine that the trickle of sweat might actually be some living creature. We are adjusting quickly, though, and soon we can stop flinching over every drop.

Our walk into town was actually quite taxing due to the heat, but our excitement at everything that we were seeing definitely overrode our discomfort. We walked along the banks of the conjoined Amazon and Tapajós Rivers, following the “orla” (kind of like an embarcadero?) along the edge of the town.
People who noticed us were incredibly friendly, meaning that we learned a whole new range of Portuguese greetings that had not been included in our recorded language lessons. We caught on quickly to the greetings, but we are not necessarily catching on quite as quickly to longer phrases and sentences that are coming our way. Jesse is helping us to develop our understanding quickly and we are all pretty equally committed to really improving our language skills.
At night we had a visit from our work partners from the Associão Amazónica, Georgete and Jaime. Their organization serves local children by teaching them about sustainability through art, recreation, and education. They run a day-camp-like program on the banks of the Tapajós not too far from our UFPA home. They invited a few of us to visit their site tomorrow morning to get a better feel for what our service work will be.

Before we sign off, we want to announce that we are eating wonderful, fabulous food for every meal. Everything is home-cooked and the exotic and interesting juices that we are tasting for the first time are all freshly-squeezed. Even familiar items like chicken (called “frango” here) seem especially tasty. Some of us even managed to find fresh coconuts in town so that we could drink the “coconut water” right from the coconut itself. There are still lots of things that we need to try, though, so we are eager to keep discovering new dining delights.
Along with our great food, we are seeing some fascinating images. Marcia is particularly talented at capturing them and she is posting some of her photos at this site: Visit there too, if you’d like to see some beautiful work.

Amazon 2009: Day One (Monday, January 5)

The team named “Dar um Jeito” (pronounced something like DAR oong ZHAYtoo and meaning “to make a way”) made our video blog for today. Click the link above to view the work of Katie Leonard, Sophie Damerel, Joey Cacciatore, and Tara Larson.

Our adventure to the Amazon began at 4:15 a.m. on the Saint Mary’s College campus in Moraga. Our friend and SMC staff member Michael Viola agreed to meet us at that terrible hour and he somehow managed to be incredibly warm and cheerful anyway. Huge thanks to Michael!
We struggled to contain our enormous amounts of luggage in our state of desperate – but planned – exhaustion. We were tired because most of us got no sleep in the last frantic hours of getting ready to leave. We had planned it, though, because we knew it was important to sleep as much as we could on the planes.

Seventeen of us left from campus and met our videographer Marcia Ong at the San Francisco airport. We flew to Atlanta where we met our other professor, Jesse Wheeler, an ethnomusicologist and Portuguese instructor currently living in Chicago. He and Marcia have been on two trips with SMC Jan Term students before (2002 and 2005). Jesse serves as our indispensible translator, guide, and language instructor. We picked up our final team member , student Ana Ahnen, in Manaus in the middle of the night.

Our trip lasted 17.5 hours, only 12 of which were spent actually flying. We left at 7:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and arrived in Santarém at 6:00 a.m. in whatever their time zone is called on Tuesday. Though we had planned to sleep a healthy number of hours on the planes, no one really succeeded.
Still, we all experienced a huge collective second wind as soon as we hit the tarmac in Santarém. Santarém is a river town at a very famous spot where two rivers, the Amazon and the Tapajós (pronounced tap-uh-ZHOESS), run side by side in different colors (Amazon = Brown, Tapajós = blue). It is about equidistant from two other well-known Amazon cities, Manaus and Belém, each about 400 miles away.

The thrill of a different climate, a different language, a different landscape, and a different perspective served as a caffeine-like jolt for all of us. We sprung to life immediately, and so did all of our cameras, our conversations, and our imaginations about all that is to come.