Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Streets of Parati

I tried to suppress my laughter as I saw the tourist struggling to drag his carry-on luggage over the large, bumpy, uneven cobblestones. He had just arrived in Parati, a quaint colonial town about a three-hour drive south of Rio de Janeiro, and hadn't yet found the pousada where he and his friend were staying.

I wasn't trying to be insensitive or mean, but was laughing because his predicament reminded me of a similar, hilarious experience my sister and I had in Colonia, Uruguay when we thought we'd save a few bucks by walking instead of taking a taxi, which turned out to be a comedy-of-errors as we realized that wheeled luggage and cobblestone streets don't go well together.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Three Wishes

The native peoples of the Amazon have a legend that if you hold a tento seed in your hand, close your eyes, and then make a wish as you close your hand and put the tento seed in your pocket, your wish will come true.

I had three opportunities to make a wish like this.

The first time, I made a general wish for a happy life.

The second time, my wish was that I would be able to make it home from Brazil with my virtue.

Visiting a native village

Rui seemed reluctant to take us to the Sao Tome native village.

"There are too many people there from Rio" he explained. The village had been adopted by a Brazilian reality TV show, and so it was filled with workers giving it a makeover. The village visit was on our itinerary, though, and Rui knew that the lodge's guests would complain if they didn't get to see it, so he took us there anyway.

I must admit, it was my least favorite part of my stay in the Amazon, although I did think it was fun to see the TV show producer riding in a speed canoe, with a big camera mounted on a tripod in the front. I also liked seeing the men of the village on the bank of the river, unloading all the building supplies that had been shipped in.

Jungle Survival

"Please! Look to the soil, and don't touch anything!" Rui commanded as we began the first of our two hikes along the rainforest floor.

The first rule of surviving in the jungle is to watch where you're stepping, rather than looking up to see all of the birds, animals, butterflies, and vegetation up high in the rainforest canopy as you walk along. I had to remind myself to stop when I wanted to look up to see interesting things like the epiphytic bromiliad plants, which grow on top of other plants to be closer to the light and escape the darkness created by all the trees shading the rainforest floor.

The second rule: don't touch anything, was much easier said than done.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Contentment in the jungle

"I can't believe it!" Sam said as he, his girlfriend Abby, and I walked back to our canoe after visiting the home of Francisco, Selina, and their 14 children. The family lives in a cluster of buildings along the Rio Negro, about 40 minutes by canoe from the Ariau Jungle Towers.

"That woman is the happiest, most content person I've ever met!" Sam declared. He'd just spent the last hour chatting with Selina as they sat together at the table beneath this grass roof over the family's kitchen and dining area.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swimming in the Amazon

I hadn't planned to swim in the Amazon. I hadn't even intended to TOUCH the Amazon, because I was so scared of the bacteria and waterborne larvae that can penetrate your intact skin and give you horrible diseases. The Salt Lake County Health Department nurse who gave me my vaccinations described the diseases in vivid detail, and even gave me a prescription for antibiotics to take in case a drop of freshwater accidentally splashed on me.

But, once I was actually THERE, and saw that the resort offered an option to swim with pink river dolphins, I really wanted that experience. I carefully studied the 7-page health precautions report the nurse had given me, and learned that the highest freshwater disease risk was in Bahia, the first state I visited, rather than here in the Amazon. Since I'd already purchased the freshwater antibiotics and had them with me, I figured I could take them for good measure.

I reasoned that the Ariau Jungle Towers is a 5-star resort, with guests like Bill Gates staying there. Certainly they knew what they were doing and wouldn't put their guests at inappropriate risk.

So I changed my mind and decided to sign up to swim with the Amazon's pink river dolphins. One of the first questions the lodge asked in response was if I was having my menstrual period. The scent of blood, of course, attracts some of the larger dangers of the Amazon, like the river sharks and piranhas and caiman. I wasn't having my period, so I was good to go.

"I have another tour and won't be able to go swimming with you" Rui told me "but will send you with my friend Paulo. He doesn't speak English, but just do whatever he says, and you'll be fine."

Since I knew one of the other tourists I'd be swimming with spoke both Portuguese and English, I wasn't too worried about being able to follow directions, but the German man next to me who overheard our conversation laughed and asked "How is she supposed to follow directions she doesn't understand!?" So, Rui elaborated further:

"Just keep your hands below water the entire time, and you'll be fine. The dolphins can't see very well, so if your hands are outside the water, they might think you are a fish and bite you. But if you keep your hands below water, you won't get bit." I figured I could do that.

Because of a busy schedule that day, instead of meeting at the lodge, Paulo picked me up in his canoe at the end of my jungle hike. I'd carried my swimsuit in my pack during the hike, and so the first order of business was to stop here to change clothes:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give that man a raise!

The next time I feel like complaining about my job, I hope I'll remember Amadeo, and stop my whining.

One of Amadeo's many responsibilities at Ariau Jungle Lodge is to take people on caiman spotting tours, so they can get an up-close-and-personal experience with the crocodilian reptiles that live along the Amazon. Since the caiman are most active at night, these tours happen after dark. Here's a photo of Rui and Amadeo standing at the front of our canoe, using a large car-battery-powered spotlight to scan the river banks, looking for the caiman.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fishing for Piranha

"If you don't hide the hook, you'll just be feeding the piranhas!" my guide Rui explained as he showed us how to place the chunks of cow heart we were using as bait on the hooks of our bamboo fishing rods. Here's a photo of my pile of bait, sitting on the side of the canoe:

We'd met Rui and Amadeo at the dock where we always boarded the little canoes for our outings, and I was surprised that they only took us about 100 feet upstream to fish on the Ariau River, which eventually makes it way to join the Rio Negro and eventually the Amazon. Here's the area where we fished.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Staying at an Amazon Jungle Lodge

"Do you want to sleep in a hammock on your balcony?" asked my guide at the Ariau Jungle towers, two hours upstream from Manaus.

When I hesitated, he said "Don't worry...nothing will get you. The opossums...they don't jump!"

"What about the snakes?" I asked. The movie "Anaconda" had been filmed here, and I certainly wasn't looking for an up-close-and-personal experience with them.

"They're down there" he said, pointing to the jungle floor about 30 feet below "so you don't need to worry! And the monkeys...the monkeys won't bother you either".

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Waterfall Paradise

"What is your name?" the young man with a mischievous smile asked as we stood in our swimsuits along the Pedra Branca waterfalls.

"Cindy" I replied.

"Cindje, put out your hand".

I did, and he put his hand over mine to drop something very light into it. He left his hand over mine, looking into my eyes and smiling broadly. I smiled back and grabbed his wrist with my other hand, not sure I'd be happy with whatever I was holding, but when he pulled back his hand to reveal what he'd given me, I was delighted to find that I was holding a little black frog.