Of Ants in my Pants, Alter Weekends, and Near Death Experiences

Sorry for the late post but the internet was down throughout the city over the past 24 hours…250,000 people without internet access…gotta love it…

24 Km mountain bike rides and near death experiences:

We’ll get to the second part of this section’s title in a bit.  First, let’s discuss the tiring, satisfying, and all around fun weekend that I had in Alter do Chão…

On Saturday afternoon Dan called up Donovan and I and asked if we wanted to spend a night or two with him at his Caiman (an alligator-like crocodilian) studying/catching friend Rafa’s house in Alter.  He told us that they were planning on going on a “little” bike ride to a secluded beach only about 8 Km away and we’d spend Sunday biking, swimming, and eating good food. Given that not a whole lot else happening in Santarém, on Saturday night four of us (Dan, Dan’s geographer friend Diego, Donovan and myself) hopped on a bus and headed for Alter.  We arrived to Rafa’s awesome jungle bungalow farmhouse, got some dinner in town, hung out, and headed to bed in our hammocks (another HUGE advantage of the rede…you can just bring it wherever you go and you have a bed) outside on the porch.  We got up at about seven the next morning (after being woken up every 30 minutes from 4:00 A.M onwards by Rafa’s pet rooster) and headed out on our bike trek.

Despite Rafa’s assurances that the ride wouldn’t be too bad, I quickly figured out that I was in for a majorly^10 tiring day. The ride started out easily enough along relatively flat, dirt roads.  After about 10-15 minutes of biking Rafa gave us the “hill ahead” hand signal with a smile on his face.  It was at this point that a towering, mountain-like monstrosity of a hill came into full view.  I’ve done many a running workout on hills in my time…and let me tell you…this thing put most if not all of them to shame (even on a bike).  On the way up I huffed and I puffed and I thankfully didn’t blow chunks.  Everybody made it to the top of the first hill looking rather shell-shocked as I think we all realized what we had gotten ourselves into.  And so for the next hour we climbed, descended, and climbed some more.  We all eventually made it to the secluded beach along the Tapajós River (which was absolutely magnificent…and deserted) with jell-o legs and the stark realization that we many hills between Rafa’s house and us.  We spent the next four hours doing a combination of backbreaking accents, swimming, and eating. All total we biked roughly 24 Kms of hills and ended up absolutely spent.  Despite the unexpectedly tiring nature of the adventure, I have to say that I had a wonderful time.  We ate great food, explored the jungle, swam at a beautiful beach, and got a phenomenal workout in…I’ll take a day like that any day of the week.  I got back to Santarém Monday morning feeling refreshed and ready for the week.

Oh yeah…about that time that I almost died.  First off, I got the absolute shaft when it came to bikes (Rafa had four bikes for us to borrow).  The death trap that I ended up with was his sister’s bike.  Small, old, uncomfortable, with a flower on the front and only one gear…it really was a piece of (insert expletive here).  Long story short, about 23.5 Kms into our 24 Km trip…at the top of the very last hill…my chain decided to fall off. The bike swerved under me and nearly brought me down.  As all of this was happening a car was SPEEDING right behind me (people aren’t careful about bikers here…at all) and I found myself quite literally one foot from getting nailed by the car and probable death.  Donovan was a solid 20 feet behind me and said afterwards that if my chain had fallen off a couple of seconds sooner I would have been (insert expletive here).  Despite the whole near-death experience the good news is that I lived to tell the tale and ended up having a wonderful weekend otherwise. Check pluses all around…except for the piece of (insert expletive here) bike.

…A couple other photos from our weekend in Alter…


Hostile ants:

Total victory. That’s all they desire. I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve whimpered…and I’ve even come close to shedding a tear or two…all for naught. I’m now convinced that our resident colony of ants won’t stop their all out assault on me and my property until they have achieved total and complete capitulation. No matter how many different tactics Donovan or I have employed to keep them out of our rooms and our belongings, they continue to return…stronger and more resilient.

In all seriousness, the small, red ants that call our house (and Santarém in general) home are not a joke and should not be taken lightly.  Why? Well for starters they get into everything you own.  Your computer (literally my laptop was out of its case for a couple of hours and it was CRAWLING with ants under the keyboard)…your boxers (that I may or may not have been wearing…yeah…imagine that…)…your shirts…your socks…your shoes…your pants…your hammock…your backpack…you own it, they mine it for building material.  Usually, I am rather unsympathetic towards people with ant problems.  Up until my arrival in the Amazon, I have found that more often than not ants end up in places where people carelessly leave food out in the open. However, 2838 24 de Otubro is no 5345 S. Woodlawn Ave Apt #1 and our ant problems certainly cannot be explained through slapdash food disposal. No our ants don’t just want our food…they want everything we own…AND US.

That last point is crucial. Our ants are not the docile, innocuous cohabitants that you encounter frequently back home. Noooooooooooo they are not. They bite. They leave rashes. They wake you up in the middle of the night feeling like your skin has just been doused in gasoline and then set on fire. They are truly nasty little buggers. What bothers me about our resident ants is not so much their mere presence in my living quarters (my college life taught me how to deal with MANY an infestation), but instead the fact that they actually cause me harm in real and tangible ways.  Being woken up at 3 A.M by small pinches and then realizing that you and your hammock are covered by hostile ants is…no way to wake up in the middle of the night.  Yet, the damage isn’t just a couple of bites here and there that go away by the time the morning rolls around.  Instead, our ants often leave 10, 20, or even 30 bite marks all over your body that itch for the better part of a week.  The worst part of all: there is literally nothing you can do about them.  Your only hope is to sweep em’ when you see em’, hide your hammock when you’re not sleeping in it, and buy a ton of after-bite lotion.

I’d have been happy to coexist in peaceful harmony with them. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. It looks like I’ll have to just carry on fighting and hope that they tire before I do.

The bakery I am sitting next to as I write this is named “Formiguinhas” (that literally means “little ants” in Portuguese).  HOW INSANELY APPROPOS…TWO WEEKS IN A ROW!

Two Dallos’ and an Orth arriving this week:

It seems like only a day ago that Matt, Julia, and Peter booked their flights to venture into the Amazon.  Nonetheless, next Friday they arrive for a week of Alter do Chão chillaxing, birthday celebrations (yes I’ll be 23 years young next Monday), and river exploration.  I think I’ve set up a pretty good itinerary for them down here and it’ll be interesting to see how they cope with the Amazon.  I’m definitely excited to see some familiar faces and it’ll be great to hang out with them for a few days in Alter do Chao until their big boat trip.  It’s too bad that I can’t head with them to Rio for a week…but I guess my time for Rio will come in just a couple months! Patience, patience, patience! I will be sure to keep you updated on the hilarious happenings that are sure to occur…

Other happenings:

  • First week of “Andy in Charge” (again…GASP) English conversation classes went splendiferously. Although we definitely have extremely varying degrees of English fluency in my two sections, I really feel that both classes went well and everybody appeared to get something out of them (including me!).  A more detailed post about this should be coming in the next couple of weeks.
  • Andy: 1 Mold: 1! I think I’ve finally found a solution to the nasty mold (which took an early lead after enveloping my clothes and other belongings) in my room. How did I do it? Fan, fan, and more fan! The series is now tied 1-1. Rubber match coming up!
  • Only one power outage last week…and it only lasted for a minute or so…not bad.
  • Donovan and I have been consistently hitting the weight room four to five times a week for eight straight weeks…between lifting that much and running another three times a week I can confidently say that I am in the shape of my life. It’s definitely been nice to get into a really solid exercise routine down here. I’m actually toying around with the idea of doing a marathon when I get home (it’s on my bucket list)…I’ll be sure to let you know if I take steps to turn this abstract idea into a concrete reality.
  • I had a cold all last week…a cold in the blazing heat of the tropics…WHO KNEW!

That’s all I have for now. Have a great week!

The end.

Um Abraço Forte,


P.S Four new photos are up on Andyinhat.tumblr.com from our adventures over the past weeks…Spoiler Alert: Andy climbs mango tree in yard of abandoned house with guard dogs…to retrieve mangos…with hat on.

…Why? Answer: I was bored and it seemed like fun Kanye West Answer: I’m a genius.

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