In the Amazon…Nature is the Enemy: Familial Adventures in the Jungle

Where to begin with this post? I’ve struggled with that question over the past few days.  Given the absolute awesomeness of the Dallos/Orth three-day jungle expedition, I’d probably be doing the whole experience a disservice if I acted like everything we did could be crammed into one blog post.  Nonetheless, I now offer you an account of the finest (and most hilarious) moments of a truly memorable three days in the jungle…

I got my swim trunks and my flippie-floppies:

Having your own private boat is…incredible.  For three days we had a fairly large riverboat (and its great five-man crew) all to ourselves. When we had downtime in between jungle hikes (to be discussed later) and flooded forest canoeing (also to be discussed later) we could climb up to the top deck of the boat and either lounge in hammocks or leap 20 feet off of the side of the boat and plunge into the river for a swim. When we got hungry…fish feasts, fresh juices, and fantastic capairinhas were ready for us on demand. Turns out that you get more and pay less during the flooded season on river trips…check pluses all around.

…I won’t lie…the song “I’m on a Boat” by the Lonely Island might have gone through my head once or twice during my time on the boat…but only once or twice…I promise…

“Are we there yet?!”

When I say we did lots of jungle hiking…I mean we did lots! In little more than 24 hours we hiked a total of 26 Kilometers in the hot, humid heat of the rainforest.  On Tuesday afternoon we went on a 9 KM jungle hike (that departed from the Jamaraquá community in the FLONA) and spent roughly 3 hours trekking through dense primary jungle, avoiding fire ants, and seeing all the wonders that the rainforest has to offer. Then, on Wednesday morning we rose at 6:30 and headed out (from Marguary community) for a 6-hour, 18 KM hike into the rainforest to walk amongst the “big trees.”  Some highlights of the two jungle hikes include:

  • Our local guides.  Both of our jungle guides were friendly, knowledgeable, bad*** dudes.  Their understanding of the rainforest left me continuously awestruck.  Watching our 50+ year-old guide on the first hike lightly bounce up steep hills with ease and seeing our guide on the second hike make a fairly lethal bow and arrow out of sticks and vine he grabbed from the forest are two images from the trip that I won’t soon forget.
    
  • Seeing the biggest tree I’ve…ever seen.  When I say big…I MEAN BIG. Think house-sized.  Pretty cool.
  • Exploring an abandoned rubber-tapping house.  Monkey skulls, big spiders, and a host of other strange things…both interesting and creepy.
  • Julia survives.  For those of you who don’t know my sister Julia…hiking isn’t exactly her thing.  Nonetheless, she trekked close to 17 miles in the Amazon and didn’t even come close to exercising the nuclear option (I think we all know what that means).  Top marks.  It turned out that my plan to tell Julia that we were much further along than we were throughout the hikes actually worked pretty well.

Monkey-pee-as-monkey-poo…and fire ants in our canoe:

Oh I’ve been waiting to blog about this portion of our trip for well over five days.  A tale of ant bites, urine, and excrement…I now present our canoe story in the Amazon…

Part 1: Fire Ants

After our first long hike (on Tuesday afternoon), the plan was to get into a canoe and weave our way through flooded rainforest (which is unique to this part of the year).  As we were getting into our small wooden canoe we had to climb onto a log…that fortunately turned out to be inhabited by a rather ravenous colony of fire ants.  After sitting down, each one of us quickly realized that ants were all over the place. While Peter, Matt, and myself got bitten a few times…Julia got hit the worst…by far.  When she stepped onto the log she handed me her water bottle and spent a solid 10 seconds unwittingly standing in the middle of the colony.  All in all Julia counted 30 bites on her ankles and legs. Yeesh. Nothing like having fire ants in your pants after a long afternoon of jungle trekking!  Here is a brief sequence of photos that captures the ant attack and Julia’s subsequent response perfectly…not sure what I find more hilarious…Matt’s laughing…or Julia’s final look…

                      

                      

 Part 2: When Monkeys Attack

Following 15 solid minutes of swatting and itching everybody in our group settled in and began to enjoy the spectacular setting.  For the next 30 minutes we floated through dense jungle (we were literally three meters above the forest floor with massive trees overhead) and were able to enjoy the flooded varzia as it passed us by.  We then exited the first forest and entered another flooded area that apparently had a group of Macaque monkeys living in it.  Needless to say, we were all rather excited.  Our two guides eventually found the monkeys and tried to give us an open view of them.  After 10 minutes of trying to get us perfectly positioned under one of the trees to see the monkeys (and snap a photo or two), our guides positioned the boat under a tree with a fairly large monkey sitting in it.  Upon seeing us, the monkey jumped down a few branches and gave us a rather unfriendly stare.  It was at this moment that we heard the tree above rustle and it seemingly started to rain.  One of our guides quickly yelled out “XIXI!!!!” (Portuguese for “pee”) and it became clear that the monkey was quite literally taking a leak on us.  Once attack number one stopped, something flew overhead and plunged into the water (we all thought it was fruit or nuts from the tree).  Both of our guides then exclaimed “CACA!!!”…and we soon realized that the monkey had commenced attack number two.  Despite missing us with his excrement, the monkey did manage to hit all four of us with pee…my hat took a good bit of fire (but I didn’t because of my hat!), Peter got a nice urine mist from the pee being repelled by my hat, and Matt and Julia both got sprayed in the face.  Apparently, this was the first time that our guides had ever seen this happen…

Other trip highlights:

  • Going to a flooded house in Canal do Jarí (a natural canal located in between the Tapajós, Amazon, and Arapiuns Rivers).  The couple living there has called the house home for 40 years…no matter how much their house flooded they never left.  When the water comes they simply put up wood planks, move their belongings, and keep on living. Despite the fact that almost all of the canal is completely flooded right now, many people choose to stay and adapt to the environment.
  
  • Meeting a woman in Canal do Jarí who said that she listens to me every Saturday on Radio Rural…HILARIOUS…and…AWESOME.
  • Peter freaking out every time he saw a spider…we saw lots of spiders…
  • Matt “Tebowing” off the top deck of the boat and into the river…
  • Floating amongst the giant lilies…
  • Andy the translator…I think I did a solid job of translating throughout the trip.  My Portuguese is improving each and every day and I’m starting to feel pretty darn fluent.

A final thought on the trip:

It’s amazing how watching Matt, Julia and Peter react to the novelty and uniqueness of life in the Amazon for a week actually allowed me to reconnect with this place.  I think at times over the past few weeks I’ve become rather accustomed to the day-in-day-out realities of life in Santarém and the surrounding area and I’ve stopped appreciating just how special life is here.  Their visit really was like a dose of Vitamin C…it allowed me to not only make some great memories with people I care about but also appreciate my current home all over again. Check +++.

Other happenings:

  • I was approached by another “English Through Music” listener last Friday when I was at UFOPA…we have at least two regular listeners!
  • The new umbrella I bought two weeks ago is already broken…a new one will have to be purchased in the near future…
  • The first movie theater in Santarém’s history opened up a week ago in the Paraíso Mall…what was once a quiet, low-key slice of paradise has been transformed into a hopping, slightly unpleasant “place-to-be.” So much for quiet internet browsing at the mall…I guess the good news is that I might actually be able to watch the new Batman movie when it gets released this summer!
  • An anthropologist friend studying at UFOPA invited Donovan and I to a Candomblé religious service this past Saturday night.  This unique Afro-Brazilian religion, which originated in the northeast of Brazil, draws heavily on various African religious elements transported to Brazil by slaves.  I have to say…it may have been the most interesting (and fun) experience I’ve had since arriving here in March (I know I’m prone to hyperbole…but it really was mind-bogglingly cool).  Dancing, beer, food, cross-dressers…expect to hear a lot more about it in next week’s post.

That’s all I have for now.  Have a good week and…GO CELTICS!

Um forte abraço,

Andy

P.S If you’re reading this and you haven’t already called your mom for Mother’s Day…you’re in trouble…

P.S.S An Andyinhat.tumblr.com update is up with a solid bunch of new photos…Facebook and Flikr photo albums (per Matt/Julia/Peter’s request) will be up at some point in the next week

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