Days 17-20 Hello Jungle by Erin Socks

Trip Start Nov 28, 2007
Trip End Feb 15, 2008

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

After a 2 hour-delay at the airport in Belem, we finally got on the flight to Macapa and arrived there 45 minutes later.  The delay wouldn't have been so bad, except that I've been having bubble guts since Thursday, so I had to make 2 quick runs to the bathroom while Carolyn waited in line.

I've been getting a taste of Brazilian etiquette... It's interesting that they are extremely warm and welcoming people, that turn into complete a-holes in airports/airplanes.  While we were waiting in line to check in, several people would just walk up to the counter and complain about the wait or demand to be attended to next, delaying the process even more.  And boarding the airplane by rows doesn't work here either.  Everybody lines up in a mob in front of the gate and tries to get on the plane before their row is called.  When (or if) they're turned away, they get extremely angry.  One guy didn't move from the spot in front of the check in agent so that everybody had to walk around him to get on the plane.  When getting off the plane, it's every man for himself.  If you don't body check somebody to get into the aisle, you will surely be the last one off the plane... old ladies included.  At baggage claim, everybody rams their carts right up against the claim, so you have to part a sea of carts to grab your baggage... I've got the bruises on my ankles and shins to prove it.

Anyway, we arrived in Macapá safely, where Carolyn's Aunt Lui was waiting and extremely excited to greet us.  Apparently, Macapá is kind of the end of civilization before the Amazon, so we are two of the few people that have come to visit her there.  It was 2 am, and the city was all lit up with Christmas decorations.  It looked very nice.  Lui lives right on the bay of the river on the strip of bars and restaurants.  She offered to take us out for a bite to eat, but since we had to be out of the house by 7:30 am the next morning to catch the tide, we decided not to.

The next morning

, her husband, Zé Raimundo (who has 35 brothers and sisters by 9 different mothers) packed up his nephew's pick up truck and we were off to the dock.  We boarded the "Mad Maria" which was a really nice boat, with beds for 6 and hammock hooks for 3 to sleep comfortably.  It had lights, a bathroom, a kitchen, and an extremely loud sound system which played Shakira, James Blunt, tecno, and a bunch of Brazilian music.

On the way to the island, Zé Raimundo (Let's call him ZR for short) stopped along the way to get a small boat for us to explore the smaller streams around the island.  We waited on the big boat, while he jumped off and swam towards shore where his nephew had pushed the smaller boat onto the river.  It didn't have a motor (we were going to pick one up at the next stop) or paddles, so he got in it and rowed with his hands towards the big boat.  (Luckly the tide was not to stroung.) They tied it up behind the big boat, but it skidded all over the wake and took in water when we got going fast, so they ended up pulling it onto the back of the big boat.

A little further down stream, one of ZR's friends waved us down because their boat had broken.  We threw them a rope and pulled them for the next 30 minutes or so to the next village (or group of 3-4 houses along the river bank).

For lunch, the boat captain fired up the charcoal grill at the back of the boat and we had delicious churrasco (grilled meat) with the rice, beans, and farofa that we had packed up in the morning.

It was a long boat ride, but we sunbathed, talked, ate, and napped to pass the time.  Just before we got to Aunt Lui's house on the island, we made one last stop to pick up the motor for the small boat at one of ZR's friends house and 2 live ducks for the next day's lunch.  The boat ride lasted nearly 6 hours.

I was surprised to learn when we got there that there was another family living at Aunt Lui's house.  ZR's niece lived there with her husband and 4 children.  They apparently take care of the property while Aunt Lui is away.  Speaking of the property, think Swiss Family Robinson.  

Everything is connected by bridges and boardwalks, from the dock to the school, to the saw mill, to what would have been a church but just had the front of the building and a roof and housed another family of 7, to the motor generator that powered the small village, to the water tower, to the small general store with basic goods needed to survive.  It seems that there are about 15-20 kids and 8 adults or so living in the village.  The kids play and run on the boardwalks carefree, completely oblivious to the 8 foot drop to the mud below them.

Carolyn and I were pretty excited to explore the island, and ZR (who grew up hunting and fishing and playing in the Amazon) was more than happy to take us.  We jumped on the small boat and sped away, up and across the river into an inlet on the larger island opposite our village.  

ZR knew the area well, and took us to his timber "project".  A large area of land from which he had cut down the biggest trees 20 years ago and has been taking care of the smaller trees that had space to grow once the bigger trees were taken down.  It was already late in the afternoon though, and he decided that it wasn't the safest time of day to take us hiking in the Amazon.

Back at the house we seemed to be the topic of interest.  Especially me since I speak English.  I made a little friend who was quite the chatty Cathy and kept trying to speak to me but I had no clue what she was saying.  

I got my camera out to take some photos and she followed along.   She kept saying to Carolyn in Portuguese "I want to speak that thing she speaks."  It is actually amazing to think that these kids may never actually see real civilization.  One little boy has lived there since he was 15 days old.  Other kids will probably drop out of school and fish or log like ZR, who had to paddle up the river 3 hours one way to just get to school.

For dinner, I ate paca (a large rodent like creature the size of a pig native to the area),which was delicious, and I even tried a little sloth, which was not very good and very rubbery. 

For dessert, we had açaí freshly picked from the palm tree and made just minutes before we gobbled it up.  Everybody in the village seemed to gather at the house to watch the nightly novela, so the living room was packed.  It's amazing how the poorest families always have a tv with a HUGE amp for a booming sound system.  After the novelas were over, ZR  put on a DVD of some giant concert/party in Belem called Brasilandia that had really loud music and a lot of sweaty people dancing chu and chu (you know what I'm talking about Meg).  We turned off the TV to go to bed at around 10, and were surprised when it got turned back on again with the amp all the way up.  We weren't able to get to sleep until the town generator was turned off at 11 so all the power went out. 

The next day, we were excited to actually take a walk in the Amazon.  We had breakfast and it was raining but we still wanted to go so ZR revved up the boat.  We went down the winding river and finally got out on land.   

But had to climb up a tree because the water was low so we could not get out in the regular spot.  ZR led the way and we walked down a trail that he had cut many years ago for logging.  Some of the trail was cleared well and was about 5 feet wide...other parts had tall grass and shrubs up to our knees and was barely single track.  Pretty much any part of the trail that is in the sun will grow back extremely fast and the parts that are shaded by larger trees will not grow because they do not get much sunlight.

We were able to see a lot of Monkeys on our walk and ZR told us all about the different kinds of trees. 

He knows everything about the area since he grew up here and he was glad to teach us about the jungle.  Overall we walked about 1.5 miles but we sure got dirty and sweaty.  The mosquitoes did not bother me until the walk back but we had OFF on which may have helped.  We did not see any snakes thanks goodness and ZR told me that we would be more likely to see a panther there than a snake....I was not sure if that was a good or bad thing..?  Then later he told us just a couple months earlier he was walking on the trail and stepped on a 5 inch diameter snake but luckily he did not get bit.  P.S. ZR walks at lightning speed!  No wonder he stepped on a snake...I could barely keep up and he just treks along with his rubber boots.  He also likes to go hunting barefoot in the evening with a flashlight.  He will walk out in the woods in the dark and the shines the light and can tell by the reflection of their eyes what kind of animal it is and then shoots it.  Maybe we should call him Mogli from the Jungle Book!

Once we got back to the house we had a feast on the duck and then took a hammock nap until we had word that the tide was right and we could head back up the river.  Also, as a side note on the river: in certain seasons what they call the "Pororoca or Big Wave" happens.  When the ocean and river water meet at high tide it causes out of nowhere like 6 foot waves that can take down boats.  Apparently people come there to try and surf them.
Once back on the boat we relaxed for the ride back to Macapa in the rain.  Finally the rain cleared and we caught a few good sunset photos.

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