In The Jungle: Day 4

Trip Start Apr 18, 2010
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33
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Trip End Dec 20, 2010


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Where I stayed
Iguana Turismo's Lodge
What I did
Made Condoms

Flag of Brazil  , State of Amazonas,
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yeah I know, day four of a three day jungle trip. Maths was never my strong point... I was meant to leave yesterday after rice, beans and over-salted meat time but I was easily coerced into an extra night with the promise of the paddling yesterday afternoon.

Anyway, my extra night also got me a trip to a see a local guy who taps the rubber from the trees on his land to make boots, gloves, wallets and condoms. Yes. Condoms. Thick, reuseable, washable condoms. Hilarious. My only experience of condoms is filling them with water to throw out of a 7th floor flat window at passers by below. These ones certainly wouldn't meet my condom related needs.
Now I knew rubber came from trees, that was just an accepted fact in my mind, but it never occured to me how exactly the rubber is extracted from the trees and in what form. I just never thought about it. Rubber comes from trees and that's that. So what they do is cut a groove on a slant in the tree and stick a vessel underneath it to catch the white, rubber sap. This has to be done early in the morning before it gets too hot or the rubber will get too sticky and it actually has that distinct rubber smell too. I have no idea why this surprised me. Rubber smells like rubber? No shit, Sherlock.
 
There's a way of doing it so you don't kill the trees; Once a tree is old enough to be cut you start at the bottom and work your way up the tree over time. Once you've gotten as high as your ladder will go, the bottom of the tree has healed and renewed so you can start hacking at it again and the older trees are covered in black, dried rubber with the deep cut marks in them. Emo trees. Nobody understands them and I hate you and I wish I'd never been born.

This fella has been doing this for years as did his father and his father before him. They're an old family and in fact it was his grandfather, Josť Fransisco Maia, who settled here in order to make a difference in the community, improve the education system etc. The local school is named after him and he started the rubber tapping by accident. He made himself a pair of rubber boots with the trees that happened to be there so he could go walking around his land without getting his toes wet, next thing you know all his neighbours wanted a pair. Sweet. Bit of extra cash then ay.

We were shown how the rubber was dried onto a mold to make various things and told about the history of the rubber boom in the 19th century which is the reason Manaus has so many sprawling suburbs and is so overcrowded, 2 million people in that one, small, Amazonian town.
The tale of the rubber boom is a familiar one; Money could be made from a natural resource which was controlled by the European Rubber Barons, mainly the English. See, this is what I don't get. Portugal, Spain, Holland, they can wander in and take as much land as they want from anywhere. As soon as the English steal a bit of land and enslave a few people its like, "You bastards!" and we don't live it down for hundreds of years.
Anyway, enslave them we did and sent them out into the jungle to tap rubber at night then made them work all day to dry the rubber into huge balls to sell to the Asians. They were raking it in. Shit loads of cash, minimal worker expenses (all they had to do was feed them enough to keep them alive and even then if they got eaten by something in the jungle or died they'd just replace them), they squandered their money on the most insane things. They sent their clothes to France to be washed, they brought posh folks over from Europe on huge cruise ships, all expenses paid. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they kept the softest notes in the bogs for wiping their arses. They never planned for the future because they didnt think it was ever going to end.
It all went tits up when Asia started growing their own damn rubber thankyouverymuch and they were much better at it to as Asians so often are. The English retreated back to England to drink tea and eat fish and chips for the rest of their days.

And I really did have to leave today. It was a fabulous four days but this rash on my back was getting worse and I needed to do something about it. Something sensible I mean, like get it looked at instead of pretending its not there.

After rice, beans and over-salted meat we were taken back to Manaus the way we came. Awesome trip, I totally recommend Iguana Turismo, Alan knows his shit and is a brilliant guide. The eager to please owner, Gerry, is on hand to get you anything you need and is geared up for any situation. Bad back? Have a hot compress. Unidentified blistery rash? I'm sure I have a cream for that. Brazil nut allergy you were unaware of until you just ate that brazil nut? I'm sure I have a hastily washed fuel pipe around here somewhere I can jam down your throat... That's an actual story too, poor bastard. What a way to find out you have an allergy, middle of nowhere, 2 hours from the nearest town.

My last Brazilian adventure was a good one. Next stop, Venezuela.
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