Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hunting Thatch

SMC Amazon 2014: Day 11

Continuing in “pivot” mode, we took up a job today that community members were going to do, mostly because they thought that we would be either unable or unwilling to help.  The job was to go deep into the rain forest and find just the perfect plant at just the perfect stage of development to serve as the future thatched roof of the tree nursery’s workspace.  We learned partway through the day that the missing materials are going to arrive earlier than we had heard, so we will continue to shift and change our plans accordingly. 

Anyway, we all decided to spend the morning chasing thatch.  The Portuguese word is actually “palha” or something like that, but the basic premise is that we needed to find the just-sprouted centers of palm plants before they open up.  Because we are unskilled at navigating the forest floor, each of us joined a small group led by a local who blazed the trail with a machete and spotted the perfect plants from a distance.  They would go in and whack the center of the plant and throw it back toward us like a spear.  Then we would pass it through the forest to walk it back out to the trail. 

As it turns out, the beautiful just-past-full moon that we have been admiring the last few nights was thwarting our ability to find exactly what we wanted, as the moonlight inspires the plants to open up.  Still, there were plenty out there; it just took lots of bushwhacking to get to them.  We ran into one small boa constrictor and one tarantula out there but otherwise we just made our way through as unobtrusively as possible to get to the palhas and then get them back out.  (The boa and the spider, by the way, wanted to get away from us just as badly as we wanted to get away from them.)  The forest was so thick that if you got about five or ten feet from the person in front of you, sometimes it took a quick game of “Marco Polo” to find each other again.  It worked. 

We worked until lunchtime and then loaded our newly counted bundles of 30 palhas onto what should have been an oxcart, except that we didn’t have an ox.  But we had Dennis, which is at least as good.  He ran that cart back with some assistance from some of the rest of us and we found that we had retrieved 24 bundles out of the 60 that we will eventually need.  Not bad for a bunch of rookies. 

After lunch we took a quick sesta and then went back to the site that we prepped on the first day to start working the thatch.  Each frond needs to be shaken madly to loosen its leaves and then each individual leaf needs to be twisted in a very particular way to make them all align just right to make a proper roof.  We had a very long and slow learning curve but after not too much time, we all became pretty adept at this local skill.  Despite our improvements, we were getting schooled by young girls, old ladies, and every guy that we have met here so far, as they can crank those palhas in their sleep. 

The effort that we have put into this nonexistent roof already is making us truly appreciate the roof over our heads in our hammock room and in our lovely dining area here in camp.  The number of people and hours represented by just these two spaces really makes us take note of what cushy lives we usually live. 

Tomorrow we get to have a “late” breakfast like we did today, as we don’t eat until 7:00.  That half hour of sleep is precious to us and gives us another thing to appreciate from our remote location in the Brazilian Amazon, far from our soft pillows, warm blankets and other comforts of home . . .

We caught a glimpse of a thunderstorm on the other side of the river while we were out 
swimming on the beach of Ana.

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