Saturday, January 11, 2014

Zombies Attack the Amazon

SMC Amazon 2014: Day One 

Special note:  You will not even believe from where we are posting these updates.  See the Saturday entry to learn more . . .

Sorry for the delays in keeping you posted.  Strangely, we are living in a weird connection-free zone, in which cellphones don’t work and the internet does not exist.  So, we are still prepping the blog, choosing photos and editing videos but we have to wait for special opportunities to arise to manage to post anything.  We will work on a more reliable solution to this problem. 

We arrived in Santarém at just after 4:00 a.m. local time and got to have a triumphant end to our seventeen and a half hour journey by walking the tarmac at the airport in the warm morning air.  We next had to claim our enormous piles of luggage, but we’ve gotten so good at wrangling it all and taking care of each other that it was just no big deal. 

We got to our place of residence before the sun rose and started to get organized.  We don’t want to post many details about where we are staying for a number of reasons but it has everything that we need, including a men’s dorm, a women’s dorm, nice bathrooms, a kitchen and a dining hall.  It is also covered with an arcade like the ones at Saint Mary’s, meaning that if you follow the path you can stay out of the rain or the blazing sun as needed.  Things are pretty spread out so we are getting in plenty of walking even before we leave home, if only to get from our supply room to the bathroom and back. 

As the sun rose we got to take in even more of our camp, including the lush trees all around it and the gazebos in a couple of places on the lot that are lined with enough benches for all of us to gather there at once.  We spent some time in one of the gazebos making flash cards to help us teach English to and learn Portuguese from the kids we expect to work with in a neighborhood in town.  We had the excellent idea of dividing things up by parts of speech, with different groups making nouns, verbs, adjectives and helpful vocabulary terms that will help our students (and us) form sentences that are useful to know. 

Around sunrise our friend Louro (an excellent cook) arrived, as he is going to spend quite a bit of time with us and help us manage our food needs.  We caught a local bus and went into town with Louro to buy some food and other supplies.   We found a bank that would accept our debit cards and then hit the town, first quenching our thirsts with fresh coconut water directly from the coconut, opened by a machete-wielding vendor who handed it over with a straw.  We grabbed some food at a sidewalk café that included lots of different kinds of sandwiches and a beautiful array of juices (made from local fruits) and then pursued some shopping needs, including the purchase of emergency flipflops for a couple of us who had forgotten to bring any.  The city has a bustling downtown area full of shopping opportunities, most of which seem to involve rather small locally-owned businesses. 

We visited the open-air market in the public plaza and took particular interest in the wide assortment of hammocks that were available, especially because we are going to spend part of our trip sleeping in hammocks on our trip upriver.  We didn’t purchase them yet, though, as we did not want to carry the bulky items all around town.  We walked the riverfront, known as the “orla,” and got a good look at the boats that are a thriving part of the life and economy of the city.  We also had popsicles, in flavors like avocado, tapioca, Brazil nut and lots of fruits that don’t exist outside of this area. 

We walked the length of the orla and stopped in at the Museum of Santarém at the far end of it.  As we rounded the corner to see into the door of the museum, we noticed that a famous local artist, Laurimar Leal (familiar to prior SMC Amazon students), was sitting inside.  Laurimar was born into a slave community at a time when slavery was still prominent in the region and then became an artist and historian who is central to the city’s cultural identity.  He talked to us about the city, the museum, the importance of art and the changes that he has seen in his long life.  He even sang some slave songs for us, all passed down to him by his own immediate ancestors.  Though we were tired and somewhat delirious, we knew that we were witnessing something very important.  

We had excellent fried chicken for dinner (Yay, Louro!) and got some ideas together about writing our journals and planning our final projects.  We hit our pillows hard, knowing that we could sleep for almost nine hours before we needed to hop up and hit the town again Thursday.  We are loving our adjustment to our new life in the rain forest.  Please keep watching this space, as we hope to backfill pictures and videos as soon as we can.

Kaylia enjoying her exotic flavor ice cream at the riverbank. 
 The boats were parked between the riverbank and the fish market. To access the river, the boats go beneath the fish market place.

 Stopping by the fish market to shop for lunch.

 Can you spot the iguana in this picture? At the Saude e Alegria office.

  Everything went coconuts as soon as we got off the plane and into town!

  The skeleton of the beached whale in the museum in Santarem.

  Lorimar, the artist of the museum pieces, discusses the history of the museum and his work.

  A crazy view of a housing development in Santarem, although none of the houses, we found out, were occupied.

This would be our first and new humble abode in Santarem for our first week there.

After 15 hours of traveling the group finally arrives in Santarem! Shawny, Kaylia, Jenny, Megan, and Marisol exited off the back of the plane and straight on to the tarmac.

The joyful artist of the Santarem museum encouraged us to look around and
embrace his work and pieces of his family history.

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