Friday, January 24, 2014
The Rain Forest
SMC Amazon 2014: Day 16
It’s Jesse’s birthday!!! More on this later in the entry . . .
We had mixed results sleeping on the boat, but no matter how much anyone slept, we all awoke abruptly at 5:00 when the boat engine turned on to get things rolling for the morning. We stayed in our hammocks until about 6:00, had breakfast and then went into the community of Atodí just after 7:00. There, we broke into two groups, each of which had a local guide, and started a four and a half hour hike through the rain forest.
Our guides can move through the forest very quickly and with great ease, so we did our best to keep up. We started out on a trail that is a central path between various communities and their source of farinha (the manioc flour that is at the base of most of what we eat here). The places where farinha is made started uphill from the river, near a freshwater source called an igarapé. Even though the (small) population is now more concentrated near the river, the food production still remains in its traditional location, meaning that the path that leads to the manioc huts is pretty well worn.
We were on that path for about thirty minutes, then diverted out into the forest. In certain places, we were in old growth areas with absolutely awesome trees and other forms of vegetation unlike anything many of us had ever seen. There were enormous palms whose fronds were actually truly 30 or 40 feet long just standing right off the forest floor. There were castanha (Brazil nut) trees, many of which will be raised in the tree nursery we built in Anã, that seemed like they might have been 100 feet tall. (We aren’t sure if that number is an exaggeration or not.) The way they looked from below against all of the other enormous plants and trees around them and against the beautiful Amazon sky is almost impossible to describe in words (or pictures). Some of the trees were so enormous that we couldn’t get any perspective on them with our cameras to even indicate their size.
We tasted Brazil nuts fresh from the tree, star fruit, guava, a tree milk that is used to cure colds and sore throats, and some other fruits and berries selected by our local guides. We watched monkeys high up in a tree tasting fruits as well and we noticed when we caught their attention as we found them staring at us full of curiosity.
Our guides knew about our work in the other community and they kept pointing out trees that our nursery would help to propagate. They talked about fires that had eliminated groves of native trees and about general deforestation, mostly from outside entities profiting from the sale of the hardwoods that were harvested without clear planning. They gushed about how important it is to restore these species to the rain forest and they assured us that our nursery would play an important part in this process. We were thrilled.
We swam a bit in the small fresh stream that we crossed and used the muds along its walls as a refreshing exfoliating treatment for our skin. We learned that the mud is used by organic products companies for just that purpose.
We had lunch in a pousada much like the place where we stayed in Anã and then went to one of the farinha huts to take in the various parts of the process involved in making use of the manioc plant.
Once we said our farewells in the community, we drove the boat to a long, low sandbar way out in the river called Ponte Grande (POHN-chee GRUN-jee). All of the SMC Amazon vets will remember this stretch of sand and beach. We bathed in the river wearing our swimsuits and then we all walked out to the farthest point we could reach on foot out on the point of the sandbar. We watched the sunset then came back to the boat to set up a beach dinner for Jesse’s birthday.
We stayed in awe of the cloudless Amazon sky (though it’s incredible when big fluffy clouds are everywhere too) and all of the colors that emerged as the sun dropped below the horizon. We kept snapping pictures, knowing they were all inadequate but wishing that somehow we could store and share the beauty that we are experiencing here.
We sang happy birthday to Jesse and gave him a feathered headdress much like the one we gave Ali yesterday. We had a big fish dinner on the beach and stared at the millions of stars that are visible when there are no artificial lights anywhere for hundreds of miles. Louro made a very special birthday cake with chocolate and maybe some pudding and some crunchy cereal stuff on top. It was excellent.
Some people stayed out on the sand while others headed into the boat to stretch out their hammocks or to work on videos. Tomorrow we head to another community, this one with an emphasis on craftwork as its main economic engine. More on this subject as soon as we have learned more about it . . .