Friday, January 17, 2014
“Then we had ants for dinner . . .”
“Then we had ants for dinner . . .”
SMC Amazon 2014: Day 8
We look forward to showing you pictures of our very cool boat, on which we will eventually take an excursion to a number of Amazon communities upriver from our main site of Santarém. It has two bathrooms, two shower rooms and plenty of spaces for us to hang all of our hammocks. For now, though, we are using it to get to work.
Anã is about a four hour boat ride from Santarém, unless one is using a speedboat, which could probably make the trip in less than an hour. Because we are chugging upriver, though, it takes a long time. These hours were some of the first in which we could do things like read, nap, stare out across the water (which, by the way, is VAST – we keep accidentally calling it “the ocean” even though it is a river) and just sit idly without needing to hurry somewhere. Many of us capitalized on the opportunity to sleep and before we knew it, our captain and the Saude e Alegría staffers were saying “Chegando” (“Arriving.”)
We all lined the rails at the front of the boat (all three levels above water) and took in the beauty of the beach and the church on the waterfront. By “beach,” we don’t mean it had sunbathers and snorkelers; we just mean it is a sandy bank on the enormous river.
Please note the reference to the sandy bank. Remember all of that luggage we mentioned before? Tools, first aid, extra food, all of our clothes . . . ? Well, all of that luggage got carried to the beach by a small rowboat and then we and our new hosts had to get it all across the sand, up a hill and down a path to our new Amazon home.
The highlight of our home is probably our sleeping quarters: a vast round screened structure with a pole down the center and a thatched roof. Unlike some of the similar structures we have visited, though, this one has walls. That pole down the center is ringed by hooks, which we all immediately recognized as hammock hooks. We staked out our claims on specific hooks in the center and found accompanying ones on the outer wall and now we have a lovely star/web of hammocks as our current residence. We each have a wall cabinet for our belongings and we also have very nice showers, bathrooms, a kitchen and dining room. We are set.
Lunch was waiting for us when we arrive and then we spent a bit of time getting settled in. From there we went into the center of the community to learn more about our project here. We saw a lot that looked pretty overgrown but here it counts as one that would be easy to clear. For that reason, the community selected this lot to be its tree nursery. We took our tools down and stored them close to the lot and took a small tour of the center of the community, getting a quick tutorial on who is related to whom and where things are.
As we walked to the center of the community, we noticed some HUGE ants with big bulbous butts sticking out of the sandy path. When we called attention to them, one of our guides yanked one out of the ground and popped it into his mouth. He invited us to do the same. Some of us did.
We then learned that some of the materials for our project had been delivered to the beach: wood, cement and bricks. We already told you about dragging luggage up the hill, so you can imagine what it was like to get these heavy materials up there. We learned more than we meant to learn about physics and general logistics as we figured out ways to get the stuff through the sand and up the hill without breaking our bodies or our spirits in the process. Needless to say, it was challenging.
After the cargo transfer, our hosts invited us to swim in the river and play soccer on the beach. We took them up on that offer too. The water is warm and pretty clear for river water, with soft white sand in every direction.
At dinner, we showed up to the dining hall to find a whole plate of ants waiting for us – this time fried. The plate went around the table a few times and as far as we know, everyone tried them eventually. The evaluations of them included comparisons to peanuts, popcorn and perhaps the most accurate – soynuts. It turns out that the bulbous butts are the best part of all, so some people just ate those (to avoid feeling the crunchy legs in their mouths?).
As we settle into our hammocks tonight having feasted on ants, we can have no doubt that we are in fact in the Amazon. Stay tuned to see what else we see . . .