Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vilas Amazonas

SMC Amazon 2014 Day 19


Our fishing expedition never happened, as we saw huge thunderheads gathering at just about the time that we were supposed to head out in five rowboats in search of piranhas.  We decided to wait until the rain passed but by the time it did, darkness had fallen.  Those lucky piranhas!  We’ll get ‘em next time!

We decided to spend our boat time catching up on unfinished videos and we premiered some of the ones that have gotten finished over the last few days.  We awoke to a cloudy but rainless day, which was a perfect combo for us, as we were taking our last excursion into a new community, this one called Vilas Amazonas. 

Vilas Amazonas overlooks the actual Amazon River itself from a rather high perch on a cliff.  Our other communities were mostly centered around an Amazon tributary called the Arapiuns and we did a little jaunt onto another large tributary called the Tapajós.  Vilas Amazonas had a very different feel, both because the vegetation and soil color were different and because the houses and the layout of the community were different. 

In the other communities where we have been we have seen the workings of the government, partly through the provision of stable water supplies but also in the actual construction of the houses there.  The houses in Anã, for example, were almost all of a plaster construction with metal windows and doors.  They are even stamped with some federal bank logo to indicate their source. 

In Vilas Amazonas, though, the houses are less uniform.  Some are made of wooden planks, some of all thatch, some partially of brick, etc., etc.  The community has made a conscious effort to plant and maintain fruit trees and hardwoods, so there are about 15 or more kinds of fruits scattered on the ground throughout the village at any give time.  We tasted mangoes straight from the tree along with cacao, the source of chocolate. 

We visited one of the houses and were offered avocado juice as a morning refreshment.  Avocado juice is just smashed up avocadoes, water and sugar.  It is excellent.  The avocado is universally treated as a fruit here and used as a sugary dessert, drink or ice cream.  No one would EVER salt an avocado and eat it as part of a savory dish as far as we have seen. 

The house with the avocado juice also had two pet parrots that had just decided to live there, coming in from the rain forest to domesticate themselves.  They lived outside on the ledge of a shed and happily walked onto our hands and shoulders, squawking (but not talking) all the while. 

The owner of the house showed us his collection of indigenous artifacts, much like the ones that we saw in the Santarém museum on our first day in town.  Like the ones in the museum, these artifacts are thousands of years old. 

We went on into town toward an indefinite location that only revealed itself when we reached it: the tallest tree in the area.  Our guide told us that the tree had been there “since the beginning of time.”  Whether or not he is accurate in his assessment, we learned a  lot about community priorities by seeing how important this big old tree was to the people who live there. 

The community provided lunch for us, including fish, chicken, salads, vegetables and juices and then we headed back to our boat, about an hour’s walk away.  We bathed in the river before we pulled up the stakes that anchored the boat.  Louro made us pineapple juice with fresh mint and also popcorn.  We got out our endless supply of peanut butter and Ritz crackers to add to the feast and liberated our last big bag of M&Ms from the “secret stash” bag that helps keep us supplied with treats and a few necessities. 

We took one last little jaunt down one of “the narrows,” a small tributary lined with small ranches that raise long-horned cattle.  The cows walk right down into the water, neck deep sometimes, to eat the rich vegetation that is floating close by.  We saw some beautiful water birds, a few horses and a dolphin or two as we made our way between the small thatched houses.  It is clear that this area gets flooded out regularly but it seems that everyone involved is ready for all contingencies.  Once we left the narrows, we motored across the line where two rivers run next to each other in different colors (the Amason in brown and the Tapajós in blue) and back to the pier in Santarém from which we left. 

We will return to our original place of lodging tonight then do the last packing push to get ourselves headed toward home.  We probably need to get ice cream in town before heading out to our camp and we will also have to arrange for Louro to make us fried chicken at least once, if not two more times, before we leave. 

We feel some sadness about the end of our boat trip and even more sadness about leaving Brazil.  We are eager to see our people back at home, though, and we are eager to remember what our clothes used to smell like when we lived in California.  We’ll try to report in about our last day in Santarém, but we get on a plane tomorrow night so we might have trouble finding the time.  Thanks again for keeping track of our travels!

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