18 students and two faculty members from Saint Mary's College are returning to our SMC home away from home in the Brazilian Amazon for Jan Term 2017. This page helps us to tell our story and -- even more importantly -- helps us to tell the stories of our friends and hosts in the Amazon . . .
We had a blast at samba school last night.We arrived late and got there just in
time for the major percussion arrangements, which is always the best part of
these evenings.We knew we only
had an hour so we maximized our time by going right to the front and dancing
from the minute we arrived.The
musicians onstage immediately recognized that we were from out of town (not
many tourists here!) and then quickly remembered that we must be those same
Californians from last year and the year before.They called out to us and a big cheer went up through the
crowd.We probably cheered loudest
of all.We were having a fantastic
time but we knew an early morning was ahead of us so we packed it in and headed
home.We slept hard after our long
emotional roller coaster of a day.
This morning we headed out first thing to an animal
hospital/preserve for forest creatures that have been injured or trafficked or
orphaned or whatever.The place is
called ZooFit and it has become a favorite stop of DIRT groups in recent
years.We can safely get really
close to animals and see them play and watch us back.It wasn’t actually open today but they opened it to us
because we have been going there for the last few years.
We started at the manatee tanks and learned a lot about
river manatees and how they differ from saltwater manatees.There are 19 of them under care here,
including a 2.5-month-old one that was a real cutie.We got kind of mesmerized by watching them surface in the
sometimes murky water just enough to get a breath through their nostrils.
We saw lots of different kinds of monkeys, including one
zogzog like the ones that lived outside our oca
in Anã.It just roams freely
around the compound because it was raised by humans as a pet so it is more
comfortable with humans than with its animal peers.It followed us around and made its crazy zogzog sounds while
we were getting a tour.We loved
There were lots of other monkeys too, and some big cats
(pumas), some alligators (including one that was about 14 feet long!), a boa
constrictor, some beautiful birds (including parrots and macaws) and some other
weird animals that we don’t even have names for in English.We were especially into the monkeys and
found ourselves talking to them through their cages, making eye contact and
really believing that we were connecting to them in some weird way.
We bid farewell to the animals and to our friendly guides
and headed into the city to do some shopping.We made two stops (TWO!) to get machetes, because we wiped
out one store’s supply before we accumulated our 25 or so big knives.They are not yet sharpened but we still
looked like maniacs carrying that many blades through the streets.Some of us got leather sheaths for them
so we really looked like serious machete users.
We then headed home for lunch and quickly turned it around
for more shopping.We got lots of
local souvenirs, some soccer jerseys, and more Havaianas (sandals).Then we hit one of our most popular
stops of all: a self service ice cream store.We piled on flavor after flavor, compared and sampled them
all, then got some more.In all we
had 5.5 kilos of ice cream, which computes to about 12 pounds.There were 22 of us eating, but that’s
still a lot to consume!
We came home from there and started a mad push to get
everything packed and finish all of our pictures and videos up to this
point.We hope to get everything
posted so that you can catch up with our adventures as we travel back to California.We have a long layover in Manaus and we
are going to visit an authentic churrascaria,
which is a meat-lover’s paradise.(They have things for vegetarians too!)If we get a chance we will post from there but sometimes it
is difficult to get a signal so we might fail in that endeavor.If we get stranded like we did last
year (for almost two days!) we will let you know.
It’s hard to imagine that we will be on our way out of
Brazil tomorrow, as we have grown accustomed to the heat, the sounds, the bugs,
the language, the music, the personalities and each other.But we know we will be able to remind
each other of all that we have experienced together, especially because we will
hole up in a computer lab for the first three days that we are home to finish
our final projects.
You may have trouble recognizing us when you see us.We are all really tan.We have really dirty feet and somewhat
smelly laundry.Our standards for
what counts as an appropriate bathroom have really slipped.We are used to the feeling of sunscreen
melting off our faces all day every day.We’ve been eating a lot of flan.Some of us have lost weight due to the rigorous schedule and healthy
diet we’ve been maintaining.Some
of us haven’t.We don’t really
depend on our cellphones the way we used to.We have Portuguese words at the front of our minds now and
they come out of our mouths as sensible responses to everyday situations.
We’ll try not to be obnoxious, but we have had a wonderful
month here together and we are going to miss it dearly.Please be patient with us.Even after we have landed in the US, it
may take us awhile before we are all the way back in California.Part of our hearts, lots of our tears
and a good bit of our labor have been left in the deepest Amazon.We will move on soon, but we’re not in
a hurry . . .
Still, we promise that we look forward to
seeing you and telling you even more!
Here are some zoguezogue videos for your entertainment. Imagine waking up in a hammock to this sound:
Our new monkey friend (a ZogueZogue) listening in on the Manatee presentation. Originally a house pet, this monkey roams around the him brave enough to approach our group.
A wild, angry hawk caught looking upon the SMC DIRTies.
These silly monkeys (Macaco Prego’s) may look cute and cuddly but they are extremely smart and will out wit you. Although healthy, these monkeys will not be released into the Amazon until further studies are done to ensure that they will be safe in the wild.
Although these macaw’s have majestic colors, these feisty birds kept trying to nibble at our toes.
A majestic puma striking a pose while we visit her home. This is one of the four family members living in the cage at the animal hospital/preserve.
We had decided to get up at 6am to finish packing but when
6am rolled around, it was still dark out.Getting up at that hour didn’t make sense if we couldn’t make
progress.So we stayed asleep for another
45 minutes or so and were awakened by the sounds of the zogzogs (a kind of monkey) outside the oca.Shawny pointed out that
this was our last wakeup in the hammock hut and told us to look at the thatched
roof one more time then wind up our hammocks.We got moving pretty quickly from there and got control of our
individual bags.The shared bags didn’t
go quite as smoothly but we worked things out.
The locals started to arrive to help us carry our bags down
to the beach but we were surprised when one group that arrived early this
morning included a full-on film crew with boom microphones and everything.They are doing a documentary on the
communities of the Amazon and, of course, Anã will be one of the featured ones.They filmed us some as we said our goodbyes
at the top of the hill but they stayed up there as we made our way with all of
our luggage down to the beach.
Dona Odila needed to stay with the film crew, so she
couldn’t do her usual beachfront goodbyes.The newcomers got a small taste of the emotion that was to come when
they saw the veterans and Shawny sobbing over their farewells with Odila.
At the beach the focus was on bags at first but then when
the luggage seemed to be under control, the focus was on sadness.We intended to go back to the garden and do a
little ceremony there but we were already getting a late start so we did it on
We gathered all of us and all of the locals and stood in a
big circle in the sand.Shawny asked
each of us to say what our hopes and dreams for this community are.We tearfully expressed our wishes for their
health and happiness and for their pride in their community to continue to
grow.We then reached our hands toward
the garden and sent our best energy toward all of the facets of the garden,
including the new chicken coop.Next we
reached our hands toward the pousada
and sent our best energy toward it.We
finally reached for each other and embraced each other in deep gratitude for
all that we have learned and experienced here, both about Anã and about
The hugs and tears went on and on as we went in small
boatloads of five out to the big boat docked offshore.We all waved madly on the way to the big boat
and all congregated on top to wave and get our last glimpses of our dear
friends as we pulled away.They waved
madly too and eventually we were out of sight.
The boat captain lightened the mood by cranking some
Brazilian music and moving the tables on the first floor so we could
dance.The people on the first floor started
dancing right away and the others started to overhear what was going on and
joined in one by one.Some remained on
the second floor to rest, play cards or play chess.
While our dance party was commencing, the crew was cooking
huge tambaqui (fish – the same kind
that are in the fish cages in Anã) on a charcoal grill right on the deck of the
boat.They made farofa with bananas in
it and the combination of the fish and the bananas was exquisite.We ate and ate and then entered our last
Amazon community for this trip: Urucureá.
Urucureá is famous for its crafts, especially baskets and
other goods made from young fronds of the tucumá
palm tree.They call their
collective Tucumarte (pronounced like
too-coo-MARCH), which is a lovely Portuguese pun.As it turns out, that particular tree is the
one we have been calling the faca
(knife) tree, as its trunk is covered with sharp spikes that make it a horrible
surprise if you bump up against one in the forest.We are pleased to see that this tree we’ve struggled
against is the source of great beauty by those who know how to appreciate
The artisans’ work is beautiful and so tightly woven by hand
that the pieces are very sturdy.(Some
of you will see for yourselves pretty soon, we suspect . . .!)Several of the women from the collective were
there to introduce themselves.The group
is made up of 27 people, 3 of whom are men.Each piece is labeled with its maker’s name, so it is treated very much
like fine art.We started to notice that
we had affinities for certain people’s pieces and their design choices and we
made our selections accordingly.We are
all very happy with the pieces that we purchased.For those of you lucky enough to receive them
as gifts, we hope you will be happy too.
From Urucureá, we motored (FAST!) to a popular beach area
called Alter do Chão.We stayed away
from the public areas and docked by some other recreational boats on the other
side of the point that forms the beach.The ride was pretty rocky but pretty fun.It’s hard not to feel like you are on the
ocean when the waves are crashing and you can’t see land in most
We arrived at Alter do Chão earlier than expected and got to
play in the waves as dusk began to fall.Our captain cranked up the carimbo
tunes again and we just had a private little beach party on a sandbar in the
river.Right now we are waiting for the
sun to set and then we will hop onto our vans and head back into the city.If the timing is right, we will visit a
rehearsal for a samba school that is preparing for Carnival.We also hope to grab some more excellent ice
cream now that we are in range again.Our plan is to go to a self serve place that lets you scoop your own and
pay by the kilo.We look forward to
reporting back on our choices (and collective bowl weights!).
We will likely post again on Monday night but we
will be in a major packing frenzy by then and Tuesday will be the beginning of
our travel time. We got stuck in Manaus
last year trying to get home so be ready for us to experience travel
delays. We just learned about the
blizzards in the northeast so we wonder if those issues will persist into the
middle of the week. We’ll be fine whether
we get home on time or not but we miss all of you and look forward to seeing
you as soon as we can. Thanks again for
following us and for posting comments.
We love to hear from you; we hope you love hearing from us almost as much.
A closer look at the intricate designs of naturally dyed palms. These crafts are hand woven by a group of locals at Urucurea.
Approaching Alter do Chão, to relax and enjoy the water.
Looking back at the sunset after unloading all of our luggage from the boat.
The DIRT crew preparing to say goodbye to Anã. One of the hardest moments of the trip.
Natalie and Arianna enjoying their last moments on the beach of Anã by taking a selfie.
Tonico and Reginalva are two of the most influential people that we met on our trip to Anã. We were blessed with the opportunity to work alongside these two while in Anã.
Saying goodbye to our amazing friends of Anã was a very moving and emotional experience for all of us. We hope to continue the relationships we have formed here and take them with us for the rest of our lives.
We arrived in Alter do Chão just in time to witness the beautiful sunset.
Before heading back to Santarém we stopped in Alter do Chão where we took the opportunity to swim in the river.
We had the opportunity to visit a women’s cooperative where they weave beautiful baskets, purses, coasters, hot plate holders, and vases. These pieces of art can take up to an entire week to produce.
An average day on the boat. Everyone is resting since we had an emotional time saying goodbye to the locals of Anã.
Quick stop at the sandbar in Alter do Chão. It was great to reminisce on our time we spent here in Brazil so far, and discuss our future adventures that we will create once we get back to the States.
The last boat ride before docking on land and heading back to Santarém.
Rob and Cooper helping to move luggage into our vans.
One of the communities we visited called Urucurea has a group of 27 members who weave different crafts with their own style. They are growing popular and sold around the world.
Update: Steve is MUCH better already and has some meds to
keep him on the upswing.He was dancing
on the boat on the way out of Anã so we might have to rein him in a bit.He’s not at 100% yet, but he is well on his
As for the rest of us, we had a volunteer workday once Steve
went off to the clinic. That is, if people needed to rest for the soccer game
(or out of sheer exhaustion), they could.Or if they wanted to work, there were plenty of jobs to do.Almost everyone went for the jobs.
We went back to the chicken coop and continued two jobs that
we have been doing the last couple of days: stretching chicken wire and digging
more postholes for the perimeter of the chicken run.We also had new wood available to make two
more sets of roosts, meaning that we have provided “dormitory” space for almost
250 chickens.Our goal was 125.Not bad.
Lunchtime was approaching just before we finished the roosts
but we decided to soldier on and not only finish them but deliver them to the
back of the garden so they will be ready to set on posts as soon as someone can
cut more of the jacaranda stands for them.We were very satisfied with our level of achievement even though we were
hot and tired when we headed home to the pousada.
We made two executive decisions over lunch regarding the
soccer games: 1) no game would start before 5 because it was just too hot and
2) the women’s halves would be 20 minutes each and the men’s would be 30.We knew that dragging things out any longer
would not likely make much difference in the outcomes of the games.Knowing that things were a bit reduced made
it easier to drag ourselves out of our hammocks and head for the field.
As it turned out, though, we weren’t as ready as we
thought.Phil went out without
stretching, kicked one ball and felt like he had pulled his hamstring (he
hadn’t).He didn’t play. Steve sat out
due to his recuperation, as did Cole (who was ready to play but forbidden to do
so by Shawny).Cooper opted out too due
to some intestinal inconsistencies.So,
the USA team was made up of five US Americans and six Brazilians.Our five guys – Matt, Carlos, Daniel, Cameron
and Robert – hustled hard, but couldn’t hold back the strong Brazilian
Our dear friend Zé served as goalkeeper until Tonico kicked
him out after letting too many goals get through.Our team actually scored this time (yay!) but
it was a Brazilian team member – Diorlando – who did the honors.Despite some great shots on goal, we lost
5-1.We didn’t mind.
The women were up next but we were down a few of those
too.Leah was sleeping off some minor
illness that was slowing her down today and right at the last second, Annie
decided that she should be a spectator rather than a player.We started with the rest of our women and a
couple of our best Brazilian friends.
Within the first few minutes, we saw another one of our
women go down on the field: Jenny.We
all ran to her to see what was wrong and found her in total agony with a severe
leg cramp.We carried her off the field
and started working on her leg but the game carried on.Another Brazilian went in for Jenny but we
still had a mostly US American team.
Like last week, Suzanne ran madly and unreservedly for the
ball, as did Claudia.Callan, Marlina,
Ari and Natalie were fierce defenders who kept cutting off the Brazilians
mid-kick and reclaiming the ball as our own.They would get it out to our new power duo, Julia and our visiting
friend Jani (pronounced like Johnny almost), who were quick and nimble and able
to walk right through the Brazilian defenders dribbling back and forth to each
other.Our Brazilian goalkeeper, Marcia,
was out grabbing the ball and preventing her friends and neighbors from taking
shots they might have hit.
Sadly, despite all of this hustle and commitment, we watched
a couple of kicks find their way into the net despite our best efforts and we
lost the game 2-0.We had strategized
about how to capitalize on penalty kicks in case of a tie but we didn’t get a
chance to test our plan.By the time the
game ended, dusk had fallen and we needed flashlights to hurry home and clean
ourselves up for the much-talked-about Cultural Night.
We showered quickly and most of us changed into our nice
clothes (just light dresses for the women and collared shirts for most of the
men) and walked down to the school where they had a PA system set up in the
auditorium.The leaders of the community
all gathered at the front of the room and gave short speeches about the pride
and beauty of Anã and their gratitude for our efforts there.
There was music (including three songs by our
friend/goalkeeper Marcia) and they had planned a dance but once they saw our
disabled list at the soccer game, they nixed that idea.They also cancelled the part of the evening
that always made us squirm in past years: the selection of the most beautiful
woman and most handsome man among our group.Awkward.
After they spoke about their community and their affection
for us, they had us all get up in front and introduce ourselves.They then had us present our tourist guide to
Anã (a product of the efforts of both last year’s and this year’s students,
with enormous support by Suzanne).It
works like those binders in hotel rooms that help visitors find the local
attractions and learn more about them.We also made a visual dictionary, with little cards on rings that have
pictures on both sides that help people understand both the English and
Portuguese words for those things.We
also included useful phrases and questions.Suzanne led our presentation of these items to the community.
We then had a chance to express our appreciation to them for
the warm welcome they have given us.Carlos began by talking about how they made us feel at home.Marlina continued by describing the sense of
community that she experienced in Anã and how it was different than anything
she has ever experienced in the US.Julia talked about her great respect for the individuals who worked with
us directly and for the rest of the community members who serve as models for
us all.Matt talked about how inspired
he was by all he saw in Anã and Annie told them that the impact we have
experienced there will stay with us for the rest of our lives.The local audience applauded loudly for each
message once translated by Jesse.
Once the Cultural Night came to a close, we all walked the
length of the community to return to our Amazon home.Surprisingly, almost all of the community
walked with us.It was a quiet but still
festive parade, with little children running alongside us and different pairs
and groups of us in conversation with different pairs and groups of the people
of Anã.The kids were fascinated by our
flashlights, especially the weird ones like headlamps or lanterns.We handed them over and they escorted us home
with our own lights leading the way.
As soon as we got to the pousada,
we found it dark.People still entered
and crowded around and three of us – Jesse, Marlina and Steve – were ushered to
the front of the room.When the lights
came up, there were three HUGE fancy cakes waiting for all three of our January
birthday celebrants and the locals sang Happy Birthday to them in English
(they’ve been practicing all week).A
big sign wished them Happy Birthday in English and we all joined in a big party
with the locals.There were so many people
that we had to eat in shifts because we didn’t have enough plates/bowls.Our teams jumped into action and washed
furiously to keep the cake going until everyone was served.We played music and talked and laughed but
then let the party wind down with the understanding that we have an early
morning coming and we have to pack everything we own and walk away for good
We only left ourselves about five hours of sleep time so we
are going to have to count on sleeping on the boat tomorrow as we head back to
Santarém.We know the morning will be
full of tears but it will be full of tasks as well, so maybe those tasks will
distract us from our sorrow at leaving this place we love so much.We’ll see . . .
Marlina, Claudia, and Phil worked as a team to construct two more chicken roosts for the Anã nursery. These chicken coops will each house 24 chickens.
The crowd watching the men’s game. The intensity soared after the US team scored a goal!
The girls take the field! Coach Jesse hops in to the picture unannounced.
While at the cultural night, community members performed three different regional songs.
Suze showing her skills on the saw. The group put in some morning work on the chicken coop before the soccer games.
Students presenting the Anã visitors guide and visual dictionaries at the cultural night. Students from JanTerm 2015 and 2016 worked on this project and hope it will serve as a living document for the community.
Shawny helping to clear the path to make way for the new chicken coop grazing area.
Ari and Carlos working on constructing another chicken roost in the Anã nursery.
The women cheer on the men’s Estados Unidos team!
The night ended with a celebration — of the soccer games, our time in Anã coming to a close, and especially the birthdays of 3 DIRTies. Happy Birthday month Jesse, Marlina, and Steve!
Late last night we realized that Steve was not just tired;
he’s feverish and has body aches.We’ve
been managing his fever all night and can bring it down but can’t make it go
away.So, Jesse is taking him toward
more formal medical care today.We are
not terrified and his symptoms are not the worst we’ve seen but he is a very
tough and strong person and for him to admit he’s experiencing discomfort must
mean it’s pretty painful.We are
confident we can turn it around quickly as we have done so for other people on
previous trips.Sadly, he is unlikely to
play in the afternoon soccer game, so we make no promises about excellent
performance for the men’s team today.He
is going to a clinic and back this morning, so we will try to report in as soon
as we can.