Thursday, January 7, 2016

Day One: Our Long Journey

Our Long Journey
Wednesday, January 6, 2016

We’re writing on a Thursday morning to cover our long but happy trip that started on Monday in Moraga.  We gathered in the evening and rushed to pack our last few items before boarding shuttles to the airport.  As we noted in our last brief post, we were shocked to learn that our flight had been rescheduled to leave two hours earlier than we expected, which means that as soon as we arrived, we were too late.  It was a temporary setback, though, as we overheard the people next to us speaking in Portuguese about going to Miami.  When we asked if there would be a way to join that flight, the agent noticed that there were, in fact, twenty seats available on that flight.  So, in true DIRT form, we pivoted.  This one wasn’t a typical problem-solving pivot, as it was a very easy move to hop onto a direct flight that got us there faster than our original flight with one fewer transfer.  We still had a long layover in Miami so all was well. 

While in Miami, we frantically charged all of our electronics for the last time, as we know that our power supplies in Brazil will be unreliable for the rest of the month. We also ate food that we expect to miss and stocked up on bottled water for our time in Manaus.  Though we have had lots of “downtime” during the journey so far, we aren’t bored or bothered by it because we generally like being together.  Our ability to get along and entertain ourselves even when nothing seems to be happening will pay off for us quite a bit when we are living in our Amazon community. 

We settled into our hostel in our stopover in Santarém, but not all the way, as we are leaving Friday morning on a boat to head upriver to our home in the community of Anã on the Arapiuns tributary of the Amazon.  We left the hostel to visit our partners from Anã, some of whom are in the city now getting materials together for our visit.  We met them at our main partner agency, Saúde e Alegria (Health and Happiness).  We were droopy and sleep-deprived, but excited to see our local friends and hear their plans for our time together. 

We are learning that the rains have not yet come this year, so there is a bit of a fruit shortage and prices are higher than they might usually be.  The upside of this state of being is that there are fewer mosquitoes than usual.  Due to a recent outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus (which would have little effect on us but is particularly problematic for pregnant women), we are not the only ones who welcome a smaller population of mosquitoes. 

We wandered the city today doing mundane errands like getting bleach (to sterilize our dishes), laundry soap (for our individual hand-washing needs) and some thin rope (to figure out a way to rig our mosquito nets over our hammocks).  But our most important quest of the day was to find our hammocks themselves.  The search for hammocks is a blast even if we are all too tired to deal with the task. There is a large open air market on the banks of the river with hundreds and hundreds of different hammock options available.  Some of us could see a pattern from a distance and know that it was the hammock for us.  Others needed several passes through the entire market to get a sense of what they wanted to buy.  In the end, we each got a beautiful hammock and in some way we all learned a bit about each other as we saw what choices each person made. Additionally, we brushed up on our Portuguese, including developing some negotiating skills.  A few people decided to splurge on fancier hammocks, contributing their own money to bolster the allotted budget amount for each student.  Jesse bought Shawny the fanciest hammock of all, after watching her stare at it and walk away over and over again.  We are all very happy with our new purchases.  We better be, as we will sleep in our hammocks every night that we are in Brazil from this point forward. 

Before heading home, we stopped at a celebrated local ice cream place and tried flavors named after fruits we haven’t yet seen, as well as Brazil nut, corn, and tapioca.  Quite irrationally, we followed our ice cream with dinner prepared by our beloved friends (and great cooks) Louro and Dona Maria.  They had already made our favorite Brazilian dish, fried chicken, for lunch. 

We messed with pictures, made a daily video (hopefully posted here soon) and got to bed early for some much-needed rest.  We all developed pretty good hammock-sleeping techniques and slept like rocks for almost nine hours.  We are up and ready to hit the town again today, with lumber, a marine battery, some flipflops and other atypical items on our shopping list. 

Please be patient as we try to organize as many posts as we can as quickly as we can.  We look forward to telling you more!

Annie, Suze, Matt, and Cam in Santarém

Bank of the Tapajós outside of Santarém

Carlos, Annie and Steve walking through a fish market
Jules at Saúde e Alegria

Skyline of Manaus
The Tapajós has receded due to the lack of rain, forcing boats to dock farther out. 

Everyone spent the day searching for the perfect hammock at the local market.

Enjoying summer six months earlier than usual. 

Shopping for hammocks in the local market of Santarém.

Matt constantly making us all laugh.

Our first exposure to the Tapajós River

Salgadinhos? – “Hors d’oeuvres?”

Getting a first hand experience of the market
A local English teacher meets SMC DIRT

Five hours later and we have our hammocks

Exploring the Santarém market where it is obvious that futebol is one of the main sports.

Attempting to bargain for hammocks (rede [hedgee]), which we will sleep in for the remainder of our trip.

Matt looking to the sky for inspiration for how to get the water pump to work.

From left to right: Jenny, Ari, and Annie with all smiles after fun day exploring the markets of Santarém.

Annie the turtle riding her spirit animal (the turtle) next to the river in Santarém.


  1. Great to see everyone is enjoying themselves.

  2. So excited to follow DIRT 2016! Keep open hearts and open minds! Enjoy :)

  3. Great blog and photos. Send updates when you can, but focus on the tasks at hand. Be safe! My prayers are with the whole group of you and your hosts

  4. Love the mosquito bracelet look, Jenny! Sending love to the new DIRTies and out Brazilian family.

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  6. It's so good to be part of your story. The posts are great! Whoever writes the posts writes well. Congrats! This is Rodrigo Rocha speaking, the local English teacher shown in the picture. You're doing a great job, guys!!! Keep it up!

  7. Of course, we have had some snow days now that you're there, so we will try to catch up today and Friday with your activities. We will post soon!

  8. Liked the colorful hammocks hanging around the market. It must have been fun just walking and exploring the town and market, after a long trip. Great pics, DIRTies!