Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day Fifteen: Experiments in Reforestation

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our morning didn’t start as early as expected because it was still totally dark at 5:30.  Because the water is low everywhere, our big boat needed to be led out of our docking spot by the small motorboat we use to ferry ourselves in to the shore.  The boat still started up at that hour but we didn’t move and most of us managed to continue to sleep despite the roar and bang of the engine.  It was almost an hour before we needed to climb out of our hammocks and get on with the morning.  By then the boat was moving and we were headed to an indigenous community on the banks of the Arapiuns. 

This community, Arapiranga, is different from the ones we have visited on this and other trips for a number of reasons.  One is that it has its own language (along with Portuguese) that has lasted for at least 300 years (so far).  Another is that it has a chief and that chief is a woman.  Further, it is composed of all indigenous families and they are very committed to teaching and maintaining their traditional ways of living. 

We were met by the chief herself, Maria, who took us to the school to see the things community members teach and learn there.  She showed us the school itself, which was a slatted wooden structure with desks inside it; Preschool through Grade 9 get their instruction there.  Near the school was a more institutional looking building that seemed to be government-sponsored.  It held the school cafeteria (a window from which students are served so that they can eat in the open air), some offices/storage areas and restroom facilities. 

We learned a little bit about their language (Jesse picked up a few words, anyway; the rest of us just nodded along), their ways of life, their crafts and their aspirations for their community.  Maria sang traditional songs for us, led us in a traditional dance and made a basket out of a palm frond.  We shared one of our Clif bars with her and then said our goodbyes as we headed over to our major destination for the day, a place called CEFA.

SEFA is a reforestation research project that was established eight months ago on a large area of land between the Arapiuns and Tapajós rivers.  The acronym is in Portuguese but translates roughly as “center for environmental research into the active forest.”  It is an amazing site, especially considering how new it is. 

Researchers there are testing a range of ways to capitalize on the sandy and clay-based soils in different parts of the Amazon to help revive overcut forests while still providing sustainable opportunities for locals to grow food and wood that they need for their traditional ways of living.  The center is testing the effects of manioc farming on soil, as well as the impacts of controlled burns (a common way of managing agricultural land here).  The enterprise is sponsored by a consortium of entities including the federal government, some private corporations and some non-governmental organizations, including our local partner Saúde e Alegria. 

We rode in a truck through the thick rainforest to get from the beach at Arapiranga to the facility.  It was a ride unlike any other.  Once there, we met the principle researchers from the center and toured the facility, including some new construction underway to provide volunteer housing (perhaps for future groups like ours?). 

Several of us were particularly impressed with the rain capture cistern that they created to help them through the dry months when the river water is too far away to be helpful to them.  By attaching a 20,000 liter rain capture system to only one half of one roof at the facility, they can fill the cistern and channel it in the directions they need for it to go.  We all noticed that there are several places where we have been on this trip that might benefit from a similar system. 

We hustled back to our boat after our tour to make our way to a community that focuses on artisanal goods, but were thwarted by a very windy rainstorm that made us decide to sit still for awhile and wait out the weather.  While we waited, most of us worked to solve the upstairs/downstairs sleep space distribution problem by weaving a matrix of hammocks using every available hook and maximizing higher, lower and medium-height hammocks while also using diagonals.  It was ingenious. 

We also busted out the candy we were carrying with us and just had a good old time while the rain poured down.  Before too long, it stopped and we motored on.  We’ve decided to head for home (Anã) so that we can get in a few good work days on the chicken coop before our next soccer matches on Saturday.  The vets of prior trips gathered to figure out how to get the rest of the schedule to fall together so that the newcomers wouldn’t miss a thing; in true DIRT fashion, they came up with a brilliant plan that is going to allow us to have it all. 

We’re going to have to unload in the dark and carry our things up the slope to the oca, but it’s worth it to have the security of knowing what our schedule will be.  We don’t feel like we’ve missed anything, as being on the boat together is fun with or without our scheduled stops.  Knowing we will get them in all eventually makes it even easier to do what we do best: pivot. 

 Maria das Neves, the chief of the community we visited today, weaving a back pack out of some palm fronds she cut from a palia tree. 

 Coconut palm seedlings growing in the nursery of the experimental center for the active forest.They will eventually be planted back in the amazon.

 Jenny and Steve standing on the island of love. This is Steve’s second DIRT trip while Jenny’s on her third. 

Antonio Geronimo (nickname Beber) was one of our guides today at the experimental center for active forest. Where we learned about different ways to counteract the issues a lot of the communities on the Tapajós face with agriculture. 

Our hand model Jesse holding a huge stick bug. 

Trekking through Arapiranga.

 CEFA’s Phenology Expert ready to show us his home. 

Every shot counts and Claudia is on top of it!
Killing time on the boat and waiting for the storm to pass. 
The view from the garage and meeting space in CEFA, better known as the Experimental Center for Active Forests 


  1. The boat ride must be one of the highlights in the Amazons as you get to see places and meet different people along the way. It is also a time of bonding with your colleagues and reflect your thoughts of the day. And of course, pivot in the mix of the journey. Enjoy the moment, DIRTies!

  2. Aww.....Callan fast asleep! Gave me a true belly laugh as that is a very familiar site! Ha! We are so proud of all of you and all the gifts of hard labor that you are sharing with your Brazil family. Thank you for sharing this truly amazing experience with all of us at home.

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