Sunday, January 15, 2017

Day Five: Sunday on the River

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sundays in the Amazon are supposed to be days of worship and days of rest.  We respect both of those impulses but we are also eager to participate in this community and to work on projects that we know are going to be daunting during our short time here.  After much negotiation, we made an agreement with some of our hosts: though we would not accomplish anything significant on our manual labor projects today, we would “work” by catching some fish for us all to eat.  So, we loaded into one of the bigger boats that the community shares and headed for Ponta Icuxí, where we did quite a bit more swimming (and droning) than fishing.  The crew fished off the back of the boat and pulled in a few small pacu, which are little flat fish that are quite plentiful here.  The fact that they are catchable using just bread makes them quite popular. 

We got out a rugby ball, a volleyball, lots of cameras and one pair of goggles and had some fun on the beach.  We walked out to the end of the point (“ponta” = “point”) and stood together in the shallow water, way out from the obvious beachfront, looking like we were standing on the surface of the water. 

Our hosts decided to fire up the boat and move to a different cove, where they were convinced we would find the large fish called tucunaré.  The best place to fish, though, needed to be reached by smaller rowboats and we only had two.  So most of us found a shady spot and entertained ourselves while small groups would go out in the boats and bring back a few small offerings to the general fish catch for all.  None of ours was particularly impressive, but it was fun for us no matter what. 

We suddenly realized that we needed to hurry home, as there were kids coming over this afternoon to do some English language lessons.  We spent the time on the boat prepping lessons on names, numbers, emotions, family, animals, songs (Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) and games (rock, paper, scissors).  When we arrived, kids were already there, all cleaned up with their hair slicked. 

We ate a quick (late!) lunch and found that by the time we were ready to start English class, there were about 14 kids there.  Our main host at the pousada, Reginalva (Regi), joined in too, as did several of the other kitchen workers.  By the end of it all, we had about a one-to-one ratio with our “students.” 

It was hilarious to watch our teaching strategies turn on a dime.  We started with all of us in one big line and all of them in one big line, trying to make it so our whole group spoke to their whole group all at once.  We quickly saw that this plan wasn’t workable (and Jesse’s son Gui, who speaks both languages, saw this flaw right away) so we started adapting on the fly.  We split into two groups, then four groups, then almost 1:1 tutoring over the course of about fifteen minutes.  Watching each other try new strategies and innovate on the fly was a blast. 

The students ranged from about 4 years old to women in their 40s, so we had to be pretty smooth in figuring out how to include everyone in what we were doing. They were eager and cooperative, giggling hard when we messed up instructions in Portuguese but gamely repeating things over and over when we asked them to say things in English.  We won’t pretend that they learned a lot of English but we got something started that we hope to be able to continue in the weeks we are here.  And a happy benefit was that we learned a LOT of Portuguese words and phrases to help us walk them through the material we covered.   

The late afternoon was clear and bright (and HOT!) so we hurried to do some laundry once we thanked all of our students.  We can expect rain almost every night so getting the timing right on this laundry thing is going to be really important.  There is a secondary sleeping area below our dining area that is not enclosed in mesh so if all else fails we can string lines in there and hope that sun is not the key to drying clothes when the humidity is this high. 

We had a couple of spider sightings today, which made the newcomers think they had seen “big” spiders.  The vets know that there are much greater things to come, as there are large tarantula-like spiders here that are bigger than most of our hands.  They usually live all around the roof of the pousada, but the staff did a major de-spiderfication campaign before we came.  They have no doubt that the spiders will return, but they did what they could to delay the shrieks and screams that come from us when a big hairy spider scrambles across the slab or the path.  We see them occasionally in our hammock hut, but so far, not this year.

Speaking of pests, we are guessing that you are wondering about the mosquito situation.  Many people associate Brazil with mosquitoes right now, especially in light of the outbreak of Zika in urban areas. We are relieved to know that there have been no cases of Zika in this area (yet) but we are still doing everything we can to reduce our exposure to mosquitoes (and more importantly, bites from them). 

We have 12 mosquito abatement strategies available to us, though we rarely use them all at once.  They are: 1) nets for sleeping, 2) mesh around our entire sleeping area, 3) DEET-based repellents, 4) picardin repellents, 5) permethrin washes for all of our clothing, sheets and towels, 6) Skin-So-Soft (a moisturizer that is rumored to be an effective repellent, 7) diluted Lysterine Natural in a spray bottle (another rumored homemade remedy, 8) Vitamin B tablets (which is a tactic used by some of the locals, 9) neem leaf supplements (a natural remedy), Thermacell butane-powered products, 10) mosquito coils, 11) citronella bracelets and 12) sonic pest repellents (that are only useful when we have power and available outlets not filled with camera batteries, computer cords and phone and tool chargers). 

We are doing quite a bit of non-scientific research about what works and what doesn’t but we can’t quite claim that we’ve learned anything.  We all have some bites, but we aren’t totally sure which of them are mosquitoes and which are ants.  Not everyone is using each of the remedies when possible, but as the days go by, we are using more and more, assuming that somehow we are going to stop the itchy scourge that we are currently suffering.  Aldrich was the most polka-dotted of us all when we were in Santarém, though a few of us are giving him a run for his money now that we are here.  There are bugs around us all the time and it is honestly hard to tell when those bugs are mosquitoes and when they are something else.  There are these tiny little gnats that swarm us in the evenings but they seem to be of little threat other than being annoying.

On other health news, we haven’t had much going on in terms of intestinal difficulties, though we won’t be surprised if we have some bouts of overly-tight systems and overly-loose ones.  We’ve empathized with each other’s struggles in both of these directions but fortunately none of our problems have turned into anything significant so far. 

At the end of the day, we had a visit from some of our main community partners to get plans together for the rest of the week.  We are eager to get to work and we are aware that there are pretty big jobs to accomplish.  We want to do as much on all of them as we possibly can, so we can expect some long hard days to be our mode of existence for the foreseeable future. 

We also spent some time together on our daily reflection, this time considering the spiritual issues that surround our presence here.  We talked about faith and blessings and our sense of something bigger that contributes to our experience here. 

And, of course, we inducted a new member into the Order of the Purple Bike.  Our newest inductee has a nickname that he doesn’t welcome and – unlike the other names we’ve played around with – his isn’t even in Portuguese.  We are going to keep his nickname our little secret.  You know him as Joe.  Joe is hilarious, but in a very low key deadpan way.   Today he showed off skills as 1) a singer of Irish sea shanties, 2) an adorable friend and playmate to our young teammate Gui (Jesse’s 9-year-old son), 3) a person who will spend an incalculable amount of time trying to learn how to “complain to the manager” in Portuguese just because he thinks it’s funny, and 4) a playful prankster who will sneak up and load photos on your computer through AirDrop just to see you react.  We’re happy to have every member of our team with us but we are especially happy to have Joe here today.  Congratulations, Joe!

Our team works together to teach English to some local kids and their parents.

Kevin doing tricks off the boat to Ponta Icuxi.

Joe struggling with Tonico's dog Fuleco

Julius (Galú) and Alessandra (still needs nickname) on our boat trip to go fishing.

Just a little spider on our path to work.  Though they are menacing, they are not venomous.  We steer clear anyway.  

Jules throws a net into the Amazon River to try to catch a fish for dinner.

The dirties were finally introduced to the infamous tarantula while it made its way across the path from the Oca (where we sleep) to the Pousada (where we eat).

While we rode the boat up to the shores of a beautiful point on the Amazon River, it was hard to believe how tranquil and almost unreal it seemed to have the opportunity to go to this beach on our day off.

Zummo teaches Jules how to catch a fish after learning from an experienced community member.

Drone – Finally breakin’ out the bad boy… the drone! Teaching some of the kids from the community how to navigate our new toy.

Learning how to fish with nets… caught so many! (No we didn’t…)

Awesome shot of the two best translators we could ever ask for. Thanks Jesse and Gui (to the right)!

Hanging From da Boat – Super excited to spend a day in the beautiful waters of the Amazon rainforest!

Laundry – Kickin’ it oldschool—doing our laundry by hand isn’t the easiest task, especially when the forecast is thunderstorms… and more thunderstorms.


  1. Should I take the bed out of your room and put up a hammock? Seems like you're all getting comfortable in your new surroundings. I might have to learn Portuguese just to converse with you. Keep having fun.

  2. So proud of you Joe! You brighten everyone's day with your humor wherever you go and I can't wait to hear your stories when you return. Moraga's dull without you!
    Love, Mom