Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day One: Wednesday, January 11, 1017

Day One: Wednesday, January 11, 1017

We are in the first of our two Amazon homes: Santarém, in the state of Pará, in the Amazon basin.  And we are finally a complete group, as we have connected with our other instructor, Jesse Wheeler and his young son Gui.  So now we are a friendly mob of 21, mostly U.S. Americans, who are quite a sight to see in this city that is not a high traffic tourist area. 

We arrived around 10am local time, which is five hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.  Our night in the hotel didn’t produce a full night’s sleep for nearly anyone, but not because it was uncomfortable or inadequate.  Some of us were too excited to shut down. Some of us were distracted by the television in our room that turned itself on automatically.  Some of us were organizing our thoughts, journals and baggage to keep up with all we need to do. 

Arriving here, though, starts to make it feel real.  We will only be here until Friday morning, when we will leave on a boat to go upriver a bit to a more remote community that will become our primary Amazon home.  For now, though, we need the services of the city to take care of a number of things.  Despite the enormous volume of baggage we are lugging with us, we still needed to purchase some necessary items. 

First and foremost, we needed hammocks.  All who have been here before know the tension and joy that come along with going to the open market by the river and seeking the perfect hammock.  There is some tension too, as the prices start at one level and then with some performative indifference and a few steps in the other direction, prices miraculously start to drop.  We’re not good yet at detecting where the reasonable expectations are and we’re not interested in undercutting the livelihoods of the people who work the market.  Still, we don’t want to feel ripped off.  It’s an interesting game to play and remains very entertaining even if all of us are VERY tired. 

We learn a little bit more about each other as hammock selections begin to solidify, as there is something about each person’s identity enmeshed (pun intended) in the colors, patterns and fringe-y bits of the hammock that each person chooses.  Colleen bought a particularly beautiful one, which will no doubt appear in upcoming photos and videos.  We all left happy and made a move we’ve never made before: we took our hammocks to a drop-off laundry and had them washed.  The laundry even agreed to deliver them at the end of the day. 

We went back to our humble hostel for lunch and got the treat of the trip so far: our beloved cook Louro’s amazing fried chicken.  All of us have had fried chicken before (the meat eaters, anyway) and all of us like it generally.  But there is something totally magical about whatever he does to make his into a true delicacy.  We’re sure the fact that we hadn’t eaten a real meal for about 20 hours had nothing to do with our intense enjoyment of this lunch.  Louro’s sous chef and our longtime friend Dona Maria was there too, diligently cleaning and helping us get adjusted as we enacted one of our many bucket lines to transfer our massive loads of baggage from the van (yes, driven by “the Abba guy”) to our temporary home. 

Though all of us were inclined to lie down and take a quick nap after lunch, we followed the agreements we made long in advance and chose to keep moving throughout the day to drive ourselves to ultimate exhaustion that would lead to a perfect deep sleep tonight.  Of course we knew it would be painful, but we also knew that we needed to quickly adjust to our new timezone and just get on with our lives here.  We succeeded.  We admit that if we had had our hammocks in our hands, rather than at the laundry, our odds of succeeding would have been much lower.

The afternoon brought more tasks, including locating ropes for our beautiful new hammocks and finding a stronger form of chicken wire to bolster the chicken coop at Anã.  As many of you are aware, we spent a good chunk of last Jan Term under the leadership of our fellow student Cooper Maloney (with engineering advice from Daniel Ripple) building the skeleton of a 500-chicken coop and run.  (And yes, Cooper sometimes goes by “Coop” and yes, we want to open a business called “Coop’s Coops.”)  We left before any chickens took up residence there and we hadn’t heard if it had ever happened.  It turns out that things were up and running pretty smoothly and then some particularly horrible form of feral cat (as in a REALLY big forest cat) . . . um . . . threw off the equilibrium. 

So, we got some ideas together about how to strengthen the chicken world so that eggs, chicken and the sounds of little chicks chirping can once again be abundant in Anã.  The guy at the chicken wire store remembered us from last year and helped us think through the problem.  We think we have a solid plan and we are ready to assist in the massive labor that will be involved in pulling it off. 

Our next job seemed less important but turned really significant.  We went to buy our team soccer jerseys for our version of the US v. Brazil World Cup in Anã.  Every year we face off against the very skilled players of the community and we get more or less humiliated each time.  But who cares?  It’s a blast.  So, we went to get a set of matching shirts, which are abundantly available in this soccer-loving region and found some that we loved.  As we were doing so, a casual conversation between Jesse and one of the other patrons turned into a potential goldmine of information. 

In 2014, we worked in Anã to help them establish a viveiro, which is a community garden and reforestation center.  When we went back in 2015, we found it thriving, with 8500 tree starts growing inside; we added about 3000 more.  In 2016, drought conditions were threatening the life of the garden but the locals were finding a way to meet the challenge.  We discussed ideas for irrigating the garden from the river, but found the idea of moving water uphill a pretty good distance pretty daunting when we couldn’t count on electricity.  Jesse’s conversation today, though, might lead us to the answer: a windmill. 

The guy that Jesse was conversing with said that he has a friend who designs systems for this exact dilemma; he asked some questions about the area and declared that it sounded like a pretty solid candidate for the systems his friend uses.  We are connecting with his friend tomorrow (we hope!) to see if we can at least provide the community with the connections it needs; even better, we would love to be the ones to bring the windmill into existence.  We’ll see . . .

After the soccer store, we scored some Havaianas sandals for those who needed flipflops and then made our way to the new ice cream store in town to try some local flavors like graviola, açaí, cupuaçú and even some funky variations on chocolate.  There are some other ice cream shops in town with even bigger and even funkier selections, so we will work our way up.  The owner of the new ice cream shop was thrilled to have his place filled to the max and even posted a picture of us on his Instagram page. 

We decided to drop by the laundry on the way home, even though they said they would deliver our hammocks back to the hostel.  We pulled up right when they were loading up the truck with our laundry, so we happily transported them ourselves. 

We learned all about how to tie the proper knots to support our hammocks safely (it’s the doll’s head, all you vets!) and the place turned into total chaos as we established our sleeping zones for the next few days.  We all agreed on two things: 1) rooms full of hammocks are beautiful and 2) it already feels like we’ve been here for days.  Ahhh. 

We’ll tell you about all of our mosquito abatement strategies (and there are many!) on some other day.  Tonight, we are tired and ready to sleep hard in our hammocks.  Good night . . .

Jerequi (the type of fish), tomatoes, rice & beans, cucumbers, and of course, farinha! Farhina is manioc flour fried with an assortment of spices and is used as a topper on food.

Jesse and his son Gui talk about where to get the best hammock prices. Jesse is a faculty member of Saint Mary's who lives in Brazil. He acts as our translator, helping us with everything from buying hammocks to planning our projects and everything else in between. We couldn’t do it without him!

Jake is overwhelmed by the vast selection of hammocks in the open air market in Santarém.

While shopping for supplies we found cute puppies for sale. We had to resist the urge to touch them. Aldrich and Marissa are enjoying the view.

Stumbled upon an alleyway in between two buildings stacked wall-to-wall with merchandise found in your typical Brazilian mercado [market].

Nate pondering all of the hammock choices.

We went to the market to purchase our hammock which we will be sleeping in for the next three weeks. Shawny bargaining for our hammocks.

The hammocks are detailed with designs and each one is unique as the individuals who got them.

Looking at the world through each other’s eyes. 
Checking out cool machetes that we will probably end up buying for souvenirs later. 
Our first glimpse of the Amazon River, where the Tapajós and Amazon meet; making a distinct line.
Kevin, Eddie, Jesse, Matt, Zummo, Joe, and Gui snuggle up with a large turtle statue on the riverfront in Santarém. Everyone in the photo has on a large hat.

Nate almost did not get on the plane! There was a problem with the travel agency where the ticket was not confirmed. However, Shawny worked her magic and got him to Brazil!

Trying to find our “beds” for the next month. There were so many to choose from!

Walking along the pier in Santarém, after a long day of shopping.

We have to thank Maia, a.k.a. “Abba Guy,” for being an A1 driver. Straight mobbing through the Amazon Rainforest.


  1. I am so excited to hear you have all arrived in Santarém! I am looking forward to seeing pictures and videos! And am beyond happy that there may be a way to get water up to that garden. My eyes are welling at the thought. Enjoy every minute there for me DIRTies. I miss it so much and am living this experience through you all. Much love. É nòs!

  2. Muito legal!!!
    Aproveitem tudo.
    Sam Joyce

  3. You all are living the dream. Enjoy the cultural experience and lifetime memories. We all miss you back home but know you're doing great things for others. P.S. Check out the river pump that requires no electricity

    Really enjoy reading your blog.
    Russ Machado

  4. Great video Canarinho de Ouro! Especially liked the group cat walk! Hopefully you all can come up with a choreographed dance for the goodbye party in Ana (fingers crossed that they do it this year).
    Shout out to IRMA!!!

    -The Mar

  5. So glad to see that Shawny worked magic for Nate! Looks like an amazing experience that you are all having... and really hard work too! Lots of love to you all!
    Liz and Matt Jordan