Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day Two: Our Partners and Projects

Day Two: Thursday, January 12, 2017

Our first night in the hammocks was largely successful, though the women’s hammock room will certainly have much to say about the dogs barking just on the other side of their wall.  The men contended with some fierce snoring that might have been comparable to the barking the women endured.  But we were TIRED.  So we slept. 

We got up a little later than we intended, as we had the luxury of a 10:00 appointment as our first scheduled obligation of the day.  We easily made it to Saúde e Alegria to connect with our friend Davide, who wanted to learn about us and our expectations as much as we wanted to learn about his expectations and those of the community we will soon join.  We sat in an air-conditioned (!) room and learned a great deal about the region in which we currently are and even more about the specific area where we will stay for the majority of our trip. 

The community of Anã is in a protected area that people in the U.S. might call a forest preserve.  Resources there are heavily controlled, which prevents the clear-cutting and strip-mining that blight many areas in the Amazon region.  But at the same time, infrastructural systems are greatly reduced, making it one of the few areas that does not have federally-provided electricity, water, roads, etc.  This is not to say that they have no electricity, water or roads; it just means that much of the infrastructure that has been developed has come from the communities themselves or from non-governmental organizations and groups like ours.  

Davide helped us to understand the plusses and minuses of this particular state of being and gave us a sense of the rest of the surrounding areas and how things are similar to and different from the communities around Anã.  Jesse did his usual impressive job of translating every thought and emotion that Davide was expressing in Portuguese and skillfully conveyed our questions, thoughts and concerns back to Davide.  We talked more about the projects that we outlined in yesterday’s blog and got some ideas together about the materials we would need to bring onto the boat tomorrow to help us get started. 

We went back to our hostel for a quick lunch then headed out again to chase down bricks, cement and other materials, hoping to find places that would deliver them right onto the community boat that we will use to get to Anã tomorrow.  As usual, it took many, many stops before we found just the arrangement that we were looking for. 

In the process, we took care of a super important task: getting the Abba back in “the Abba van.”  Our driver, Naldo, was always famous for having exactly one music choice in his van.  It turns out that well-loved recording was on a USB drive of some sort and that drive somehow failed.  The returners were stunned to feel the absence of the Abba in the Abba van, so we begged the driver to find another copy of the music.  He enlisted his teenage son, which meant we stopped by his house and met his whole family (including his lovely wife, his son and two daughters, and even his 90-year-old grandmother-in-law.  We invited the kids (two roughly college age, one younger) to join us later for some açaí. 

Once we (almost) finished our errands, we swung back by to get Naldo’s kids and went to give real açaí a try.  It’s a regional fruit that has grown in popularity worldwide, though the version that has taken off is highly processed and very sugary.  We wanted to see what it is like in its more natural state. Last year we bought bowls for each of us, and found that few of us could handle the bitter grainy soup that is served when one orders this particular treat.  Even taking it to almost a 1:1 ratio with sugar didn’t make it palatable for some of us.

So this time, we ordered one bowl per table and did our own little cuisinary chemistry experiments to see what we liked.  Just like last year, some of us never got the hang of it and some of us literally ate it all up.  For those who weren’t into the dark purple soup, they could sample little popsicles that were somewhat unusual flavors, including local fruits, coconut and the weirdest one to some of us: corn.  Most people really like the corn flavored popsicle and were surprised to have that as a new favorite Brazilian food. 

After the snack break, we hustled back down to the waterfront that serves as the town’s main thoroughfare and reconnected with an old friend from the first SMC trip to the Amazon back in 2002: our boat captain Rionaldo.  He served as our captain through some of our most memorable experiences ever, but retired as a riverboat captain for a period of time.  He’s back in boats in a different way, taking people to the Encontra das Aguas (Encounter of the Waters), where the Amazon River and the Tapajós River run side by side but in different colors (Amazon = brown; Tapajós = dark blue).  There is a seam visible from the waterfront but we went out in Rio’s boat to see it up close.  A second benefit of going to the Encontra is that freshwater dolphins (including pink ones) hang out there a lot. 

Rio’s small boat isn’t big enough for all of us so we went in two shifts and we are happy to say that we all saw dolphins.  One group got a real show, with little grey dolphins doing flips out of the water and one pink dolphin surface right off the side of the boat.  We made arrangements to reconnect with Rio on the other end of our trip and go visit his house on the island that divides the two rivers that run in front of the city. 

We hung around and watched the sun set downtown, then went home to eat dinner, do a world premier of yesterday’s daily video, then kick into packing mode to get things ready for our trip tomorrow.  As you are likely aware, our community for the next couple of weeks has no internet service or cellphone signal.  Every few days, Shawny and/or Jesse will go on motorcycles to a place with connectivity and post as much as they can.  There will be periods of silence, then bursts of news. 

Thanks for your patience as we get organized in Aná; we look forward to telling you all about our lives there!

(Left to Right) Marissa, Rachel, Claudia, Jules, Kevin, Zummo, Aldrich, and Kim watching the sunset after an unexpected boat adventure on the Rio Amazonia. Thank you to Rionaldo for welcoming us to Santarém.

Zummo, Rachel, Jules playing with Jesse’s son Gui on the doc awaiting a riverboat ride to see where the Rio Amazonia and Rio Tapajós meet. 

Naldo, our long time bus driver, invited us to his home to meet his wife, three kids and her 92-year-old grandmother. We were humbled to have met such a beautiful family.

This is a Chinese owned soy producing factory and export dock. We were surprised by the amount of international corporate influence in all of Brazil, which we learned about during our session with Davide. 

The Tapajós River is vital to the people of Santarém. They depend on it for transportation, food, water, and emergencies. 

Rionaldo, an old friend of Jesse and Shawny, took us out on his boat so we could see the two rivers meet.

Saúde & Alegria is the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that we partner with throughout the projects we do in Anã.

The first boat trip with Rionaldo as we search for pink dolphins. Although unsuccessful, Colleen was enjoying her time on the boat.

Peixe (fish) are an important part of the locals' diet. Many fisherman use a water bottle as buoy tied to a long net. 

Nate works on his daily journal on a bench next to Louro’s motorcycle.
We took a boat ride to where the Amazon (white water) and Tapajós (black water) meet. These two rivers do not mix due to the different densities.     

 One of your typical neighborhood streets of Santarém. The main streets are paved but the side streets are dirt. This is the street our driver, Naldo, lives on. He wanted us to meet his family, including his ninety year old grandmother-in-law.

Local fisherman helps to attract dolphins at the fish market in Santarém. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.

Zummo, Nate, Gui, Matt, Julia, and Kim all play soccer during a break before lunch.

The group meets at the headquarters for the NGO that we partner with on our trips. Here we were briefed on the projects we will be working on and the issues in that area.


  1. Amazing pictures! What a special treat to see the Encontra das Aguas and the dolphins! I remember reading about it for the book report. Enjoy the mornings you can sleep in. It all looks a lot of fun! Miss you facas

    The Mar

    1. Great pics! Nice to see the nearly clear sky and sunset. My weather app shows rain everyday, every hour in Santarem. May your skies be sunny, dry, and cool for the rest of the trip.

  2. Wow... living the dream!...nice. The pictures, video and narrative are great. More video please Jules. Looking forward to next installment. Lots of love, Kare Bear and the Maltaman.

  3. We love these blogs... It's like experiencing life there vicariously through these posts. Thank you. Both of us eagerly open our computers to see what new experiences you are all having. What a trip!
    Lots of love, Matt and Liz (Nate's parents)