This entry is non-capoeira related and ties up my trip to Brazil. The last thing I’d been desperate to do in Brazil was take a trip to see the Amazon, this was also one of the big factors which motivated Mel to come with me and I’m glad she did as this part would have been less than half as fun on my own. We got very lucky with this trip, for some definitions of luck, and it was very memorable.
It started off pretty badly in the airport from Salvador. There were no direct flights so we’d planned to fly through Brasilia, but our plane was getting delay and delayed… and it turns out as well that Brazillians have no real idea what to do with my name. Glynn has no vowels that they recognise and as for Forsythe… I suspect they’d delayed calling us because of this, but in the end the announcer called Mel’s name. After that they stopped and you could almost hear the confusion as they tried to figure out what to do with this uniquely British combination of consonants in front of them, so to spare them the trouble we headed for the desk ourselves and found out that we were now on a plane to Sao Paulo and we had to go NOW. Luckily (yay, luck!) I somehow managed to get some free internet on the way and shoot off an email to our tour guide, but it was all very hurried. Flying to Manaus from Salvador via Sao Paulo is absolutely crazy in terms of routing, it’s essentially like going to London from Glasgow in order to get to Norway, but about 4 times as far, so we were very very late. By this point our guide had had time to get tired of waiting for us, go home, check his email and phone a driver to come pick us up, so we were very glad to see the guy.
Apparently all the guides had been hired in the area, as a couple of cruise ships had shown up and taken over the local tourism industry, so we got further luck in the we had the head of the tour company as our guide, a guy called Elso Lima with near perfect English. Further, we’d only paid for a group tour, but for the first day and a half we were the only tourists there, so we definitely got our money’s worth. (The company was Amazon Green Tours for anyone thinking about taking a trip from Manaus.)
It was a pretty big trek out of the city, but the environment is so different there it’s amazing all the way along. It’s a bit tragic how little the people that live there actually seem to care for their surroundings, but I guess it’s easy to judge when you’re a rich tourist and not a fisherman/farmer doing some serious manual labour to get by. Even after a whole day’s travel the banks of the river were mostly farmland and were all owned by somebody or other, but we had even more luck when we ended up in a room with aircon in a surprise free upgrade. Luxury in the middle of the jungle! Mel thought it was bliss to escape from the damp heat and although I was up for a bit of a “proper” jungle experience I had to agree. We had a bit of a recovery in there but that night we were off camping.
First we stopped off to grab some cachaca and limes. The cachaca was super-cheap (about £2 and a bit or $3.50) and the limes Elso sent us to pick. He was completely incorrect about the position of the lime tree, with the only thing there being a weird spiky green fruit. He laughed at me when I said they couldn’t be limes because they were spiky, so I picked a couple to demonstrate he was being a nobber and eventually we found the tree further away from the river. The limes were tiny and orange, and we ended up getting them by hitting them with a stick, which worked pretty well. When he saw the spiky fruit I got so much grief for “not knowing what a lime looks like”, but I sent some his way for sending us on a goose chase.
We camped further down the river, which was full of caiman, fish and two types of dolphin, made a fire and cooked up some tasty fish and chicken with rice. Elso showed us how to make a decent jungle capirinha (don’t use the middle of the limes, apparently this part is what makes it bitter, then add as much sugar as lime and mash it up with as much cachaca as you can handle). Him and the boat driver then successfully freaked us out by killing a snake that was trying to climb into the driver’s hammock and showing us how long its fangs were and how big its poison sack was. Both were massive for such a skinny snake. So we both climbed into our hammocks with our shoes (Mel wearing hers, I slept on mine) and went to sleep. We woke up the first time when the candle set fire to the table (I jumped up and put it out while our guide slept) and the second time with the hooting call of a jaguar no more than 10 metres away and probably less. They’d pointed the call out to us earlier that night, and had actually built the fire up when one started sounding a bit close to us, but by the point the fire was really low and we couldn’t see a thing. For a long time it was right there in the dark, I didn’t move a muscle and I could tell by the lack of breathing coming from my right that Mel was awake as well. I have never wanted to see wildlife less in my life. The next day the guide asked me what I would have done if it came into the camp – his answer was that he would take his machete and run for our little boat as fast as he could, which was less than reassuring. I was still less than certain that it was a jaguar (the guide was calling it a panther which apparently is a generic name for big cats) and not a large owl or something equally comical, so I looked up jaguar noises on the internet when we got back to Australia. That noise was definitely a jaguar and I hope I never get so close to one again.
We were pretty shattered after a night of non-sleep, but the next day we saw monkeys and a sloth, which is a story in itself and went piranha fishing. That was very entertaining, the rods were bamboo and before the hook the fishing line finished in thick wire so they couldn’t bite through. They were very easy to catch with just a bit of chicken skin on the hook and everyone (we now had 2 more people with us) managed to get at least a few. I caught 6 and what I claim was the biggest, although none of them were massive. Elso was showing off and got at least 12 very quickly. We had them for dinner, they tasted OK but there was only a tiny bit of meat covering a lot of bones. At night we went off caiman spotting, the highlight being Elso hypnotising a small one by catching it, turning it upside-down and stroking its belly. The Amazon is absolutely infested with caiman.
Our last day we went for a hike in the forest, with lots of talk about jungle food and remedies, they even made us toys out of fronds of some leaf, I got a grasshopper (it was impressive sculpture for a being a leaf). They also showed us a few tarantulas and managed to coax them out of the burrows with a long leaf. We also saw a couple of types of monkeys and heard howler monkeys a few times. In all we saw an impressive amount of wildlife and avoided seeing one particular type which was fine by me. The Amazon was absolutely an amazing and different world and we hadn’t even reached anywhere more than a day away from the city.
So that’s the end of our trip to Brazil. It was a fantastic experience and everywhere we went made us want to see somewhere else, so we will definitely go back even without the draw of capoeira. We were glad to get home and stop travelling for a while though, so my next adventures will have to be in Australia, at least for a little while. Coming up!