Saturday, August 31, 2019

XIV - Wet Parrots Cannot Swim

XIV - Parrots Cannot Swim

While in this village there were many Parrots and McCaws in trees. We surmised they were pets, given their patience. While we photographed them, they sat, nonplussed, in the trees and palms.

They frolicked. 

They preened.

They played coy.

One afternoon, the crew left in a panga to go fishing. In just a few minutes they returned. The mate got out of the panga holding a parrot by its wings - a very wet parrot.

He brought him on board and sat him on the rail. For some minutes the parrot sat there totally dazed and confused. Finally he started to shake his feathers to remove whatever water he could. The mate said that it was not unusual for a young parrot to get confused and fall into the water. Luckily this one was rescued because parrots  cannot swim.

The parrot sat on the rail for a while, trying to get his wits about him. Then he flew off, no doubt with his pride injured, but alive and well.

Friday, August 30, 2019

XIII Another Village

XIII - Another Small Village

Our next stop was another small village. As we approached it, the white sandy beach and bright pastel colored buildings really made it look like a place in the Caribbean. We had just passed the large ship that resembled a small cruise ship. As we approached the village, we could see the larger ship's tender there. It returned to the ship shortly after we arrived.

Once ashore, there were more colorful buildings and friendly people. 

There was an outdoor church, right on the beach.

There were small fishing boats.

Walking around, we were able to see their everyday life. We saw a man making the blocks used for the foundation and walls of most houses there.  

Women washed their dishes and clothes in the river while their children splashed about.

There was a market where young ladies sold wares that were made in the village by their elders. There were lovely beaded necklaces and bracelets, carved wooden dolphins and manatees, and hand woven baskets.

While there, we had another opportunity for a hike in the jungle. Our local guide (with his machete) led us to the edge of the town. On our way, we passed a unique school made from native wood that, even though a modern structure, fit well into the landscape. Through the open doors, we could see the students in their classes. Just past the school was a lunch room/ large hall that matched the school. Just past that on the way were (what the guide told us) matching dorms for men and women. 

On the wall of the last building was a plaque, describing the school and stating that the complex was paid for by a grant from Samsung - truly a good investment of their money. 

We started on the trail single file, following our guide. He pointed out unique flora and fauna. One interesting thing was a thick vine he cut with his machete. He indicated that the hiker behind him should hold the piece of vine above the mouth at an angle. As she did, fresh water trickled from the cut.

About 30 minutes into our walk, the heavens opened and it began to rain. It was a heavy rain. We moved on, following our guide, each trying to prevent our camera from drowning. 

We had a new appreciation for a 'rainforest'. Rather than running from the rain, seeking shelter (that was no where close), we became aware of the forest around us that seemed to come alive. By the time we got back to the village we looked like a small colony of wet rats. In addition to our wonderful experience in the jungle, our wet clothes had cooled us down, so much so, that the Amazonian heat was not so oppressive as we emerged from the forest.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

XII Light on the River

XII - Sunrise, Sunset

As a photographer, I like to think that sunrises and sunsets are de rigueur - the one image anyone can capture. You are given the landscape and the color, what is the art in that? But on the river I found dawn and dusk to be a thing of wonder. I'm not sure if it was the vastness of the water, the mystery of each morning, or just the intoxication of the light.

Whatever, I found myself drawn each morning to the east and each evening to the west. The colors seemed to be more vibrant. It was if the sky was more creative.

The yellows and golds were more intense.

The horizon seemed more vast.

The colors were layered in the sky.

And the progression of the colors was like a trip across the spectrum.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

XI The Amazon? Really

XI - An Adventure

When I told friends and family that I was going to the Amazon this summer, I got mixed reactions. They ranged from 'Wow, that sounds like the trip of a life time' to 'Seriously?' to 'Oh, I couldn't do that' to 'Aren't you afraid of Piranha and Anacondas? to 'I cannot wait to hear about it'.

My replies were:
  • Yes, I am looking forward to it
  • Yes, seriously, I'm not sure how long the Amazon will be in this natural state since Brazil's new regime has opened it up for mining and logging
  • Yes, you could
  • No
  • Stay tuned, I'll take a lot of pictures
One thing I did not consider was being 'off the grid'. One of the many 'things we were told' was that the boat had WiFi. Not! We were 24 hours out of Manuas when we slipped off the grid into the wild. Instead of feeling lost and out of touch, I found myself feeling free. I did not wonder about what I was missing. If civilization blew up, while we were gone, our ignorance was bliss. No calls, texts, or emails meant I had no responsibilities to 'check in' or respond to.

In fact after 12 hours or so, I didn't think about it. I felt free to truly enjoy the moment, the adventure, the experience. Of course, every time we came close to (almost) civilization, I checked my phone in case there was an emergency message - an ingrained habit. Thankfully there were none.

If there was an emergency, I'm not sure what I could do about it. Each day put us further up the river, further away from the issues of the world. We often laughed about having to be medivacked off the river should some medical emergency occur.

However, thinking back on it, given we saw very little dry ground and no cleared area most days, I'm not sure where a helicopter would land. My assumption is that it would have to be an 'air and sea' rescue, where they drop a basket and a medic down a rope from the helicopter. Then they hoist the ill or injured traveler up to the helicopter, to be whisked off to the "nearest" medical facility. Best not to think about this prospect. 

It was incongruous to come upon a remote village, only accessible by the river and then see satellite dishes in the yard. They probably did not have indoor plumbing or air conditioning in the Amazon heat, but they were connected to the world through the wonders of a geo synchronized satellite. The freedom of the remoteness was pierced by the site of the dish or power lines (which I still do not have any idea what they connected to.)

But, then I can remember several years ago, being in some small village in Ecuador and sitting in a 'bar' on the side of the street. Most likely it was only a 3 sided hovel with a dirt floor and thatched roof. The furniture was rudimentary at best. The choice of libations was few. However, we were there during the World Cup and in most of these watering holes there was a 72 inch flat screen TV mounted on a wall with a crowd of fans watching coverage of the matches.

Now these villages and towns in Ecuador were inland and connected to the rest of the world by roads, etc. So we are not talking about remote huts on stilts sitting just above the water level of the river. So as Thomas Freeman said in his great book on globalism - 'The World is Truly Flat', that still did not prevent me from appreciating the remoteness of the locations. It was as if we had crossed the bridge of modern civilization. There was a bridge connecting the remote to the modern world. But, not everyone had ventured across it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

X Cameras

X - Shudder Speed

As you can tell by my latest posts, I tried to capture as much as possible from trip with my camera. After it was all said and done, I think I took almost 5000 shots. Of course, by the time I counted the duplicates and the inferior shots, I was thrilled to find I had several hundred decent photos left - not perfect but acceptable.

That said, I was in good company. Actually I was in better company. Most everyone had a traditional DSLR camera with them, and if not, a good cell phone with a camera. At one time I counted 17 cameras among the 15 of us using them. They ranged from a huge DSLR with an 18 inch long lens to sophisticated hybrids. 

With so many cameras there was no surprise when someone picked up the wrong camera and start shooting. It was a surprise to find pictures on one's camera that one didn't take.

The sight of a Capuchin Monkey would cause our paparazzi on board to quickly muster to the bow of the boat, hoping to catch the perfect shot. Tracey simply calling our attention to a bird in a tree on the bank would rouse the photographers among us to follow her gaze, hoping to zero in for a clear photo.

No one hesitated scrambling into a panga, camera in tow. Keep in mind these cameras and lens are not cheap, are not water proof, and Amazon (the retail entity) does not deliver to the Amazon (the river) with a replacement. We were all willing to take the risk not to miss the photograph. 

While stateside I was always a bit timid about carrying my camera in my very stable kayak that I had control over. On the trip I did not hesitate boarding a panga from the back of the boat, moving carefully to find a seat as the small boat listed from one side to the other. Oh, what we will do for a photograph. 

But there were also those times when I did not think about picking up my camera. Experiencing the wonder of the endangered Pink Dolphins frolicking beside the boat while we moved down the river was much more rewarding than trying to photograph them. Moving through a thatch roofed market while looking at locally made wares, was much more interesting than trying to get that great shot of the locals.

Often the experience got lost in the translation of the imaging. Even the best photographer cannot always capture the moment on Kodachrome as it is in real life. All that said, the images I captured will allow me to relive the experience for a life time.

Monday, August 26, 2019

IX The Wonder of Nature

IX The Rains Came

In the Amazon, there were times when I felt as if I was witnessing nature in all her majesty. Such an occasion came when we were on the river. It was late in the afternoon when a storm gathered on the horizon.

Quickly we could see the rain coming across the way.

The skies darkened across the jungle.

Then we watched the rain as it came down the river.

Soon it over took us.

And, as quickly, it had passed.

As an aside, since I returned from Brazil, I am often asked about the fires in the Amazon. Did we see them? Was there smoke?  And my answers are: Luckily, we did not see any smoke or fires. The fires are predominantly in the southern part of the basin and we were traveling in the northern portion. 

However, this all brings 2 things to the forefront. 1- a huge natural area such as the Amazon Basin is necessary for our survival on this planet, and 2 - as stewards of this planet, it is our responsibility to care for such a fragile ecosystem, especially given the Amazon provides 20% of our oxygen. (A fact I doubt most people knew until the news coverage of the fires.)

But the appalling truth is - this fire disaster is totally man made given the new regime in Brazil wants to open the Amazon up for mining and logging and the inhabitants think their only survival is clear cutting the land for crops. This is a self inflicted wound, possibly COPD for the Earth or worse - suffocation. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

VIII Village Festival

VIII - Festival of the Cloves

The village we were visiting when we took our first jungle hike was famous for its clove plantations. However, years ago the plantations had been destroyed by warring tribes. That said, the annual Festival of the Cloves was still held each year. The festival lasted for 2 weeks. During this time the tiny fishing village of 10 permanent residents turned into the mecca of the area. There were boats of every size and shape tied to trees on the shore. Large ones families had rented for the entire 2 weeks. 

There were also many of the smaller traditional boats moored there.

The first thing we saw when we approached the village was a huge white church with blue trim. There were streamers stretching from the bell tower to the ground.  

Lines of colorful clothes drying in the Amazon heat were strung across the sterns of the boats. 

Men were on the swim decks at the stern of the boats scaling fish. Women were washing clothes in the water as children swam and splashed about.

The boats were crammed with families. Dozens of hammocks hanging about. 

There was constant motion - people coming and going, preparation of food, laughter, and the general hum of families and crowds. The streets of the small town were lined with vendors selling their wares. The selection ranged from food to clothes to beer. One could round a corner and find someone singing (barely recognizable Americans songs) in Portuguese. There were make shift dance floors and bars blasting loud music. 

A soccer field was set-up with teams playing in what seemed to be a tournament. Between games, children would take the field playing their own games.

I think we were the only 'outsiders' there. That being the case, we became a source of interest. 

One of the most curious things were 4 tall poles. 2 decorated with toys and other items, the other 2 covered with fruits, with all the goodies starting 10-12 feet in the air. We learned that the poles were greased and there would be a competition to see who could climb the poles and grab the prizes.

The festival went 24 x 7. We went to sleep to the music and the crowds and awoke to the music, still blaring. 

Friday, August 23, 2019

VII - When in the Amazon

VII - Jungle Hike

When one thinks of the Amazon, 2 things come to mind - lots of water and the jungle. Our first hike into the jungle was quite the adventure. Dick procured us a local guide. So all of us, our guide, and his machete loaded into the pangas and set out for the jungle.

The guide had told us that we had a 5 minute boat ride to reach the path. The 5 minute ride became a 25 minute ride. I feared we were on our way to a "3 Hour Tour" just without the Professor and Mary Ann. We were moving very slowly through trees and bushes. The river was at a record 10 feet over normal when we were there.

This part of the jungle reminded me a lot of the cypress swamps in South Carolina I have spent many an hour paddling through on my kayak. But, just the thought of this being the 'jungle' brought about a sense of wonder. I expected to see a Cayman lurking about, an Anaconda in the water, monkeys frolicking about, or (my greatest fear) snakes hanging from the trees.

The boats moved quietly through the water with only the low hum of the trolling motors. There were bird calls and chirps which, naturally, Tracey could immediately identify. Then there were things in nature I had never seen. Like giant wasp nests on the sides of trees.

Finally we turned toward the bank and our guide announced we had reached our destination. We climbed out of the boats and followed the guide, single file, on what looked more like a slight opening in the growth, rather than a trail. The guide cleared a walk-able path with his machete. We moved slowly, no one knowing what to expect. John (I'll tell you more about him later) was quick to identify most of the flora, often muttering to himself whether is was this species or that. It was Greek to me.

I was third in line so I had a clear vision of the guide making his way. Suddenly he stopped and held his machete up, indicating we needed to stop. Then he yelled 'Cobra!' I don't know my snakes but I do now there are no 'Cobras' on the South American continent. A fellow traveler behind me, whose fluency in Spanish helped him understand a bit of Portuguese, said, "They call any snake here a 'cobra'." Well that was a relief - I guessed.

After a huddle of Tracy, the guide, and John around said snake, it was determined it was a Bushmaster - a very poisonous snake. Move along, nothing to see here. We had not gone much further when the guide stopped and turned back to us. He indicated the brush was too thick to get through. We would need to retrace our steps, return to the boats, and go a little further down the bank, just 5 minutes or so. Right!

It was determined we best just return to our boat. So, once again, we made our way back along the '5 minute' route. Along the way, we saw otters (much larger than those in the states), various birds, what someone identified as a Cayman but no one else witnessed.

      As a note: The snake was later identified by picture as not a Bushmaster after all, but some other venomous snake. In my mind a venomous snake is a venomous snake - Just Saying.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

VI - Up the Amazon

The Amazon Basin is huge, covering over 2,400,000 square miles, or about 35.5 percent that of the South American continent. It is located in the countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Most of the basin is covered by the Amazon Rainforest, also known as Amazonia. With a 2,100,000 square mile area of dense tropical forest, this is the largest rainforest in the world. It is also said to be ‘The Earth’s Lungs’ given this area produces 20% of the earth’s oxygen

The basin is made up of many "Rivers", the Amazon River being the main one. We got on the water in Manaus, a good size city (including the airport we flew into) located very close to the intersection of the Amazon River and the Rio Negro (black river). Instead of going down the Amazon River, we headed north west up the Rio Negro.

Although the Amazon Basin is not heavily populated, the Rio Negro is even more remote. It is a body of water that winds its way through the rainforest. Very few houses or huts (most raised on stilts above the water) are located in this area. We would sometime only see 1 or 2 houses in a given day. 

And even fewer boats.

There were also few villages on the river. The most famous town being Barcelos, known as the largest source of tropical fish, sold world wide for aquariums. Our plan was to make it to Barcelos, but we did not get that far.

So when someone says they went "to the Amazon" it can mean many things. It can be cruising down the Amazon proper which is much more populated and civilized. It can be just visiting one of the major towns in the eastern part of the Basin - Manaus, Santarem, or Macapa (located at the mouth of the Amazon at the Atlantic ocean). Or  going up one of its major tributaries, such as Rio Negro.