Reading this week:
- The Struggle for Zimbabwe by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson
Thank you for sticking with me on so many weeks of this Brazil journey! I promise this week I will wrap up the river cruise portion, and then next week I’ll probably do all of Manaus is a single post. And then! And then hopefully something noteworthy will be going on in my life, and I will make a note of it here. Until then, Brazil.
Now, we didn’t only bother wildlife and chop down trees in Brazil. Sometimes we met people! A chunk of these people-meets were in slightly more casual interactions. I thought it was great every single time we met another riverboat cruising down the river, because a lot of the time we would come alongside each other and the crew of each boat would presumably swap news or barter, with us exchanging ice for fish one time that I remember. And then we would cruise along our way. I also liked the see the people living along the river. Some were living on dry land, and had small herds of cattle and the like; when we got the best chicken ever, which I am still thinking about, it was just by stopping by one of these homesteads as we were cruising along.
I also deeply admired the river houses we passed by. Since, as I have revealed previously, the river level changes dramatically over the course of the year, a large chunk of people live in houses that float, like the one picture above. These are built on the top of gigantic floating logs that provide buoyancy. If I couldn’t quite afford a whole riverboat in my retirement, I was able to easily imagine myself living a life in one of these floating houses. We only personally got to visit one (the one above), because it was also a store:
I loved this store. Talk about character! There was a big ole’ crocodile skull on the counter, for chrissake! (I guess technically a caiman). Hello my Super Amazing Girlfriend, this right here is my retirement plan: sell cold drinks, pans, and fishing nets out of a floating house on the Amazon. Dad, at my prompting, bought from this store the paddle pictured at the very top, versions of which we saw in tourist shops in Manaus for much more than whatever dad paid for it.
Another fun excursion we went on was to a rubber farm. I don’t quite have the room here to talk fully about the long history of exploitation when it comes to rubber harvesting in the Amazon (maybe I’ll touch on it more when I talk about Manaus), but we went to go see how rubber harvesting is done. Basically, you have a plot with rubber trees, and then the tappers will go out and cut grooves in the bark of the trees. The sap will flow out into tins that the rubber collectors have nailed to the trees, and that is how they harvest the raw latex sap. With that sap, the rubber harvesters boil it down until it becomes actual rubber. At the rubber farm that we went to, they also had a variety of small things they had made out of rubber, like a coinpurse or some rubber booties. Elso had dad make the item that he is working on in the above photo. To actually make something out of rubber, they would dip a mold into the latex sap, and then cure the rubber over smoke. In front of the ladies, Elso told us with a straight face that the device dad is making there was a rubber nipple used to help feed baby cows. Later, away from the women, he told us that dad had in fact made a condom. The thing made our entire cabin smell very strongly of smoke for the rest of the week, so, uh, things to think about when you’re trying to choose a condom brand.
Alright enough of people! Back to bothering wildlife. One of the last things we did on the river was to shake a sloth out of a tree. Yeah, I know, gimme a second. The guides had been talking about this all week, and it seemed perfectly normal every time they brought it up. I guess if you’re a sloth, and you’re in danger, your first line of defense is to look like a tree. If that fails, your backup defense is to just let go of the tree you are holding onto. This is not too dangerous in a flooded forest, because they just fall into the water and I guess sloths are good swimmers. So off we went one morning to find a sloth to shake out of a tree.
This all seemed fine until we were actually doing it. I distinctly remember us finally identifying a sloth in a tree and then thinking to myself “wait… are we the baddies?” This did not deter Elso and his buddies from zooming up the tree and shaking the branch that the sloth was holding onto. This sloth, however, was stubborn. Turns out, that might have been because she was carrying a baby on her back. I felt bad about this the entire time, let me tell you. But eventually Elso shook the branch enough that the sloth finally activated its backup defense mechanism and dropped into the water. The only people left in the canoe were us tourists, so Elso was soon shouting for us to grab the sloth. I, for once in this trip being the brave one, plucked up enough courage to snatch out of the water a poor little baby sloth who was just trying to get back to its tree. The mom made it to the tree and started climbing back up, while our new friend clutched to the canoe’s life jacket for dear life.
Once the guides had scrambled down from the tree, they helped us all pose for pictures with our traumatized baby sloth. Above is dad cradling the little guy. I actually demurred, feeling terrible about this whole thing at this point, but I still know what I did. Poor thing. After a round of pictures the baby sloth was placed gently back on the tree near its mom while we darted off back to the boat. Elso assured us that everything was totally fine, but still somewhere out there is probably a sloth that needs therapy and I’m sorry, baby sloth.
Like I said, that was our last major adventure on the river boat. After that we more or less head back into town, where we piled back into some cars to drive us to the ferry terminal and take us to Manaus. I had a great time on that riverboat, and I highly recommend everyone give it a go before the Amazon is entirely gone. Or maybe we can work harder to save the thing? Food for thought. But all in all, a very nice time:
We have a brief hiatus next week from Brazil content to talk about a different topic, but in two weeks I’ll wrap up Brazil entirely when I will relate about all my adventures in Manaus, and the real point of this whole trip: the Teatro Amazonas!