Monday, May 19, 2014

Sao Luis, the Kanamari, and a hike

Kari's early morning photo looking out of our cabin window.  You can't see most of them, but the whole thing was covered in bugs.  We both thought this one looked like a bird in flight!

We awoke again today on the Rio Javari with plans for an actual hike.  Until now, we've only explored via canoe, since we're surrounded by flooded forest, terra firma is a rarity.

Thanks to Everisto and our local FUNAI representative, we were able to connect to a local tribe called the Kanamari.  After breakfast, we hopped in the canoes and headed toward the nearby Kanamari village, Sao Luis.  After a steep march up the clay riverbank (washed out and narrow in some places) we reached a flat open space with houses and even a building that looks like a clinic.  It was disgustingly hot and very sunny with bugs everywhere!  We were all already primed and ready for piums, with long sleeves and full pants, but Junior warned us about chiggers (omg. pants tucked into my socks!) and we discovered swarms of gnat-like things.  Kari and I broke out the face nets and were at least able to breath without inhaling bugs.  Others rocked the bandit look with bandannas over their faces.

The village was quiet, but full of families going about their business.  Several pets (?) hung around the houses, including a coatmundi and some spider monkeys.

Led by one of the villagers (an older man wearing orange soccer shorts, big black rain boots, and a sort of wooden headdress), we walked through the village and into the nearby forest.  Still hot and buggy, and also very muddy.  Not far into the hike, Junior told us worriedly that the guide had extended an invitation for us to join the tribe for an ayahuasca ceremony, as they wanted to express how happy they were to have us visit.  I knew only a little about this, but enough to know that it is a purifying ritual which involves drinking the ayahuasca, which causes projectile vomiting, followed by a period of altered perception, hallucinations, and enlightenment.*  Not something I was eager to do, and certainly not in the middle of nowhere.  Junior didn't seem enthusiastic either.

We did a lot of climbing over fallen tree trunks and narrow streams and sticky mud puddles, being careful not to grab onto the wrong tree for balance, since many were covered in ants or densely-packed, vicious-looking spines.  The crew was with us, and they very kindly created little walking bridges and hand holds out of cut down palms.  With a troop of us all crunching through the woods, taking turns walking the balance beam over giant mud pools, we moved loudly and slowly, so there wasn't much opportunity to observe wildlife, unfortunately.  Our local guide explained to Junior that many hours ahead there was an area of the forest known as a canama -- a place know to attract many animals due a saltwater spring.  However, with our pace, it wasn't likely we'd make it there within a day.  

Here's Kari with Mauri and Dave
Me in a classic jungle pose.
(Note the delicate grasp on the stick -- who knows what kinda bugs might crawl up that stick?)
Kari making a mysterious jungle gesture or hand signal.
What does it mean?
Caryn took a moment to get some dramatic glamour shots of Peter.
He's clearly had practice
Dave waits patiently in background/mud.
Just one more...
Look!  Junior found a frog (later determined to be a moustached jungle frog)
Junior and our guide thought there were some monkeys in the nearby treetops at some point, but none us were able to spot them before they moved away.

After awhile, about a third of the group decided they'd experienced enough and headed back, while another chunk decided to go a little further, crossing through a wide stream.  The rest of us (which included myself and Kari), hung around a bit and then decided to slowly make our way back to the village, taking some time to look more closely at the forest.

We spotted this rhinoceros beetle... (and Mary took this pic)
...and his lady beetle, I think.
And this beautiful little tree frog
The fly joined the shot to provide some scale.  That is a normally sized fly (or bee?).
The frog is about the size of the top digit of my pinkie finger.
Elias went to a lot of trouble to actually capture some shots of this little guy (though you should know that these particular pics are actually Caryn's excellent work!).
The frog was not just cute, but also super fast and sneaky, and he nearly got away a few times, hopping under leaves and branches.  However, Elias was persistent.  At one point, the frog hopped onto Elias' wrist and then up his forearm, forcing Elias to unbutton his sleeve and shake him out.  We made sure Elias wiped his arm and rinsed it with water (since the frog's coloring suggested he might have some toxic defense mechanism), but it still swelled up not too long after -- just from a few hops!  Later it was determined to be an Amazon poison dart frog.

We eventually made it out of the woods, back into a sort of open area where the tribe grew pineapples and bananas and other food plants, and we sat around waiting for the rest of the group to catch up.  While we waited, I discovered a mysterious and disturbing rash or reaction on my arms -- deemed to be heat rash, because I am obviously not built for the local climate!  Fortunately, we were soon joined by the rest of our group and we slowly made our way back through the village to the canoes and headed back to the boat.

After a very refreshing shower, I joined the group in the dining room where Junior was talking to the leaders of the Kanamari tribe and several other local Javari tribes.  We learned that none of these tribes had ever had outside visitors like our group.  Other than some of the FUNAI/government representatives from the closest Brazilian towns, they are pretty much isolated.  They told Junior that they were very happy for our visit, and they were very excited to hear from him about the possibility of selling some of their local crafts, like the Ticuna do.  Junior gave them some examples of the things other tribes make and sell, and they agreed that they could do the same and were very eager to do this.  .

We later learned from Junior that Kanamari and other tribes have moved away from their traditional lifestyles enough that they are now dependent on modern things like gasoline (for motorized canoes), health supplies, and even TVs (and satellite dishes?), which we definitely saw in the village.  However, even tribes like the Ticuna do not have good ways of making the money to support these needs, and so are mainly supported through government funding.  They may make some income from crafts or fishing, but this is mostly through FUNAI intermediaries.  And the Kanamari don't even do this right now.

Junior is behind Cindy on the left, and Everisto and Francisco are on the right.  The rest are leaders from some of the tribes of the Javari area.
Junior seemed to be in his element, learning about the tribes and exchanging ideas.
(These two photos thanks to Caryn.)
The end result of the meeting was a plan for us to return to the village in a few days for an evening celebration, including a chance to buy some Kanamari crafts and join them for a ceremony (including the ayahuasca!) as a way to demonstrate their happiness with our visit.  Junior seemed worried about the ceremony, but Cindy said he felt an obligation not to decline and risk offending the tribe.  So...sounds like we will be back Thursday night.  It was nice to hear how happy the Kanamari were to have us visit, and nice to think maybe this is the start of a positive relationship between them and Junior's family and company.

Meanwhile, interested to see who (if anyone?) from our group decides to partake in this ceremony...

Kari and I both opted out of the night exploration.  I was happy just to be clean and not covered in sweat, bug spray, or sunscreen for awhile.  Plus, I've quickly learned that "night exploration" can be translated as "spider central".  Not interested!
We did miss this little guy, though.
*Later learned a few more things relevant to the ayahuasca topic: 1) A young British man recently died as a result of a bad reaction to this; 2) Evidently, New York's hottest new club is "Ayahuasca" (?!)  Sounds like it's actually a trend among people in the US and around the world...crazy.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rio Javari and Igarape Irari

The boat was moving most of the morning and finally stopped around midday along the Javari, near the Igarape Irari.  Turns out, this area is plagued with piums*, which are teeny tiny black flies who don't care about bug repellent, and who leave behind a tiny pinprick of blood.  The only way to avoid them is clothing, so everyone is covering up and avoiding the top deck. 

In the afternoon, we loaded into the canoes for an exploration of the Igarape Irari.  Kari and I ended up on a boat with Junior, Everisto, Mauri, Dave, Caryn, and Peter.  We saw a pretty collared trogon (brown, red, and white bird), a sleeping ghost bat (white with orange ears), some monk saki monkeys, and some squirrel monkeys.  We also encountered an old man who was carving an oar and soaking his manioc in the river. 

(Here I am going to have to borrow from Mary and from Caryn and Peter, who captured some great pics.  As always, you can click on each pic and then zoom in for a closer look, if you like.)

Mary's beautiful shot of a white-throated toucan
...and her pic of a crimson-crested woodpecker
Peter and Caryn's shot of some scarlet macaws (zoom in to see how pretty!)
The Monk Saki monkey posing for them
Peter and Caryn!
The old man, also posing for them
Here's a fun Where's Waldo challenge for you:
Can you find the squirrel monkey?
How about now?
In the evening, we returned to the same area for a later afternoon/evening exploration, and we saw many birds, including a plum-throated continga, a paradise tanager, and a very pretty hummingbird with a long quill-like tail -- later determined to be a fiery topaz hummingbird. 

We finished off the night by staying up with Junior learning to play Brazilian dominoes.  I didn't even know non-Brazilian dominoes and I am hopeless at remembering games, but it was fun!  It is worth mentioning that Junior was wandering around the boat in a pair of leggings that we suspected he got from Bia -- a fairly good indicator of how much even the crew hates those horrible piums!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bom Intento, Benjamin Constant, and Lago Jatimana

A water hyacinth, which grows on the water, like waterlilies.  I took this one back to the boat and pressed the flowers.  (Caryn took this pic)
We stayed up "late" last night playing cards with Nancy and Dave as the boat began to move back upriver in the direction of Tabatinga, and also in the direction of our main focus, the Rio Javari.  Nancy and Dave taught us a great game that they call Up And Down The River (appropriate, right?), which is easy to learn and a good combination of luck and strategy.  Staying up late actually meant staying up 'til around 8:30 or 9, in this case.  But, since we've been up early each morning, it makes sense that most people are heading to bed before 10pm, at least.  I have to admit I don't really know what time we are getting up, since I don't wear a watch and I've turned off my cell phone (gasp!), but it's early enough that we usually fit in an early morning expedition and breakfast before 8 or 9 am.  For me that's insane.  But, on the bright side, our morning wake-up call is this.

Anyway, Nancy, Dave, Kari, me, and Caryn were the only ones still up when Caryn's husband Peter finally met up with us as we neared Tabatinga (escorted by Junior's wife, Jeanne, and our friend Francisco!).  
We started out the morning today with an exploration of the flooded forest near a community called Bom Intento.  Peter enthusiastically took over as our canoe's navigator/paddler and was fairly successful.  We saw several birds, including a Gray hawk, some egrets, kiskadees, and kingfishers.  Also, a tiny, adorable tree frog who jumped on Kari (who screamed a little!) and then onto my hand :)  So cute!  Turns out he is a pygmy hatchet-faced tree frog.

After the exploration, the boat set off again upriver, heading for the town of Benjamin Constant, where Francisco hopes to find our local Rio Javari guide.  I decided not to get off the boat for Benjamin Constant, but I had a great view from the top deck, and watched all sorts of activity from there.  Also, enjoyed the loud music and fireworks (or some other explosions?) which went off every ten minutes or so.  Some of the group found a local Ticuna museum, which they said was excellent.  Francisco was unable to find our guide.  Also, it seems one of the boat's generators needed a replacement part, but the mechanic in Benjamin Constant who went off to retrieve the piece never returned and couldn't be tracked down, so we went on without it.  There are two other generators, right?
View of the flooded forest from our canoe
My little tree frog!
Here's a (blurry) pic of him on my hand, for scale
Mauri's reading for the day....that name seems familiar...
View of Benjamin Constant
...and another
In the afternoon, we stopped further upriver at the town of Atalaia Do Norte, which is the last town on our route as we head into the more remote Rio Javari.  Francisco tracked down a different local guide, Everisto (a member of one of the local tribes), and we were on our way up the Rio Javari and officially in the area of Vale do Javari.  Of note, we were given a specific warning to avoid an upcoming left turn, which would lead us down a river into the territories of the so-called Korubo tribe, one of the tribes that has no contact with outsiders and has demonstrated some violence in the past.  So...we didn't make the left turn and instead stayed on the Javari.

We stopped in the late afternoon for an exploration of a nearby oxbow lake -- formed by what was once a hairpin turn in the river.  This lake, called Lago Jatimana (but lovingly referred to as Lago Not-Yo'-Mama), was very smooth and pretty.  We saw several birds and also a beautiful sunset.
It's like a mirror!

One of the other canoes, serious about their bird-spotting
Our boat was all about the pics -- even Canta Galo.
Elias and Canta Galo did their Titanic impression... and then Elias explained in halting (and giggling) English that he was Jack and Canta Galo was Rosie.  They made a cute, but ultimately doomed, couple.

I have about a hundred variations of this photo, but figured one was enough for now.
Email me if you want to see them all!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rio Tacana and Tacana village

Apple snail (pic by Mary)
And another of the same
I felt back to normal today!  

We started the day with an exploration of a flooded forest near the Ticuna community of Nova Cruzador.  We were joined by a boy named Saul, son of the the chief of a local Ticuna village called Tacana.  (Normally his mother, Olympia, the chief or his older brother would help guide us, but his brother was stranded in another village and his mother was pregnant and due any day, so we got Saul, who was very cute.

We canoed through a channel in the forest, and spotted lots of creatures, including three lizards (a golden tegu lizard, a Northern Caiman lizard, and an Amazon crocodile tegu), a fer-de-lance (aggressive, poisonous snake), many birds, and various bugs, including a walking stick, a monkey spider, and butterflies.  We also saw some apple snails, sleeping sac-winged bats, and a mysterious monkey which Saul said the Ticuna call a titi monkey.
Blue and yellow macaws (pic by Caryn)
A mealy parrot?  I think... (another Caryn pic)
Trunk of a Giant Kapok tree -- keep in mind, this is in water that is 10+ meters high.  There were two bats sleeping within the "folds" of this tree trunk.
See them? (pic from Caryn)
Here's a close up (also from Caryn)
Mary's great shot of the fer-de-lance.  If you look closely,  you can see his face towards the left, middle.
Junior took one of the canoes to try and encourage the fer-de-lance into a more photogenic position (using a stick).  He wasn't successful, but Elias was with him and got some good shots, and neither of them died.

One of our lizards :)
Mary's close-up...I think this was the....Amazon crocodile tegu

And here's her pic of the Golden tegu
Pretty bromeliad
Mary showing off a walking stick friend (and her Ticuna jaguar face tattoo)
Charlie was intent on capturing some great photos
We then returned to Saul's village, where we had another opportunity to buy some local crafts and meet the people.  As usual, the kids were shy by very interested in pictures.  I made lots of friends, as they were all excited to look at the pictures of themselves and point out all the people in the pictures they knew.  I even took some videos, which really amused them.

Elias borrowed someone's pet squirrel monkey and brought him on board for a visit
Great shot by Caryn of the squirrel monkey, who LOVED Nikki. 
Here's her shot of him on Elias' arm
And back to Nikki (this pic and the next two from Mary)
I'm pretty sure he was scared, but he seemed to feel safe with her (and Elias)
Meanwhile, Caryn noticed some of the local kids were watching us from a nearby tree.

Me with my new friends (looking day-glo bright in my sun protective, bug repellent gear).
 No wonder they were a little wary of us.

Junior had a brillant idea to start up a game of soccer, and it soon became clear that the Tacana village residents (and the crew of the Iracema) are very good at soccer.  Junior decided to make it serious and proposed that the victors would earn some fuel from the losers.  Then the Ticuna brought out their secret weapons: women!  They ended up winning and got their fuel and everyone was happy.  After the game, all the Ticuna kids jumped in the river for a swim, and some of our group followed their lead.  The kids also started jumping into the river from the trees along the shore.

Junior -- after an amazing play
I sat with the kids and watched until I was forced to participate.  Not a very useful player, unfortunately.

Samantha, Mary, Savannah, and Nikki

Caryn, Savannah, and Kari, relaxing on the top deck

Another great sunset!