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.

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