I have spent a lot of time reading and listening to lectures about rainforests and how important they are for ecosystems and biodiversity. The Amazon is the largest one in the world, and this past week, I was fortunate to have the experience of seeing it myself. To get to the Amazon from Rio, the only route is via flight; there are not roads that reach Manaus, and even if there were, it is almost 3,000 miles away.
This was my first time flying in Brazil since arriving, and the process is much different than what I’m used to, but in a good way. I was surprised when I was able to bring all of my liquids aboard (sunblock, bug spray, etc.) so I did not need to check a bag. I also did not need to take my shoes off or have a pat down. When arriving in Manaus, it was raining and extremely humid, but I was expecting this.
Manaus is one of the twelve host cities for the World Cup, and it has also been one of the most controversial ones, and when in the airport I started to see why. The airport is still under renovation, and a brand new stadium was built for just four matches. The stadium looked really nice when driving past it, but I can see why people are angry. The costs were extremely high, and there is not a local team to use the site after the cup is over (The US plays Portugal there in just over a month).
Now the exciting part: To get deep into the rainforest, you need a tour or a friend with a motorboat, and without the latter, my friends and I booked a tour. The first stop was at the fish market, and this is where we got onto the speedboat to see the “meeting of the waters,” and this is the location where the Rio Negro and Amazon River meet. This was fascinating because the waters do not mix with one another die to differences in pH and temperature. There is a very clear distinction of where each river separates. After this stop, we got into another van to take us deeper into the forest. The road was not paved, and with a heavy downpour, I was worried the van would get stuck in the mud. Thankfully, it did not, but I did see one truck with several people pushing it. The van stopped several times, and I did not know why, but then realized that the driver was bringing things to locals along the way. It is hard for people to get certain supplies, so many depend on the vans carrying tourists when they need specific items from the city.
In the forest, I stayed in a jungle lounge, and slept on a hammock for the two nights. I actually slept pretty well, but this is probably because I was so tired at the end of each day. On the tour, I saw so much and also learned a lot. Some of the wildlife that I saw included: snakes, crocodiles, sloths, anteaters, tarantulas, dolphins, frogs, iguanas, lizards, and a lot more. When hiking in the forest, the tour guide explained some trees and plants that people use for specific illnesses, and he also explained which fruits are edible. I saw the “Vick’s Tree,” which is the tree where elements of Vick’s medicine come from, and I also saw a tree that was previously used for upscale perfumes. I put a piece of the bark in my bag to make it smell better, and it definitely helped. Today, companies cannot use the tree because there are stricter environmental laws, and companies have developed synthetic versions.
Another aspect of the excursion that was amazing was just listening to all of the sounds that I was surrounded by all the time. At any given moment, I could hear monkeys screaming for one another, birds chirping, and frogs croaking. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced because there are usually other sounds associated with cities, but the area where I was staying was so remote. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and it also was an educational experience. I took a lot of notes to remember the names of certain plants and animals, in both Portuguese and English. One aspect that was especially interesting to me was when the guide explained how he very often gets the question about poverty in the Amazon. He explained that some people do face poverty and lack things that most people take for granted, such as phone service, Wi-Fi, and hot water, (they did get electricity about 5 years ago) but that people are not starving. The forest provides so much to eat, but the responsibility to get it is up to each person/family to go and get it. He also explained that there are government programs that provide monetary incentives for families to keep their children in schools, but the amount of money is very small.
Other Updates: Today, (May 8,th) the bus drivers in Rio went on strike, so this was pretty crazy. There is a metro and taxis, but both became too crowded to use, so I had another day off class! I was able to use the day to catch up on things, but things like this cause major inconveniences for many people. I was also able to see the Buddy-Bear exhibit, which is a set of 2-meter tall bears from all UN nations, and the goal is to promote peace and tolerance among all of the countries. This was interesting to see, and I did not even know it was in Rio until running along the beach path.
Até a Próxima Vez (Until Next Time)