Friday, November 7, 2008

The Brazilian Amazon

"Eaa" is the greeting in the Baraçana language, an indigenous group that lives in the Amazon in the large South American country of Brazil. "Ayutemanaçan" means "How are you?" We went to visit a Baraçana village about an hour by boat from EcoPark, the jungle lodge where we were staying. The Baraçana lifestyle is very primitive, which is amazing because their village is not far from the modern city of Manaus.

The Baraçana showed us some of their dances. The children loved us. They loved us so much they tried to run away with us. We explained that we couldn’t stay but we had a gift for them – pencils that say "Annie and Blue – Your American Friends." That made them happy because they have a school but they have a hard time getting pencils and paper.

Another day, Iury, our guide who was born in the jungle, led us on a nature hike. He explained many things about the forest. He carried a machete, which he called "his best friend." There was one big tree he called "the telephone." He hit it with his "best friend" and the sound reverberated through the forest. He used the "telephone" if he was hurt or had a big animal to take back to the village and needed help.

Another tree was leaking white, milky sap. Iury said, "We use this for many things. We boil it down and put it on our boats to make them watertight. When we put it in the fire it keeps the mosquitoes away. If we have a headache and smell it our headache goes away." Iury learned about the forest from his father who learned from his father. Pointing to a big thick vine he said, "If I need water while I am in the forest, I just cut this vine and drink the water in it. If I am hungry there is plenty to eat. This is good rule to remember. Fruit can be hairy, bitter, and/or milky. Only eat the fruit that has just one of those qualities. If it has two or three of the characteristics it is not good for you."

Most people think the rainforest has a lot of scary animals but the "scary" ones are hard to find. We didn’t even see a snake. EcoPark has a rescue program where monkeys that are taken from captivity are reintroduced into the wild. Iury explained. "For the first few months the monkeys are cared for in a cage. Then they are set free but each day they are fed 20% of their dietary needs. When they get hungry they have to learn to find food on their own." One of programs greatest successes is protecting the Red-faced Uakari. They are endangered and are unique because they do not have a prehensile tail like the other New World monkeys. Prehensile means they can use their tail like a hand. They can hang from the tree just holding on with their tail. The Uakari’s tail is thick and only about one foot long.

When we returned to Manaus we arrived at the Tropical Hotel in time to see a rescued jaguar arrive. He was taken from someone who captured it illegally. The hotel has a zoo so the jaguar was brought to their zoo because the hotel has a veterinarian who knows how to take care of wild animals. The jaguar was tranquilized for the journey. They put the box he was transported in tight to the door of the cage the Tropical Hotel built special for him. He started to wake up and stuck out his head. His new keeper got aquatinted with him – through the fence – by talking to him and rubbing his nose. After about 20 minutes the jaguar tried to charge out of the box but his legs were wobbly. He went to sleep in a corner. When we checked on him a couple of hours later he was back to normal.

There is so much to see, do and learn in the rainforest. The Amazon is huge, about the size of the United States.

For now we say "Aiyer" – good bye.