Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ouro Preto--May 22--24

It turned out that the airport bus I took dropped me off at a Tourist Bus stop and not the long distance bus stop like I had thought it would do. Itwas now about midnight since the plane arrived late. I got in a cab and told him to take me to the Rodavaria--long distance bus station. I gave him the name of the Madrid Hotel, a LP recommended budget hotel. This would be a departure for me in that up until now I have stayed at Hostels. As we approached the area, the hordes of homeless were getting ready to sleep along the sidewalks all around the Rodavaria area including in front of the Madrid Hotel. The taxi driver said this was a dangerous place to be, but I said I would be going to the hotel right away.

After he dropped me off, I found out Madrid was locked and the night clerk said they were full up, or at least that is what I thought he said. I figured I might be staying at the bus station for the night until an old guy came up to me with a card for the Brasilia Palace Hotel which I had spotted just around the corner. He walked with me there, but rather than walk on the sidewalks, where all the homeless were settling down for the night or having yet another beer or other drink, he walked me down the middle of the street until we got to the Brasilia Palace Hotel. This place is more like a broke down palace. The price was 77BR with no Internet, but I did have a TV with one soft porn channel and I would find out in the morning whether I had hot water for my shower.

My neighbors were quiet and I quickly fell asleep and awoke my normal 6 AM time and indeed had a hot shower complete with a small sliver of soap and a towel. I packed up quickly and was handing in the keys when the night clerk told me breakfast was included. It was a great breakfast of a cheese and ham panini, sweet melon, apple and a bucket of hot coffee with hot milk as well.

I got to the Rodavaria across the street at about 6:45 AM and after asking around I found the right bus that just about to leave for the two hour ride to Ouro Preto. I was glad to get out of that area and on my way to my final tourist destination.

I arrived just about 9 AM and found that the description of this town with its well preserved buildings and steep, windy, cobblestone streets exactly as described in all of the guidebooks. I easily found the La Em Casa Hostel right on the main square--- Praca Tiradentes. The staff there was very friendly and helpful and there were only two of us guests for the first night. The weather, too had changed considerably from the 90 degree--80% humidity down to something like 55--65 degrees with fog in the early mornings. Even inside the hostel and restaurants around town these are the same temperatures inside the buildings. I guess everybody bundles up.

Praca Tiradentes

Santuario da Conceicao with Igreja de Santa Efigenia dos Pretos in the distance which was built between 1742 and 1749 by and for the Black slave community.

The Casa do Ouvidor and O Passo are two of my favorite restaurants with many others to choose from.

This was the daily special at O Passo: File de peixe a mojo de camaroes, arroz Branco, ane is de cebola empanadas e saladinha--fish smothered in shrimp filled tomato sauce with fried onion rings, rice and salad. Cost: 19.90 BR or $10.50 USD. Plus the shop of beer was 4BR and came from their own microbrewery.

Igreja NS do Rosario do Pretos
View from my dorm room-- we now have four guests here, an Australian guy and gal, who arrived separately, a French woman and me. This is now the low season for visiting this part of Brazil with most travelers heading for the warm, sunny beaches to the north. Meanwhile, we are all here in the living room bundled up with our bed blankets draped around us to cut the chill.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Manaus--May 14-16 & 19-21--Opera in the Amazon

After being on the Amazon for a week, I enjoyed just walking about Manaus to view the various shops and markets along with seeing some of the flooded streets down by the docks. Both before and after my Iguana Tours jungle adventure, I walked about town. I stayed at the Gol Backpackers Hostel which was just a few doors from the Amazona Teatro Opera House where they were planning to perform the Magic Flute by Mozart on the night before I leave Manaus for Ouro Preto.

Flooded Waterfront Entrance

Mercado Renovation Partially Flooded

View of Opera House from the Taj Mahal--In Manaus, not India

Opera House is viewed from the Plaza with the wavy black and white paving that symbolizes the "Mixing of the Waters" which is also found throughout Brazil including Ipanema Beach walkway in Rio.

More flooding near Maritz Plaza

Unloading the Banana Boats with each stalk selling wholesale from 5 to 20 BRs or about $2.50 to $10.
The day after our return from the Amazon I had walked about town with Katy from the UK who was on the jungle tour along with Colim from New York. They had transformed one of the busy commercial shopping streets into a Sunday Market where they were selling almost everything from these little 5 by five shops as well as food stalls. I stopped for an egg sandwich and a coffee since our Gol Hostel breakfast was so pitiful.

Shortly after returning to the Gol Hostel the rains came down and it looked like the night's Opera would be endangered. This is a view up toward the Opera House area Just a few steps from our hostel.


But as the day proceeded, the rains disappeared, and the crowds began filling up the thousands of seats---some did carry umbrellas though. At 7PM, The Magic Flute began with the orchestra performing inside the Teatro Amazona. Here is a clip where the heroine is negotiating for the return of her beloved with the queen of darkness. Many of the scenes and characters invoked an Amazon motif. I thoroughly enjoyed it as did most of the families around me. Imagine this Opera in the heart of the Amazon at a building built by the wealth of the rubber barons.


The following day I took care of a number of tasks such as getting a picture of the Pineapple plantation home surrounded by the highest flood in memory as requested by the homeowner, a haircut, exchanging some of my cash, and figuring out when and where to take the airport bus.

When I got to the airport, I was pleased to see that the Danish couple, Jacob and Selena, I had met on the Iguana Tour, were there waiting for the flight they had booked with Jerry's help and my delivery service to the Iguana Office in Manaus while they were still on the jungle tour.

As I left Manaus, I took this picture of the flooded Amazon from the air.

On to Belo Horizonte for an overnight in a fleabag hotel near the bus station with an early 2 hour bus ride to Ouro Preto the following morning.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

In the Amazon Jungle--Iguana Tours--May16-19

My 3 night and 4 day trip to the Amzon jungle began with a cross town drive to the water taxi area in the industrial area of Manaus. I was the only passenger in this high speed boat across the Rio Negro with a short stop at the mixing of the waters where the dark coffee colored Rio Negro ran parallel with the coffee latte colored Amazon for miles before combining. We continued crossing the Amazon until,we reached a boat landing. Again there's lots of flooding and I heard the the flood has hit an all tie high watermark.

I joined another couple from the UK on a 2 month holiday as we then drove about an hour to another boat landing. On the way there were several areas where the river was crossing the roadway with up to 1 to 1 1/2 feet deep.

At the next boat landing, we each got into different speed boats for a 1 1/2 hour journey down the river to the Iguana Tours Lodge. For some of the journey we went through narrow, twisty passages where branches from both sides grazed the boat.


As we pulled up to the lodge, I was greeted by five guests and three staff members. Jerry, the owner, from Guyana greeted me and showed me around just as lunch was almost ready. His two staff members were Damien and Tieton, both were local natives who spoke English well. Three of the guests were leaving that day: a Swiss fellow, a Dutch woman who was an engineer, and a German woman who was finishing up her research thesis on the feasibility of using the Brazil nut wastes for charcoal briquettes.


There were now just 3 of us for the afternoon tour to see the grey and pink dolphins, birds and monkeys in the Amazon jungle. The fellow was Guillmo from France who was living in Moscow while he finished studies at the Russian Film Academy and his girl friend, Anna, was from Russia. She is a transactional Psychologist and spoke four languages. I was confused for a bit because one of them would,say something in Russian and the other would respond in French and vice versa or sometimes in English.


We first went fishing for piranha with no luck and then we went up into the jungle canopy that was now flooded looking for wildlife. Jerry would kill the engine and he would quietly paddle us into the narrow parts where we would see fleeting glimpses of the capuchin monkeys swinging from tree to to tree or a pair of Toucans taking flight along with other birds too numerous to remember.

Sunset at the Iguana Lodge

On the seond day, we got up just before dawn to catch the birds taking their first morning flights. Lots of white egrets were taking flight around schools of fish. We again checked several inlets for more wildlife before returning for breakfast.

After breakfast we headed up the Juma River to visit a local family plantation of pineapples and bananas. right around their home, they had planted a variety of fruits and vegetables for their own use including peppers, lemongrass, ginger, mangoes, bananas and other plants. Chickens were every where even inside the house where a hen was trying to hatch her eggs.

We then headed to the plantation area and along the way we saw where old plantings abandoned were now being taken over again by the jungle. Apparently the soil in the Amazon is very poor because the heavy rains each year wash away the humus into the Amazon River. to enrich the soil for the plantations, they do the slash and burn which generates potash so that after the burn the soil can support about three to four years of pineapple and banana crops. The process is then repeated as they move the crops around their native holdings.

He showed us the starters they use for the new pineapple plants as well as digging up a manoic root, chuck full of poisonous cyanide. The family here had a manioc factory that processes this deadly plant into manioc meal, but it was under water.

We then returned to the family home and went inside to savor a pineapple we had picked up because a skunk had partially eaten it. While in the home, we checked out the crafts they were selling. I picked up some bracelets and necklaces along the a masks made from coconut shell trumpeter feathers and piranha teeth. As we were leaving the woman asked if we could send her a picture of her home with the big flood.

In the afternoon we went canoeing where normally we would have hiked. we had a hard time navigating without running into overhead sticks. One place we got stuck by some mad ants that covered a log by our boat. They were so mad that they jumped into the water and entered our boat so we called them pirate ants. It was an exhausting three hour canoe ride.

We also came across this tiny birds nest along the waterway with two chicks inside.


Since we didn't catch any piranha, we figured it was safe to take a dip in the Amazon by the lodge. Very refreshing.

Later a fierce rainstorm blew in just before dinner.

After the rain passed, we went out after dark to catch the cayman. Our guide, Tieton, used a flashlight to spot the caymen's eyes. He then quickly grabbed it firmly at the throat. He then had me hold him. He just warned me not to loosen my grip around his neck or he would get very agitated. No chance of that!

Today we will be doing our jungle walk with Tieton showing us plants and animals that are used for shelter, utinsels, medicine, or food.

We would amble along for a bit when Tieton would stop and show us a bark that could be chewed to prevent malaria and another one to control diaherra.


He then found this one nut that had three chambers and then ask which of us wanted one. I agreed and then learned that they were not nuts but larva!

Well, I volunteered to eat it and so I did. It tasted like a creamy brazil nut, but nothing I would go out of my way to try again.

After that I needed a bit of water, so Tieton cut this bit of vine and water dripped out.

We then came to this ant nest and he had put his hand into it and had the ants crawling over his arms and then he squashed them and explained that the smell of the crushed ants were a good mosquito repellant.


For two nights I have been staying in this cottage even though I just paid for a dorm bed since it was now their low season.



We are now leaving the comfort of this lodge to camp out in hammocks in the jungle.

We got there and strung up our hammocks as it got dark while Teiton got the chicken laid out over the fire, while the rice was cooking in the pot. Some banana leaves provide us with a clean table top where the chicken was laid out along with the ever present pineapple.

In the morning we waited for the morning coffee to heat and the eggs to boil. Some folks toasted their bread while waiting.



After we broke camp, Jerry took me to a rubber plantation where the owner demonstrated how he would get the latex and then use it to make boots and pouches. After dipping the boots in latex, he would use the thick smoke to cure the rubber before putting on another coat. He would repeat this process several times.



Jerry said that this guy was only now doing this for tourists that Jerry brings to him for a bit of payment and that this way of life is dying out.

I am now at the end of my Amazon Jungle adventures except for the two hour boat ride back, followed by an hour drive over flooded waters by a maniac driver followed by another one hour boat ride across the meeting of the waters and finally a half hour drive through Manaus to the Gol Hostel.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Cruising the Amazon--day 7---May 14th

This is my last day on the Melio Correa as I savor the small buttered roll and coffee.

I haven't seen very many good sunrises, and this is the last one while on the boat.

We should arrive around noon, about 15 hours behind schedule.

As we come into Manaus, everybody is packing up their hammocks and personal items.

Here is where the mixing of the waters occurs where the coffee latte Amazon runs parallel with the Rio Negro which reminds me of black coffee and has less sediment. The wavy black and white walkways in Rio area symbolizes the meeting of the waters.

Here is the industrial portion of Manaus.

I finally have arrived in Manaus as I leave behind the Melio Correa.

This journey was a once in a life time adventure, not to be repeated. The scenery did not vary all that much for the seven days. Since this was primarily a cargo ship, you get treated kind of like Amtrak customers do. This boat requires the crew to be certified by the Brazil Merchant after a whole series of sinkings of similar boats with loss of life and property. The purpose of the training is to have better trained crews for handling possible disasters including proper loading of the cargo including weight limits and life saving rescue techniques.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cruising the Amazon--day 6--May 13th

Today is like a repeat of yesterday but with a smaller roll and coffee for breakfast, stew for lunch and soup for dinner. At noon we even ran out of beer.

We continue to pass barges loaded with goods, semis and cars. One barge had about six Google mapping cars along with about 10 yellow Escolar boats.

Maybe by the time we get to Manaus, all of the tomatoes will turn red.

We were scheduled to arrive at Paritins at 1:30 PM but we did not get there until the middle of the night. I just woke up briefly when the engine slowed down.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cruising the Amazon--day 5---May 12th

I got up shortly after 6 and instead of paying for breakfast this morning, it was free. The only problem is that they ran out of breakfast food, but we were given a roll and coffee. Good thing I had that cheeseburger with egg the night before. We will see what surprises they have for us a lunch.


This morning the sky is mostly clear and the river is wide. The temperature is in the 80s with continuing high humidity. The movement of the boat keeps me comfortable and keeps the little flying bugs away unless you sit somewhere the breeze does not reach you.


The captain told me to just head to breakfast and coffee since it was free this morning. When I saw the cook, he told me there was "no mais" cheese, ham or egg, just the bread roll and coffee. they had run out of breakfast food. At least I enjoyed three cups of the sweet coffee with hot milk as I chewed my roll thinking back to last night's cheeseburger with fried egg I had in Santarem.


After my morning shower I ended up laying down on my bunk and propped the door open to watch the passing scenery and occasionally nodding off to sleep. when I heard the engine slow down, I figured we were approaching our next town, Obidos. We docked at 11:30 AM which was now about 13 1/2 hours behind schedule. They did not have much to unload, so our stop would only be for an hour. The entire downtown area was flooded and the businesses down there had erected temporary wooden floors in their stores and connected them with extensive network of wooden walkways.


I walked around the flooded area a bit until a rainstorm hit and I ran quickly back to the Nelio Correa just before the boat's whistle blew. As we pulled away, yet another passenger missed the departure, but this time he got a speedboat to get him caught up to our boat. Just as he was preparing to jump aboard our boat, he fell on his back much to the amusement of our passengers. The capitan was not very happy with this second latecomer, but the passengers got a kick out of watching my replay of the passenger's misadventures. I am hoping we don't lose our shore privileges at the remaining stops. This boat is getting very small.


The passengers are thinning out with each stop with few additional ones boarding. At 6:30 PM we pulled into the small village of Juruti for just long enough to drop off five passengers. We tied up next to another river boat with passengers and a nearby Brazilian Navy gunboat and Zodiac.


Our dinner was just a beef noodle soup and only cost 3 BRs though. I wonder what tommorrow's taste treats will bring.


We continue on as the sun just disappears with no particular sunset, just a cloudy darkening grey to darkness.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Cruising the Amazon-- Day 4--May 11th

I woke up at 3 AM because the engine had stopped so we must be at our 4th stop at Prainha which was scheduled to be 9 hrs after our last stop so we have dropped back another hour from the schedule.
The Amazon continues to be wide here, maybe two miles in some parts with another mile of wetlands on either side of the river as well. The water is very high and it looks like some of the homes have been abandoned to the higher waters. One of the crew members said that some of the people living along here have two homes, one for high water and the other for low water seasons.
The endless domino games started up again this morning about 7:30, and the river rolls on.
I finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy and am now on to A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, which takes place during the vote and transition to the Evo Morales administration in Bolivia 2005-6. I find it interesting because I was there during the height of the Revolt in 2005 when President Mesa resigned and fled the country and was replaced by an interim President Rodriguez, the Supreme Court Justice.
We reached Monte Alegre, a small town that shows how high the Amazon River is right now because the street fronting the water front is flooded by about a foot to two feet of water. To get the cargo off the boat they had to erect an elevated wooden walkway.

We were told our stop here would be about a half hour, so I headed up to land to locate an Internet place with no luck. I wanted to let my hostel I would be two days later than I booked and to let Tani, my wife, know that I would get to Manaus two days later.
I noticed a yellow Escolar boat was just letting off some students so I engaged them for a bit with my iPad. they really hamed it up for the camera. I gave them my business card so they could go to my website to see pictures of themselves after my return or to email me for the pictures. Robson said that none of the children had an email address though.
Our half hour stop turned into two hours. Part of the delay was caused by a Peruvian who missed the boat and ran down the shoreline yelling until our boat pulled over to another dock where he jumped aboard. while waiting, I relaxed in Robson's hammock.

In the afternoon a huge thunder cloud ran up behind us and the boat crew had to lash down the side tarps to keep the decks free of the rain and water from the torrential downpour. The temperature dropped considerably while the winds rattled the blue tarps and the skies became dark except for occasional bursts of lightening and thunder.
I was looking forward to our next stop in Santarem because that is where latte brown Amazon mixes with the darker Rio Tapajpos after running among the waterfront in two distinct bands of colored water. but that was not to be since we did not pull in there until 8 PM. Our two hour stop to unload cargo ended up being a 6 hour stop.

I walked into town with Robson who was stopping here to do a tour into the jungle before flying to Manaus for more jungle adventures.
Downtown along the waterfront were the Friday night crowd of couples, gaggles of boys checking out the gaggles of girls, guys with their cars with huge speakers blasting out a cacophony of music, I guess to lure the girls.

There were lots of food and beverage vendors with their plastic chairs and tables offering TVs showing soap operas to MTV type music videos to entice their viewers to sit for a spell and have some food or beverage.
I was getting some WiFi coverage so I stopped at the Restaurante O Mascotinho to have a beer and a cheeseburger with a fried egg while I tried to send my two messages. The wifi speed was pathetic and the iPad mail system just could not send my two messages so I ended up going to the gmail website and I sent the two messages from there.

It took about an hour to send the messages and during that time I enjoyed the singer with guitar who was entertaining the outdoor restaurant crowds. they must have liked his singing for they gave him some resounding applause.

After about two hours, I returned to the boat where they were still unloading the cargo--less than frozen chicken, tomatoes, blocks of cheese, flour, and other cargo. it looked painfully slow.
it was a good thing I returned when I did because within the hour we got another torrential downpour which probably cut short the locals Friday night mating rituals. My bunk mate, EC, was not so lucky for he shortly showed up thoroughly drenched.

I wanted to stay up until the boat left the harbor, but by 11:30, they were still loading in the downpour. I woke up briefly at 2AM when I heard the engine power up and felt the gentle sway of the boat as it was now free of its moorings.