Frogs & Toads in my Amazon kitchen…steaming casseroles every day.

Frogs in my Amazon kitchen……steaming casseroles every day.

It would seem logical in the heat of an Amazon Rainforest to eat light meals, salads and cold meats, but my partner and the locals liked hot, steaming casseroles made up of meat, fish and vegetables, every single day.

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At first I baulked at the idea of being bathed in perspiration to cook a meal, but clean water was not always available so it was a sensible option to heat food by boiling and thereby sterilise the water and kill the bacteria that rapidly formed on food in the rainforest humidity.
At least that’s what I tried to convince myself as I stood outside the kitchen gasping for fresh air and a cool breeze.

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One result of this constant elevated humidity and heat in the kitchen was that on the walls of my kitchen could be found frogs and toads obviously thriving in the conditions that floored me.

These frogs and toads were quite beautiful. Their eyes particularly intrigued me. They shone like jewels surrounded by a golden filigree edge. They clung to the wooden walls by their suckered toes.
These kitchen amphibians came in a variety of colours and sizes. There was the large, dark tan frogs with brown stripes, the medium size frog/toad with a greenish hue and the tiny delicate pink and soft grey frog with brown stripes found in a pair of wellingtons. And there was the tiny brown toad with pointed fingers and poisonous skin…..excuse photo, not a good one I know.

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Frogs and toads eat insects ie cockroaches, spiders and small animals, so were welcome visitors to my kitchen where, with the Tarantula who lived in the roof, they kept away unwanted creatures.

Shower and bathrooms are also loved by these creatures. Don’t be surprised if you go to Manaus or surrounding forest lodges to find them clinging to the tiled walls. Best ignored, they rarely jump off to bother bathers.

If anyone knows the names of these amphibians I’d be grateful for the information.

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Tools and my friend, Mr Monduco, a local Coboclo the the Amazon Rainforest.

Tools and my friend Mr Monduco, a local Coboclo of the Amazon Rainforest.

My friend Mr Monduco lived on the river in his boat. He spent a lot of time at the lodge. I let him use the kitchen when I wasn’t there and he came for meals every day when I was.
Mr Monduco was a Coboclo who had spent his whole life in the forest or on the river. He loved the rainforest. He had family but they had moved to the town of Manacapuru. He had chosen to stay in the forest.

We, between us, had a selection if ancient and modern tools with which Mr Monduco did the occasional repair. Machetes, lethal looking knives bought from the bottom shelves of cooking utensil displays in town supermarkets, were the general dogsbodies, cutting, sharpening, slicing, chopping etc.

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He built the gate on the verandah to keep out jaguars. His dog had shown great fear in recent months. Usually sleeping contentedly underneath the lodge, it had become increasingly agitated in the evenings, whining and shaking, so Mr Monduco, who slept in his hammock on the verandah or in the kitchen, built the gate to form some sort of barrier to any wildlife that attempted to wander the verandah boards, particularly the jaguars which he knew wandered the forest and the river bank close to the lodge.

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The bench he built specially for me as a surprise, because he knew I liked to watch the birds and lizards in the forest.

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I miss Mr Monducos quiet presence.

Amazon Rainforest…living in the forest. Questions people ask me.

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People often ask how is it possible for someone used to a comparatively easy Western life to live in the Amazon forest for any length of time.
For me it was easy….I wasn’t concerned with the lack of communication. I know some people would go crazy without constant stimulation and entertainment from TVs and radios, or contact by mobiles, telephones and i Pads or laptops. I had none of those to keep me company and only missed them when I thought of my family.
I found a constantly changing environment and the extraordinary wildlife kept me fascinated instead.

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The heat and humidity of the rainforest tended to drain the body, well mine to be exact, of all energy. I was, therefore, quite happy to sit for long periods in my rocking chair on the verandah, camera at the ready, pen in hand, recording and writing about what I saw. I was richly rewarded in this way every single day by the forest, its wildlife and people, but I did have to get used to things I take for granted being different.

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Hammocks “Do you have a bed?” “How do you sleep, aren’t you scared?”

My bed was a hammock. Quite comfortable, but cold around three in the morning so I doubled up a blanket and lay it in the bottom of the hammock and kept a light blanket ready to pull over when the cold awoke me.
Was I scared…….rarely is the answer. The mosquito net kept out creepy crawlies and the secured door and window ensured I wouldn’t be surprised by animals at night.

Interestingly it was lack of privacy I found hard to adjust to. Privacy appeared to be something alien to forest dwellers. I often shared my lodge with neighbours, friends, relatives of friends etc. They thought little of hooking up their hammocks to my bedroom walls or to the verandah. I often woke to find a stranger or neighbour sleeping on the verandah or in the kitchen.

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Invited Guests…..
People came visiting without warning too, often at lunchtimes, which meant sharing my sometimes meagre, dwindling rations. The thoughtful visitors brought fish, nuts or fruit to share, but some assumed because I was a foreigner I was rich and would supply a sumptuous spread, these folk were quickly disillusioned as they were handed a small plate of sticky rice.

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“How do you keep clean?”

Washing…bathing was done in the river several times a day. I knew there were all sorts of possibly dangerous creatures, some able to remove a body part or strangle or poison me, in the water, but needs be. River dipping was the only way to keep clean without modern facilities. Really I rarely thought about the possible consequences.

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Our tiny second-hand generator only lasted a few months, so lighting in the evenings was provided by solar lights brought from England or by candles. Impossible to read or write but enough for dinner table conversation or cosy chats.

For all its difficulties, I miss the forest every single moment.

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Inviting river at dawn…..but what lies under the calm glassy surface…….

The Brazilian Amazon Rainforest-Dry Season. Return to the lodge..my home. Part one

The Brazilian Amazon Rainforest-Dry Season. Return to the Lodge..My home…Part One.

This is what I was always faced with on my return to the lodge in late September, early October, taken from my diaries.

I took a fast boat back to the lodge from the town of Manacapuru. The journey took an hour and a half. The boat usually stopped close to the harbour, but because the water was so low at this time of year, the dry season, the boat had to beach far away on the opposite shore.

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I walked along the pale sandy banks towards the logs that had been placed across the river, the only way to reach the now isolated lodge, passing as I did the pale shrunken, fetid, carcass of a caiman on the way.

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Tall skeletal trees close to the river bank held well fed vultures. This time of year being a food fest for the scavengers, who picked at the swollen or shrivelled bodies of dolphins and caiman, stranded on the sandy soil.

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The previous inhabitants of the forest had built a makeshift bridge across the river. The tree trunks were thick and with a helping hand I was able to keep my balance until two-thirds of the way across. My feet were bare because dips and slips into the water were frequent, so as wearing shoes was pointless, I had taken them off. Most of the logs were smooth, but some were rough and eroded, with needle sharp and brittle bark, making the walk over them very painful.
The walkway closer to the harbour consisted of nothing more than thin trunks or wide branches, a human foot width wide, or crooked planks of bleached, warped wood. Balancing on these and keeping out of the waiting mud was a challenge. The weight of each footstep caused the branches and planks to sink into the mud, which oozed between my toes making my feet and the wood slippery, but eventually with the help of long balancing poles and a helping hand from a friend I made it and with a big sigh of relief reached solid home shore.

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My feet were cut and bleeding and the next day the soles of my feet were covered in blisters, but I had got home safely. I almost knelt and kissed the ground. Almost…..instead we celebrated my arrival home with a cup of black coffee and manioc cake.
The boat driver returned the way we had come just as night fell. I heard his boat engine start in the distance and then fade away. I was alone in the Amazon Rainforest….again.

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My house with verandah in the Amazon Rainforest

Someone just reached my site with the query ‘house with verandah in the Amazon?’ After trawling through adverts by ‘you know who’ they found me.
My small three bedroomed lodge was built with a wide verandah. It was a place where we ate and worked and had long conversations and entertained and relaxed.

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It was a place where I could sit in my rocking chair and birdwatch. It was a place to get out of the intense sun and hide from the fierce storms.
Most houses in the Amazon have a verandah. The houses can get claustrophobic and stuffy inside.

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Protected by the thick grass roofs and positioned to catch any breeze they are the main living areas in the house.

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