Brazil’s National Drink…Caiparinha…history and recipe.

Brazil’s National Drink…Caiparinha.

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The drink Caiparinha was first made by Brazilian slaves in the1800s. It was made from boiled cane sugar juice and Cachaça, a spirit made from sugar cane. To this mixture was added fruit juice.

The name Caiparinha came from blending of two words Curupira…forest demon and Caipira a name used for the inhabitants of some remote rural areas.

Cachaça can be bought in good supermarkets. Its essential for an authentic Caiparinha.

Ingredients…, Cachaça, a lime, 2 teaspoons sugar, crushed ice cubes.

Cut lime into quarters, put in glass, crush. Add two teaspoons sugar. Add crushed ice cubes and 1 2/3 oz Cachaça. Mix.

Caiparinha is a delicious drink, especially on a hot day. I can only personally drink a couple before I start giggling.
It brings back memories of a vibrant, friendly country and the magnificent forest I love.
My first taste of this refreshing drink was on my first trip to the Amazon rainforest. I was hot and overwhelmed by the forest and this welcome ice cold drink was perfect. As I slowly sipped it through a straw, I relaxed, not knowing then how this beautiful forest would change my life.

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Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

Manacapuru. Jungle town of Amazonia on the River Manacapuru, Brazil….Town harbour. Part Two.

The town or city of Manacapuru is close to Manaus. Although regarded as a city it looks and acts like a town.

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The harbour of Manacapuru is my favourite place to people watch. There is a bustling community of people living and working there. There are small family shops, cafes and carpenters at work and fishermen setting off or returning with a selection of fascinating and sometimes odd looking fish.

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The walk down to the decking can be a precarious one for flat footed Westerners. Brazilians, even in their flip-flops, are more light footed and agile. The walk down is best done with a partner for balance or a helpful local. In the dry season a large tree trunk serves as a bridge between the slippery concrete ramp and the wooden harbour decking. Fortunately a terrified look will usually generate the help of a man or two who will help with the crossing.

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There are ferries coming and going. Large wooden ferryboats and smaller, faster aluminium craft. They carry locals to their communities on other parts of the river.
Canoes of various sizes are tied up to the harbour posts.
Before the ferries became a mainstay the canoes were the only way of traveling longish distances and could take a day or two of rowing in the heat of the sun to reach town.
Now the canoes are rowed out to meet the ferry midwater if the people can afford the cost…cheaper on the wooden ferry than the speedier metal boats.

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Along the harbour decking shops sell all sorts of goods…fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and turtle meat, drinks and water, alongside newly built canoes and plastic kitchen goods.
Washing hangs on lines across the walkways and families, including children, sit chatting, arguing and laughing.

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Across the wide river you can catch a glimpse of rainforest…so close and tempting.

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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.

Canoes…the lifelines/transport of the rainforest.

Canoes…the lifelines of the rainforest.

Boats are a very necessary part of river life. Canoes are particularly important to rainforest life. With no roads in most areas of the forest, canoes are the only way to get around.
Usually built by the communities or individuals, each canoe will be a one-off.
Large and evergreen Hymenaea trees produce a dense hardwood which is often the wood of choice for indigenous canoe makers. The Jatoba/Hymenaea tree is called in Brazil the Brazilian Cherry or Brazilian copal.

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Canoes were for sale on the harbour side at Manacapuru, Amazonia. And delivered to the door by…..yes, canoe.

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Whole families pile on to these small canoes to get around. There is a family group of nine in this photo, but I’ve seen even more people in a small canoe. The water reaches the sides and splashes in, but is met with indifference by the passengers. Used to the river and its possible dangers they appear to have no fear of sinking, but as a precautionary measure litre bottles of soft drinks are cut in half and used as bailers to ensure the canoes aren’t completely flooded. They are an essential item in a canoe.

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Often too, small children can be seen on the rivers alone in canoes, expert oarsmen at a very young age. Sent off to run errands or fish for the families supper, their use of the canoe is second nature.

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Oars are still a popular way of propelling the canoe through the water, but small engines are becoming a desirable way of moving the canoe, particularly by the young.
These little engines, called tuc tucs because of the sound they make, are very noisy. The sound reverberates throughout the forest….they remind me of those awful little motorbikes that can be heard on English roads, driven by young men at full speed and full volume without regard for anyone else.
Oars are silent, they move the canoe through the water as if it was a creature of the forest. They fit, but then that is a romantic view to take. The reality of life in the forest, for the people who live on river banks, is quickening as they embrace western values and engines are a necessary part of that need for more speed.

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Some of my most pleasant memories of the rainforest include a canoe and silence, broken only by birdsong, the murmuring of trees and the rush of water over rocks.

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Thanks to Argentumvulgaris for info on ‘tuc tucs’.

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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Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over River Negro-Amazon(also called Ponte Negro Bridge)

The Manaus-Iranduba Bridge over the River Negro, from Manaus to Manacapuru. (also called the Ponte Rio Negro Bridge)

The River Negro meets the River Solimoes at Manaus to become in Brazilian eyes, the great River Amazon. The ‘Meeting of the waters’, is a tourist attraction, because the two rivers flow side by side and the difference in colour between them can be clearly seen for some distance until they blend into the Amazon proper. The River Negro is a black water river and the River Solimoes is the colour of milky coffee.

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Above this spectacle has just been built a massive bridge, 3,595 m long, joining the Amazonian capital of Manaus to the opposite shore. The building of this bridge has been a sightseeing must for both locals and visitors, as the massive pillars emerged from the water to stand like ghostly giants. At night it was particularly spectacular, emerging from the blackness, enormous and powerful and humbling to the small boats that crept beneath it.
The building of this bridge has been controversial. I often heard people ask ‘Why?’ A professional I spoke to said, ‘What we need is good education for our children, good health care, improved infra-structure etc. Why do we need this bridge? Who is it for?’
It does seem odd to spend $400 million, on a bridge that seems to be going nowhere and I have had many a discussion with people from all walks of life who although impressed by its grandeur are bewildered by it.
The usual way of travelling from shore to shore and to the towns situated on the opposite shore to Manaus, was by small fast boat or slow ferry, with buses and taxis available for further transportation on either side. It took an hour or so, but was cheap, free for walk-on passengers and an enjoyable break in the day. I never heard anyone complain about this method of travelling.
So why? That’s what everyone I met asked. ‘Why?’ It’s a lot of money to spend to cut a half hour from a trip across the river.

During discussions I’ve heard said it could be that the towns on the opposite shore ie Manacapuru, are needed to mop up the surplus of people from Manaus. It could be because of the gas-line that has been built below the River Manacapuru and the potential for further development. It could be that the forest is to be opened up for farming.
That is bad for the forest, of course. In the years I spent too-ing and fro-ing I have seen a gradual clearing of the forest along the road leading from the ferry to Manacapuru. Thick tree lined roads have made way for vast plains of nothing, often with a solitary, towering Brazil nut tree in the middle, as its forbidden to cut them down. The sight of that lone tree saddens me. It looks ominous.
The smell of burning timber and brush also adds to the feeling of foreboding. Out for a barbecue one day, some friends and I went for a dip in a small stream and barely made it back to safety when someone lit a fire in the surrounding forest that was lapping at the pathway we had taken. It’s frightening how quickly a fire can take hold, especially in the dry season and how much damage, intended or not, it can do in a short time.
The forest surrounding Manacapuru is full of extraordinary wildlife, remarkable birds, magnificent jaguars, enormous trees, tiny rare orchids and so much more. It is loved by most of the locals, who have a connection to it by birth and don’t want to see its destruction.
I will watch what happens with interest and, no doubt, sadness.

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Manacapuru, the harbour of the town in the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The Harbour of the town of Manacapuru, Amazon Rainforest. Part Two.

The harbour area is a bustling community of shops, offices, workshops and people’s homes, perched on top of misshapen wooden decking. Sometimes the connection between one area of the decking to the other is a single, bouncy plank of wood. Locals balance on this small bridge without a second thought, they just stroll across. Visitors, looking into the murky waters below, tremble.
All day ferries, boats and canoes, jostle for a place to stop and tie up. People loaded with supplies, children with lunch boxes and satchels, travellers with back packs and office and shop workers eager to get going, can be seen disembarking or, in the evenings, trudging back up the gang planks.
The smartly dressed children clutching their lunch boxes and bags are taken into town for several days of schooling. They are the lucky ones, whose parents see the importance of education. Most children get only a few years of basic education.

Counters overlooking the wooden decks are elbowed by young people competing for potential passengers for the ferries. Willing to give travel advice and tickets between intense conversations with their colleagues.
Harbour shops are varied, either barely making a living or a delightful Aladdin’s cave, filled with stacks of dried food and bottles of water or soft drinks; gaudy coloured, plastic household goods and shiny, metal pots; hammocks and flip-flops and ice….. in blocks or cubes for fridge boxes…with no, or little, electricity in the forest, its the only way to keep food fresh for a few days. Shopkeepers sit outside their shops daring you to disturb them, but if you do they couldn’t be nicer.
Fresh fish from the rivers are on sale here too, but most of the produce from people’s small plantations or local rivers will be hauled up to town, where people will sit on street corners to sell their goods.
Beautifully made canoes can be bought at the harbour complete with hand carved oars. They are taken straight from the decking and pulled onto a canoe or boat for delivery.
Also vying for attention are the little cafes. Places where a coffee or cold drink can be had. Somewhere to slump before the boat trip out.

I like the harbour. I like the hustle and bustle and anticipation of travel and I like the sense of community amongst the people who live and work there.
Due to a viral infection my sense of smell is not strong, apparently a good thing I have been told, when by the harbour. This enables me to sit without hindrance and enjoy a coffee and relax and people watch……a favourite pastime.

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