I spent many a night in the Amazon Rainforest alone. The mind can play tricks in the dark, particularly when you are alone, and the forest sounds only add to the sense of foreboding as well as curiosity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dry Season in the Amazon Rain Forest.
There are two seasons in Amazonia, the wet or rainy season and the dry season.
The wet season begins late November to December and continues until early June. The dry season begins June or July and continues until early November. The rains in the dry season lighten and are mere showers compared to the heavy rains of the wet season.
As the dry season progresses the area close to Eden lodge, Manacapuru Lago, undergoes an extraordinary transformation. The fast flowing river recedes, leaving behind small isolated pools of water or narrow meandering streams, the banks are left exposed and they widen. The area around the lodge and as far as the river mouth, appears as richly green as an English meadow, thick with soft, waving grasses and small delicate flowers over which clouds of butterflies float and flocks of small birds fly.
The photos show the same view in the wet season and in the dry season.
This idyllic vista, however, is deceptive. Underneath what looks like a lush field of grass is thick, grey, cloying mud. It is impossible to walk on. Feet sink in and are sucked down, so that within seconds mud has reached up to the knees in a quite frightening way.
The trip to and from the lodge, usually done by canoe, has to be taken on foot across river beds or makeshift tree trunk bridges, because there is no other option. Gritted teeth and determination are needed.
There are benefits to the dry season though. It is easier to see many birds.
Kingfishers and Birds of Prey sit on fishing poles to pick off the few fish that haven’t made their way to the deep river and Vultures feed on carcasses of Caiman and Dolphin beached on the sandy river banks.
The White and Blue herons and Snowy Egrets pick in tiny rivulets of water at the far edges of the river mouth, looking for any hapless fish left behind. When gathered together in great numbers as they do in this season, they make a snoring, murmuring noise. A sound that makes its way up the hill to the lodge.
However, when the first heavy rains fall the forest and its people sigh a breath of relief. Fresh water and fish return in abundance and travelling becomes easier for water reliant canoes and boats. Plus the coolness of the air that a good downpour brings, if only temporary, is a welcome feature of the wet season.
Butterflies of the Amazon Rainforest. Part Two. Swallowtails and Pierids.
Butterflies are exquisite creatures, simply breathtaking, but they don’t obey the rules of beauty. They can often be found in the strangest, ugliest places.
Swallowtails are beautiful butterflies that come in a variety of colours, from a jet black with either scarlet or emerald edging to soft turquoise with black edging and many more. Their hind wing has a tail-like projection that gives the butterfly its name.
They feed from the nectar in flowers, but could also be found on the perfumed soaps we used for washing up. An ugly backdrop of tatty steel pads, worn brushes and scruffy sponges only accentuated their delicate, extraordinary beauty.
They also came and settled on my hands and arms when I sat by the river. Taking moisture with their long black tongues or proboscis and tickling my skin with their three pairs of cotton-thin legs.
Pierid butterflies were also attracted to the washing up equipment left by us on the harbour decking. They often came in flocks.
Small and pale yellow/yellowish-green in colour with tiny eyes on the wings, the pierids resembled European Brimstones. They feed on nectar in flowers.
Apparently Pierids were called the ‘butter-coloured’ fly by early British naturalists, thereby giving these insects their common, collective name.
The Mask: I bought the mask from an indigenous group of Indians that lived close to Manacapuru. They were Satare-Mawe from Parintins Island.
They lived in an area of forest surrounded by a small settlement of caboclos living in wooden houses with modern accessories. The Indians area of forest was fenced off, but houses were being built close by. I doubt they would be able to continue their simple way of life for much longer.
I was told some of the traditional names of the people. The chief was called Tatu…Armadillo. A young boy with strong features was called Onca…Jaguar. A pretty young girl was named Passarinha…little bird. A young man named Gumbar…stinky animal, a beautiful woman…named Formiga da Cabeca Brilhosa…..Ant with shiny head and another older woman was named Camillion…Chaemeleon
The mask I bought was said to be used in ceremonies or to ward off evil spirits. It is made of either a thin husk or balsa wood, which grows in the forest. The long fringe at the bottom is made from grasses.
The necklace is made from rough string threaded with seeds and decorated with snake bones.
Strangely the expression on the mask alters when it is looked at from different angles.
Forest spirits: A friend was taking a visiting couple into the forest on a short trek, I was asked to go along as they were English and I could explain things to them more easily.
As we waited for the guests, Ananias, an Apurina Indian, started muttering under his breath. I asked what was the problem. He said he was asking the forest for safe passage. Given to joking and teasing me, I wasn’t sure he was serious, but he insisted that he was doing that.
Later he explained that he always did that and thanked the forest when he got back safely. He said his father and grandfather taught him that.
Anyone who has ever been in a rainforest will understand. It seems alive, not just in the natural sense, but in a spiritual way. Entering the forest is akin to walking through the doors of a grand cathedral. It is immense and humbling, so therefore, to ask for safe passage seems a quite natural thing to do.
I spent many days, weeks sometimes, entirely alone in the forest and I felt it keenly…..the essence, a life force, coming from within the rainforest. I read recently in National Geographic that trees cry,scream even if they are dehydrated. Might they do that when they are chopped down? Might that be why so many of us are fighting to protect the forest?
Plastic Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest & Rivers, Lake Manacapuru, Brazil. Part One.
The beautiful waterfall area is used by people from the local town, particularly when I am not there, as a picnic and recreational area.
On one occasion I went there with some friends for a picnic. The first thing I noticed as we rowed our canoes close to the area was silence. The birds had disappeared from the entrance to the waterfall and all along the stream.
I could hear, long before reaching the area, that an afternoon party was in full flow. Loud music blasted from large loudspeakers. Young people hollered, sung and laughed and screamed loudly, chasing each other through the trees and scarring the trunks of trees with deep knife slashes. Families with children picnicked along the shore of the river, disposing of their waste under bushes.
My friends and I walked through the stream and along the banks, picking up the rubbish that had been discarded, including: broken glass alcohol bottles; open, razor sharp lidded, cans; coloured plastic bags; polystyrene food containers; cellophane and metallic coloured sweet wrappers and used nappies. We filled the bottom of two canoes with the rubbish and this was only one days pollution.
One thing that surprised me on my visits to my home in the rainforest, was the amount of rubbish you see floating in the rivers. Plastic is a particular problem. It is sad to find what initially looks like a pristine, untouched, stretch of primary forest or fast flowing river and see, bobbing in the water or washed up on banks, or tangled around roots and branches – gaudy plastic strips, bags and bottles. We, travelling in canoes, always scooped them up, but there were always plenty more pieces of rubbish to take their place.
Plastic pollution is becoming a big problem in many beautiful parts of the world, in rivers and on seas, forming islands of imperishable waste. Sadly parts of the magnificent Amazon rainforest and river are fast becoming polluted, uninhabitable and barren too.
We, in the west, have made mistakes, polluted our rivers and seas and countryside and are now trying to repair the damage. I wish Brazilians would learn from our mistakes and not commit the same ones. They have a chance to rub our faces in our stupidity and show us how it is done. They have a wonderful rainforest, something truly special and unique. It is not so very hard to keep it that way, is it ?
The photo is of one of the two canoes we filled with rubbish from the waterfall area. One weekends rubbish.