On our final day off the grid in the Amazon, we woke up early to welcome the day on the river in a canoe at sunrise. I woke up at 0430 with Tarek frantically knocking on my door, thinking it was 0530 and that we were late. This was a great opportunity for me to again have a leisurely morning, saying hello to my bathroom frogs again and performing some yoga.
We met Kennedy at 0530 prior to breakfast to get on the river. This was the morning where I really felt off the grid in the Amazon. Once we were on the water, all we could hear was the sound of our oars moving in the tranquil water, and all we could see was the sounds of fish jumping and birds chirping. I needed this. Being off the grid in the Amazon helped put the trivial first-world problems in perspective, and while I hadn’t thought about work in over a week already, further put the challenges back home from my mind. This was a time for reflection, regeneration, and big-time perspective. As hectic as Brazil had been for us, and as little as we got to relax, our minds were quiet, and we had completed our inner journey of being off the grid in the Amazon.
We rowed for about 90 minutes through the sunrise in a four person canoe (occupied by three people) and made it back to the lodge by 0700. Breakfast again was promptly at 0730 and the highlight was finally being able to try tapioca with fried banana. I overate for breakfast knowing that I would under-eat for lunch (neither of us could put down any more rice, beans, and meat).
At 0830 we set out with Kennedy again for a visit to the house of a local family, and an explanation and exploration of the family’s farm. The house was on stilts and consisted of four rooms – a kitchen, a living area with a TV (so much for being off the grid in the Amazon), an outdoor spaces, some sleeping areas, and a wrap-around porch. An elderly woman greeted us and we set on the porch as Kennedy provided an explanation of the way of life, the livelihood, how basic services (electricity, schooling, etc.) was provided to the citizens in this area and the daily routine. Life was pretty bleak. In the wet season, the water made it all the way up to the house, and they literally had to boat out of their house to move around the area. Even with TV, they were pretty off the grid in the Amazon.
The elderly woman’s husband was outside working the land on the makeshift farm. We learned that these were not indigenous people, but rather settlers that had co-opted this land within the last three generations and self-taught themselves farming. It was clear they did not possess even basic farming skills – like techniques on clearing fields, crop rotation, irrigation, and other efficiencies that were passed down generation by generation in farming families. Their farm was chaos – random crops growing all over the place in disorder, weeds running rampant, improper or non-existent crop rotation techniques leading to fallow areas and the like. Here is a picture of the “farm”:
It wasn’t so much a family of farmers, but a family attempting to farm. Apparently there was no government training available for these settlers ho how to properly practice this craft or best preserve the land. Tarek explained how a similar thing had happened in Egypt, and over time all the millennia-honed farming techniques and innovations (for which Egypt was renowned for) had vanished. Kennedy’s family, on the other hand, in the North were indigenous farmers passing this knowledge down generation to generation, and we hoped that this wouldn’t also be lost with the further relocation of the population in to the cities, and then redistribution again into the rural areas once the cities became overcrowded. Kennedy agreed with us.
We learned about manioca (cassava in English) harvesting and saw the various rudimentary pressing and purification techniques used by these families to process the manioca and remove the toxic acids and produce both fine manioca flour (from the dry granulated powder) and tapioca (from the liquid). It would take three to four days to completely process the manioca from a small potion of the farm. Various families would come together and help one another through the processing period to more quickly get through the manual labor and sell the finished product, splitting the proceeds. No electrical devices or machines were used and it was a truly off the grid in the Amazon process.
Additionally we got to sample Brazil nut, cut directly in front of our eyes. We took home some souvenir Brazil nut casings as well which can be used as drinking cups/bowls.
We finished up by 1000 and Kennedy had planned to take us together another family. But after learning that it was going to be more of the same, we declined and decided to go back to the lodge to nap before lunch. While it was a little depressing watching this family botch the profession of farming, it still provided opportunity and hope and lifted them out of poverty in to some form of self-sustenance. Also,it triggered some great conversation between Tarek and myself and comparisons to the Nile flood-plain area (pre and post dam) and the philosophical discussion centered around the role of the government in providing training and guidance of stewardship of the farmland. I took a nap, packed, and showered in this time, getting sweaty immediately after showering once again (it really was futile at 90 degrees F and seemingly 90% humidity).
After the final lunch which we didn’t eat, we waited for the guides and boat operators to bring us back in to Manaus at 1300. We didn’t leave until 1400 (again showing the disorganization of the tour company and the lack of communication between the guests, the guides, and the workers). At this point we were pretty tired and ready to finish being off the grid in the Amazon 🙂 We were also looking forward to a solid dinner again in Manaus and civilization. The time away had been cleansing, but we were ready to move on.
Through the motor boat ride on a very hot, aluminum boat where we stopped to pick up some locals on the way to the “town center”; to lugging my suitcase up multiple flights of stairs (thanks to Tarek) and on to the bus that would drive an hours to take us to the ferry; to having to step in the mucky river to board the ferry with our luggage, to them re-boarding a van on the other side to get back to town – we arrived the the tour office in Manaus around 1630. The best part of the journey back was again the peanut coconut smoothie as well as a stop to see the giant lily pads on the main highway back to the Amazon (south side).
We crammed some internet back at the tour office, checked in to our flights (I was even able to snag an earlier flight in to Denver, reducing my layover in CLT from 12 hours to 8 hours), arranged a ride to the airport as well as leaving our bags in the office through Amram while we went to dinner, and then finally continued touring Manaus. We were on a mission to purchase Brazil nuts, and walked down the main street all the way to the river searching through a neat Mercado. Unfortunately, most of the stalls were closed (it was approaching 1800) as it was a Monday night (and a fairly sleepy town).
So, we walked back in to town and grabbed smoothies from the juice shop. I had an acai and Tarek had a Taperaba – we ended up switching because I thought mine tasted a little rotten, probably because we think it had milk in it and Tarek didn’t mind it as much. We are never quite sure what we’re ordering 🙂
Afterwards, we hit the souvenir shop on the main square and made some small purchases. By the time we were done, we went to dinner at the nearby Splash pizza place on the square that we had been fantasizing about while in the Amazon. We got there around 1830 and stayed until about 2000. We ordered a veggie pizza, modified to include onions, mushrooms, and red peppers (it came with olives, garlic, basil, mozzarella). I also finally got to try a Guarana (grape flavored sparkling soda) that is famous in Brazil. It was…interesting. Grape is an unexpected and underused item to find in sodas.
We also binged on internet, email, and Tarek made his plans for Sao Paulo since he would have an 8 hour layover. So much for being off the grid in the Amazon.
Then, we went back to the juice place and Tarek got a lime and gingerbread smoothie. I got a piece of cake from a vendor selling various sweets on the square, and we set on a bench to enjoy our last 30 minutes as tourists. In that 30 minutes, Tarek managed to lose his backup phone 😉 We think he left it on the bench, and then 10 minutes later when we were walking around and he realized it, we went back to the bench and of course it was gone. We spent some time trying to ask people around that area if they saw anything, but nobody did unfortunately.
We met Dante in the tour office at 2030 and he arranged a driver for us to the airport (the same person that met us at the airport). Tarek was not sure whether it would be free or whether we would have to pay – apparently it was not free since we were asked to fork over R60 at the end of the ride. I guess it was worth it considering we were also able to store out luggage with the tour office in the meantime.
At the airport, the flights were on time, but I was flying international to Miami (the CLT, then DEN) and Tarek was flying domestic to Sao Paulo. That meant different Terminals, so we had to say our goodbyes early. It was an amazing trip, and I’m so blessed to have friends like Tarek, and now also Ramy and Amir. Can’t wait for the next trip!