Thursday, February 2, 2012

Manaus, Brazil

We arrived in Manaus on Tuesday, but before that, we picked up several foreign dignitaries on Sunday morning. They arrived via another boat and came aboard the ship around 9 a.m. All of the student ambassadors greeted them at the gangway and we met three diplomats and two spouses. Their names are John Matel Michael Cavey, and Aimee Dowl, who I had the privilege of escorting around the ship along with two other ambassadors. They all work at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, except I believe John works at the U.S. Mission. Aimee’s spouse, Derek Kverno, also boarded the ship. I had some time to talk with him and he is a very interesting person. He works as a teacher, teaching at international schools around the world. Finally, Michael’s spouse, Shan Shi, also stayed with us. She recently passed the exam to work at the U.S. Embassy and will be working there soon. Both Shan and Michael were in the Peace Corps, which I thought was very interesting. All five who joined us were extremely intelligent and fascinating people who had interesting things to share with the students about being a diplomat. I’d never in my life considered that a possible career, but being paid to travel and live in these amazing foreign countries sounds like a great job.They joined us until we reached Manaus and then debarked.

On Tuesday, bright and earlya t 8 a.m., I left for my first excursion in Brazil. It was the Swimming with Dolphins faculty-directed practica. We left for a two hour boat ride to a local man’s property who had been preserved very well. We hiked through the rainforest for an hour or so, something we weren’t aware that we were going to be doing. I’m glad I didn’t know though, because had I known I might not have gone. But it was one of my favorite parts thus far. We didn’t see any animals but so much flora and that was amazing in itself. I’ve been taking notes about what we see and what the tour guides have been telling us. Unfortunately, later in the night while caiman catching, I dropped the paper in water so it’s drying right now. But if I can remember correctly, we saw Brazil wood, a type of orchid, obviously many plants that I don’t know the name of, and several insects. Oddly, I didn’t see any mosquitoes during the hike, but many insects on the ground. There were huge black ants and then these tiny red ants called Army Ants. You really have to watch out for those suckers. We weren’t supposed to stop when around them, but when people around you have stopped on this tiny path, it’s hard to avoid. A girl behind me started hyperventilating because she was afraid of being bitten by these ants. Anyway, after the hike, we went to get lunch at a local outside restaurant. I didn’t find any food particularly interesting, there was pasta and a lot of fruit. Oh and of course, fish, however I wasn’t able to sample those. So far I haven’t given in to eating meat at all and it hasn’t been too difficult. After lunch, we went to a lake that fed these dolphins so they lived in the area. These dolphins are called pink river dolphins or Pink Amazonian Dolphins. They are obviously pink and look differently than marine dolphins. I had no idea that these dolphins existed, so swimming with them was incredible. I have to admit, they look a little intimidating but it’s way too cool to be scared! Although I can’t speak for my fellow females, who spent the entire time in the water screaming. We weren’t supposed to scream because it could obviously scare the dolphins. But I guess that’s what some girls do. They swam under and around me, touching my legs and feet, in this completely black water. So I could see how it could be frightening for some since you can’t see what is swimming under you. After swimming, we went back to the ship and I prepared for a second trip that day. Around 7 in the evening, I went caiman spotting, or as they called it “alligator spotting.” I’m not sure if they call it that for uninformed people, but caiman and alligator are definitely not the same. I don’t think they even have alligators in Brazil. But they have plenty of caiman, which we saw. I was a little disappointed because we went out in several of these small boats, but our tour guide didn’t catch any himself. When another boat caught one, he took us over there to see and hold it. Holding a caiman was very cool, but I really wanted to see him actually catch one. But I did hold one, a speckled caiman, and they are either very tame or just so freaked out they won’t really move. Very beautiful animals. I felt bad for them because some students dropped them. I swear, I never thought I was really suited for nature, but compared to some people here I sure am. For some reason, I haven’t been scared or worried at all this trip, but I’ve seen a numerous amount of people freaking out.

On Wednesday, I had to wake up early again to go on an excursion called Amazon Explorer. I was a little disappointed with this one personally, but I know some people who really enjoyed it. We took a river boat out to the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro, a black river, met the Amazon or Rio Solimoes, which is a brown color. Look it up, it’s very cool! I really enjoyed this part because seeing the extreme contrast was something I’d never seen before. The rivers are different colors, temperatures, and have different flora and fauna in them, yet they are so close. Then we went to the exact same place I had gone caiman spotting the night before. We went on a short walk through another part of the rainforest that didn’t have natural trails but had boards and walkways built by man. We saw a cappuccino monkey in the trees, lizards, and caiman in a lake with many water lilies. I also saw many, many mosquitoes. Luckily, my roommate brought Permethrin to spray on our clothes so the insects didn’t touch me. But I couldn’t say that for other people there, especially those who wore tank tops and shorts. Then we ate at the restaurant there, which served the same thing I had the day before. Then we sat there for literally two hours waiting for a small boat to come. They had 100 people on this excursion which affected my experience. Having to sit there in the heat and humidity in long sleeves and pants for so long wasn’t fun. I think they definitely could’ve planned this better. Finally, a boat arrived for my group and we went piranha fishing. And when I saw we, I mean they fished and I watched. I had no idea when I signed up that we’d be fishing so I was very disappointed. They did throw them back in the water afterwards, but fishing isn’t an activity I really support. But only our tour guide caught one, no one else had any luck. Or maybe that was just my luck, since I’d hoped that no one would catch any. After the fishing we just returned to the river boat and came back to the ship, where I took a nice shower and relaxed all evening.

Thursday I had another trip planned to the zoo and it was a service project as well. I knew that we would be visiting an orphanage and taking children to the zoo with us. But what I wasn’t aware of was that this orphanage, Abrigo Moacyr Alves, is a special orphanage that only takes in kids with neurological diseases. It’s about 20 years old and they have 54 people living there. Some of the kids are only mildly affected but there are others who are very sick and are confined to a special infirmary room. It was a different experience for me since I was already nervous being around kids without such disorders so I was very nervous around these children. After we walked around the facility, which is paid for by the state, government, and donations, we left and went to the zoo. Upon arriving we helped serve them lunch and then took the children around the zoo. There were interesting animals such as boas, anacondas, big cats, a harpy eagle, capybara, many birds, and many monkeys. All animals there are found in the rainforest. After walking around the zoo we said our goodbyes and left. The rest of the day I went shopping at the markets with a girl I met from Boulder. We ended up going to the mall here, which was a huge disappointment because they only had Americanized stores. Anyway, after walking around for a while and trying to order food, which was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, we left and I went to a wifi area near the ship to skype and catch up with the blogging. Now I'm getting ready to go back to the ship and get some well deserved sleep. Tomorrow my roommate and I are going to the market early to buy some nice local souvenirs and then the ship is leaving Manaus by 5 p.m. Next stop: Ghana.

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