Strange things happen in the Amazon

Photography: Longwood Graduate Fellows

The sound of knocking on our door wakes us up at 5:30. It’s piranha fishing day and we need to be ready to leave in a few minutes.  In our groggy state, we throw on clothes, our life-preserver and run to catch one of the small boats (called “canoes” by our guides) that is taking us out to fish.

DSC_0141A quick boat ride away, up along a bank, we are in prime piranha fishing territory.  After a quick lesson in how to fish, we throw our lures over the sides of the boat and wait for a nibble.  In no time at all, our hooks are picked clean but we have no fish! This takes more patience and skill than we thought.  David Sleasman is the first of our group to catch a piranha, a “small fellow” as he describes it.  With the help of a guide, Laurie Metzger reals in a large black piranha.

DSCN1700Back to the boat for another delicious breakfast of authentic Brazilian food and fresh fruit.  After breakfast, we venture to a caboclo village to learn about açai and maniok. Açai is a type of palm that produces a fruit, commonly eaten for its high nutrient content, as well as hearts-of-palm. The açai palm can also produce hearts of palm but harvesting the heart kills the plant. Our guide Hugo explains explains how maniok was processes historically and how the caboclo people process it today to sell at market. The guides set up a special tour just for us, so we part from the larger group and get a tour of the farm, specifically looking at the trees and flowers that grow there.  In the fields, we notice chia interplanted with the maniok and we are delighted to see a sloth resting in a small tree.

IMG_4046After lunch, we take a special trip to see the Amazon pink dolphins. Pink dolphins are at risk because of boating, changes to their habitat, and because they are hunted by the local people. They are very shy and do not come around humans. However, a caboclo family has begun feeding the dolphins to attract them to a small platform. For a small fee, we get to see the dolphins being fed and to touch them. After the dolphins swim away, we spend half an hour swimming in the river. The family also has captive 14 pirarucu, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. The fish are incredible! They are 6 feet long and covered in black and red scales.  As we get ready to leave, the family presents us each with a necklace made of wood, beads, and one large fish scale at the center.


First-year fellow Ling Poses with the dolphins

After a few hours break back on the Clipper and at a beach, we head out again in the canoes to look at more plants and animals. Since we have continued to travel east, the plants and animals are very different than what we saw yesterday.  The water is less acidic here and supports more wildlife. It is late afternoon and the birds and animals are becoming more active. DSC_0206 As we pass a lodge, our guide Hugo spots a group of squirrel monkeys near the river bank.  Hugo throws chunks of bananas to attract the monkeys to the boat and soon we have several monkeys running up and down the canoe searching for more food.  Once the bananas run out, the monkeys scamper back to the shrubs on the bank and we move out.  A few minutes later, we spot a fishing hawk in a tree.  Hugo tries to bring it down by throwing fish into the water but a pink dolphin keeps eating the fish before the hawk can get it! Finally, the hawk successfully swoops down and grabs the fish. In the next hour, we see more kingfishers, herons, ibis, and other waterbirds than we can count.

After dinner, we all head up to the top deck of the boat and watch as we approach the city of Manaus.  A bridge spans the width of the Amazon and connects Manaus to the southern bank of the river.  We watch a long time as we approach the bridge which is lighted and changes colors every few seconds.  Finally, long after bed-time, we return to our cabins and fall into bed, ready to wake up again for another adventure.