Our last full day in the Amazon was largely devoted to visiting the family of Helder Cascais, who drove the motorized canoe that took us around to our various activities in the area.
On the way, we noticed this dead anaconda floating along the bank of the river. AT barely two meters long, this is very much on the small end for this fearsome aquatic predator.
We paused to drop of some “supplies” at Helder’s grandparents’ house; then boated across a small cove to Helder’s house, which he and his uncle built together.
He is 21 and lives there with Selena, with whom has been living for four years, and their three year-old daughter Raisa. The house is one of several buildings clustered together, housing the extended Cascais family.
I had been assuming that the staff all had rooms at the lodge, but actually it is only the guides who stay there. The other staff go home every night in their own motorized canoes – a trip of at least 45 minutes in Helder’s case — then comes back in the morning. I marveled that he can distinguish the route at night; I can’t even tell it in the daytime. His uncle is a guide at Turtle lodge, and his younger brother Romario works there too.
Helder is working on his English, and hopes to become a guide eventually. Although his vocabulary is significantly more limited than Cristovão’s, his accent was actually better. I suggested that maybe he would replace Cristovão, who wants to become an anthropologist as his next career. Cristovão readily agreed with that idea. Sam went further, suggesting that perhaps Helder would come to own his own guiding company and ecolodge. Helder smiled shyly, I thought perhaps uncomfortably at the idea; I did not notice this additional comment. but others in our family heard Cristovão express disdain at the concept that “natives” might own or operate such a commercial enterprise. In any event, we began to look for opportunities to help Helder practice his English; such as by inviting him to sit with us during dinner that evening.
Helder’s father lives nearby, and works at another lodge, the Amazonas Lodge, one of the first in the area. Cristovão used to work at that lodge as well, and met Helder’s father there; in fact, that’s where he met his wife, with whom he has two adult daughters. Helder’s grandmother knows family of Max, the owner of Maia Expeditions and the Turtle Lodge; this seems to have been part of the connection that led to the family’s jobs at the lodge. Cristovão mentioned several times during our tour the importance of the employment opportunities that the lodge provides for the local residents.
The family’s collection of houses is a distant part of the community of Brasil; Raisa goes to school in the central part of Brasil, a location that was described to us as “not close.”
After visiting with Helder in his home, we proceeded to the nearby home of his grandmother (70) and grandfather (72). The boat pulled right up to the door – in fact, the prow of the boat stuck into the door to allow us to enter the house.
Helder’s house can been seen across the cove from the window of his grandparents’ house. The unpainted wood structure to the left is a new house that Helder’s father is building.
Helder’s grandmother made us a chicken lunch, using supplies from the Turtle Lodge that we had dropped off that morning. There was roasted chicken, a stew of chicken with potatoes, plus rice and spaghetti, and crude farofa to sprinkle on; there was sweetened coffee for dessert.
After lunch, we joined Helder’s grandfather and two of Helder’s young male cousins in the house watching Holland v Mexico after lunch in family TV room.
After a while, the boys began kicking around in the room a rough soccer ball made of balled up paper, wrapped in a plastic bag; eventually this was replaced by a small soccer ball, maybe a size two
Mexico scored a great goal and almost held on to win the game, potentially setting up an all-CONCACAF quarterfinal. It was heartbreak late in the second half when Netherlands equalized (a good goal by Wesley Sneijder on a rebound). Then true misery for Mexico when Marquez was called for penalty (it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy), which Huntelaar converted
Before we left, we posed for photos with the entire family:
When we reached the dining hall, we were told that Helder could not join us for dinner because the lodge’s rules forbid any of the staff except the guides from sitting with the guests. We wondered whether this was strictly a class issue, or whether there was an ethnic angle relating to the fact that the staff are all “natives” but the guides are mostly from Manaus. We found this upsetting but decided that the lodge's management might blame Helder himself if we made a stink. Instead, Nafisa and the boys played pool with Helder for a couple of hours after dinner while Nancy and I went back to our chalet to write.