Sunday, July 6, 2014

Walking in the Amazon Jungle

On our second full day in the Amazon area, our morning tour consisted of a walk through the jungle, with our boat driver, Helder, demonstrating the ways in which local people (Cristovão consistently used the term “natives,” which made us a tad uncomfortable, because it came across with a somewhat negative social connotation) use the products of the jungle and Cristovão explaining.  Much of the discussion took off from the fact that the Brazilian army has a major training operation, based in Manaus, focused on survival for jungle warfare.  Military units from all over the world come to Manaus for this training, which begins with school room lessons but culminates in trainees being turned loose in the Amazon jungle with nothing but a few basic tools, to see whether they could successfully implement their training.  Local people, Cristovão asserted, routinely learn these skills growing up, but only a small fraction of trainees pass the survival course with flying colors.

First, Helder showed us how the bark of a local tree produced a sap which, when melted into a tar, which was dried and then ground up, produced a form of gunpowder.

Next, we were shown the sorba, or bubblegum tree, whose trunk, when pierced with a knife, produces an edible milk

Throughout the walk, Helder showed us a variety of ways in which palm fronds could be used

including making a circular device into which he could place his feet to enable him to climb trees to reach fruits

Although, in the end, the recent rains had made the tree trunks too slick for us to see the device working.

and turning the individual leaves on the palm fronts down so that fronds could bve combined tp make roof thatching – after he showed us a few times each of us got to try our hands at turning down the leaves

Helder also wove the palm fronds into gifties for each of us, such as this grasshopper

This is the vine from which curare is made,

while this one is a vine from which someone struggling to survive could obtain drinking water – when a cut is made in the vine, potable water rushed upward; so the trick is to make a cut at one place on the vine, then a second cut below that, which makes the water rush upwards and out the first opening

This nut had three holes, each of which was holding a “coconut worm,” an edible worm that could enable someone to survive in the jungle.  I had one myself, and indeed it tasted a bit like coconut.

Helder also pointed us to two tiny frogs that were hiding in the folds of a tree trunk, such as the kapok tree: this somewhat innocuous brown frog

and this highly toxic poison dart frog.

After we got back to the lodge, we took a short jungle walk of our own, beginning the exploration of the “eco-track” whose entrance was between our chalets and the river chalets.  Before it was time to turn back for lunch, we had walked twenty minutes in, and the trail seemed to have a ways to go.  Other visitors told us that they had seen howler monkeys that morning, and we resolved to get up early one morning to try to see them ourselves.   Indeed, the posted schedule suggested that a guided walk on the track was a standard early morning activity.  Never did, though.  

We did see these nice red flowers on the jungle floor

and this bright butterfly

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