5-17-2001

In the horizon, dozens of little canoes pointed inward towards the ship's path, like needles waiting to prick us in passing. The canoes were driven by seven and ten year olds with full grown power and skills cultivated by a lifetime on the mighty river. As our diesel powered boat came closer, the canoes would attack; latching on with a giant metal hook or lasooing one of the docking posts at the edge of the deck. With precision, they tied on, boarded, and quickly climbed to all levels, selling hearts of palm, guarana and other fruits of the rainforest to middle class Brazilians and international travelers. And in moments they would be back in the canoe and untied, drifting out of our world and back into theirs.

The Amazon drains an area the size of the United States, moving as much water as ten Mississippi's. Some say it is actually the longest river in the world if you trace it to its true source, but generally it is thought of the second longest after the Nile. In some places, the river stretches to the horizon and you cannot see from shore to shore.

And, in Brazil, I spent five days on the river, traversing from Manaus in the interior, to Belem on the Atlantic coast. The bike travelled quietly in the bow of the boat, while a hundred "first class" passengers occupied the main open deck, sleeping in an overcrowded web of hammocks.

Five days on the water gave me new respect for personal space, of which there was none. The three Japanese tourists on board seemed unfazed by the throngs of humans. I, on the other hand, a product of generations of manifest destiny and urban sprawl, suffered. To escape the people I would sneak above deck and scan the shore. Occasionally I would spot a blackwater spring: The Amazon is a cloudy tan color, and when black water enters it, the two do not mix, resulting in unique amorphous natural art. Other sources of sanctity were the sunsets, with radiant colors bending through sweaty air and landing on giant trees, indians in canoes, and riverside huts.

 

Brazil proved to be the most intriguing country. Just the way they say footbal (foo-chee-bahl) invokes a happy feeling. Like the US, Brazil was the destination of millions of African slaves. Unlike the US, however, the races have integrated and racial discrimination is all but unheard of. The mix of cultures has produced an unquenchable thirst for music, dancing, fiestas, and caipirinhas (a sweet lemonade mixed with hard alcohol). But Brazil is not just a big party: The wealth of natural resources and the industrious nature of Brazilians have created an economy seventh in GDP in the world. It has a giant automotive industry and the third largest airplane producer in the world. Yet along with the good comes the bad: 30% of sexually active adults are infected with HIV. Poverty in the north rivals that of many African countries. Favelas (slums) in the major cities house millions of low income Brazilians in conditions that lack even the basic human necessities like running water and sewers. These favelas are so powerful that some ingenious (or exploitive) Brazilians offer "Favela Helicopter Tours" to foreigners wishing to witness the extent of the slums. But even with this list of problems, Brazil's people are the happiest people on earth. And Carnival is the ultimate man-made manifestation of this happiness.

I did my best to assimilate during Carnival, with a homemade mask, $1 water pistols, and a thermos of vodka. The energy of the crowds was unstoppable, and like a raft caught in a heavy current, I rode the sweaty river night after night, reaching new levels of party-utopia. It is the participation of the people in their own celebration that annoints Brazil's carnival with highest honors as the best party in the world. But like all good fiestas, it eventually came to an end, and what remained were the beautiful people, smiling as if Carnival never ceased within. Which it never does.

Reflections

Ending my journey of seven months with over two months in Brazil exceeded my wildest expectations. And I barely scratched the surface. I lack Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. But leaving something for the future ensures a reason to return, and I have assured myself that I will return. My adventure replaced dreams of "what it might be" with memories of "what it really is." I learned about the United States and perceptions thereof. I found continuity in the rhythms of life from Mexico to Brazil. I saw places described in history books, and others that had never been described. Above all, I reaffirmed my feelings that at any time in any place, you can breathe fresh air into your life. Brazil's most renown sculptor, Alejadinho, produced his most magnificent works of art after losing both hands and feet to leprosy. With a bit of drive and ingenuity, he strapped hammer and chisel to his arms and continued on his path to create statues that glorify God. But at the same time, he realized his full potential as a human being. It is an inspiring story. Self-realization is the holy grail, isn't it? To believe in yourself and others, even if it appears that they don't have hands...

bye y'all, I would love to hear from you.

Pictures of me in a speedo are available upon request,

Jason

H o m e
S t o r i e s f r o m t h e R o a d
P h o t o A l b u m s
B i k e I n f o
W h o A m I
E m a i l M e

Where Am I?

 

Current Mileage (from COLO):

18,000

First and last Portuguese Lesson of the day:

Eu gostaria falar com sua filha. Ela tem pernas perfectas.

"I would like to talk to your daughter. She has perfect legs."

Culinary Corner (for Dave):

Caipirinha--Brazil's national alcoholic drink of limes, crushed ice, sugar and Cachaca (See below). Well known for its dual effect of feeling invincible in the night and completely defeated the following morning.

Cachaca--High powered white alcohol at the heart of caipirinhas.

Churrasca--spit barbequed meats

Rodizio--The ultimate all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbeque with fantastic salads.

Carne do Sol--Beef dish with a salty flavor derived from leaving the meat in the sun to tenderize

Feijoa--Beans

Feijoada--Famous dish that mixes slow roasted meats into a bean stew. Many first class hotels in Rio De Janeiro compete for the best feijoada in town on Sunday evenings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Index

Top Main: Amazon River, near Santarem, Brazil

Middle Main: Hammocks on the boat on the Amazon

Main Left/Right: Street Scenes during Carnival, Salvador, Brazil

Far right, Above: Natal

Far right, Middle: Waterfall in La Gran Sabana, Venezuela/Brazil border

Far right, Bottom: Rod and Marcela on the road

Second to bottom: View from Pao de Acucar to Copacabana in Rio

Bottom: In Chapada de Diamantina