Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 6 | Ecotourism 2013

On our last full day in the Amazon, we had an early wake up call at 4:45am from roosters while in our hammocks.  After we had breakfast, we went on a small jungle hike through the backyard of EKOBE so Leandro and Jean Daniel could explain to us the different trees and wildlife along the path.  During the hike, they pointed out specific trees and plants and we met a woman who moved from the city to the jungle with her husband.  She was very hospitable to us and some of us even got to swing on a vine near her house.  Towards the end of our hike, we were able to plant trees that Jean-Daniel provided that would start the reforesting process near EKOBE.  Once the hike was finished, Senor Miguel met us back at EKOBE and was kind enough to cook us our final Brazilian meal, which was delicious!  Shortly after, we sadly had to say goodbye to Senor Miguel, Jean-Daniel, and our fantastic jungle guide for the week, Leandro.  In just under a week, they kindly taught us so much about the Amazon ecosystem and made our time in Brazil one we will never forget.  After a three hour ride back to Manaus, we were finally able to see the meeting of the waters.  Throughout the week, we were learning about the differences between the two rivers.  It is at this point where the Negro river meets the Solimoes and eventually becomes the Amazon river.  Visibly, the muddy white water and the black water crash into one another.  To show the extreme differences between the two rivers, Hudson, our guide, had us put our hands into the water.  The Negro river was considerably warmer than the Solimoes.  This was a great activity to end the trip; besides the crazy ride back to shore!  We also got to see the most beautiful sunset, which tied up our Brazilian adventure perfectly.  Tomorrow morning, we will be back home in Boston, but we will never forget our week in the Amazon!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 5 | Ecotourism 2013

We were all reluctant to get out of bed at 5:00 am for our sunrise contemplation, but the tranquil Negro river quickly made up for it.  We did not actually get to witness the rising of the sun because of the clouds but we did learn about birds such as the parrots waking up on or close to 6:00 am and how they travel in pairs to act as an alarm clock to wake up all the other wildlife.  After the sunrise contemplation it was sad to say goodbye to the lodge but we were excited to see what we would be doing the remainder of the trip.  We traveled by boat to nearby Novo Airao and were greeted by our next host, Jean-Daniel, the director of the local nonprofit Fundacoa Almerinda Malaquies (FAM).

He took us to the FAM office grounds and gave us a brief history of the organizations origin and took us on a tour of the property.  One of the stops on the tour was the wood shop. Here, we saw the process of how to make wooden carvings such as bowls, plates and animal figurines. The wood worker we met has created prized bowls out of colorful wood scraps.  His creations are being honored at the World Cup next year and have been purchased by Bill Gates!  Next on the tour was the production of recycled paper.  The women here showed us the process of creating it.  The process involves combining recycled paper pulp water and glue with wood shavings for added texture.  After the demonstration we all got to make our own page.  Later in the day Senor Miguel, the founder of FAM,  arrived all the way from Manaus to speak with us.  He, with Jean Daniel presented to us about the inspiration of creating the organization, their experiences and backgrounds in ecotourism, and then they answered any questions we had.  Local ecotourism students around our age also joined us during this presentation.  We met the students and we all talked about our experiences with ecotourism.  Then, we got to see a few of Leandro's hip hop students perform for us.  This was definitely the highlight of our day!  We finished our long day by going to EKOBE, a project of FAM, where we spent the night in hammocks.

Day 4 | Ecotourism 2013

Today we ventured deep into the jungle of the Amazon! We knew our athletic ability would be challenged, but we had no idea exactly what we were getting ourselves into. We started the day with the sun shining however by the time we reached the trail the rain was pouring down on us. The hike was still interesting and educational even soaking wet! We had to jump off a rock close to five feet high and crawl on the ground under giant rocks as our backpacks got covered in mud, all while hopping in and out of water and mud. We found a bright blue bug on the tree. Our tour guide said he had never seen that type of bug before, so we took the liberty of naming it Boomer! By the end of the four hour hike everyone's shoes were soaking wet with mud splashed up our legs. We all had a great sense of accomplishment as we walked out of the forest into the sunlight. We learned the difference in ecosystems between the Rio Negro and the Solimoes rivers. The Rio Negro is much slower due to all the islands that block the current. It's also very acidic and is what gives the river it's black color. Because of the acid in the river its not arable and not many fruits grow. As a result there are less animals on the Rio Negro jungle side than on the Solimoes jungle side. After the hike we ate lunch and all jumped into the Rio Negro for a swim. The water level had risen over 30 feet since February due to rainy season. We were swimming over a flooded island! At the end of the day we came back to the lodge and met with Fran, the manager of the lodge.
She gave us background knowledge on the lodge and how it compares to similar jungle lodges in the Amazon. They strive to be eco friendly and are getting better each year. In March they plan to add solar panels to heat the showers. Fran has been working in Ecotourism for ten years, her passion for the hospitality industry and the environment reminds us of Professor Van Hyfte and how she instilled her passions into our class in preparation for this trip. For our last night at the jungle lodge we are heading to bed early to prepare for our 5am sunrise contemplation!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 3 | Ecotourism 2013

                Today we woke up to an intense rainfall that did not let up and so we were worried at first that we may not be able to see the indigenous pink dolphins as planned. We waited to see if the downpour would let up at all and our tour guide Leandro tried distracting us with a lesson of Chinese Checkers. We decided after a brief waiting period, to venture out anyway with hopes that the rain may ease up as we go.

Back on the boat, we experienced pelting rain and wind until we eased up to a cabin on the water with a roped off area where the dolphins usually come in. We sat inside to dry off while Leandro told us stories of the pink dolphin legend from Amazonia history. It was interesting and touching to learn how the stigma of the pink dolphin species has changed over the years. In the beginning they were considered taboo, dangerous and a nuisance to fisherman. They were constantly being killed, until one woman changed everything. Despite the community and the government giving her a hard time, she eventually changed people’s ideology that the dolphins are harmful and encouraged the mentality that they should really be protected. Today, the pink dolphins come and go as they please, interacting with humans and now a major tourist attraction for the Amazon. Thankfully, the rain eased up just enough for us each to get a chance to get up close and personal with the unique mammals and pet them as the lady responsible for feeding them baited them to rise up out of the water with pieces of fish. It was a truly cool experience, and as much as we wished we could feed them ourselves or get in the water and swim with them like we have heard tourists have been allowed to do in the past, we were told that times have changed. The National Park activists and environmental organization created stricter policies to guard them from naive tourists. Leandro shared that although the protection of the dolphins and other marine life in the Negro River have come a long way, there is still illegal practices happening all around the Amazon, because it is so big and not enough Environmental guards to oversee everything.

Leandro also explained the makeup of the Negro River, the high acidy content, the current being slow, water warm which gives it a black reflective color. After the informational session and story time, we ventured out again into the Archipelagio of Anavilhanas. Boating across the river through tunnels of jungle, we saw various kinds of plants, fruits, birds and even a 300 year old tree. It was truly the first time we took in the beauty of the rainforest.

After lunch we took a half hour ride to a local village of 60 residents including a mix of Portuguese and Indian people. Leandro took us on a little tour of their land, how they grow fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to live off of. The women make colorful jewelry to sell to tourists and the men make BBQ sticks to sell in Manaus. It’s a very different way of living, and we were intrigued to say the least. The children were just as curious of us as we were of them. The families live very minimally with futbol as their pastime, tourism as their source of income, and agriculture as their way of life. At first we were hesitant to be there because we felt like we were invading their homes and privacy, but in actuality, they were grateful for our presence we learned. When we all bought something, you could see how happy we made them and they thanked us with complimentary bracelets and a hug.

The village had more plantlife and wildlife than we ever expected. We took so many pictures of gorgeous flowers and exotic animals. There were loud birds, colorful parrots, and our all time favorite… the “so ugly, it’s cute” sloth! We had a field day when Leandro pointed out the female sloth crawling just in front of us. We each got to hold her and take a picture, which proved to be everyone’s favorite part of the day when we discussed our pit and peaks at dinner!

 Despite all the gray skies and heavy rainfall from earlier that morning, we were rewarded with a perfect sunset cruising back to the lodge on the Negro River. It was the best way to take in everything and reflect over everything we had done today. We are expecting tomorrow to be our toughest day physically, but we’re all up for the challenge!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Day 1 & Day 2 | Ecotourism 2013

On Tuesday May 21st, we started our journey to Brazil. After a delayed flight and having to unexpectedly to check baggage, we finally arrived at the airport in Manaus.  Once through customs, we were taken to our hotel for the night, Casa Teatro. This boutique hotel had an upscale hostel feel, and while the rooms were tiny, we were glad to have our own floor to spend the night.

On Wednesday, we had breakfast and then left for our meeting with Joao Araujo at Amazonastur, the Director Chief of Promotion and Tourism Marketing. While waiting, Professor Janbek explained that for the most part in the United States there is a monochonronic perception of time where we schedule things at specific times (ex. Meeting with someone at 10am). In some cultures, like that of Brazil, there is a polychronic perception of time, where people are less scheduled and do many things at once.

 In our meeting, Joao showed us the promotional materials that the tourism office uses both domestically and internationally. Joao also told us how Brazil, and specifically Manaus, is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup games next summer. In preparation for the games, there are several hotels being built to accommodate the expected 80,000 visitors, as well as a brand new stadium that will hopefully be used to host concerts and other large events once the cup has finished. When asked what preparations are being made specifically in mind with the environment, Joao told us that he hopes that all visitors will already have a knowledge of and respect for the environment of Brazil, and that handouts will also be made for visitors listing the basic do’s and dont’s. In addition to these preparations, Joao also hopes to make the visa process easier and less expensive, particularly for Asian visitors, to increase tourism in general.

After a long and bumpy ride from Manaus, we arrived at our lodging for the next few nights, Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge. Before dinner, we were given a tour of the beautiful property that includes a pool, watchtower, and hammock room and had time to explore the property more. After our dinner of fish and fried chicken, we started our night-spotting tour on the Rio Negro. We were able to see a few small caimans, but unfortunately we had to return to the lodge early due to a heavy downpour and thunderstorm.

We are all very eager to see what tomorrow has in store for us, and if the rains will continue for the rest of our adventure. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 5 | Lasell Ecotourism 2012

Sunrise over the Rio Negro

Our early morning began at five o’clock in the morning for a sunrise contemplation. We took the motor boat out to the middle of a lake within the Rio Negro and we waited and watched as the sun came up from behind the trees.  It was a beautiful sight. The Amazon came alive as the birds chirped above us. The natives have recognized that certain birds chirp at specific times, therefore, Leandro knew that it was 6 o’clock when the toucan began to sing.

Our next activity was a three and a half hour jungle hike through the rainforest. Due to the high water level of the river, parts of the trail were flooded, which forced us to find a new starting point. When we reached the main trail, it was noticeably narrow. It was just enough for one person to walk on. This lessens the amount of damage to the plant life in the Amazon. The hike was very adventurous and included caves, rivers, fallen trees, and bats.

On our way back to the lodge, we made two stops. We first visited a watch tower that had an amazing view of the river and rainforest and was a great photo opportunity. After eating lunch and taking a short swim, we headed to our next stop. It was a dolphin rehabilitation center in a village called Novo Airao where Leandro lives. One woman took the risk to care for wild dolphins that had been injured by local fisherman that once considered them pests. For sixteen years she has been feeding and caring for the pink dolphins, but also allows them to come and go freely. The dolphins are able to survive with her help, yet they still have the ability to live in the wild. As a group, we were able to have close interaction with the dolphins. We sat low to the water as the owner fed them. As they came up out of the water to eat, we were able to pet their soft bellies. The type of interaction that visitors are allowed to have with the dolphins has changed over the years. In years past, people swam with and fed numerous amounts of fish to the dolphins. The people of the village have learned about ecotourism through the Anavilhanas National Park protection. They now know that this cannot continue. To keep the dolphins and people safe, tourists’ interaction is now limited. However, we were very lucky to have the opportunity to have contact with the pink dolphins. It was an amazing experience!  Tonight, we will be getting a good night’s sleep after a fun and exhausting day. Tomorrow we will be leaving the ecolodge and staying at a Non-Government Organization where we will have several volunteer opportunities. 
Hiking through the Amazon

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 4 | Lasell Ecotourism 2012

Today we took a 30 minute boat ride to the community of Tirirca’s Caboclo which is made up of only about 12 families. We had the opportunity to see a parrot and macaw snacking on a banana. We walked around and saw the various plant species that grew on their land. It seemed that almost every plant we came across had a different use or purpose which Leandro told us about.  One of the fruits we saw is used as a dye. Leandro painted designs on our arms with it. He later told us it would last two months! Leandro  has such an extensive knowledge because he is indigenous to an Amazonian Indian tribe called Macuxi.

A big part of ecotourism is helping the local community, which is why Anavilhana’s Ecolodge hires indigenous people to work as tour guides and other positions at the lodge. We visited the village’s gift shop which had handmade necklaces and earrings made out of nuts, berries, seeds, and beans. The money from the sales helps the tribe purchase things like school supplies and clothes. By purchasing gifts, tourists contribute to the wellbeing of the community while learning about their traditions. We then came back to the Ecolodge and met with the new General Manager, Fran, who has extensive education and business experience in ecotourism, which is her passion. Though she has only worked here for 20 days, she has many ideas to make ecolodges more sustainable by adding more solar panels, getting less polluting engines for boats, and creating a training program for the local employees. After meeting with the GM, we headed out on the boat again with our canoes in tow. We partnered up and paddled through another flooded forest, although some of us had some trouble maneuvering and ended up caught in branches. In a larger clearing, we were able to jump out of our canoes and swim around in the Rio Negro! At the end of the day we had a story telling session from Leandro on traditions such as the rites of passage for men and women in Indian tribes.  We have a long day planned tomorrow, so it’s time to get some sleep!

A photo of the Tirirca’s Caboclo Community from our boat. The yellow boat on the right is the school boat that the children take to school!