Ecopark Excitement (part 2)

At 3.00pm we all gathered in reception, where Prakash, our guide, was waiting to take us to the boat.  We walked along the dirt track, the duckboards and the planks of wood until we were once more at the landing dock.  This time it was a much bigger boat, with a lower and upper deck.  We went upstairs where we had a seat near the front, affording us unimpeded views of the river and riverbanks.

This afternoon we were due to visit a native Amazon Indian village.  I don’t know why they’re called ‘Indians’; personally I would prefer to think of them as indigenous people.  The boat journey would be around 45 minutes, and on the way there was plenty to see.  We passed small villages and, at one stage, a jungle ‘resort’ which the well-off Brazilians tend to go to.  There were many gleaming boats moored up, and sunloungers, and you could hear the distant sound of the infectious beat of Brazilian music.  Some people were swimming or fishing.  You would wonder why they were swimming when the Amazon is reputed to be full of vicious piranhas, but in actual fact piranhas have a bad reputation fuelled by Hollywood.  Whilst it is true that they are voracious meat-eaters, they certainly don’t strip a human body down to the bone in minutes as portrayed in the movies!  🙂  In fact, they’re more likely to avoid humans rather than attack them.  🙂

We saw more monkeys in the trees, as well as vultures flying around.  Every now and again you’d see catfish jumping.  As it was now well after 3.00pm, the fiercest heat of the sun had diminished somewhat, and there was a cooling breeze as the boat glided through the waters.  It really was an idyllic ride.

Once we got to the shores of the river that would take us to the native village, the boat was moored and the gangplank put in place.  When I say “plank”, that’s exactly what it was – a plank of wood stretching from the lower deck of the boat to the sandy shore.  It was quite precarious walking down it, but luckily there were plenty of hands holding onto me to ensure I didn’t fall.  Goodness knows how the older people managed.

Eventually we were all ashore.  Some half-naked, brown-skinned children came running down to meet us.  We were led by Prakash to a large square area with benches around the outside, and a large thatched roof overhead.  Prakash explained to us that the natives did not speak the usual Brazilian Portuguese, but used their own dialect instead.  They made their living from fishing, growing manioc, handicrafts and tourists coming to visit. 

Quite a few native men and women were around, and lots of children.  Prakash joked that there were a lot of kids because the natives didn’t have a television! 😉  One of the men came in who had a loin-cloth, a sort of ‘skirt’ made of leaves, a shell anklet and a large, feathered head-dress.  His face and chest were coloured in a sort of ‘war paint’.  Prakash explained he was the chief, or elder, of the tribe.  The elder addressed us all in his native tongue, the gist of which was that he was welcoming us to their village, and they were going to play some traditional musical instruments, sing and dance for us.

They started off by playing a flute-like instrument, then they used what looked like pan-pipes.  They also had a percussion instrument which consisted of a long, hollow tube which they banged on the ground, creating a sort of echoing banging sound.  When all the instruments were played together, it sounded quite good.  They then started singing and dancing, going up to each side of the ‘room’ in turn.

The next dance was a type of ritual ‘mating’ dance and the women joined in.  The men and women danced arm-in-arm, with some of the women carrying small children on their ‘free’ arm!  It was fascinating to watch.  When the men were dancing, the shells on their anklets created some extra percussion.

Once the singing and dancing was finished, each member of the tribe (including the children) came around the room and shook hands with each of the visitors.  They welcomed you in their own language and you had to reply with “Bacomá” (or something that sounded like that).

After everyone had been round, the Chief gave his head-dress and some maracas to Prakash, who promptly came over to us and placed the head-dress on Trevor’s head, the maracas in his hand, and motioned for him to get up to join the natives!  Other visitors were given the percussion instruments and had to get up and join in with the dancing!  It was great fun to watch, and I took plenty of photos.  Trevor should be honoured that he was allowed to wear the Chief’s head-dress.  He also danced with one of the women.  😀

Afterwards we were invited to look at some of the handicrafts the natives had made.  There were necklaces and bracelets made out of seeds, shells, wooden beads and alligator teeth, as well as bikini tops made of coconut shells (no good if you’re more than an A cup!), hollowed out gourds used as containers, and blow-pipes.  The blow pipes had arrows included and you could have a go at shooting them; they were surprisingly accurate.  Just as well there was no curare around, lol 🙂

I wanted to buy one of the necklaces for 15 Reïs but we only had a 50-Real note and they didn’t have any change.  The Brazilian currency, by the way, is the Real, and the plural is Reïs, not “reals”.  No-one seemed able to change the banknote so, reluctantly, I had to do without my alligator-tooth necklace.  Hopefully I’d get a chance at a later date.

Then if was back on the boat for another ride along the river; this time we were going to moor up at a small restaurant/bar that had a pier, and fish for piranhas from the pier-side.  😀

On arrival at the pier, we were each given a bamboo pole with fishing line and a hook on the end, baited with raw meat.  Then we had to stand at the water’s edge and see what we could catch.  Prakash made it sound easy; “When you feel a little nibble, pull your line in,” he said.  But the piranhas (and other fish) were sly; you’d feel a nibble and pull in your line, to find no fish, but the raw meat gone!  Every now and again a catfish would jump out of the water and land on the pier, flopping about until someone was kind enough to throw it back.

The sun was fast dipping below the horizon as night swiftly fell in the jungle.  Dusk doesn’t seem to last long, once the sun disappears the hot and heavy darkness sinks down.  With the darkness the sounds of the jungle came alive.  You could hear crickets and bullfrogs singing loudly, and every now and again the cry of a bird or monkey.  It was now time to head back to the lodge.  No-one had caught any fish this time.  😦

We arrived back at the Ecopark, dumped our stuff back in our hut and had a quick wash.  Dinner was at 7.30pm so we had time for a nice cold caipirinha before then.  🙂  Dinner was much the same as lunch had been; fish, pork, beef, manioc, lots of vegetables, salad and fruits.

At 8.30pm we all gathered once again in reception to await Prakash for the next exciting adventure – this time caiman spotting.  When Prakash arrived he bestowed upon us the group name “Jaguar” and said that is how he would address us from now on, as in “this way please, Jaguar Group.”  I liked the sound of that!  🙂

We got back into one of the little rustic river-boats and journeyed along the darkness of the river.  We didn’t have Prakash in our boat this time (he was in the other boat), we had a young guy who I believe was called Julio.  He sat at the front of the boat and shone a very powerful flashlight into the bushes and undergrowth along the riverbanks.  When you are looking for caiman alligators, the light will be reflected off their retinas, making their eyes glow red. 

The helmsman turned off the outboard motor so we were left with the night-time sounds of the rainforest, while Julio slowly flashed his torch around.  Then there was a splash as he jumped overboard, surfacing seconds later with a caiman!  He brought the caiman onto the boat and we returned to the landing stage at the lodge, in order for everyone to get a chance to examine it more closely.

Shortly afterwards, Prakash’s boat arrived back, he too with a caiman.

Julio passed the caiman to me to hold; I had to put one hand round its neck and the other round its tail.  It felt smooth and warm-blooded, and it stayed perfectly still apart from its sides going in and out as it was breathing.  Its eyes were like a cat’s, that is, the pupil was a slit rather than being rounded.

I actually felt quite sorry for the caimans.  They had had bright lights shone in their eyes to hypnotise them, been snatched from the river where they were feeding and brought, in a noisy vibrating motor-boat, to land, where they were passed around, poked and prodded, and every inch of them examined and photographed.  We’d all seen one now; I felt it was time to take them back and release them.  We were told that this is what happens, that none of the animals are harmed in any way, but we didn’t actually see them being released.

The evening time now at the Ecopark was our own.  We had packed a lot into today and were now pleasantly tired.  We had a couple of caipirinhas in the pleasant, dimly lit bar area and chatted to the other guests and to Prakash, who said he had been working for the Ecolodge over 10 years.

Then it was off to bed for the night in our little hut.  🙂

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