Brazil: A River Runs Through It

Brazil Travel post #12: A River Runs Through It (intro post is here).

Pink Dolphins

Picking up from yesterday’s river post, let’s start with freshwater dolphins. Unlike their seafaring cousins, river dolphins don’t often jump out of water, nor are they known for chasing wake. So, my best pictures look like this:

Hey, a thing!
A dolphin?

Some places will take you to feed dolphins, though this isn’t very eco-friendly, so our outfit did not. However, their photos look like this:


According to the folkloric stories told to us by our guides, river dolphins are revered friends, and are never killed or eaten. It’s specifically the pink dolphin that holds their attention, but the grey dolphins gets extra protection too. Why, you ask?

According to local legend, the following story has been known to happen from time to time. When the villages unite for festivals and parties, occasionally a handsome stranger will arrive in all-white, wearing a straw hat. He might take a fancy to one of the young women and make her his girlfriend. Invariably, she’ll wind up pregnant and he’ll disappear, but it turns out the man was a river dolphin all along! He wore that straw hat to cover his blowhole and had to return to sea. Instead of a negative, this event is seen as a blessing. The dolphin will give special powers to his new child, who will be the smartest kid and everything will come easy. They will eventually become the village chief or shaman.

To me, this sounds like a story told by a suave, handsome sailor at port, who said he has to head back to sea. Either way, good news for the pink dolphins! We got our best views early in the morning on our kayaks, or at sunset on the top deck of the Tucano.

Rare tree frog sighting

Here’s another fun story for you. One of the guides suddenly pulled his skiff over to the shore, and called the second longboat over to see what he had found. Ready? This is what he saw from a moving watercraft.

Do you see it?
Keep looking…
Well, hello there!
Nice work, Souza!

Piranha Fishing

It’s finally time! With all my foreshadowing, you probably guessed that piranha fishing was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Good guess.

First, some background. For those of you without rod-n-reel fishing experience, let me give you some basics: Sneak up on the fish, hide the hook in bait or a lure, and don’t spook it–you want the fish to come to you.

Here’s how you fish for piranha: Take a bamboo rod, thread about 10 feet of line with a hook on the end (a reel isn’t necessary). For bait? A piece of raw steak, no bigger than a fingertip. Remember that reference.

To get the fish’s attention, you slap the bamboo on top of the water’s surface, creating a thrashing motion to simulate a panicked animal. Then you throw in your wounded animal chunk (your bait) and within 10 seconds you either have a piranha or your bait is gone.

Success! (photo by Jerry Peek)

Your only real worries are getting the thing off the hook, since it can bite off a fingertip. Oh, and my sure you wear close-toed shoes, because they can take a toe and can get pretty big:

Yeah…that one is the size of the guy’s whole shoe!

Although the best part? Tastes like chicken!

I eat you! You don’t eat me!

The Meeting of the Waters

As I’ve said, we spent our week exploring the Rio Negro because it’s more remote than the Amazon River and allows for more wildlife exploration. On the last day, however, we went to the famous point where the Rio Negro and Amazon converge. It’s an amazing site, and an incredible viewpoint, because the waters don’t mix easily. Here’s what I mean:

Come with me!
To the meeting of the waters.
This image is so iconic, you’ll even see a black and white swirl on handbags and sandals for sale all over Brazil.
The Amazon is much siltier while the Rio Negro appears almost black from the surface.
We made it!

That’s it for today, and we’re almost done with our trip. I think that means tomorrow is the final post!

Click to continue to: Ciao! Goodbye, Brazil

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Would you try piranha fishing?

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Brazil: Rollin’ on the River

Brazil Travel post #11: Rollin’ on the River (intro post is here).

Today we see the river by boat. We towed along smaller watercraft to use on sightseeing expeditions, like the one you see below. Plenty of wildlife can be seen in the trees from the banks, and the river itself is teeming, so get ready for some fantastic pictures.

There were a pair of these boats, which fit all the passengers. I took this shot from our longboat.

Overall, you get the feeling that you’re surrounded by life, but that the jungle is very shy. Animal noises echo out from the canopy, birds shriek, yet it’s difficult to spot just who you’re hearing. The trees will stand still–the jungle an unbroken curtain–until suddenly, it’s not.

Go ahead and click to full screen. If you look closely, you might see some jungle life….

When you travel by riverboat in MURDERED, your experiences are much the same:

A monkey’s ululating howl comes from somewhere in the treetops and branches sway in reaction to movement that can’t be seen from beneath the thick canopy. A nesting family of egrets calls out as a fledgling egret loses its balance and falls into the river below. The bird is quick to come to the surface but, not yet able to fly, it squawks and flails its wings in a panicked swim.
The river suddenly explodes in a cacophony of fish and churning water so powerful that the bloody spindrift hits the boat. The egret doesn’t have a chance against the piranha feeding frenzy and you watch in awestruck terror as the bird disappears in only a matter of moments.
“Do not worry; the piranha don’t eat people. They can take a finger, but he is what you need to be careful for: Caiman.”
You follow Neto’s outstretched finger toward the far bank, where a crocodilian animal at least ten feet long slips into the river and silently swims toward the commotion, which is over before it gets there.
“They eat people?” you ask.
“They drown people.”

For this reason, one of my favorite excursion-types on the riverboat Tucano was early morning Kayak. Without an engine, it made it much easier to “sneak up” on wildlife.

The best way to see the river! (photo by Jerry Peek)

In fact, on one such kayak trip, we saw something swimming in the water…

What is that? A turtle? Let’s follow.

It seemed we spooked it, because it started away from us at a high speed. We tried to catch up to get a better look…

Michaela says, “I don’t think that’s a turtle.” (photo by Jerry Peek)

That’s when we realized just who’d we had been chasing….

A caiman. We’d been chasing a river dinosaur! (photo by Jerry Peek)

The guide later informed us that the caiman we saw was probably 4 meters long, or roughly as long as our kayak!

Bring a good pair of binoculars.

If you ever decide to take a trip like this one, make sure you have some way to see the shore from the boat. We got some great views from our binoculars, but check out what our new friend Jerry caught through his camera lens.

Egret taking flight (photo by Jerry Peek).
Birds we called “squawksons” (photo by Jerry Peek).
Fishing bird (photo by Jerry Peek).
Kingfisher (photo by Jerry Peek).
Toucan carrying a seed (photo by Jerry Peek).
Eagle (photo by Jerry Peek).
Macaw (photo by Jerry Peek).

Now the hunter becomes the hunted.

The caiman may be the most dangerous animal in the river for people, but this powerful saurian is far from king of the river. That title goes to the “water jaguar” — the giant river otter. Not quite as big as a seal, these guys owned the waterways and they knew it. When we approached with our cameras, they responded by showing off their teeth.

Here are some of the amazing shots captured by Jerry Peek:

I actually saw a few river otters tangle with a caiman. The otters swarmed around the caiman in the water, nipping at the crocodilian’s tail until the caiman burst forth from the water, its legs practically windmilling as it sprinted ashore for safety. The whole thing happened so fast that my camera wasn’t able to capture the moment, but I did find a video of a similar situation online. It’s from “Plizzanet Earth” narrated by Snoop Dogg, and it’s certainly worth your time.

I think that’s probably the perfect note to end today’s blog post. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on the river where we’ll see dolphins, get a special tree frog sighting, and go piranha fishing!

Click to continue to: Brazil: A River Runs Through It.

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Are we lucky we weren’t caiman food?

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Brazil: In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

Brazil Travel post #10: The Mighty Jungle (intro post is here).

So now that I’ve officially exhausted jungle-themed songs as titles, let’s actually go into the jungle.

A great place to…reflect. Heh.

Each day, we had 2-3 excursions from the main boat. Morning, afternoon, and night. Some of those days included jungle hikes into the pure, unadulterated wild. This wasn’t like those jungle hikes in Rio, where the trail is wide and flat from thousands of tourists. From what the owner of the Tucano told us, the areas we went in only we went in. Judging by the machete-clearing techniques used by our guides, I believed it.

Our guide, Edgivan, teaching us about jungle fruits.

The main problem, however, was footwear. We didn’t bring hiking boots, we brought hiking sandals. Which wouldn’t really be a problem except for the fact that we could sink into six inches of dead leaves and other rotten vegetation with each step (where, of course, spiders, scorpions, and vipers love to hide).

Good luck little toeseys.

So…that part was unnerving. The hikes themselves, however, were extraordinary.

The “skeleton” of a leaf after its “flesh” has been eaten.

While the Amazon jungle has the greatest diversity of life in the world, it actually has low density of each kind. So each type of animal you come across should be treated like an unexpected gift.

A gift that comes easier when you have an amazing camera zoom! (Photo by Jerry Peek)

Here, you’ll see the “greatest hits” of our jungle hike excursions.

This moth has about a foot-wide wingspan!
Wasps love mangoes.
Bullet ants, very painful and very big. About the length of my forefinger.

Story time: Bullet ants (pictured above) are known to have one of the most painful stings of any ant. In fact, apparently, it feels like you’ve just been stung (with fresh pain) for about 24 hours. It’s so bad, that there’s a tribe whose “manhood ritual” involves wearing a glove filled with bullet ants. Once a boy does this, he is now a man, and can accomplish anything.

Occasionally it does rain in the rainforest…who knew?
Even the trees around us were exotic.
Learning. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Edgi showing us a rubber tree.
Pure rubber! (photo by Jerry Peek)
Life under every leaf.
“Ruins” of a rubber labor camp.

Story time: The site pictured above was run as a “company store” and the natives that worked here were essentially tricked into indentured servitude. Those that tried to speak out were never heard from again…. Despite all the natural beauty here, it’s important to keep in mind the history (and current activities) of exploiting the rainforest. It’s a fragile ecosystem, despite its size.

So many butterfly varietals, I dont think I saw the same one twice. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Tiger butterfly? Im not sure. And, there are so many species, that not all are named. (photo by Jerry Peek)
Yes, he is actually trying to get ants on his hand.

Story time: Souza showed us this specific type of ant (which frenzies in response to noise) that doesn’t sting, but their body fluids make for a great natural mosquito repellent. All you have to do is clap nearby to get them to rush out of their nest, then you let them on your hand, and rub them onto your skin.

And, incredibly, it worked!
So we both tried it!
“What’s up?”
A baby sloth, that’s what!
Souza “spider charming.”

Story time: The protagonist in this story is our guide, Souza. The antagonist a giant bird-eating tarantula. Here’s the setup. Souza is a self-proclaimed “Coboclo” (a person of mixed ancestry where half is a native) and grew up in the jungle. So he knows his stuff. He knows hundreds of bird calls. Can identify dozens of types of ant nests. Hundreds of plant types, along with their uses. And…he knows how to “charm” giant spiders out of their burrows.

Here it comes…

He put his scent (sweat and spit) on a stick, the tricked the spider into defending its burrow against said stick. When the first spider came out, there was a collective gasp from the group.

Collective gasp! This sucker is as big as my hand and probably three times as large as any “pet shop” tarantula I have ever seen.

Though we had some adventure and excitement, mostly what we found was natural beauty and new experiences.

And lots of colors!
We had a brief stop to see some villagers, but they had left on a holiday soccer trip. (photo by Jerry Peek)

Seeing the jungle “up close and personal” was definitely worth it. And no bites or stings! Next time I’ll show you all the things we could see from our expeditionary watercraft. Hint: A lot more animals!

PS — I’m taking the weekend off. Michaela’s mom is in town, and I’m meeting up with a friend from out of town for some quality dude time. Catch you on Monday!

Click to continue: Brazil: Rollin’ on the River.

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Is that sloth the cutest or what?

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Brazil: Welcome to the Jungle!

Brazil Travel post #9: Welcome to the Jungle! (intro post is here).

Okay, here we are, finally heading into the jungle. And great timing too! One of our fellow travelers, Gerald Peek, took some amazing photos and I was able to access them yesterday. He graciously agreed to let me use them for this blog, so you’ll find a mix of Schannep and Peek photos below.

Getting ready to embark. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
And here’s the group we’ll share this journey with. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
This will be our home for the next week. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Here we are, like you, being told a bit about how the trip will go. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Our private bunk.
The crew of the Tucano (guides not pictured).
Our fearless guides, Souza (left) and Edgivan. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
The dining cabin, where we’ll share our meals. (Photo by Jerry Peek)
Goodbye, Manaus!
Hello, adventure!

I’m still sorting through the photos, so that’s all for today, but coming up we’ll have jungle hikes, boat excursions, and river night life! Stay tuned.

Click to continue to: Brazil: The Mighty Jungle.

Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Ready for some jungle stories?

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