Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Amazon Adventure! Part III.V: A Walk on the Wild Side (of the Kitchen)

Possibly the greatest adventure of all in our four days in the Amazon, was tasting the local cuisine. Our tour guide, Feliciano had clued us in to a couple of local favorites, and since I love to try new foods--especially local specialties--we decided to give it a go.

First on the list is a type of soup, called Tacacá , that is found only in the Amazon region. The ingredients can't be found anywhere else. Even my other Brazilian friends who have not traveled to Amazonas or Pará are not familiar with this dish.  But, it is wildly popular in this region. Commonly, it is served around 5:00PM (tea time), and apparently there are stands and carts on every corner around the city. Really, after a long, unbearably hot and humid day, who wouldn't feel refreshed with a steaming bowl of soup? 

Tacacá begins with a broth called Tacupi.  Do you remember the cyanide juice that I referred to in my last post? That's tacupi. This fact, I think, is very telling about Brazilians--they don't waste anything. (You squeezed some toxins out of a root, so that you wouldn't poison yourself? Heavens, don't discard that--let's figure out a way to use it!!)

Let's recap the process. Manioc (cassava) root is a staple in Brazil. It is used for many dishes, most notably, Farofa--a common accompaniment to rice and beans. The farofa we eat here in São Paulo state is white--processed from white manioc. One of the first things I noticed in Manaus was the yellow farofa we were eating. Besides the yellow color, it tastes a little different, and has a slightly different texture. I really liked the farofa here--crunchy and salty! Anyway, when the manioc is processed for the flour to make farofa (and other things), a liquid is pressed out of it. This liquid is toxic, and converts to cyanide in the body. According to my research, consuming the liquid from just two manioc roots can be deadly. Feliciano explained all of this to us at the manioc processing factory. He then suggested we try the soup. "The cyanide soup? Why not?!"  (Stupid tourists will try anything.)

So, they boil this yellow liquid "several times over" to rid it of it's toxic properties. Then, they let it cool. As it is cooling, a starchy sediment develops. This sediment, called "goma de mandioca"  (tapioca gum) is then reserved as the final Pièce de résistance for our soup. The clear yellow broth (tacupi) skimmed off the top is then boiled with salt, sweet peppers, and a wild relative of cilantro. There are two other main elements of the dish: salted dried shrimp (that are reconstituted before adding to the soup) and jambú (a native flowering herb with anasthetic properties).

Now we are ready to assemble the masterpiece. First, tacacá is always served in a hollowed out gourd called a cuia. The cuia is then placed in a hand woven basket to prevent burns to the hands. Traditionally, the soup is served without any utensils. Relatively recently, they added a small wooden stick to help you spear the shrimp and jambú. Any other utensil use is taboo. The vendor at our tacacá stand took one look at us, and quietly slipped two plastic spoons on the counter in front of us. You could tell it pained her to do so. (Stupid tourists!)

She ladled the piping hot tacupi broth into the gourd bowl, then she added diced onions, the jumbo shrimp (complete with skins and tails), and some long, leafy, steamed stems of jambú. Then, she put a glob of the tapioca gum on top. The tapioca gum has the appearance and consistency of thick mucous. Yum. Steph and I watched, horrified, as the slimy substance slowly oozed down to the bottom of the bowl. All eyes were on us as we argued over who was going to try it first. ("After you." ... "No, please, be my guest."...)

As the youngest, (and I feared the most responsible for this potential disaster), I took the plunge first. I can't adequately describe the flavors and sensations that erupted in my mouth. The broth, I thought, was very alkaline. The leaves of the jambú were sour and slimy. I had a whole mouthful of them, as there was no way to cut up the long stems before schlepping them into my mouth with the stick. I began chewing, and immediately, my tongue and lips went numb (the anesthetic effect of the jambú). This was a somewhat startling phenomenon. My guess is that they add this particular ingredient to the dish to make it easier to swallow the rest.

While I can't say that I found tacacá to be the most delicious dish I have ever encountered, it was very interesting and I'm glad I tried it. In fact, Steph and I took turns slurping down the whole bowl. I very generously gave the last swallow to my sister. (That's where the glob of tapioca gum lurks.) The look on her face when she thrust the bowl away from her lips was priceless.

You can see the snot-like tapioca gum on the right.

A dish full of surprises


Now, it was time for dessert. We were assured by Feliciano that  tucumâ fruit is the "Nectar of the Gods" and we absolutely HAD to try the ice cream of this flavor. So, like stupid tourists, we did. I guess I don't know what "the Gods" like to drink, but my ice cream tasted like rotting pumpkin. However, like good little girls, we finished all of our dessert:

Steph and I "enjoying" our tucuma flavored ice cream

I have been in Brazil for almost a year, and in that time, I have had the privilege of trying many different foods. But, I can honestly say that, the most unusual flavors (in my experience) are found in the Amazon--go figure.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Amazon Adventure! Part III

Another day--another tour--another tour guide. Feliciano spoke English the best of all of our tour guides, as a result of his being raised in an American household, where his mother worked as a maid. He was very eager to make our tour special. He was quite a character, really, and I appreciated him standing up for us, when some of the other tourists were getting annoyed at his taking the time to translate. "I am here to serve everyone the same," he said. He didn't let the complaining stop him from giving us a full translation (as best as he could), and he took special care to keep us near to him, so he could translate for the museum employees.

Today's tour included  the Rubber Plantation Museum. We took a speed boat (one that worked) to the other side of the river, where we came to the "Seringal Vila Paraiso". This was a replica of a rubber plantation, built as a movie set, and demonstrating the history of the rubber boom at the end of the 19th century, which made Manaus one of the wealthiest cities in the world, at the time.  It was very interesting to see all of the stages of rubber production, and learn more about the time period. Rubber Barons lived in great wealth and luxury in the middle of the jungle. (One example of their opulent lifestyle was their sending their laundry back to Europe to be cleaned!) The workers, however, were treated worse than slaves (according to Feliciano) and lived in extreme poverty.

Boat dock leading up to the Plantation
Boat dock
View from the boat dock--the tall tree is a Brazil Nut tree

General Store--where the workers were always somehow treated in a manner that they were forever in the debt of the "Colonel" (the owner of the plantation). We were told some very interesting stories.
The man in the foreground is our guide, Feliciano.

 Museum worker demonstrating the tools of the Latex Tapper. Notice the "headlamp." The workers started before the sun, and used this device to light the way.

Latex seeds on the left; a "bale" of rubber on the right.
The rubber was heavy, and you could bounce it like a ball, although it would bounce off in all directions, owing to the shape.

Plantation chapel

Making cuts to collect the latex sap

The Colonel's house--filled with all the finest amenities of the time--from all different parts of the world. I can't imagine the cost of these things being shipped up the Amazon River!
The Tappers' living quarters; a simple hut on stilts to prevent wild animals from attacking.

 A hut where the liquid latex was spread on a stick and rotated over a fire. The heat of the smoke would "cure" the latex, turning it into solid rubber. The worker would sit and turn the stick constantly, occasionally pouring more liquid latex over the bale, until it grew to about a half meter in diameter.

Another view of the latex hut
We also saw a hut that was used to process manioc flour by hand. Somehow I didn't get any pictures.  The manioc root is peeled and grated and packed in a giant woven sleeve, which is then hung and pulled to squeeze the poisonous (cyanide) liquid out. This liquid poison is saved for a special soup, which I will describe in a  later post. The resulting starchy flour is then toasted on a huge, cylindrical medal griddle over a fire:

Here is a picture I found on the internet of the "Casa de Farinha" at the plantation.

According to our guide, this fruit is always found growing near a manioc processing plant. Apparently, it is an antidote to the poison found in the manioc.
Also growing near the manioc factory was a Noni Plant. Our guide, Feliciano, was really touting the benefits of this exotic plant. In short, it cures everything. Stephanie told Feliciano that she lives near a company that sells Noni products. He was so amazed that there was an American who had actually heard of Noni, that he went all over the plantation, introducing her like a celebrity. He told us that the Noni fruits here are just considered garbage, as they are so easily available; they rot before they can be used. I have a feeling that the Noni Industry in Utah County is quite a thriving business, judging from the high prices for the products. Feliciano laughed and laughed to know that people pay such premiums for a fruit that rots in the gutters here. Then, he gave her his contact information to pass along to the people at Tahitian Noni, just in case they need a representative in the Amazon. (He may as well be laughing all the way to the bank.)

Here is a Noni fruit growing on the plantation. You can't really tell in the picture, but it is crawling with ants. I guess they like the smell of rotting flesh, which is what the fruit smells like. Why anyone would put it anywhere near their mouth is beyond me. I couldn't get away from the stench fast enough.
Our tour today was a little less adventurous, but very interesting. Not to fear; we made up for the lack of adventure that night by trying some local foods, recommended to us by Feliciano. So adventurous, in fact, that they deserve their own post. Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Amazon Adventure! Part II

Day two of our adventure (the second full day), dawned bright and early. Actually, it began before the sun, at 2:10am, when we were awakened by the shrill sound of the buzzer at our door. The bellboy was bringing a cot. He was trying to explain this to a bleary-eyed Stephanie, as I was stumbling to the door. I assured him that we did not order a cot. "Are you sure?" he said. "Yes. We don't need a cot," I said. "Well, did you need anything?" (He didn't seem to want to leave without delivering these people work on commission?) "No. We were asleep. It's the middle of the night." (You idiot) ((I am not a pleasant person when awaked from my beauty sleep.)) He kept bowing and apologizing. I kind of felt sorry for him. Not as sorry as I felt for myself.

Anyway, Day Two/Take Two dawned bright and early. We were scheduled for the "Survival in the Jungle" tour. We met our guide at the front desk. He spoke less English than our first guide, but he did manage to assure us that he was a "big, strong, Jungle Man". Steph and I were relieved. We boarded a boat, this time a smaller speed boat. Our guide told us we would make it to our destination very quickly. "Most boats take an hour, but this boat is fast. It will take 20 minutes."

We set off at full throttle...and made it a few yards. Then the engine died. We floated for a bit, while the driver fiddled with the ignition. He finally got it going again. We made it a little further before the engine died again. This happened repeatedly, before our guide climbed in the back and held the throttle open manually. We still cut out a few more times. Let me remind you that this river is HUGE--wider than the Mississippi. Steph and I were beginning to wonder if this excursion was going to include the  "Survival in the River" tour.

Sister putting on a brave face;
clinging to her life jacket during the "River Survival" portion of our tour.

All I could picture were the giant monster fish that we saw yesterday:

 and all of the embalmed piranhas we saw at the shops:

(Tom's souvenir)
I know I can't swim. And, after watching my sister handle the airplane drama of two days ago, I didn't want to find out about her emergency swimming skills.
We finally made it--without having to row...or swim. We were headed to a native village, and when we pulled up to shore, I thought we had stepped into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. I know I looked like a tourist, but I just couldn't stop staring. Were those people really naked?! Yep. Just out washing their clothes...and children... in the brown water. The young guy in front of me was snapping all sorts of pictures. Maybe he works for National Geographic? I took a picture of the area when we left, after all of the people were gone. Call me old fashioned (this is a family blog!):
You can kind of see the benches out in the water that they used to scrub their clothes on.
We got off the boat and climbed a set of stairs carved out of the hillside:

And reached the village, where we met the chief and her son.

Chief's Son
(I'm beginning to like this place.)
The community hut used for ceremonies/dances

 Inside the community hut
Our guide, along with the Chief's son, took us on a hike through the jungle, showing us many interesting things along the way; identifying medicinal plants and poisonous plants, teaching us how to set snares, how to build shelters, identify direction, protect ourselves from animals, build a fire, etc. It was incredibly interesting and informative. Steph and I are planning a camping trip next year. Anyone want to come?
You really can't tell from this picture, but the jungle was so thick, that our guide would get just a few feet ahead, and disappear.

Steph-- in her natural habitat

Termite nest

 Our Big, Strong, Jungle Guide demonstrating the properties of one of the plants.
He scraped some sap off of a tree, put it on a stick, lit it on fire, and waved the smoke over us. I thought he was going to start chanting. Apparently, the incense is a natural insect repellent--and it smells great!

 Here, our guide is demonstrating the use of one of the jungle's leaves. This leaf glows in the dark, and is great to use woven in the roof of your hut, or laid out in a path to guide your way back in the dark. He wove this particular leaf into a crown for me and named me, "Queen of the Jungle".
Yes, I am very proud.

Ant nest.
 Everything in the jungle is useful. You can take a handful of ants, squish them in your palms, and take an "ant bath"--rubbing the ants all over your body to cover your smell. (There are jaguars and other predators in the jungle.) Still up for that camping trip?

"Telephone Tree"
When you hit this tree with a stick, it makes a loud, reverberating sound that can be heard for miles, and is used to communicate in the jungle. Our guide used it a few times when we got behind. It was very effective.

He taught us how to make a rope out of a palm frond. Then, he fashioned the rope into a circle and the chief's son put it around his bare feet and used it to shimmy all the way up this tree--really fast! I was in such awe of "ability"... that I neglected to take a picture. I did, however, get a picture of this guy,  (remember the National Geographic photographer?) trying to impress his new girlfriend. He wasn't very impressive, making it about three feet off the ground.

Sister found a little frog friend

Getting swallowed by the jungle

We rode back to the village in canoes.
When we got back to the village, the people "surprised" us with lunch. This was not on the program. As a Public Health Nurse, I often advise clients to NEVER eat in situations such as this. The food was sitting out on a wooden table in the middle of the community hut. I have no idea how long it had been sitting there. I don't know how it was prepared. Most of the women weren't wearing clothing on top. There was a bowl of water for us to wash our hands in. There was nothing to keep the hot food hot, or the cold food cold. I doubt anyone had a Food Handler's Permit. There was, however, a lady fanning away flies, so I felt good about it. We ate... and survived to tell about it. (It was tasty!)
 Do as I say, not as I do. 
After lunch, we were treated to some traditional dances by the natives (Tupé Indians). I took still pictures only of the men, because the women were in their National Geographic attire. Okay, I admit, I took video of the all of the dancers... for educational purposes. But, I will not be posting those videos here.

For the very last dance, we were all invited to join in. I am very proud to say that I was chosen to partner with the chief's son. I thought it was fitting. After all, I was crowned Queen of the Jungle:



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Amazon Adventure! Part I

Recently, my sister, Stephanie, and I took a "once-in-a-lifetime" trip to Amazonas, Brazil. Just the two of us. Alone. In the Amazon. Not speaking Portuguese. Can you say "CRAZY"?!! I shall try to chronicle that adventure here, with all of the "cultural experiences" that it entailed.

We boarded a plane for Manaus on Tuesday morning, and this is where the adventure began. Actually, the flight was pretty uneventful... until we began our decent at the Manaus airport. We began going down-- at quite a steep angle, in my opinion-- when, all of a sudden, the pilot pulled the nose up, rather sharply and abruptly. I don't know if we missed the runway, or we were directed by ground control to make another try. Soon, the pilot came on over the speakers, and in a low, staticky voice said something about a re-approach. (Can anyone ever understand what a pilot says from the cockpit? I think they hold those radio things pressed tightly against their lips and then purposely speak in the most unintelligible voice possible. Not to mention this was in Portuguese.) Anyway, Steph and I had already assumed an emergency landing position and I couldn't hear anything over her cries. (I might add here that I was the picture of serenity through the entire ordeal.)

We made a HUGE pass over what seemed like the entire Amazon Rain Forest, traveling at a very low altitude; just skimming the trees. Seriously, there were birds flying next to our windows. You try to keep your calm when your older sister is next to you in a fetal position, babbling about birds being sucked into the engines. I am relieved to say that we landed, without further incident, and were even able to come to a screeching halt on an extremely short runway. Now that things were settled down, we were able to sit upright again and look out the window as we taxied to the building. We shouldn't have. We should have kept our heads down and our window shades drawn. We passed three planes that looked like they had been dredged up from the bottom of the Amazon river. I am not exaggerating. They were black with mold or algae or something, and I swear there were vines hanging off of them. Spooky. If there are any film producers out there, thinking of making a horror film about haunted airplanes, you need look no further than the Manaus International Airport.

We could have just turned back for home at this point, having all the adventure we could handle, but I didn't like our chances of not getting one of those eerie planes. So, we collected our baggage and found a taxi. I have never arranged for a taxi in English, let alone a foreign language. In fact, there were a lot of firsts for me on this trip. I'd like to say that I confidently walked over to the line of taxis and hailed a driver. But, in reality, we just kind of hummed and hawed on the sidewalk until one walked up to us and asked if we needed a ride. And that is how we met Joao Bezerra.

Joao seemed to be having a bad day. He wore a harsh, surly scowl, with deep lines etched into his forehead; suggesting that this grimace is a common expression for him. My sister was kind enough to push me into the front seat with our sulky chauffeur.  We rode in brooding silence for quite some time, until I could stand it no longer. I began to speak--to lighten the mood. If any of you have ever heard me trying to speak Portuguese, you know that nobody within earshot can stay serious for too's just too hilarious. Soon, Joao's expression softened-ever so slightly-and he opened up to us. As it turns out, taxi driving is only his day job. I think he'd really like to make it big as a singer. He sings love songs... in English. And he doesn't understand a word of what he sings--nope, not one word. He rummaged around on the side of his seat and produced a CD of his music; handing it to me. And there he was on the cover--same scowling face. But, in fact, he is not permanently angry--just a misunderstood, heartsick taxi driver/lounge singer. Now we were in for a real treat. He inserted the CD into the player of the car and turned it up--full blast. With the windows down, he crooned at the top of his lungs. At one point, just as we were slowing for a speed bump, we came upon an unsuspecting taxi driver heading in the opposite direction. I thought that perhaps Joao knew this other driver, as he leaned further out the window toward the man, flourishing his arms dramatically, and singing with greater enthusiasm. The driver gave only what can be described as a look of alarm, before he revved the engine and tore out of there. This only encouraged Joao further, as he pulled up to the entrance of the hotel, with speakers blaring, singing his heart out. He left us a copy of his CD as a lasting memory; refusing money, but instead insisting we take it as our first souvenir. I liked Joao. He may have scared me a little at first. I may have misunderstood his ornery look. But, in the end, I liked him. So, this is why I will share a little bit of his work right here. I'm sure he won't mind. And, if there are any big music producers out there, just let me know, and I will give you his contact information.

We stepped into our hotel, the Tropical Manaus, immediately accosted by the strong scent of mold- mixed with ammonia. It was a really cool, old, Colonial style hotel with lots of woodwork, wide, expansive hallways, and giant rooms. It did have the constant smell of mildew, but we soon learned why. We also learned that we really did have to throw our towels on the floor if we wanted clean ones in the morning. And, trust me, we wanted clean ones. You could dry off and hang your towel up neatly after your shower, only to find it MORE wet 24 hours later. And, I think that mold may have begun to form on the towels in that short time, judging from the odor. I have never before been attacked by humidity like that. This got me to thinking: In a country where the majority of the people hang their clothes out to dry, how do they ever get their laundry done? So, even though it smelled bad, I would have to recommend the hotel--for the overall ambiance. (And, of course, for the excellent breakfast buffet!) I wish I would have taken more pictures of the interior. Here is the one I did take of our hallway:

Like stepping back in time
Our hotel was situated on the Rio Negro. This made our daily boat excursions very convenient for departure. On day one, we took the "Meeting of the Waters" tour. We boarded a boat, with an "English speaking" guide. He would rattle on and on for five minutes in Portuguese, then he would "interpret" for us--in about five words. I was just glad to have those few words in English, because I couldn't understand a thing he was saying, otherwise. We cruised down stream (I say that like it didn't look like we were on the ocean--or at least a Great Lake.) This river is massively wide--and it's only a tributary of the Amazon. There is an island in the middle of it that our guide says takes 13 hours to circumnavigate. An island! We were there at the river's highest point (just after the end of the rainy season). The river rises and falls something like 25 meters between rainy and dry seasons. Because of this swelling of the river, the width was particularly great, and the height was such that we were actually floating at the tops of the trees!
That's the top of a tall tree!

 The trees have adapted to survive in the flood plain.
Anyway, we "cruised downstream" for about an hour, until we came to the "Meeting of the Waters"--the place where the black Rio Negro and the brown Rio Solimoes meet to become the Amazon River. Because of the differences in temperature, density, and velocity of the two rivers, they don't mix, but actually run side by side for about six miles. It is an awesome sight!
The lovely Stephanie:

It went on as far as you could see. It was really weird.
To me, it looked like coffee and coffee with cream.
All along the river, there are these "floating meadows" They looked like carpets of grass, rippling on the waves, and a good hunting ground for fowl:

A close-up of the floating meadow with cool birds:
Next, we continued back along the Rio Negro to the January Ecological Park and floating restaurant. Along the way, we saw a pink river dolphin  playing in the water. (I wasn't quick enough to get a shot, but it sure freaked me out at first to see something that big emerging from the murky water.) We also saw the local houses. People build their houses on stilts or floating pontoons, to deal with the ever changing river. As we were there during the highest water level, the houses looked like they were just sitting on the river:
They just got electricity last year! Look at the power lines.
Can you see the tree in the front "yard"?:
Some of these houses were not connected to any land at all, as far as I could see. They had a sort of  veranda all the way around the house, and there were children and dogs playing and/or lounging about on the narrow walkways. What a different life!

We got to the floating restaurant--a large covered platform on pontoons--and enjoyed a delicious buffet lunch, complete with the usual--rice, beans, farofa (the toasted flour of the manioc root), chicken, and two kinds of fish from the river. Also, and for those a little more adventurous, they offered two unrecognizable-- and I don't mind saying, unappetizing--looking dishes. I asked and found out that they were purees of the fish, mixed with the starchy manioc. The result was an orange-ish glop of stuff with the consistency of thick snot. Steph tried it. Even the Brazilians weren't eating it! Brave Sister. (I actually tried a microscopic bite off of her plate, and the flavor wasn't so bad. The texture, however...ew.) We both tried the fish. My favorite was the Pirarucu; "the world's largest fresh water fish, it can grow up to almost 10 feet long and weigh over 600 pounds!" It had the flavor and consistency of pork. We later watched our guide, at another stop, try to catch these monstrous fish, so we could see their size. They made incredibly loud smacking sounds as they came out of the water, chomping at the fish on the end of his rope. There were children swimming in the river just yards away. Children smaller than these fish...

The floating restaurant:

When we finished eating, I went to use the restroom. I sat on the toilet and caught some movement in between the floor boards out of the corner of my eye. I thought that it looked like people moving around, way down below. For a second, I thought, "Well, that's creepy that those people can look up here and see me using the toilet!" I bent down a little further to get a closer look. This is when I remembered that we were on a floating restaurant; there is no lower floor. Now, as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, I could see clearly that these were not people moving far below, but instead, the movement was more of a slithering motion occurring directly below the floor boards. At that moment, the moving "object" popped it's diamond shaped head up through a hole in the floor and stared at me with it's green eyes. I was having a staring contest (whilst in a compromising position, I might add) with a huge snake! I was paralyzed. It was probably only seconds, but it seemed like an eternity, as I sat there weighing out my options. The hole was between myself and the door, but I was prepared to bolt--with my pants around my ankles, if necessary. I guess I wasn't worth his time, because, just as I was about to make my move, the snake started to slither off on the joist just below the floor. Let's just say, I finished my business quickly and got the heck out of there! I wasn't able to warn the lady waiting for the stall before she slipped in after me, but I did tell the next lady in line (her friend, I think). I couldn't think of the word for floor, so I just stomped on the ground, pointed down, and said, "Cobra! Cobra!" (the word for snake). After a few minutes of confusion, she got my gist and yelled through the door to her friend. All the while, the boat driver, who was sitting nearby, was laughing hysterically. What did I tell you about my Portuguese?

Our tour was not over yet. After I got over the unscheduled "Snake Encounter" part of the tour, it was time to move on to the "January Ecological Park" visit. We walked off the back of the restaurant and along a long wooden walkway on stilts, through the flooded jungle, to a lake covered in  giant lily pads. Our guide told us that in the dry season, the platform is nine meters up in the air. But now, the water was almost level with the bottom of the walkway. The lily pads look like something out of an episode of Wild Planet. The guide told us about their life cycle, and we could see specimens in each stage of the cycle. It was very cool. We also spotted a baby caiman sunning itself on one of the pads. And on the way back, we watched Howler Monkeys playing in the treetops. Awesome!

Walkway on stilts

Giant Water Lilies

Baby Caiman

We returned to the restaurant, and from there, boarded motorized canoes for an exciting trip through a maze of submerged jungle trees. Apparently, we followed a path that, if during the dry season, we would have taken on foot. The passageway was so narrow that, at times, we were whipped in the face by the foliage. At one point, our guide had the drivers cut the motors on the canoes, and we observed two minutes of "silence". Here we were, surrounded by the denseness of the Amazon Rain Forest, listening to the exotic sounds of tree frogs, tropical birds, and who knows what else? It was one of the coolest moments of my life. I was also somewhat relieved at that same moment that we hadn't signed up for the "Piranha Fishing/Crocodile Hunting in the Dark" (with a Portuguese-only speaking guide) expedition. The jungle is a little spooky in broad daylight! We turned the motors back on, and I looked up to see a Scarlet Macaw soaring overhead. Breathtaking! Can I stop right here to publicly thank my awesome husband, Tom, for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? He sacrificed his time to stay home with four kids, sending me out on this unforgettable adventure. Thank you, Honey! I don't deserve you! (Except, I will mention that I was crowned Queen of the Jungle. But, we'll get to that later.)

What a fantastic day! We returned to the hotel, hot, sweaty, tired, SWEATY,  (did I mention the humidity?) and happy, only to spot one last creature, just steps away from our hotel:

Mr. Sloth was too lazy to give us a head shot.

Coming shortly: Amazon Adventure Part II