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.
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.
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...